Harrowing Of Hell
October 4, 2015

Marriage and Divorce

Preacher: The Rev. Doyt L. Conn, Jr.
Reading: Mark 10:1–16

Last Sunday Kate got the cool Bible story. Maybe it was weird and unsettling, but nonetheless fascinating. It was about Esther. This week I get divorce. I’d rather be preaching on Esther.

Why? Because this is a tough text, particularly when you’re preaching in a country with a 50% divorce rate. If we take Jesus’ words on divorce at face value, we either ignore them, or feel shame because of them, or feel pride because we have not succumbed to them. But here is what I’m going to preach about: the radical, equitable love-generating nature of God because I believe that is what we find in this text. I believe this Jesus teaching is about the radical, equitable love generating nature of God; or to be more specific, the love-generating nature of the Holy Trinity.

To see how I get to this place we need to go back 2000 years. The Pharisees ask Jesus what he thought about divorce. He returned the question with a question:

“What does it say in the law?”
They replied, “that Moses requires a man to write a certificate of divorce when he dismisses his wife.”
Jesus said, “You know why Moses said that? Because of the hardness of your hearts.”

And there we hear Jesus snap convention. We hear Jesus break beyond the context of his times, to articulate God’s preference for all times. The insight is driven by three words: “For this reason.”

The text reads, “God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh.” For this reason… for what reason? For what reason? To have children? To make families? That isn’t what Jesus says. In fact, Jesus tells us in another part of the Bible (Matt 3:9 and Luke 3:8) that “God is able from stones to raise up children.”

So if the “reason” isn’t procreation—for what reason? I believe the reason is to open us to our best selves; to make us available to our most holy and whole and healthy selves; to open our eyes so we can see more clearly and experience more fully how we are made in the image and likeness of God.

In today’s lesson, Jesus is quoting Genesis 2. You know the story. God took a rib from a human and made Adam and Eve. Then God said (and here is where Jesus is quoting God’s reality preference), “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife and they become one flesh.”

Now what does this quote have to do with the radical, equitable love generating nature of the Trinity? And what does this have to do with God’s reality preference? To find out we need to go a little further back in the Bible to Genesis chapter 1, to the very beginning, when God created that creature, that human being, from which God took a rib to make Adam and Eve.

That creature was called adamah, or earth creature. And when God made it, God said: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Let us make humankind in our image and our likeness. “Let us…” “In our…” Plural pronouns. Our God is a plural God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our God is a relational God. And for us to be like our God requires our being in relationship.

And so God took a rib from the earth creature and made two different people—not for procreation, but for relationship. You need at least two people for a relationship. That was Jesus’ first point, but the Pharisees knew that. The second point is where Jesus snaps convention. It has to do with equality.

In quoting Genesis 2, Jesus is laying claim to God’s reality preference that a child leaves mother and father, because there is never really an equitable relationship between a parent and their child. So they need to leave the nest and find a partner, which is why God split the earth creature in two; so we could find an equitable partner to be in relationship with.

And that is the radical message Jesus was communicating when he said “no” to divorce. Because the divorce he was talking about was a divorce where a man dismisses a woman. There is no equity in this. This is about power. And that is not what God is about. God is about love, which is the nature of the Trinity.

Jesus was against these one-sided, unequal relationships. But he wasn’t categorically against divorce. You know how I know? Because in another Gospel, Jesus qualifies his admonition against divorce with the exception of unchastity (Matt 5:32). He says, “Don’t get divorced unless in the case of unchastity.”

Now when I hear this word, unchastity, I immediately think infidelity. And while that could be the case, it does not necessarily have to be the case; the translation can also read “idol worship.” And in a marriage, idol worship can muck things up, particularly when the idol each person is worshipping is themselves; or to use the parlance of Epiphany: when each person is seeking to build, sustain, maintain, and grow the real estate of their own kingdom, kingdoms clash.

Do you want to know what these battles look like? Start a sentence with “You never…” or “You always…” (Clearly some of you know what I’m talking about.) That is how we begin a conversation about what you aren’t doing to serve in my kingdom, or what I’m not doing to serve in your kingdom. Or to put another way: The idol is the “expectation” I have for my life, and you are not conforming to my expectation as you should. And I know this because “you never…” or “you always…” That will start a fight no matter if you’re married to a woman or a man, or a woman to a woman, or a man to a man, or have a roommate, or teammate, or colleague at work. The impact is the same.

Have you ever been with an older couple, a couple that has been together forever, and one of them says something like, “Look at the wind blowing through the trees.” And the other snaps: “You’re always nagging me about painting the bathroom.” The longer the relationship, the higher the context, and the greater propensity to focus on history and habits, and not on the love-generating nature of the Trinity.

Marriages can end up in kingdom stalemates; and when they do, there is only one way to break free. But before I say what that is, I’ll tell you what it isn’t: It isn’t compromise. It isn’t quid pro quo. It isn’t giving up, or rolling over. It isn’t trying to change the other person. These strategies over time will just leave us bitter or broken or both. We know what this sounds like:

“She doesn’t see what I do for her!”
“Doesn’t he know what I need, or want, or think?”
“What do I get in return for everything I do? Nothing! She never notices.”

She never notices… she NEVER… That is the formula for clashing kingdoms. Jesus calls that unchastity. Jesus calls that idol worship.

Some marriages need to come apart, and they do. Many marriages come apart when they don’t need to. The marriages that should come apart need to because one person tried to constrain the other person from becoming most fully the person God made him or her to be. One tried to hold the other captive within the walls of their kingdom. Jesus called this unchastity.

And many marriages come apart when they don’t need to because both parties have lost focus on God. The couple becomes disoriented. They put the emphasis on themselves or on the other person, or even their children, or work, or dog, and the priority of God is forgotten.

To fix a tattered relationship begins by seeking first the kingdom of God. Trust me, I have been through this in my own life. And I continue to go through this in my own life. When I feel disordered in my relationships I think about moving the furniture. It is my analogy. If I move the furniture in my own heart; if I try to make my heart a more comfortable place for God, I change, and a secondary benefit is that those I am relationship with walk differently. They have to, the furniture has been moved.

When we practice patience for God’s sake, our partner will walk differently. When we practice gratitude for God’s sake, they will act differently. When we practice listening for God’s sake, they will hear us in a new way.

If we are different, if we walk differently, if we are more desirous of God, if we are seeking to step into the Trinitarian love-generating reality of God, life will be different. Seek first the kingdom of God.

As the song goes:

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And its righteousness
And all these things will be added unto you.
Alleluia, Alleluia. (Page, 711)

Make room for God, and the dyad of our marriages, or any relationship we are in, will become Trinitarian love-generating realities as we blossom more fully into beings made in the image and likeness of God.