Hi friends! Sorry I didn’t get to post this on Sunday – we hosted an impromptu Super Bowl Party (although does anyone follow Young House Love on instagram? Apparently you’re supposed to call it “the big game” because “super bowl” is under copyright – who knew?) and I also figured no one would be listening to my sermon during the Super Bowl anyway – ha!
But on that note – the RCC Super Bowl Challenge is on! I always tell the church that, if the Patriots win, Bruce and I would match, dollar for point, the total number of points the Patriots scored and donate the money to the church. At halftime (when the score was 3-0) our Financial Secretary texted me and said, “The church isn’t going to make any money.”
Granted, the Patriots helped us out a little bit more in the second half, but the challenge has sort of become a free-for-all – people are multiplying the number of points scored by the number of members in their household, by the number of Super Bowls Tom Brady has won, by the MVPs number or just arbitrarily giving me $20 because “that’s what I have in my wallet.” We also have a couple of Patriots-haters that are donating $3 for the Rams – ha!
So if you’d like to join in on the fun, you can send cash or a check to:
Rehoboth Congregational Church
P.O. Box 325
Rehoboth, MA 02769
Write “Super Bowl Challenge” in the memo line and let us know what your challenge is!
Here is my sermon from Sunday. Kind of a tough passage to preach on, but a really good message when you do the research and look at what Jesus is talking about.
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 3, 2019
To Bless The Vulnerable
Last Monday, some of my colleagues asked me if I was enjoying the Year of Mark. I told them that I liked the linear trajectory of preaching through the gospel, start to finish, and that it was giving me the opportunity to preach stories that I sometimes overlooked in the lectionary.
One of them asked, “Did your congregation enjoy the whole year-long idea?”
I responded, “They seem to. They like that it is a continuative narrative.” And then I added, “I think they also like watching me squirm through some of the harder stories to preach on,” and we all had a good laugh about the time I preached on John’s beheading the same day there were several guests in worship for a baptism.
Fast forward to Tuesday morning and I was putting together the bulletin for this morning’s worship service. I opened up my worship planning google doc to see what the scripture was and then plugged it into the online bible browser I use. And there is was, in big bold letters: Teaching about Divorce.
You can imagine the thoughts that went through my head.
I took a photo of the scripture and posted it on my Instagram story with the caption, “Come to church on Sunday and watch me squirm while I try to preach on divorce.”
A few hours later I received a direct message from a friend of mine from seminary who shared with me that he had preached on this same passage a few months ago and that, even though he was really nervous, several people said it was the best sermon he had ever delivered. We went back and forth for a little bit and I shared that one of the things I was most nervous about was that I was going to lose people before I even started preaching; that people would read or hear this scripture and feel anxious about what I was going to say before I said anything at all.
Lance said he understand; that he actually started with a long disclaimer and just asked people to trust him.
So this morning, I am going to ask you the same thing – please trust me. I am not going to preach about our marriages or divorce today– because that is not what this passage is about. I am going to talk about the context that Jesus was speaking in and the greater implications of his words and his teachings.
Okay – deep breath, everyone. Let’s talk about context.
Jesus did not bring up the subject of marriage and divorce by himself; this was a direct answer to a question he was asked by the Pharisees. Jesus had traveled to Judea and was teaching a crowd that had gathered around him when a group of Pharisees asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
Jesus answered their question with a question, “What did Moses command you?” and the Pharisees responded, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”
So let’s talk about Moses for a second: You all know him, right? As a baby, to save his life, his mother put him in a basket and sent him floating down the Nile River, where he was rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter. Later in life, he saw God in a burning bush, brought the Hebrew people out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea and then issued the Ten Commandments from God.
There is obviously more to the story than this; the Books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – the second, third, fourth and fifth books in the bible (in the Old Testament) – contain this Mosaic narrative that is filled with laws, commandments and practices about how we should live our lives.
Some of them are easier to follow than others (but that is a sermon for another day).
The Pharisees, when they asked Jesus about divorce in this passage from the Gospel of Mark, were making a very specific reference to a law given by Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4. Here is what that passage says:
Suppose a man enters into marriage with a woman, but she does not please him because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house; she then leaves his house and goes off to become another man’s wife. Then suppose the second man dislikes her, writes her a bill of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house (or the second man who married her dies); her first husband, who sent her away, is not permitted to take her again to be his wife after she has been defiled; for that would be abhorrent to the Lord, and you shall not bring guilt on the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a possession.
In other words, men were allowed to divorce their wives for no other reason than they found “something objectionable about her.” And if that woman remarried, but then that man found something objectionable about her and divorced her, her first husband was not allowed to remarry her because she had been defiled.
You have to remember that only in very exceptional cases were women allowed to initiate divorce; divorce was, culturally and legally, left to a man’s discretion.
And you also have to remember that women had nothing; they were not educated, they could not purchase property of their own, they had no power. If a man divorced his wife, for no other reason than he found “something objectionable about her” then she had nothing.
No home. No possessions. No way to sustain her life.
Let’s bring it back to Jesus and this morning’s teaching on divorce. The Pharisees referenced this law when they asked Jesus if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife.
And Jesus said, no.
This was not just about divorce; this was about whether or not it was okay for a man to abandon someone who was vulnerable.
And Jesus said, no, it is not okay.
It is not a coincidence that this narrative and lesson about divorce stands in conjunction with Jesus welcoming children into his midst and blessing them. Because they, too, had no power. They, too, were vulnerable. They, too, could not just be abandoned.
The scary thing about this passage is that it can be used to manipulate people (both women and men) to stay in marriages that they should not be in. Scripture is a very powerful thing. When we gather for worship or bible study or even when we read scripture on our own, we have to remember that with this power comes great responsibility; the responsibility to see and understand and question and wrestle with the big picture.
And believe me when I say that I am not downplaying the importance of the covenant of marriage. But I really do not think that was Jesus’ point. I think when Jesus was teaching in Judea, he was talking much more broadly about covenant; about our covenant with God and with the human beings we do life with. It is our responsibility to reach out to the marginalized, the lift up the vulnerable and to search every corner of this earth for the abandoned. As Christians, we are called to affirm the powerless and hear the voiceless.
Jesus said we are called to leave no one behind – not women, not children. If we are lucky enough to be born into this world with privilege then we are to, like he did when he welcomed those little children into his arms, bless those who stand on the margins.
When two people get married, we talk about them entering into the covenant of marriage; but covenants are not just about marriage. Covenants are two-way agreements where both parties assume some sort of obligation. God made covenants with us – with all of humanity – and in those covenants, God not only made promises to us, but, in upholding our end of the covenant, we also made promises to God; promises to be faithful to him and to care for this world and for one another.
When Jesus was talking to the Pharisees, he identified the vulnerable groups of people in his midst – women and children. This morning, I ask you to think about this – who are the vulnerable among us?
And then ask yourself this question – how can I bless them?
This passage is about covenant; the covenant we stand in with God and the covenant we stand in with our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. Today we need to remember that with this covenant comes responsibility; the responsibility to look beyond ourselves, to serve others and to lift up those in need.
We are so very blessed; I know we all face challenges on a daily basis and I am not saying that life is easy or anything, but we live in a time and in a place where we are safe, we have freedoms, we have homes that are warm and keep us sheltered from this blistering cold that we experienced this week, we have access to clean drinking water and food and healthcare – all of these things are luxuries that much of the world, parts of our own country, in fact, does not have.
Jesus told the Pharisees that they could not divorce their wives and leave them abandoned; that we are called to be more faithful than that.
Today, it is just as important that we ask ourselves, how can we be faithful – not necessarily in the covenant of marriage, but in the covenant of our faith, as Christians – to the vulnerable? How can we bless them? How can we uphold our covenant?
Think about that this week.
And do me a favor – try to do one extra thing that will help someone in need.
One thing that might make them less vulnerable.
One thing that might give them a voice, give them power.
One thing that might draw them in from the margins of society.
One thing that might change their life.
Go and bless others.
Let the vulnerable come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belong.
Thanks be to God!
Deuteronomy 24:1-4, NRSV