10/4/2015 Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Gen 2:18-24; Mark 10:2-16.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Wives, husbands, children, marriage and divorce – these are the human and biblical relationships in today’s readings that are often controversial. I guess they’re controversial because we all have our own ideas as to what makes these relationships work and what to do if things start to head south. Do we punish our children when they go against our wishes and how do we punish? Do we go to counseling if our marriage is on the rocks or do we throw in the towel? When relationships become challenging, do we pray and seek God’s guidance, or do we leave the church and God out of the whole thing as if God has nothing to do with it? Of course God should have a lot to do with it for God has put us in relationships with others. Ever since God decided to relieve Adam’s loneliness with the creation of Eve, we have been bonded to others.
We are relational beings. We have a relationship with God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer, a relationship established by Him from the beginning; and we have a multitude of relationships with other people. Some of those relationships are distant and others are close and intimate. And of all our relationships, there is none closer than that of husband and wife, for in this special union, God joins two people together, making of them one flesh, one being. This relationship is meant to last for a lifetime. But, in so many cases, it is sadly torn apart.
Today’s gospel reading seems so hardline, so puritanical, so legalistic, when it comes to marriage and divorce. Clearly, what God has joined together no one is to break apart. Yet over half of the marriages in the United States and Canada end with a divorce, and many of those divorces are between two who have been baptized. The love stops flowing, hurt rises and the covenant is broken. The unity of flesh is torn apart and the marriage ends. Sometimes, it’s one or another’s fault, or both, and sometimes, it just ends.
How sad it is when this happens. This is not what God intends. God would have all marriages last a lifetime, and all marriages reflect the fullness of his love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord. A Christian marriage is more than an external rite, more than a license for co-habitation, more than a way to share assets. A Christian marriage is a relationship nurtured by words and deeds of thoughtfulness and love, the type of kindness that can be found in looking through the summer home of the late William Rockefeller on Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia. This home is on display to the public and as you walk through it, you can touch the handrail leading to the staircase which Rockefeller had a workman carve to fit the exact shape of his wife’s arthritic hand. He also had salt water faucets put in the bath tub, in addition to the fresh water faucets, so his wife could relieve the pain in her joints. When any relationship is nurtured continually by a thousand points of love like this, it will more likely remain whole and healthy, and be a joy and pleasure for all.
How painful it is when a marriage which was to be for a lifetime is torn asunder and the two who were to love and support each other go their separate ways. How painful it is for the two involved, but how much more painful it is for the children. For who gets hurt in a divorce? Everyone, especially the children who are true flesh and blood of both. They often get caught in the middle and believe themselves to be the cause of the split. They often get caught in the middle, wanting and needing the love, support, nurture and approval of both, and being shuffled about. This is not what God intended for us when he put us in relationship with others. God gave us each other as a blessing and a joy. God gave us each other so that we might find partnership and unity.
Yet, the fact that children, marriage and divorce are controversial topics in the church today shows how little of God’s wisdom about sacrificial love and unity we are passing on from generation to generation. Too often, family values seem at war with family and individual choices. And too often, children are seen as problems rather than gifts that need to be supported and nurtured, gifts from a gracious God. So, all too often children get tossed away as little more than garbage as this precious relationship is distorted and children are abused or become the center of the household, exercising decision-making power over adults.
This is not what God intends, any more than he intends for marriages between two people to fall apart. When God created man and woman, they were created as helpmates and partners. Man and woman are of the same flesh so that the partnership they share in life may be unique. There is unity in sharing the same flesh, a unity which goes much deeper than sharing a name.
This doesn’t make marriage easy. But then any relationship worth having requires nurture. I know how difficult it has been through the years even to maintain a friendship with a colleague of mine. As our relationship changed from parishioner to seminarian to colleague, our friendship was strained. It took a lot of care and communication and what seemed like a lifetime of struggle to find the niche for this relationship but all the struggle has been worth it as to this day, we call each other friend.
If friendships undergo struggles as people grow and develop, then how much greater the struggle is within the family as children move through life stages and as couples struggle with empty nests and impending grandchildren. A relationship based only on physical love cannot survive. But, a relationship imbedded in God and his love for us will endure. And that type of relationship will rub off on our children as they experience love toward them and between life-long partners.
There is no greater example of how that love impacts the lives of our children than that of a story of a six-year old girl who was seriously ill and in need of a blood transfusion. She had a rare blood type, and her nine-year old brother happened to have the same type. But, everyone was hesitant to ask the boy to donate the blood. Finally, the doctor spoke up and asked, and the boy cheerfully responded, “Sure, I’ll give my blood for my sister.” The boy closed his eyes on the bed as a pint of blood was taken from him. Soon, the doctor came to thank the boy and told him he could go home. The boy, with tears in his eyes, asked the doctor, “When do I die?”
The naïve boy thought that by giving his blood he was giving up his life. The stunned physician calmed the boy and assured him that he was not going to die. Then he asked the boy, “Why were you willing to risk your life for your sister?” The boy’s reply was, “Because she is my sister and I love her.”
“…it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
May we learn to cherish the relationships that God has given us and the people in our lives. May we love as we have been loved by the God who withheld not the life of his only son but who gave him up for all. May God’s self-sacrificing love be woven into the fabric of our relationships. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.