October 7, 2012

The Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Robert G. Moore, Senior Pastor
Christ the King Lutheran Church
Houston, Texas



Readings (NRSV) and Psalm (ELW):
Genesis 2:18–24
Psalm 8 You crown us with glory and honor. (Ps. 8:5)
Hebrews 1:1–4; 2:5–12
Mark 10:2–16

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus runs into trouble yet again as he carries out his mission to proclaim the good news that God’s rule has drawn near. Jesus is dedicated to bearing witness to the truth of God’s rule over creation. His faithfulness to his divine commission is so complete that he willingly sets himself up for conflict with those in charge of the world whether local, regional, national or international. It is for that reason that the power of Jesus’ message is measured by its effect on the powerful, on those with status, and on those who feel secure with respect to their positions in this world.

Jesus’ opponents continually confront him with questions designed to entrap him. They set their traps in such a way that Jesus must step forth as a spokesman for the will of God, even if by so doing he puts himself at odds with the Pharisaical teaching regarding Torah.

The Pharisees approach him and ask him,

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”(Mark 10:2)

Of course, it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife! The Pharisees know and Jesus knows that Moses provides for such a measure in the Book of Deuteronomy (Cf. 24:7). So what is at stake in Jesus’ answer? The Pharisees know that Jesus has been teaching about deeper understanding of the will of God than just the formal rules governing human conduct in the personal, social, and political realms.

Jesus fights fire with fire and throws back in their faces the will of God as expressed in the most basic stories of creation found in chapters one and two of Genesis. We heard chapter two this morning. There the most fundamental characteristic of the human race is laid out in these words.

The LORD God said, “It is not good that the [hu]man should be alone;
I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18)
And thus begins the story of splitting of the human being into male and female which accounts for how it is that two spend their lives wanting to bring together what God has fashioned in a wondrous way that they may be together, physically and emotionally.

Note that the story establishes the fundamental value in our relationship to God, even beyond the marriage relationship. It is not good for the human to be alone. Sexuality has been politicized so much in our world that we have honored those who have broken their relationship with their wives over those who find themselves in faithful, life-long relationships with partners of the same gender.

The politicization of marriage in Jesus day had lethal consequences when criticism was made of those who were in power. We already know of the fate of John the Baptizer who was arrested by Herod because he criticized the king for marrying his brother’s wife. In Jewish society a woman could not divorce her husband. Only the husband could divorce his wife. So when Herodias divorced her husband she was clearly acting out of Greco-Roman rules and not Jewish rules. John accuses not only the king but also the queen of adultery. John literally loses his head over this controversy.

So you can imagine what Jesus is thinking when the Pharisees ask him their trick question. Desperate situations call for desperate actions. Jesus posits scripture against scripture. He declares the teaching given by Moses in Deuteronomy is, in fact, opposed to the Hebrew vision of marriage in the Book of Genesis.
Wow! No wonder Jesus himself is on the slippery slope of biblical interpretation and is sliding toward the same fate as John the Baptizer. Jesus says,

“Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)

When the Pharisees bring this news back to Herod’s palace, Jesus will be in politically hot water. He is messing with the powers that be.

Can you imagine what would happen to Jesus in our world? Jesus comes talking about relationships and how they are to be conducted on the personal, social, and political levels. He posits scripture against scripture holding out the goal of faithfulness. But there is more. Jesus comes proclaiming the rule of God.
Jesus’ faithfulness to God gives him clarity as to what is the will of God for humanity. It is in this clarity that Jesus can read scripture in a discerning way so that he can cut through the web of legalism and self-justifying casuistry and represent God on earth. Jesus is willing to proclaim God’s will for faithful relationships even if his word puts him at odds with people of high estate. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem in the knowledge that his faithfulness to God will result in his pouring out his life, not keeping it.

Dear brothers and sisters, today we hear the good news of the kingdom of God that offends the proud and the mighty and those who vainly believe that they are self-sufficient and not in need of personal, social, and political connectedness. This good news, however, at the same time welcomes those of no account. Jesus was a holy man. For this reason the masses of people brought their children to him to be blessed.

The disciples, who continue to be deaf, blind, and uncomprehending, scold the parents to take their children away. They want Jesus to attend only to those adults who have status and not to children who–while obviously loved–were considered to be nobodies.

This Jesus, who is already in the act of pouring out his life for others, takes the children in his arms and blesses them. For it is the nobodies who turn out to be those who are opened to the coming rule of God.
Are you not weary of the wrangling and desperate struggles to be somebody based on evaluation of some vague public that promises to make you important by what you get from them?

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — Too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise — you know!

How dreary — to be — Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog! (Emily Dickinson 288)

In the waters of baptism we have died to that old way of life. We are buried with Christ in a death like his so that we might be raised with him to walk in newness of life (Romans 6). We no longer go about asking the world to pour its values into us, but we go about pouring our lives out for the animals of creation, for our children, for the poor, and for the alien who lives in our midst. We may end up like Jesus, but that is something we can LIVE with.