Devotional Message: The 20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 22B (10/7/2018)

Lessons

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
St. Mark 10:2-16

Semicontinuous Series

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26

Prayer of the Day

Sovereign God, you have created us to live in loving community with one another. Form us for life that is faithful and steadfast, and teach us to trust like little children, that we may reflect the image of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Text for This Sunday

10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” 

13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

St. Mark 10:2-16, New Revised Standard Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: Marriage is for Life; Grace is Forever

There is a lot of talk in preacher circles, this week, about Sunday’s Gospel lesson. It includes some very strong words from Jesus about marriage, divorce and family. As the lesson is read, there is little doubt that these words will stick in the minds of worshippers: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” And perhaps referring to how vulnerable children are when the family is in crisis he says, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

We live in a culture where many lives have been and will be touched by divorce. According to the American Psychological Association, about 40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce, and the divorce rate for subsequent marriages is even higher. Every preacher this weekend will be speaking to worshippers who are still reeling from the pain of divorce, who have worked hard to rebuild their lives after divorce, who have ended up divorced against their will, or who are struggling with whether or not to seek a divorce. So what is a faithful Christian to say?

First, we must not seek to diminish what Jesus teaches. When we marry, we make lifelong promises. Our Scriptures and our tradition understand marriage as lasting “until death do us part.” When a marriage comes up short of that ideal, it is a sign of our human brokenness; a sign that we have not lived up to what God asks of us.

Second, we must understand our pastoral responsibility in the midst of divorcing couples. Our church has thought long and hard over the years about what this means. In 2003, the ELCA published a statement including this paragraph:

The law clearly reveals the reality of sin in the failure of marriage—there are really no “innocent” parties—but the gospel promises forgiveness and new beginnings to those who repent and seek grace for the amendment of life. Thus, though we continue to hold up God’s intention that marriage should be permanent, we also recognize that in a sinful world divorce, though tragic, may be the lesser of evils in some cases. And we turn then to Christ in repentance for renewal.

Journey Together Faithfully; Task force for the ELCA Studies on Sexuality: Part Two, 2003, page 21. [Download here.]

When marriages are in crisis we are called to do our best to surround the family with love and encouragement, as we strive to help them live into the promises they have made. If the marriage should end in divorce, we are called to work just as hard to help those involved experience forgiveness, healing, renewal and a healthy new beginning.

Finally, we need to remind one another that even when Jesus sets the bar high, our own human brokenness does not have the final say. As the Apostle Paul would remind us, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8] Marriage may be for life, but God’s grace is forever.  Thanks be to God for this!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. Why were the Pharisees questioning Jesus about marriage? [hint: they weren’t trying to learn from him…]

  2. Why is the response of Jesus to these Pharisees so strongly worded?

  3. How have these words been used — or misused — by religious groups over the years?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. When have I been less than 100% focused on honoring and strengthening my own marriage and/or family?

  2. What might I do, on a daily basis, to remind myself of how important marriage and family are in my life?

  3. How might I offer myself as a source of grace and hope to someone experiencing the pain of divorce?