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10/4/2009 - The Rev. Susan N. Blue - The Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost / St. Francis Day

posted May 21, 2010, 6:42 PM by Unknown user   [ updated May 21, 2010, 6:43 PM by Terry Brady ]
When I looked at the Gospel for today and its contrast to St. Francis and the Blessing of Pets I wished that John Berry was still the Director of the National Zoo. However, underneath it all, there is one prevailing theme…that of stewardship and responsibility. In creation we believe that God gave humankind stewardship of the earth, of the creatures of the earth, of our children and, ultimately, of one another. I find it frightening that our earth, our creatures, our children and we are all endangered and threatened by generations of ignorance and unwillingness to address the incredible gift and responsibility we have been given.
Global warming is no longer a debatable issue; it simply is! Not only are our exotic creatures endangered, but one only needs to pick up the newspaper to see pictures of abused dogs, cats left to fend for themselves, a plan to perhaps kill all the deer in Rock Creek Park rather than using humane methods of sterilization, and general inhumane use of animals for commercial purposes. We were given the earth and the earth’s creatures to care for, and we haven’t done a very creditable job! We are to take our charge seriously and to challenge the powers that be whenever we see abuse, cruelty or neglect. We no longer have the luxury of turning away.
In Mark’s Gospel for today, Jesus spoke sternly to the disciples when they would have turned the children away from Jesus’ touch. His words were: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” He then held and blessed them. What a contrast to the position of children in the first century! They were considered to be less valuable than slaves. They were the most marginal of all human beings then and, one wonders, if in some places they are not still today. The Roman Polanski crime is not singular; there are children who are sex slaves in all parts of the world. We read of children being physically and psychologically abused – even murdered – by the very persons charged to protect and care for them. Whenever we see abuse, cruelty or neglect of God’s children we are to challenge the powers that be. We are to see that they are protected, educated, fed, housed, clothed and given adequate health care. We no longer have the luxury of looking away. This is our role as Christians and as stewards of the Kingdom of God.
We are also given responsibility for one another as adults, and it is to one facet of this issue that Jesus is speaking when he talks about divorce. In the first century males were the only persons with power. Men were persons and women were objects. The entire Bible was written from that perspective – both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Hence, it is no more productive to find twenty-first century answers in the Bible regarding the relationship between men and women, to proof-text if you will, than it is justify sleeping with one’s brother’s widow, Leverite Marriage, to murder one’s enemies, or to stone someone caught in adultery. There were two schools of thought in first century Judaism regarding divorce. Hillel contended that a man could put a wife aside for any reason; Shamai believed that could only happen for adultery. Further, only a man could institute divorce and, if he didn’t give the woman a bill of divorcement, she would never be able to remarry. If one adds in the factor that it was almost a thousand years later that polygamy was outlawed, we have a very complicated situation.
Jesus never had much patience with the technicality of the law. He challenged it around the dietary rules, the keeping of the Sabbath and the caring for the outcast. He had little patience for the legal intricacies of this debate and simply referred back to Deuteronomy and the Law of Moses. He contended that divorce occurred because of “hardness of heart.” In other words, Jesus reframed the argument from a legal one to a moral issue.
Jesus taught that God wants freedom and wholeness for everyone, not just the few. He also understood that we are all sinners; that we are all flawed and fail to do what we are called to do. Broken relationships are but one area where some of us err. How many of us always turn the other cheek, give not only our cloak but our coat to the needy, always reach out to the outcast, love the unlovable and forgive freely and constantly. All humankind is fallen; divorce is a metaphor for that failure. In divorce, the relationship is sundered and the charge to be one flesh is not followed. Sin is understood to be that which breaks or hinders our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves. All of us fall short.
However, there is good news! We do not have to wallow in our inadequacy. God is all-loving, all-forgiving and totally merciful. No matter how far we have fallen away, we are welcomed, as Jesus did the children, with open arms and blessing. Like the father of the Prodigal, God races to meet us with great joy when we return and ask forgiveness. God wants life for us, not death. Anyone who has been divorced or is a child of divorce understands that it, too, is a death.
Our charge, then, is to accept God’s forgiveness and to demonstrate in our lives new ways of being. God sees us as we are, not as we ought to be, and therein lies new life. Yes we were created for relationship with God, with one another, and with the earth and all of its creatures. Yes, we fail; but God does not! When we are lost, God seeks us out relentlessly and welcomes us home – freely, delightedly, and foolishly! God knows us through and through in all of our willful sinfulness, and loves us all the same. AMEN