Posts Tagged ‘divorce’

Divorce Take 2 10-7-18

In this sermon, based on Mark 10:2-16, I talk about the painful reality of broken relationships, which has manifested in the reality of divorce. It is, however, not limited to this, and permeates all of our relationships.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/divorce-take-2-10-7-18

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

The grace and peace of the Triune God be yours now and forever. Amen

Today is a little strange…because my sermon prep process has gone a bit off the rails. I sat down on Friday to write the sermon for today, as I usually do…and after a lot of back and forth I wrote one.  Admittedly, there have been plenty of past weeks when I walked out the office on Friday not quite sure about the sermon that came out…but then went a head with it anyway.

Not this time.  This time I wrote about 3 different sermons all crammed into one…a batch of ideas that felt all over the map…and didn’t actually focus in on the truth that needs to be said.  So I scrapped it and started over, because I fear that my first pass would do a disservice to quite a few of you sitting out there today.

There are several different passages that come up in the Lectionary that rub me the wrong way, and I grimace when I open up the Bible on Sunday following worship to see what next week’s text is going to be…but then I get to work.  This one is different.  Today’s passage stinks.  I knew it was coming up, but when I saw it this week, knowing that I’ve tackled it a couple different times already…my first instinct was “nope…not this year.” And I planned on preaching out of Hebrews instead.

But then I went to text study on Tuesday…and I listened to the comments and conversation, particularly from one colleague who is currently in the process of divorcing…and I know this individual well enough to be able to read him…and to also be able to hear some of the things that he “wasn’t saying” if you know what I mean.

That conversation stayed in the back of my head throughout the week…likewise I also thought about conversations I’ve had with several of you over the years that have centered around this particular text.  And as I did, I kept thinking to myself…nope, skip it…don’t even reference it…just use the first two readings and skip the gospel.

But I knew in my gut that wasn’t right…and in further reflection I knew that if I skipped the gospel reading altogether, you would wonder why, and you would probably turn your bulletin over, and since Mark 10 is already printed…you’d read it…even if I didn’t.

And here’s the thing…when this passage comes up, you can’t not talk about it. Because the reality of divorce is too real.  Its not metaphorical…its not debatable…it’s a reality within our society, one that apparently has been around for at least 3500 years…and regardless of the differences that various societies and cultures have placed upon it, I’m guessing that its been equally painful for the people involved for as long as its been around.

And even if I can’t speak from personal experience, I know it’s a painful one for some of you out there…and I’m guessing that almost every single person sitting in this room today has been touched by it…and I don’t think any of us would deny that divorce carries stigma…particularly here in the church.

It might be viewed in a lot of different ways…but it seems that the sense of failure is pretty universal within it. Divorce marks a legal distinction to a failed relationship…and while I fully believe that there are marriages that should end…and that in many cases it is the best thing for everyone involved…I think we can all agree that its not a good thing…and that it hurts those involved in it.

This is a blunt reality…and these are blunt statements that I’m making…statements that seem to be mirrored in the extremely blunt statements made by Jesus today…statements around the legality of divorce…and statements that dredge up feelings of guilt when he brings the idea of adultery into the conversation.

Now we have the tendency to categorize bad stuff don’t we? Categories that, perhaps we use to justify ourselves…or make ourselves feel a little better.  Divorce is bad…and adultery is worse…but at least I didn’t kill anyone…I may have done this, but at least I didn’t do that. (pause)

This is evidence of the human condition…it is evidence of our brokenness…that we recognize our shortcomings and the things in our lives that just don’t feel right…and we want to try and feel better…and yet we don’t…and we see over and over again that this brokenness results in fractured relationships…and we also know that no relationship, no matter what form it takes, no relationship is safe from this truth of our broken reality. (pause)

Worse yet…it seems, at face value…that Jesus himself is condemning it here…and as a result, this passage, as well as the one from Genesis that we heard today, have been used to condemn and bully countless individuals…and maybe just maybe that in that pesky voice of doubt and fear that lives in the back of our minds, we say the exact same things to ourselves. (pause)

Here’s the thing…this situation is not limited to individuals who have either experienced divorce or those who look at their present circumstance and wonder if its an inevitability.  This tendency to see our own shortcomings and failures…as well as the ability to see the brokenness and failures of those around us…this is simply evidence of the greater underlying reality of sin that has permeated this life that we live.

And if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times…this breaks relationship…it rips apart the harmony that exists in true relationship…and that’s at the center of this entire thing.  Genesis tells us that all of humanity is created bearing the divine image of God…God who exists in divine relationship among the Creator God, the living Word of God, and the Spirit of God.

And when God placed humanity in the garden, whether that was an actual event or just a story that a culture told themselves thousands of years later…the story of the garden reveals that pretty much as long as humanity has been around, that harmony intended by God has been broken…and as a result our relationships suffer with God and they suffer with one another.

And I think that this is the point Jesus is trying to make when he starts talking about “in the beginning it was not so.” The intention of God, as we consider the creation stories…was for harmony between individuals…and I think that maybe, just maybe, what Jesus is trying to tell us is that in the kingdom of God, whenever that will be and whatever it is going to look like…that harmony will be restored and the brokenness that manifest in the death of a relationship in any form will no longer be a reality.

Jesus keys us into the fact that Moses allowed for divorce…just as our laws today allow for divorce, because broken human relationships are a reality…and if the scriptures tell us anything…its honest about this fact. (pause) And so, if you hear this text today and it stings? If it pulls up memories and thoughts of failure or judgement…or maybe it brings up that same old thought of “I should have been able to do more” or “what if I had tried harder,” and you aren’t hearing much else that I’m saying today…then please hear this…

The truth that the gospel reveals to us is that when it comes to the way our broken sinful selves manifests itself in ways that break the harmony that God intends for creation…you can’t do it…no one can…whether its divorce or something else.

None are righteous…not one…and yet God has come near to us anyway. That’s the gospel…that in whatever it was that God was up to in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…in whatever it was that he meant when he said it is finished…the promise remains that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus…and that even our brokenness will not hinder God from coming near to us and claiming us beloved children. (pause)

This passage stinks…period…but you know what…scripture often does…but let us remember that this same scripture reveals a God who can, who does, who already has created new life out of death…and that we are not only invited…but we are gifted this same resurrection…this new life…over and over again…and that even when harmony is broken, our God will always gather us up into a loving embrace and bless us, with unwavering love and grace and favor…just as Jesus did with the children at the end of today’s passage…made possible through the body and blood of Christ, which was broken and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins…body and blood that we will share in just a few moments…a physical embodiment of God’s grace and love for every single one of us. Amen.

The Rules Are Not Enough 10-4-15

This sermon is based on Mark 10:2-16, as Jesus tackles an uncomfortable topic in divorce. But what catches us more importantly is the notion that rules are never going to define righteousness.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/the-rules-are-not-enough-10-4-15

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

My Sunday morning outfit never really changes much does it? Dress shoes, nice pants, and a suit coat over my clerical shirt. Occasionally I put on my robe and stole, but that doesn’t happen very often anymore…and so for individuals walking through the doors, about the one outward sign that I’m the pastor is my clerical shirt.

More often than not, I wear a black cleric right? About the only time you’ve seen me in anything different is the two occasions during the liturgical year when I wear my red shirt…Reformation Sunday and Pentecost…however…there are a multitude of different colors of clerics available for purchase.

I found that out a few years back as I was nearing my ordination…and I thought that I would attempt to secure a different shirt for each color represented in our liturgical calendar. Green for the season of Pentecost, red as I mentioned a moment ago, black which I obviously managed, dark blue for Advent, white for Christmas and Easter, and purple for Lent. And so I went online to a supplier to attempt to get as many of those as I could find…but they came up a little short on selection…and so I ended up with black, red, light gray, light blue…and purple.

And then about a week or so later…I was sitting down with a fellow pastor, and we ended up talking about this particular order…and when I mentioned purple…he just sort of looked at me funny for a moment before asking me a simple question, “Scott…in the Lutheran church…who wears purple?” (pause)

If you’re unaware, there’s something of an unwritten rule here in the ELCA that only bishops wear purple…as far as I know its not actually recorded anywhere officially…but its one of those things that you just don’t do…and so I panicked and called the supplier right away. Fortunately it was a small one man operation in terms of order processing, and the guy on the phone actually informed me that the purple shirt that I had ordered was actually on backorder…and so he said he would process everything else and cancel that one.

I breathed a sigh of relief…only to have the back ordered purple clerical shirt show up about 2 months later. So I called him back and he made the joke of “well, after talking to you on the phone I figured you would be a bishop by now, so I sent it anyway.” (pause) But as we all know, I am not a bishop…and that “unwritten” rule against wearing purple is not one that I plan on breaking anytime soon.

Now I bring this all up because today’s gospel features pretty heavily on this notion of rules. Admittedly, it’s a bit of a squirmy subject today, as the Pharisees attempt to utilize a long standing rule…one going all the way back to Deuteronomy and Moses…in order to try and trip up Jesus.

And considering the ongoing tendency of the religious leaders to try and use various religious law to discredit him, it would seem that the subject they breech must have been every bit as uncomfortable then as it is now…divorce…and make no mistake…reading this passage in this day and age where over 50% of marriages end in divorce and then hearing Jesus’ words on the subject…its uncomfortable.

I discussed this passage in a few different settings with a few different people this week, and each and every time we agreed…yah…that’s tough…and a couple of the high school boys were blunt enough to make the statement that I wish I could make “Glad I’m not preaching on it.”

But here we are…faced with a situation where individuals try to trap Jesus by using the rules…and in all honesty…I’m drawn more to that fact than I am to Jesus blunt words about divorce and adultery. (pause) And so for the sake of covering our bases today can we simply agree that divorce is bad…and while there are times when it may be the best thing, its never a good thing? I hope so…if you want to hear more, I preached on this about a year and a half ago…hit me up and I’ll send you the sound file for it. (pause)

But in the end…I’m struck a little more firmly by yet another example of individuals trying to play the rule card with Jesus. (pause) How often do we see this sort of thing in the gospels? Over and over again. (pause) We’ve heard “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” We’ve heard the disciples arguing about how to be great in the kingdom of Heaven. We’ve heard the question of how many times do I need to forgive my brother? Or why do your followers eat with defiled hands?

Today…the question…Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (pause) Over and over again people get caught up with the rules. The checklists…the notion of salvation being granted by what we accomplish or what we successfully avoid….this notion that if I can mark enough checkboxes then I’ll be covered…and if I can avoid a list of bad stuff I won’t lose it. (pause)
Isn’t that telling of our society today though? We have rules about everything…bench marks that we need to achieve…negative things that we need to avoid. (pause)

Look at sporting events…collectively we do such a bad job of following the rules that we have guidelines for the various penalties of breaking them. And if you need a visual example…just watch a football game and look for those yellow flags getting thrown all over the place.

Additionally…we have those unwritten rules in society of how to treat one another…when its okay to speak out about something and when we should just bite our tongue.

Rules rules rules…we have rules everywhere…and I wonder…how’s that working out for everyone? (pause) I’m going to run the risk of sounding political for just a moment here…but rest assured that’s not my intention…here in our country…we have laws about firearms. Some will argue that they are too strict…others that they aren’t strict enough…but regardless of your personal opinion on guns in our country…10 people died last Thursday when yet another nutjob opened fire at a community college in Oregon.

Now I know it doesn’t sound very loving for me to call the shooter names…but like all of you, I’m sick of hearing this news every few months…that it happened again…that once again…someone breaks the law…and a bunch of people die. (pause)

People die…because the law…can’t protect them…it can’t save them. (pause) And that right there is the truth of our reality…the reason that Jesus always had something to say whenever he faced the question of how to interpret some law…how much is enough, or what is considered going too far.

The law…the rules…the guidelines are never going to do enough or be enough to save us…because our reality is too flawed…flawed by sin…flawed by that which breaks down our relationships in the first place.

Think about it for a moment…the original law…the 10 Commandments were given to the people of God as a gift in order to show them how they can live in harmony with God and with one another…how they can live in relationship with God and with one another…but as we have seen throughout the course of Old Testament history…and perhaps more specifically through the teachings of Jesus during his ministry, we CANNOT do it…we cannot fulfill the law. No matter how hard we try, its not enough…and the relationships always suffer because of it.

Maybe that’s why Jesus speaks out against divorce in today’s passage…because divorce at its very core is the ending of a relationship…and if our relationships are destroyed by the power of sin in our reality, then I suppose we have to say that divorce is sinful…just as the destruction of any relationship for any reason is the result of sin.

Now once again…I’m not trying to call out divorce right now…I’m really not…rather I’m being realistic…realistic about the fact that our reality…our very existence as it is today is contrary to how we were created in the first place. (pause) Think about the story of creation…we know there are two accounts at the beginning of Genesis and we heard a portion of one in our first lesson…but we see when God decides to create humanity in the first place…God says “Let us create humankind in OUR image.” Let me say that one more time…in OUR image.

We see in Genesis chapter 1…from the beginning God is in relationship…our Triune God…one God-3 parts…confusing as that might be…was in relationship before our reality began…and then we were made in that image…we were made to be in relationship as well…first off relationship with God…and then as we see our first lesson, equal relationship with one another as well. (pause)
We live in a reality, created by God in order to be with one another…and sin breaks that down…period…and there is nothing that we can do about it. There is no magic set of rules…no checklist…no batch of things to avoid that is going to take sin out of our existence…its dug in too deep.

That is why Jesus always seems able to counter the questions of those looking to trip him up with just the right thing to point out to that individual how deep sin runs in their existence…and because it runs so deep…that’s why Jesus came in the first place.

Since we are unable to repair the breach in our relationships caused by the presence of sin…the only being able to do anything about it…did…that is why God entered into our reality…not in order to establish some new set of rules and guidelines that we would turn around and fail at…but in order to bring the kingdom of heaven here.

We can’t get there…so he comes here…and he pays the price of sin…the wages of sin is death…and now through Jesus Christ that debt has been paid…because through Jesus Christ…God takes our messes…our screw-ups…our weaknesses…and God makes them into miracles. (pause)

And so…to wrap this all up today…yes…today Jesus presents us with a hard teaching…one that we’re all uncomfortable with…because there is no good answer to either the question of divorce…nor is there a good answer to the bigger question of “Well Lord…how much is enough?” Because the rules…can never…and will never…be enough…Only God is enough…and praise BE to God…that through the work of Christ, He makes us enough too. Amen.

Are You Serious 2-16-14

Today’s sermon came from Matthew 5:21-37. This marks another continuation of the Sermon on the Mount. In this passage, which is admittedly a difficult teaching, I tackle the harsh reality of sin in our lives, and that the hope we find in Christ is knowing that, though the wages of sin is death, through Christ God creates new life out of death.

You can listen to the sermon here.
https://soundcloud.com/revdalen/are-you-serious-2-16-14

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
How many of you out there are the oldest sibling? (pause) Okay…who are the middle kids out there? (pause) Alright, and now who are the youngest in their families? (pause) Ok…now I know who I’m working with.
I’ve heard it said in many different situations, that the oldest kid always has it the hardest…that with each additional child the parents get a little more laid back…or perhaps they mellow out more…or maybe they are just that much more exhausted, and lack the energy to get too worked up over things.
Regardless of the cause…older siblings…would you agree that you had it the hardest in your family growing up? (pause) It’s probably true.  I, being the baby of my family, definitely reaped the benefits of the ground work laid down by my older brother and sister.  There is one particular story that my sister tells…constantly…that offers evidence to this notion. Now, I don’t remember this happening, but in my defense I was probably only about 3 when it happened…so I’ll give my sister the benefit of the doubt that it is a real story.  The three of us were in the back seat of the car…acting up as young kids tend to do. We were actually getting very close to being home…only about a quarter of a mile away from our driveway when the constant noise and ruckus got my dad to the breaking point, and he pulled the car over.
Now my sister swears up one side and down the other than both she and my brother got hauled out of the car for a spanking…and it certainly may have happened…when we earned it, we would get a swat, and I certainly earned my fair share of swats over the years…but this time around, allegedly I jumped over the seat crying to mom that I didn’t want to get a spanking…and ALLEGEDLY…according to my sister…I didn’t get one that day even though…ALLEGEDLY…I was the main instigator in all the back seat commotion.
Considering that I was too young to remember the incident in question, I guess we’ll never know if the punishment fit the crime…or as the case may be, if the lack of punishment was a great injustice.
But thinking along these lines brings us into the midst of our Gospel lesson for today. Jesus continues in his mountain top sermon…and if you were here last week, the gospel lesson ended with the statement “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Now certainly that particular statement must have come as a shock to those listening to Jesus that day. After all, the scribes and the Pharisees were the epitome of righteousness. They knew the law inside and out…backwards and forwards…if there was anyone who should be capable of righteousness through their actions, it’s the scribes and the Pharisees…but Jesus tells us that we’re supposed to top them if we want any chance of heaven.
I don’t know about you…but I hear that and I think to myself…WHAT?  REALLY?  Great…now how am I going to pull that off? (pause) Well, that’s where Jesus goes in today’s lesson. Many scholars call this particular portion of Matthew’s gospel the antithesis…because at face value…Jesus really seems like he’s raining down judgment…the very thing that we’ve grown accustomed to thinking Jesus was against.  Jesus is the expression of God’s love right? He came to save us because he loves us right?  So how can he be advocating for us to achieve our own righteousness? I don’t get it!!!
But that seems to be exactly what he’s saying here doesn’t it…and even stranger than that…is the unexpected progression between the sin and the punishment…did anyone notice that?
In the confirmation class, we spent the last several weeks discussing the 10 commandments…and a couple of weeks back…the students and the adults who were present got great joy in the fact that I had a momentary brain lapse and couldn’t remember that the fifth commandment is Thou shall not kill…I’ll admit it…I blanked…but I think we would all agree that murder is pretty major on the sin scale isn’t it? Even those who do not express belief in Christ or associate themselves with the teachings of the Bible would agree that murder is a huge moral no-no.
So perhaps its fitting that Jesus starts off this little rant with murder…You have heard it said in ancient times You shall not murder…and as I picture the scene I imagine all the people there hearing Jesus saying that…and nodding their heads…Yes Jesus, we know that…don’t murder…and Jesus continues that those who commit murder are liable to judgment…and we cue the nodding heads again. (pause)
Okay…so we’ve got murder…this morally reprehensible notion…and the punishment for it…well, we don’t really know…only that its judgment…Okay…so murder gets us judged. (pause) But now here’s where it gets a little coo-coo…Jesus says “But I tell you that if you are angry with a brother or sister you are liable to judgment.” WHAT!!!! Getting peeved with someone else earns us the same punishment as killing them? Really? REALLY? (pause) I’m guessing Jesus really has everyone’s attention at this point…because that can’t be right can it? Well, what else does he have to say?
Well, he says that anyone who goes as far as insulting another person is now liable to the council…not just that they’ll get judged, but they’ll be judged by the highest human authority in the Jewish culture…the religious council…well holy cow…this is starting to get serious…what else is he going to drop on us?
If you say you fool then you are liable to the fires of hell. ARE YOU SERIOUS!?! Calling someone foolish earns us a ticket to hell? Come on Jesus, I’m all for treating others as we wish to be treated but sometimes people are stupid…we can’t tell them that? (pause) Well, I guess not…but it makes me wonder…does the punishment really fit the crime?
Truly…this is a hard teaching…once again we see Jesus utterly turning reality on its ear…because everyone knew the law…just as we know the law today…and we do don’t we. We know what’s good to do and what isn’t…but just knowing the law isn’t good enough…and Jesus is showing us why in this passage…but he doesn’t limit it to murder and anger and insults.
Jesus goes on into some more detail, and then he tackles a subject that probably makes a squirm in our seats just a little bit…adultery…and all the different things that go into it. Because as we see…sin isn’t limited to the physical act is it?  We see that with Jesus words on anger and insults…and now we see it hear with how we look at another person…or how we think about another person…and jeepers, who didn’t get a little bit uncomfortable when Jesus told us that we should pluck out our eyes and throw them away if they make us sin.  This whole anti-sin thing is getting pretty serious isn’t it.
But Jesus goes on from there too and he starts hinting at something that hits close to home for a lot of people in today’s society…the issue of divorce…and when its okay…and when its not okay…and the consequences of it…and how the whole thing pretty much boils itself down to being right there on par with adultery itself…and we hear him talk about how divorce pretty much lends itself to breaking another one of the big 10.
And I’m guessing that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people…people in general and likely some of you sitting out there today…because the stats don’t lie. More than 50% of 1st marriages…divorce…more than 60% of second marriages…and the number keeps going up…and perhaps as you sit here in church…a place that is supposed to be open and welcoming…and non judgmental…and you hear Jesus himself say things like this…and you hear me talking about it pretty bluntly…and maybe it hurts…I’m guessing it does…and while I’m so very sorrow to be hammering on this point…I don’t deny that which Jesus is implying here…sin is painful…and the aspects of life that dable in and around sin are messy…and they hurt…and while I also believe that there are marriages out there that can and should end…and are likely the best thing in the world for everyone involved…that doesn’t make the notion of divorce a good thing. (pause)
And so let’s call it what it is…divorce is a death…it marks the death of a marriage…the death of a relationship…the death of a family as it once was…just as much as anger and insults mark the death of any relationship as it was before…the apostle Paul tells us in the book of Romans that the wages of sin is death…and it would seem here today, that Jesus agrees. (pause)
I stand up here before you today…saying these things…and hating the fact that I’m saying them…hating the pain that I might be causing some of you sitting out there today…and in all honesty hating the fact that the Bible even records these words of Jesus…the one who came to love us…and I find myself asking that same question Are You Serious?
And in the midst of asking that question I wonder where we find good news…where do we find the gospel in the midst of this passage that in the very least stings…and on the opposite end of the spectrum, I fear may cause some of you to walk out of worship not wanting to come back again. (pause) Where do we find the gospel in the midst of pain and death?
We find the gospel when we see Jesus hanging on the cross…and in the midst of his pain…and in the midst of his death he utters the words “Father Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And then he dies…but then three days later he comes back…we are people of the resurrection…because we believe that while sin and death are very real…and they are very painful…and they are a present reality…we also believe that sin and death doesn’t get the last word…God does…and God proclaims life…life found in the resurrection of Jesus…a resurrection that we share…because in our baptism we join with Jesus in a death like his and by doing so we also join together with him in a resurrection like his…and in the case of our lives…when we experience these painful realities…we must cling to the hope of the resurrection…that God can and does create new life out of death. (pause)
And so today…we do not deny the reality of sin in our reality, nor do we deny its reality within our own existence…rather, we embrace it…we admit to it…and then we turn our attention to the cross of Christ where he said IT IS FINISHED!!!! And we cling to the hope we find when that stone was rolled away and death lost it’s power over the world.  Let us cling to that today. Amen.