The 19th Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 22B (Oct. 7, 2012)

Lessons:Genesis 2:18-24 Psalm 8 (5) Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 St. Mark 10:2-16 Semicontinuous Series: Job 1:1; 2:1-10 Psalm 26 (3)

Prayer of the Day: Sovereign God, you have created us to live in loving community with one another. Form us for life that is faithful and steadfast, and teach us to trust like little children, that we may reflect the image of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But 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, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14 But 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. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

St. Mark 10:2-16 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Let the Little Children Come to Me

For three weeks now, Jesus has been speaking to us about children. Today’s text may well be the most difficult text of them all.

In the Gospel lesson two weeks ago, he he brings a little child into a circle of adults (who had just been arguing about who was the greatest among them), and says that his Kingdom has to do with being last, serving all, and welcoming the “little ones” into our midst. (St. Mark 9:30-37) In last week’s text he declares that if we were to cause one of these “little ones” to stumble in faith, it would be better to have a great millstone placed around our neck and to be thrown into the ocean. (St. Mark 9:38-50) Now this week, after some strict words about staying faithful to marriage vows, he welcomes some children into the middle of the circle again, and says, “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” (St. Mark 10:2-16)

Of course, the reality is that most of us who read this passage never get to the children. In today’s world, some 50% of marriages do not endure “as long as we both shall live.” We gather for worship, mindful that more than half of us have been wounded by marriages which have not ended up the way we hoped they would. Most everyone who hears this text on Sunday will either have had first-hand experience of the pain that comes from broken marriages, or care deeply about someone else who has. Instead of Jesus’ words about “receiving the kingdom of God as a little child,” we’ll hear him say, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Or, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

So lest we be accused of dodging the question (something that seems to be happening far too often in this election season), let’s lay it on the table: Jesus teaches us that divorce is wrong. The intent of marriage — God’s intent in marriage — is that a life-long bond grows between two who love each other. This is neither assured, nor easy. Yet it is what God calls us to do. None of us will fully succeed, of course (as none of us ever fully succeeds in living into the ideals God commends to us). There will be times when we neglect each other, fail to appreciate each other, even times when we choose to live apart (spiritually, emotionally, physically or legally). None of us finds ourselves in a position to point a finger at another (“let the one who is without sin…”). Yet as people of faith, we strive to be as faithful as we can to these vows that find a place at the center of our lives and in the heart of our homes.

Because when a loving, forgiving, long-enduring commitment to one another shapes our life together as family, our children are most likely to thrive. After all, that is what Jesus is after in these weeks, isn’t it? His Kingdom has to do with welcoming little ones. It is better to drown, than cause one of them to stumble. And it is they, these little ones, who ultimately teach us what it means to receive the kingdom of God.

So in deep faith and bold humility, let us all confess the ways in which we have fallen short, that the Spirit might pick us up, allow for the possibility of new life, and move through us to touch the hearts and the souls of these little ones in our midst. Amen.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why are the Pharisees questioning Jesus about marriage?
  2. How is their relationship with Jesus different from that of the little children?
  3. What is the connection, for Jesus, between marriage and children?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. When have I failed to honor, in the fullest sense, my own marriage vows?
  2. Who has suffered the pains of a broken family, that I might comfort and support?
  3. How can my church grow in its ability to support marriage and families?