Sermon October 7, 2018
In my priestly role, I have been fortunate to be invited to some very special events. On Friday, I was asked to officiate at a renewal of vows. The couple is from England and they are the parents of my daughter’s friend. They chose a location quite special, the Grand Canyon. They had rented a place in the park called Shashone Point. It isn’t well known and doesn’t show up on the official park map. We had to drive through a locked gate onto a rough dirt road until we reached the canyon rim. That was the easy part. Many of you may know that I am afraid of heights and to get onto the point you had to walk on a narrow ledge with a drop off of over a thousand feet on one side. We all managed to make it out onto the point and had a lovely service. It was glorious. That is why I say that being a priest has many blessings.
For the renewal of vows I chose a portion of today’s gospel reading. We began with the verse that starts “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” We left out the portion of the gospel that speaks of divorce. It totally changes our sense of the reading. We focus on the love that two married people share. While the views were beautiful at the Grand Canyon, the best part of the ceremony was the visible love that you could feel between these two people. And we celebrated, for they have been married for 45 years. They are a wonderful example of how a marriage can show everyone how God loves us all.
Each week, our Bible readings offer a rich array of topics for us to think about. Today is no different. We have stories about creation and our responsibilities to be good stewards. We could talk about the gift that God gave us through Jesus and we could speak about how much Jesus loved the children or even how children can be such an example to us. I thought about each of these different topics and my first idea was to talk about God’s expectation that we be stewards of the earth. Today, I am going to speak about the glories of creation in two ways. First, about how God created so much beauty and our role in that creation. A second point is that as part of that creation God established the covenant of marriage and what that means to us.
The feast of Saint Francis of Assisi was Thursday the fourth. We all know that Francis appreciated the beauty of nature and was especially drawn to all the creatures of the earth. He lived out the words found in Genesis when God said “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” Many brought their pets to be with them today. We celebrate the importance of all God’s creatures. We are thankful for our pets. We know the unconditional love that our pets have for us. I remember times when I came home from a bad day at work and our dog, Chester, would run up to me and greet me with so much joy. God created these animals to help us in our lives and we are to help the animals as well. When God indicated that we are to name these animals. God also wanted us to care for them. We are to be stewards of God’s creation. This month we will talk about stewardship. While the focus may be on how we support this church, I ask you to never forget that we are stewards in many parts of our lives.
Another part of God’s creation is marriage. Jesus spoke of two people becoming one flesh. He also spoke about divorce. I thought about how many people in the church this morning have been affected by divorce and hearing the words of Jesus may create your own memories, thoughts that hurt you in your very being. The words of Jesus about divorce may make you feel sad or guilty or lost. How might we deal with the words of Jesus today?
I would first like to point out that Jesus answered the question of divorce by talking about marriage. Jesus told us that marriage is an important commitment to God. Jesus brought us back to God’s creation describing how God created the world and expected humans to marry and to become one flesh, to be united one with another. Jesus said that God joined together two people and “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate”.
We are fortunate in this community that we have so many examples of what a good marriage is supposed to be like. Thanks to those who work to make their marriage successful. Yesterday, we had a celebration of life for Roz Cope. I remember that Ed and Roz had their renewal of vows in April. They demonstrated the love that exists between husband and wife, another example of how we might love one another.
Jesus’ words about divorce are strong and may be difficult for us to hear. It doesn’t seem as if there is any room for concluding that divorce is OK. I believe that Jesus wanted us to work at our marriage, to do everything we can to keep two people together. In the marriage ceremony it is not just the husband and wife who make a commitment to each other, it is also the community. Everyone attending a wedding ceremony is asked if they will do all in their power to support the couple in their marriage.
One reason that Jesus spoke is that he knew the pain and suffering that comes with divorce. It is likely that both parties who go through a divorce feel a sense of loss and abandonment, a sense of failure and an uncertainty about what will come next in their lives. We call this family Sunday. We always care about families, but each month, we dedicate our service in a special way to families. We ask everyone to pray for families and to offer their support to each other because after all, we are a family in this church. Jesus knew that divorce hurts every member of a family, most especially the children. We pray for all children who have experienced a divorce.
Jesus told us that divorce is wrong. But divorce is a pretty common thing in today’s world. Churches have reached the point where divorce is much more accepted than it was. Divorce is just one of many things that Jesus told us is wrong. We also do things wrong when we lie or cheat or steal. And we do things wrong when we refuse to help the needy.
Saving a marriage may come in conflict with some other sins. It may conflict with abuse or infidelity which are also wrong. And when that happens, we may need to choose the lesser of the sins. It is not what Jesus said but it is what I believe.
We should be clear that divorce may be just like other sins. We ask God to forgive us and God does. For some reason we have come to the conclusion that divorce is a greater sin than others. I just don’t see it that way. Jesus died on the cross to forgive all of our sins, not just some of them. Jesus wants us to live in relationship with God, not to be ostracized for a particular thing that is wrong.
And as Christians, we are called to forgive each other as well. We are called to live in community with one another and to welcome everyone to this church. So, while a divorced person may have done something wrong, we remember that all of us have done something wrong. As we receive God’s forgiveness, we reach out to persons who feel as if they have been forgotten just because what they have done is public information.
My suggestion is that each of us reflects on what we have done wrong, and ask God to forgive us, that we make a commitment to not sin again, and that we pray to remind ourselves of that commitment. After that, let us all rejoice in the forgiveness which we have been offered in spite of the fact that we have done little to deserve it. Amen.
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