Sermon for 4th October 2009. The Revd. J. Michael Povey at St. Boniface, Siesta Key, FL
Genesis 2:15 - 3:21
15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
18Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
2Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But 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. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Partnership, relationship, marriage and divorce.
Week by week at Eucharist we read from very ancient documents. We invest them with a particular value for we call them “The Word of the Lord”. From time to time we are tempted to roll our eyes, guffaw, or even groan when these words seem obtuse, ridiculous or patently false. It’s at those times that we remember that these sacred texts are the words of humans.
It is from these flawed and fallible human words that we, if we are lucky or careful, hear the word of God. That’s as it should be. For we, flawed and fallible humans, are also be the lenses through which others encounter God’s word.
As we read or hear the texts we are always asking “What is the story behind the story?” In other words: “who is telling the story?, and, “why is it told this way?, and “what kind of literature is this?”, and, “ what is the story tellers’ angle?”, and “where is God in all of this?”.
We hear the stories with faithful ears. We hear the stories with critical ears.
So when we look at the Genesis passage with critical eyes we recognize that what we read is in the realm of myth, not history.
All peoples have myths about their heritage and history. Myths are the attempt to convey important or even essential truths about who the peoples believe themselves to be. The one we read today from Genesis, is from the mythology of the Hebrew people.
As we read this mythology we are led to ask: What’s behind a story about a tree of the knowledge of good and evil; about the man’s naming of the animals; of the creation of a woman out of the man’s rib? How and why is this creation story different than the one in Genesis chapter one?
When we turn our attention to the Gospel reading it is to understand that Mark (and the other gospel compilers) are engaged in proclamation. They believe themselves to be “on to something” about Jesus of Nazareth, a “something” which can shape religious communities. This is not myth, it is propaganda.
What is Mark’s angle as he tells of the interchange between the Pharisees and Jesus? What is the story behind his story?
In previous weeks we’ve begun to understand the game plan of Mark’s gospel. It is to proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God. Mark has announced this in his opening words.
But the “story behind the story” is that the book is crafted as though this was a secret. A secret which was uncovered by various people at various times – beginning with the people at the fringes – a leper, a paralyzed man, a crazed man in a cemetery, a foreign woman etc etc. Inward from the fringes the disciples begin to “get it” - well almost get it.
Today Mark leads us to hear from the ones who will never “get it” – those in the very centre – the religious leaders of the day.
Notice that the Pharisees come to test him. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. They may be “testing him” in the sense that we also to “try ideas or things out”. Whatever was in their minds, (and even Mark does not know that) Jesus lobs the question back at them with his “you tell me what your own sacred writings say”.
So they quote Moses, and Jesus interprets Moses back to them, but he does not answer their question.
It is at this point that our critical questions arise. They arise not for the sheer sake of it, but because in the quest to hear the Word of God, our questions are often more illuminating than the answers of others. Here are two of mine.
Is it possible that the words Jesus speaks to the disciples “in the house”, to the effect that re-marriage after divorce amounts to adultery, are not in fact from “the lips of Jesus”, but have been inserted by some later and more zealous Christian scribe? After all, there is not much in the Gospel which would lead us to believe that Jesus is in the business of making new laws.
How do we deal with the fact that, in the matter of divorce and re-marriage, the Apostle Paul modifies what Jesus has allegedly “ruled” in this passage?
When I was in seminary I learned to love the questions. I still do.
Having raised some questions with you this morning I have no intention of suggesting answers.
These Genesis and Mark readings lead us to ask questions about what is the Word of God, and what are human words regarding partnership, relationship, marriage and divorce?
With you, I know that this whole business of partnership and marriage seems to be in our genes, and as a believer I would say – by design. I also know that the knowledge of good and evil, together with the hardness of the human heart will sometimes lead to painful fracture in human relationships.
But I also believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus means that new life is possible when old life has died or been killed. Let me put that another way. “New love is possible when old love has died or been killed”. New life. New love.