the one about divorce
October 4, 2015, 8:24 PM

Sermon that wasn't able to be preached because of the floods in South Carolina on October 4, 2015

Sermon Text: Mark 10: 2-16


Grace and peace to you my brothers and sisters, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus who is the Christ. Will y’all pray with me?

Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

I’ll just come right out and say it, this text is hard. It is hard to hear these harsh words from Jesus, so you can imagine how difficult it is to preach on these harsh words concerning something that is so prevalent in our society today; both in our world and even in our church. 

We live within a society that seems to be so casual about marriage and ultimately about divorce.  It seems that many famous individuals try to outdo one another in seeing how quickly one can get married and then divorced. It was only last week that we heard of yet another famous individual that many ‘look up to’ and her impending divorce – Kaley Cuoco – who is getting a divorce from her husband, Ryan Sweeting, after a brief 21 months of marriage. A few years ago I even read an article that talked about ‘starter’ marriages where you sign a document that you’ll be married for about a year and after that year is up you’re free to walk and go off to seek your ‘real’ marriage; the one that will last after ‘learning’ from that first ‘marriage.’ 

It is especially difficult for me to preach on this because I come from a family in which my mother and father are divorced and re-married. I also know that there are those of you today who have been affected by divorce, whether it is yourselves whom are divorced, your parents, your friends, or even your children.  Divorce affects everyone and there are few today who know someone who has not experienced the pain of divorce. 

As an example, when my wife and I were married just over 9 years ago, it was a summer full of weddings.  Apart from our own wedding, my wife and I attended about six or seven others. I am sad to say that only our marriage and two others are still intact. 

So, it is difficult for me to say, especially as a child from a divorced family (and one who has seen the good along with the sadness, anger and confusion that do come with divorce), that divorce was not part of God’s design for marriage and relationship. I don’t believe that God instituted the union between two individuals with the intention that at some point that bond would be broken.

There is never a ‘good’ time to get a divorce – for anyone. Though a divorce is never good, many times it is necessary. My own experiences prove that. My mother and father are better people a part than they were together. Because of our brokenness and as Jesus states it, ‘our hardness of heart,’ divorce is an unfortunate reality in our world; just as it was an unfortunate reality during the days of Jesus’ ministry.

As I walk with and have conversations with couples, brimming and oozing with happiness, on their path to marriage we talk about their relationship. We talk about their strengths and their areas for growth. We talk about those difficult things because it’s good to know what areas you may need to work on as a couple now before 10 years have passed and you’re just chomping at the bit to get out.

Marriage is tough, it takes work. Sometimes it takes a lot of work. Many times we can and do fall very short.

I wish there wasn’t divorce, I wish those who commit themselves to one another would do so in a way that lives into the vows they make with one another, with the community, and with God. But, I also know that we are a broken and fallen creation. We fall short.

But, we know that in spite of this brokenness and the sin in our life, God continues to love, and call, and care for each of us.  For Jesus shows in the final verse of this passage that he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.  God is for us and continues to be ever full of grace and mercy.  Jesus wants to remind us that we have been created to be in relationship, we have been created for one another.  Ultimately – God is there to be in relationship with all of us – those of us who are married, divorced, single, and re-married. God seeks out relationship with all of us.

Of course, this isn’t an excuse either. I don’t think Jesus wants us to think, “Well, because God will love me that means I should not work at this relationship.” I don’t think that’s it at all. I think the fact that God does love us in spite of our sin and brokenness that we use that to help strengthen our relationships.

Our Gospel begins with the Pharisees seeking to put Jesus to the test. They wished to see which side of the legal argument he stood on concerning divorce. Did Jesus adhere to a loose or strict interpretation of the first few verses of Deuteronomy 24 which states:

If a man marries a woman and she does not please him because he has found something offensive in her, then he may draw up a divorce document, give it to her, and evict her from his house.

There were two schools of thought concerning this verse, the first the group following the rabbinic teachings of Hillel believed that a man could divorce his wife for any reason. Look at another man? Here are your papers. Burnt the breakfast toast?  Here are your papers. Raise your voice and ‘defy’ me? Here are your papers. You’re not as pretty as the woman down the street? Here are your papers. That was the ‘loose’ interpretation.

The other school of thought, those that followed the ‘strict’ interpretation of this verse, were from the teachings of Shammai who believed that a man could only divorce his wife on the grounds of adultery. 

But, if you notice, Jesus doesn’t fall into their trap. Instead he points out that Moses has already answered that question, and Jesus does not necessarily discount or discredit the law. There can be and there is divorce.  Instead, Jesus turns the question back onto the Pharisees and quotes from Genesis God’s intention for marriage. That marriage is a bonding of two people, the becoming of one flesh in covenant with each other and in covenant with God.  God created us to be in relationship with one another. 

God intends for us to be sewn together to our spouses like a quilt, two pieces becoming one; becoming whole. When, because of our limits of love and trust and understanding are reached and divorce is the eventual reality; that quilt, that bond, that covenant is torn and it is difficult, almost impossible to stitch it back together into the wholeness that it once was. You cannot hide that rupture. The re-stitched seam, though sometimes incredibly small and thin, is always there. Visible for others to see and for us to always know. Unfortunately, many are looked down upon because of that broken relationship.

What Jesus proclaims about marriage comes from the beginning, the beginning, Creation, that marriage is not something to be taken lightly or casually. It is not something that is casually formed for convenience which can be simply tossed aside. Jesus describes marriage with utmost seriousness, something that transcends contractual obligations and economic utility, which is how marriage was viewed during this time.

Divorce itself is intended to be taken seriously as well. God cares deeply about divorce and is against divorce in the degree that it tears apart something whole. It isn’t just the couple that is torn, but also the family, children, community, and the church. Everyone is affected by divorce, this fracture or rupture of human community and covenant to one another.

In not stepping into the trap which the Pharisees have laid, Jesus is demanding that we shouldn’t be looking for the loopholes out of marriage. Don’t concern yourself with how to break this covenant, but concern yourself with how to strengthen this covenant. This covenant and promise that you’ve made with one another and that you’ve made with God together.

When Jesus’ disciples press him further on this issue of divorce, Jesus utters words that have been interpreted in such a way to keep those in hurtful, harmful, faithless relationships from breaking free of the oppression that they have been ‘stuck’ in and which keeps those individuals from living out a relationship of marriage which God intends; a relationship in love, commitment, and covenant between spouses and God.

Here again, Jesus is speaking on the grounds which people pursue a divorce. A divorce is not something one seeks in order to be with another; that is adultery. You cannot just throw your spouse out to serve your own selfish needs and desires.  Any who seek a divorce for the sole reason to be with another; that is wrong. Jesus is against that. Yet, even during this rebuking, Jesus continues to lift up those who had no voice. In verses 10-12, Jesus lifts women to the same standard as men; this is something that was absolutely counter-cultural at that time. Women were deemed a ‘possession’ that transferred from father to husband to potential new-husband (if one would even have her with the ‘stigma’ of divorce assigned to her) and were not given nearly the same legal rights in divorce that their husbands were. This is further emphasized because many women needed to obtain their husband’s permission to even begin the process of divorce. Marriage at that time was a contract between two parties that didn’t normally include the woman.

As Jesus preaches a gospel of love and forgiveness, continually lifting up those who are forgotten, broken, ill, and tossed aside I find it difficult to believe that Jesus would be against divorce in the situations where there is physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or any other type of abuse. I pray that those who find themselves in those situations can be comforted by the fact that the church’s doors and Jesus’ arms are open to them - always.  That one can find reconciliation, peace, care, growth, and love in this place, in this community of the Body of Christ. But, even in those situations, divorce still hurts and still wreaks havoc on an individual’s and a family’s and a community’s faith and wholeness. Yet, it is in this place, and within this community that we are reminded that our God is the one who heals brokenness, who brings separated parties back together, who reaches out, beyond the bounds of convention and tradition, toward those who are most vulnerable.

When our limits are reached, when we are stretched to the point of breaking, and we can no longer keep our promise and covenant with one another, God’s love and forgiveness endures where ours cannot. No one enters marriage intending it to end in a divorce; we don’t commit ourselves to one another, before our friends, family, and God and think ‘this will never last’ or ‘how can I get out of this.’ If you do, you’re not marrying for the right reasons anyways. But, we do have our limits, and our promises are broken for many ‘good’ reasons.

The wonderful thing to know this morning is that the Gospel reading doesn’t end with hard words on divorce.  Instead, Jesus – full of grace and merciful inclusiveness – ends this discussion on who belongs in the kingdom of God. As I’ve mentioned at other times, kids weren’t particularly thought of positively as they are today.  They didn’t become ‘real’ people in the eyes of those around them until a certain age. The disciples wanted to keep folks from bringing their children to Jesus, they weren’t ‘important’ enough to garner his time. But Jesus says no – let them come; they belong to the kingdom of God. God is for them too. ‘Them’ being the outcast, the ones with no or little voice in society.

Yes, Jesus does set the bar rather high for us, his disciples. We are to marry and not divorce. We are to have love, compassion, and mercy for the needs of the ‘little ones,’ all of those standing on the outskirts of our society; whether they are children, the recently divorced, the poor, the ill, the disabled, or the forgotten.  However, in many ways, we fail at this call to love all those around us. We are a broken people and we have limits. And, more often than not, especially when it comes to marriage our limits can be reached and are ruptured. The glorious good news is that spread out above, around, below, and in us is the love of God that continues to endure and love for each of us, even when because of our limits we cannot love others in return.

Christ walked the path of his ministry to the Cross. Jesus’ love for us went to the very end, to the cross.  Upon that cross Jesus sacrificed himself for our brokenness and sin. Come to him, knowing that despite our flaws and limits, Christ loves us fully and completely. Where we have been broken and torn at the result of divorce, Christ makes us whole. Where we feel ashamed for our lack of love for others and from others, God is there loving us fully and completely. Where others cast us aside as the result of a broken relationship, God clamors to be with us, holding on to us, and never stops loving us. 

God does indeed sew us back together into that wonderful tapestry of life, love, and mercy. Amen.


10-08-2015 at 10:50 PM
Ben Bowers
Great sermon. I hate we couldn't hear it in person.
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