For as many sermons as I have heard and as many as I have preached I don’t remember them very well. I wish I had much better recall and facility for processing homiletical messages--I really do.
I do vividly remember, however, a sermon that was preached about 15 years ago at Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Rancho Cucamonga, California. The preacher spoke of the pain he saw his daughter endure as she went through her divorce. The skeleton of the biblical text of Jesus’ teaching on divorce was enfleshed with the painful story of this marriage that did not last. Through the preacher’s pain I was able to glimpse God’s pain as the hopes and the dreams, the vows and the promises came unraveled.
Perhaps this week we will find occasion to encourage and nurture a marriage. Perhaps this week we will have to opportunity to care for someone who is walking wounded out of the ruins of a failed marriage. We might even get the chance to welcome an inconvenient stranger. May we be open to God using us as God’s agents to care for those we encounter.
Some Pharisees came, and to test [Jesus] they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 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. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Everyone in our appointed text seems to be erring on the side of being stern and turning the cold shoulder. The Pharisees are using the tragic circumstance of a divorce as a means to perhaps catch Jesus teaching contrary to Moses. The disciples are trying to insulate Jesus from the bother of little children and their parents. The implicit message is that Jesus (aka God) doesn’t have the time or the interest in ones such as these. No one seems particularly aware of the needs of those enduring a divorce nor those of the little one needing a blessing save Jesus.
In terms of divorce, Jesus ups the ante. Perhaps Moses permitted such a thing but God never intended it. “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” is part of our wedding liturgies to this day. Divorce is removed from the list of options by Jesus (except for marital unfaitfhfulness as in Matthew 19:9). Yet it still happens. Hearts are still hard. We push away from God’s intentions and from each other. We neglect Jesus’ words and wound ourselves deeply in the process.
In terms of welcoming the inconvenient visitors, Jesus ups the ante. Jesus is indignant that the disciples are turning away small children. Rather than push them off to the side he draws the child into the center and holds that one up as the example of how we ought to be. The disciples try to intervene and disrupt the blessing. Yet it still happens. Jesus heart is still open. Jesus draws the children into God’s intentions. Jesus’ words (and eventually his wounds) bring the deepest healing.
God stir us to be more like Jesus—speaking God’s desires and going the extra mile to welcome people. Soften our hearts. Work healing in us and through us all to your glory. Amen.