By Heather Blais
Please note, this sermon is inspired by the writings of David Lose, who cracked this passage open for me to see it in a new light. While I try to capture what he is saying, the best way to grapple with "The Divorce Text" is to read David Lose' own words in "Communities of the Broken and Blessed".
Today’s text is known as “The Divorce Text”. It’s a text which we preachers sometimes wish we could avoid. Primarily, because there are so many potential preaching pitfalls. Please bear with me, as I try not to fall in too many of them.
Until today, I’ve avoided preaching on this text because it hits too close to home. My parents’ divorce defined many aspects of my own childhood, and I was keenly aware that my grandmother died having divorced three times. It’s hit closer to home of late, as dear cousins and good friends find themselves going through divorce.
Many of us have either been divorced, are considering divorce, or have lived through the divorces’ of our loved ones. Divorce has a way of reaching the most tender and raw parts of our being. Which is one reason why when we hear this gospel lesson or a sermon about this text, it’s incredibly easy to start preaching another kind of sermon to ourselves. A sermon of shame or blame, of excuses or anger, of fear or embarrassment. And at this point, if you’ve started to give yourself a fine sermon such as this, I’d like to ask you to stop. I mean it--please stop, right now. Because I have some illuminating news about what Jesus was trying to tell us in this “Divorce Text”.
One way to understand what is happening in today’s gospel, is to relate this text to election season. Now, Jesus is not running for political office in any way, shape, or form. Yet, the Jewish people were expecting a political messiah. Which is why the established leadership were on high alert as they watched Jesus’ public ministry unfold and whispers began to circulate that Jesus might be the Messiah. The Pharisees are the established leaders, they are the incumbents, per say. Some of the crowd that follows Jesus, and the Pharisees, are beginning to wonder if Jesus is the new candidate that might overthrow them.
So they do what politicians do best while trying to preserve their status, their power and prestige--they test the new candidate with a bit of debate. Something they do, repeatedly throughout the gospels. Except this debate is not moderated by CNN, FOX, or PBS. It’s old school.
The Pharisees are testing Jesus’ interpretation of the Torah, their religious law. As the incumbents--the Pharisees have more experience interpreting, understanding, and policing the law. However, like many incumbents, the Pharisees have forgotten what really matters, as well as, what’s really at stake. The Pharisees goal in this debate, is not to ensure the crowd walks away with a better understanding of God’s law, but rather to discredit Jesus and his movement. Yet, Jesus doesn’t fall for their trap. Instead, he redirects their question into an opportunity to teach what really matters to God--relationships. Jesus is teaching the crowd, and all of us, that this law, was and is designed to protect the most vulnerable.
One of my favorite preachers, David Lose, suggests that this scene between the Pharisees and Jesus, is not actually aimed at individuals--which is the way we often take this “Divorce Text”. Instead, Lose suggests this text is about the community. Jesus explains that this law was meant to protect the vulnerable in our community. Typically, a man would seek divorce as a legal convenience, while robbing the woman of her status, reputation, and financial stability. Jesus pushed those gathered to see that this law, and indeed all of God’s law, was created to protect the vulnerable and hurting. Every time we use it for another purpose, humanity is twisting God’s plan, and violating the law in spirit, if not in letter. Jesus was angry that the Pharisees would twist the law to serve their purpose.How could the Pharisees abuse their status, power, and prestige by stepping on the backs of the poorest of the poor?
Jesus is telling both the Pharisees and us, to pay attention. Stop interpreting the law from a silo, instead remember the kind of community God has been calling us to be from the very beginning of creation. God has called us to be communities centered in and on real relationships that are founded on mutual love and respect. Which is why, a few moments after the debate wraps up, when some people bring their children to be blessed, and the disciples try to shoo them away, that Jesus speaks up. Jesus tells his disciples, and all of us, that if we choose to welcome the kingdom, we are choosing to live in a community that is genuinely welcoming to children, that is genuinely welcoming to any and all within the community who are in need. True community, the ideal community is not about perfection. Instead it is about being a beloved community of broken people, always welcoming in those most in need--especially when it is an inconvenience.
This is what the Church is all about. We are all a little bit broken, we have all experienced rejection. We have been divorced, we have been fired, we have been deemed undesirable or unworthy, we have been mocked and left alone. We’ve tried to numb the pain with food, with alcohol and drugs, with pornography, with our smartphones, with our consumerism, with our work, or by keeping busy. Yet, as Christians, we know that these unhealthy tools will only cover up and disguise our brokenness for but a minute. We know that real healing comes when we experience the life changing love of God made flesh in Jesus. We do that by coming together, week in, and week out on Sunday morning.
David Lose writes that, the Sunday gatherings are, “...local gatherings of the broken and loved, of those who are hurting, but also healing, of those who are lost but have also been found, of those that know their need and seek not simply to have those needs met but have realized that in helping meet the needs of others their own are met in turn.”
Moving forward, whenever we encounter a difficult text, I would encourage all of us to try on the lens that Lose offers. Is this text just about me and my walk, or is it about the whole community? Is this text just about my own shortcomings, or is it about our role as a community to protect the most vulnerable? And as we reflect on our community, maybe we also try on the lens Jesus offers. Let us begin to understand that we here at Jimmy and Andy, are a place where God is at work to heal and restore the whole of creation. That by coming together as a community, our problems won’t just disappear.But we will find a community who will understand and care, that will help us discover our potential to reach out and love others, and in turn experience some healing in our brokenness. Whatever brokenness you carry within you, know that you are part of what makes this a community of the broken and blessed. Amen.