St. Paul’s 10-7-2018 – Proper 22
The 20th century Swiss theologian Karl Barth is quoted as saying, “One must do theology with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other.” I agree with him; I want my engagement with the world to reflect and inform my engagement with Scripture. But sometimes, the task of connecting Text and World is hard. The gap between the God-ordained reality I long for and the human reality I live in feels impossible to bridge. Sometimes, it hurts too much to hope.
Perhaps like many of you, I spent hours this week listening to, reading about, and reeling from the events unfolding in Washington D.C.. Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh have each testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the FBI was given one week to investigate Ford’s claim that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both students in high school. Since a week ago Thursday’s, the nation has virtually exploded in pain, rage, doubt, and frustration. I can’t sift through the headlines fast enough. The FBI has finished it’s investigation. It was not received well by many people and it certainly put the FBI in a no win type of situation. The Senate has confirmed Mr. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court for better or worse.
Social media — both conservative and liberal — is awash in grief and fury. As a country and as a culture, we are bleeding out.
My intention here is not to challenge or offend anyone’s political sensibilities. All I know is that many people are heartbroken, exhausted, and angry. Having talked with a number of women and men who have been victims of sexual abuse, and as survivors have spent days remembering in vivid detail what it felt like to be silenced, threatened, and dismissed by the people they hoped would protect them, people are struggling to find a way forward. I’m struggling most of all to come to God’s Word with hope. I crave a word that is relevant. I crave a word that will heal. So I hold the Bible in one hand, the newspaper in the other, and pray to hear God’s voice in the cacophony of this moment.
The lectionary this week pairs a familiar portion of the creation story in Genesis with Jesus’s teaching on divorce in the Gospel of Mark. While these texts are straightforwardly about marriage, I think they offer us a broader vision as well. They speak to all human relationships, to the ways in which we see, treat, protect, harm, empower, and disempower each other. If we read them with an open mind, they offer us a meaningful and timely commentary on our common life.
In the beginning (the Genesis passage tells us) God saw a grave problem. In the midst of lavish, freshly designed goodness, God paused, looked around, and frowned. It is not good, God said. It is not good for a human being to be alone.
Of course, the human being wasn’t alone. The human being had God, presumably the best companion of all, the companion in whose very image the human being had just been made. Moreover, the human being had all of Creation — sweet, uninterrupted communion with the birds, the animals, the trees, the flowers, the waterfalls, the mountaintops, and the oceans. And yet. It is not good,God said.
In response to the problem, God dreamed a wild dream. A dream of likeness. A dream of partnership. A dream of intimacy. When the dream was realized — when God brought Eve to Adam — the first human being cried out in a kind of joy that had never been heard on the earth before: This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, Adam said. Here at last is a true equal. A companion. A friend. Here is someone I instinctively recognize — someone obviously as precious, as singular, and as priceless to me as own bones, my own flesh, my own self.
Human community began, Genesis tells us, with complete empathy and mutuality. God’s model for the human family was a model of equality and nurture. What Adam noticed first was not difference. It was similarity. Bone of my bones.
God’s initial dream for human relationship was so magnificent that several centuries later, when a group of Pharisees tested Jesus with nitpicky questions about the legality of divorce, Jesus referred them straight back to Genesis. The question is not a legal one, he told them. Not at its heart. At its heart, the question of all human interaction, all human community, is spiritual. What did God originally intend? What is God’s enduring dream? That the two become one flesh. That no one separates what God joins together. That we receive each other as equals, as partners, as intimates. That what we are to each other is not commodity, object, scapegoat, or conquest, but an extension of our own bones and flesh. Companions as essential, as vulnerable, and as worthy of tenderness and protection as our own bodies.
That, Jesus reminded the Pharisees, was and is God’s dream, and what hinders the realization of that dream is our hardness of heart. In other words, the reason human relationships fail, the reason we wreak such destruction and brokenness on ourselves, is not because God’s dream is naïve, idealistic, or fantastical. It’s because we human beings are hard of heart. We trade partnership for power. Mutuality for manipulation. Empathy for egotism.
I need to pause here, because I know that these passages of Scripture are often applied only to marriage and divorce, and that many Christians feel judged and condemned by them. Just to be clear: I don’t believe that what Genesis describes and Jesus affirms in these readings is easy or even attainable for every couple who walks down the aisle and says, “I do.” To remember that God’s desire for human marriage is lifelong intimacy and companionship is not to suggest that God’s ideal is always possible, or that failing in marriage is a sin. It’s not.
What these readings give us is something beautiful and sanctifying to aspire to. They depict marriage as good —as good for us, and for the flourishing of goodness between us. God’s dream is that human relationships serve as dedicated, lifelong schools for love. Lifelong because it takes us flawed human beings at least that long to learn how to love well.
But Scripture also makes abundantly clear that God does notlove any dream more than God loves us. His dream for marriage is not meant to trap us, wound us, diminish us, or condemn us. Adam’s cry at seeing Eve was a cry of pure joy, a cry of ecstatic recognition. But sometimes joy dies. Sometimes the familiar becomes unrecognizable. Sometimes intimacy ends in betrayal. When these things happen, there is grace and there is freedom. Always, always, always — there is both grace and freedom.
I started this sermon hoping to find in the lectionary some balm for the political, social, and cultural pain we face this week. As I consider God’s longing for us to experience deep companionship (It is not good for human beings to be alone), as I reflect on Adam’s recognition of equality and mutuality (Here at last is bone of my bones) and as I absorb Jesus’s diagnosis of our current brokenness (Because of your hardness of heart), I mourn what we have become, and I cling to the hope that we can still become something better.
What would it be like if Boys will be boys gave way to Bone of my bones? If the powerful recognized the Imago Dei in those who are powerless? If women ceased to be objects and became subjects? If conquest gave way to companionship, and legal bickering gave way to love?
At this particular moment, when so many of us feel tired, angry, and bruised, God’s dream for human community might feel like a pipe dream. Hardness of heart might feel easier and more accessible. Perhaps it is. But something in me thrills at the dream, even still, and I believe that’s because God planted the dream deep into our hearts a long time ago, and trusts us to keep it alive now. Bone of my bones. Flesh of my flesh. One humanity. Perfect joy. This is the dream we were created for. Let’s not give up on it.
Let us pray:
judge us as only you can,
with scouring truth
and rinsing encouragement,
for left to ourselves,
we are anxiously condemning
or angrily defensive.
By your mercy
restore the circle of humanity
we have broken
by our acts and attitudes
of exclusion and indifference,
our faithless biases,
our mindless competiveness
our niceness at the cost of honesty,
our pretenses that distance us,
our fear of guileless intimacy,
our hypocrisy in blaming and ignoring
the victims of injustice,
our timid collusion in the unraveling
of community and the spiraling down
of our common society into the pursuit
of merely personal, private, political, even pious goals.
God of our noblest dreams and deepest hopes,
restore in us clean hearts,
right minds, a glad resolve
to help remold the soul of our time,
to rejoin the private lives of each of us
to the public life of all of us
and the promise and dream of your kingdom.
By your canny power,
pressure us not to compromise our integrity into duplicity,
our passion into passivity,
our creativity into conformity,
our compassion into indifference,
our conscience into cynicism,
that we neither betray
the deepest longing of our humanity
for the bondage of seductive false security,
nor forsake the audacity of our faith
for the conformity of juiceless trivial pursuits.
So, by your grace, shall we be mercifully set free
to believe and live your dream,
to join with you in healing the broken heart
and broken circle of your human family,
and find our lives stretched to joyful proportions
by the stunning grace of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Welcome to this place:
where children and seasoned citizens sit side by side,
where heaven and earth embrace in peace,
where God has been, is, and always will be.
Welcome to this place, as we gather with all of God’s children:
where we find God’s love,
where we hear the tender voice of Jesus,
where the Spirit teaches us new songs.
Welcome to this place, where all is made ready by our God:
where we bring our hunger, and find food;
where we bring our brokenness, and find healing;
where we bring our very selves, and find acceptance.
Priorities of our lives can be witnessed in our giving. John wrote:
“If any has earthly resources and sees a brother or sister in need,
but closes their heart against them, tell me,
how is God’s love abiding in such a person?”
Good question. How do we answer?
Let our offerings speak faithfully
of God’s abiding presence with us.
As you leave this sacred space,
live out your connection with one another,
knowing that all humanity is
bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh,
one world communion.
As we leave this sacred space,
know we do so with the
Blessing of God Almighty….