The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 10:2-16

The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Jesus quotes from Genesis in this morning’s Gospel: “God made them male and female. [And] for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”

And to this quote from Genesis Jesus adds remarks which take a position on divorce even more stringent than that of the most strict rabbis of his day. Jesus says quite clearly, “Let no one separate what God has put together.”

You see, Jesus knows he’s dealing with Pharisees who are pretty clear about their understanding of divorce and who are really attempting to test him on the matter. So, instead, he turns the conversation from divorce to marriage and really doesn’t answer their question as much as he teaches a lesson.

Jesus tells them that the Mosaic Law allowing a man to write a certificate of divorce and to dismiss his wife was written “because of your hardness of heart.”

In his exchange with the Pharisees, Jesus isn’t advocating a more strict legalism. Instead, he is shifting the ground of the discussion from what Moses wrote to what God made and meant…from loopholes that may be permitted to the intention of what was commanded…from divorce to marriage. And rightly understood, this shift moves the discussion (and the lesson) beyond a teaching on marriage and into the areas of gift and grace – and the breaking in of God’s kingdom.

Jesus uses the concept of marriage as an ideal for relationship. It is a uniting, a union, a joining, a coming together of people into one flesh, one body, one spirit, one heart. It’s an ideal that, for humankind, is sometimes hard to maintain, but nevertheless it is an ideal established by God—intended by God—for the benefit of humankind, and a necessary element—this communal relationship with one another—if we are to be in communion with God.

This lesson, as with all of Jesus’ teaching, is to inform and promote what life within the realm of God should be, so that the new creation, on all levels of relationship, including marriage, can serve and be an example of the full glory of God.

And what Jesus is telling the Pharisees (and us) is that our “hardness of heart,” our stubbornness, our narrow-mindedness, our self-centeredness, our separateness is what prevents such relationships, and what prevents our service and gratitude to God and each other. It becomes easy to start writing out those certificates of divorce: I can write this person off for this reason, and that person for that reason, my wife for this, my kids for this, my friends for this, the church, …even God. Reasons for divorcing, reasons for getting and staying married, Reasons for giving and not giving our time, our talents, our money for the work the kingdom.

But the truth is, God doesn’t give a hoot about all those reasons. What God cares about is the heart, and about our attitudes. God cares about us and our relationship with him and our relationships with one another – because God loves us and doesn’t want us to have hard hearts.

You know, the first symptom of hardness of the heart is separation. And when our hearts are hardened and separation takes place, we suffer. We get sick: sin sick. Our energy levels get low. Our blood runs a little colder. We become hard. Harder. Not as God intended us to be.

We’re unwilling to share what we have, our gifts, our time, our money, our love. We try to hold all those things in close to us, and in doing so, it separates us further and further apart from others and from God. And we become even harder. It is abuse, neglect, separation of what God put together. And according to the Great Physician, the prognosis for one with such a disease is death—divorce—separation from life, from God and from our fellow human beings.

So, you see, it becomes a vicious circle. And how easy it is to get swept into that, & to justify it all, “because we have reasons. We have a “law” written for us that says it’s okay.”

Well, it’s not okay. God made us male and female, husband and wife, brother and sister, people together, to live with and for each other. And “what God has joined together, US, let no one separate.” For this is the work of the kingdom: being in relationship with God and with each other; being co-stewards and co-creators in the midst of a glorious creation.

It isn’t always easy. Nobody said it was. It takes work. Work in our relationships, work in our tasks as stewards and servants of the kingdom, work to learn to be not as hard, but more giving and grace-full and free.

When we stop to think about it and realize that all that we have is a gift anyway, as is the kingdom of God in all its aspects, it’s not so difficult to share—to become one flesh, one body and one spirit and one heart.

Gifts are gifts only as long as they continue to be given. So let’s put aside all our reasons for separation and for holding up & holding in, & holding on to those things that give us “hard hearts,” and that we know are not pleasing to God.

And let us work together for the breaking in of the kingdom, which is nothing more and nothing less than the gift of relationship with God and one another.

Let’s not separate ourselves from what God has called us to do and be because of hardness of heart. But let us, as the Church, the people of God, be faithful stewards of all God’s gracious gifts.

What God has joined together, let no one separate.

And let us seek together the unity that is the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.