Holy Trinity Episcopal Church


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    Oct 07, 2018

    20th Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Mark 10:2-16

    Preacher: The Rev. Greg Farrand

    Series: Year B: 2017-2018

    Category: Special Services


    Both our readings today focus on marriage. The creation narrative in Genesis tells us about Eve creation from the rib of Adam. In the Gospel reading, Jesus has an intense exchange about marriage and divorce and adultery.

    I had multiple people approach me this week and say, “Well man, how are you going to talk about these passages?”

    A good friend of mine, who happens to be a woman said, “That Genesis reading is kind of offensive. It is so man-centric. The woman is taken from the rib of the man to be his little helper? Come on.”

    Another person said, “You know there are a lot of divorced people in our church. All that talk about adultery, this Gospel reading is disruptive.”

    Now, when multiple Episcopalians approach me before a sermon to talk about Bible passages I pay attention. These passages invite study and deep reflection.

    These are critical issues. Is the creation narrative sexist and patriarchal? Is Jesus saying anyone who is divorced and remarried has committed adultery?

    And it’s my hope, perhaps foolishly, in the next 15 minutes, to delve into the biblical, theological, historical, and sociological root structure in a way that creates space for honest reflection and real life application. So let’s dig in together.

    Let’s start with Genesis. In the creation narrative starting in Genesis chapter 1, God crafts the world, starting with light, and the sky, then the oceans, then the land. Over and over again it says, “and God saw that it was good.” God saw that the light was good. God saw the dry land was good. God saw that the plants and vegetation were good. Chapter 1 ends with the statement, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.”

    Then, in chapter 2, we see the very first time that God says something is “not good.” “It is not good for the man to be alone.” The very first articulation of something wrong in this paradise of Eden is that Adam is alone. He needs a partner. In the words of Genesis, he needs a helper.

    The very first problem that God articulates and engages is a sense of isolation and loneliness. God wants Adam to have a partner with whom he can share and experience life. God wants Adam to know he is not alone, he is not isolated. In many ways, the microcosm of this moment contains the entire story of the Bible. But more on that later.

    So God, seeing that it is not good, puts Adam to sleep, early anesthesia, and removes a rib. From this rib, God crafts Eve.

    Now, from our 21st century perspective, we can say there is a lot wrong here. The idea that woman exists as a subset of man is offensive. The idea that woman’s identity and purpose revolves around men is antiquated and even hurtful. That should be clearly stated. This story passed down through oral tradition for generations and written down in this form probably between the 3rd and 6th century BCE.

    The Bible is a collection of books and writings written over many centuries. Our Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, contains the dynamic history of a people group slowly growing in awareness and understanding of God and spirituality. When God would reveal divine truth, it would always be filtered through that person’s existing paradigm.

    When Genesis was written, it was a patriarchal time where women had little to no rights and often viewed as second class citizens if not slaves.

    The divine truth revealed to the author or authors of Genesis filtered through a patriarchal lens. And so, not surprisingly, we have a man-centric perspective. Obviously we have evolved quite a bit since this creation narrative was written 2500 years ago.

    Now, with that said, if we then throw the entire story away because there are offensive parts... if we throw the baby out with the bathwater, we will miss some incredible insights and revelations. We will miss out on some truly stunning beauty. We will miss out on our root structure and our origin story. If we throw it all away, we will be guilty of what CS. Lewis calls “chronological snobbery.” He says we are guilty of chronological snobbery if we judge history only by our current cultural perspective. It seems to be human nature to believe our current cultural perspective is the pinnacle of enlightenment. We then judge other perspectives from our ivory tower.

    But just think, in another 500 years what people will think about what we have written in our time. What if an archeologist finds your journal centuries from now? They will think we are so antiquated and unevolved. It does not delegitimize our perspective but it simply reflects our cultural moment.

    When we look at Scripture, we can maintain our healthy perspective, identify unevolved views, and celebrate the divine revelation flowing through that finite writer.

    In fact, while the creation narrative can be offensive to our 21st century ears, when it was written, it was very forward thinking. In a time when women were often viewed as little more than a possession, the creation narrative says that Eve was created to be a partner of connection and intimacy with Adam. God didn't create Eve for utility. God created Eve because the experience of life in isolation, a life of separation and loneliness is not good.

    This was meant to be a win-win. A gift to Adam and a gift to Eve. True partners to experience life in the paradise of Eden.

    In fact, the Hebrew word for “helper” that is used to describe Eve is used a total of 22 times in the Hebrew Bible. Most of the time it is describing God helping Israel! So Biblically, the term “helper” is not condescending. It implies intimate partnership and not hierarchy.

    2500 years ago, this story recognized the dignity of women and declared that God personally crafted them through divine power and with purpose.

    Now, this creation narrative is not meant to be the high water mark of revelation. It is not meant to be the ending point of how we view things.

    As I said, this was written thousands of years ago and reflects the lens of reality of life in the Middle East. It was a moment in the spiritual evolution of humanity.

    And that word evolution is important and appropriate. Just like the solar system evolved and our planet evolved over millions and millions of years, the Bible articulates the dynamic evolutionary process of the Israelites evolving over generations and centuries.

    In the same way, all throughout the Bible, we see an ever evolving understanding of human dignity and understanding of divine love.

    It’s like we start in Genesis with a tiny spotlight of understanding of God. Then throughout the generations, throughout the Old Testament we see this spotlight grow brighter and brighter… From Abraham and Isaac... To Moses and the 10 commandments to King David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant. With each century we see greater awareness of the human dignity and deeper understanding of divine love. The spot light is growing brighter and expanding wider. And then when Jesus appears, the house lights come on.

    In Jesus we see a revelation of divine presence that changes the world.

    Jesus who embraces the outcasts, Jesus who welcomes the despised, Jesus who gives dignity to the shamed.

    Jesus treats women as equals, invites hated tax collectors to be his disciples, and embraces the despised lepers as his brothers and sisters.

    Which brings us to our Gospel reading. He is in the middle of some very intense teaching. Our reading last week was from this same teaching where Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”

    He, of course, was not being literal, but was being intentionally disruptive to invite people to a shift of consciousness.

    You’ve heard us say this before that Jesus was a teacher in the Wisdom Tradition. Wisdom Teachers were not trying to deliver TED talks with three logical points and a practical application.

    Wisdom teachers were all about disrupting our current level of consciousness and inviting you to expand your awareness.

    It’s like you’re happily riding your bike down the road with your current understanding of God and life nd a wisdom teacher loves to run up and put a stick in the spokes of your consciousness so that you fly over the handle bars. With the desire to set you free. When Jesus said cut off your hand, he was intentionally disrupting his audience inviting them to a shift and deepening of perspective.

     In our Gospel reading today, we see the same dynamic. The Pharisees are grilling him about marriage and divorce.

     They asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.”

    So Jesus said in essence, Moses knew better but realized people were so locked into their limited understanding, their hearts were so hard, he gave them an easy way out.

    Jesus is saying Moses made up a rule that all men had to do to divorce their wives was write a certificate. Divorce was easy for the man. Divorce could be used as a weapon… used to power over and dominate a woman… used to keep her in fear.

    Because in that culture, a divorced woman would often be left destitute. Without family, without resources.

    Jesus said, “That law of Moses is wrong.” It does not respect the dignity of women. It does not honor women. It is utterly incongruent with the heart of God. This is already shocking. Jesus just said that this law of Moses was not from God… that it was wrong.

    Jesus was inviting them to another evolutionary leap in the understanding of the heart of God and, in this case, the dignity of women.

    You can’t just divorce her on a whim. You can’t lord this over her and manipulate her in fear. And as a wisdom Teacher he says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

    This is a stick in the spokes. Designed to disrupt the Pharisees.

    I do not believe that Jesus was laying down a new law any more than telling people to cut off their hands was a new law. He is stirring the heart and inviting deep reflection. He is blowing apart their existing paradigm and inviting them into a new level of consciousness.

    I believe the heart of his teaching is calling people to radical commitment to love. Calling people to recognize the radical and sacred commitment that marriage is. You can’t just divorce her if you want… and go sleep around. And she can’t either.

    The heart of Jesus’ message is calling us to live into the worth and dignity of loving one another.

    Jesus is inviting them to an evolutionary leap forward in their understanding of God and marriage, and the dignity of women.

    And that evolutionary movement did not stop 2000 years ago… that process of divine revelation continues within the human family to this day and beyond. Humanity’s understanding of Divine love and the dignity of all continues to expand.

    For example, over the centuries we have seen a radical global shift in the view of slavery. Just a few centuries ago it was still embraced around the world and now it is illegal in almost every single country. It is still a huge problem that the tide is moving forward.

    In recent history we see the evolutionary movement continuing to flow in regards to race. From the civil rights movement led by MLK to the end of Apartheid led by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Now, clearly, we still have a very long way to go in our evolution. I believe racism resides in our cultural ground water. But the evolutionary trajectory, measured over centuries, is clearly headed in the right direction.

    I see the same encouraging movement forward with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We have a long way to go but I am encouraged about how far things have evolved even in my 46 years.

    And we see the same slow healing tide flowing across the centuries in regards to women. And this tide is slow. In America it was not even 100 years ago that women gained the right to vote. But the healing tide is moving forward.

    And now, the #metoo movement continues the evolutionary tide. It is another invitation to an evolutionary leap of consciousness… calling for women to be treated with dignity and as equals. The #metoo movement gladdens my heart and I believe continues the evolutionary tide forward… the very tide that Jesus encouraged 2000 years ago.

    Now, recognizing, in the macro view the trajectory of this spiritual evolutionary tide is deeply encouraging. Things are slowly moving in the right direction. History reveals this movement of hope. Love will win. In the slow evolution of time, light will overcome the darkness. This can prevent us from falling into cynicism and hopelessness.

    In the words of the great theologian and scientist Tiehard de Chardin, “Trust in the slow work of God.”

    But trusting in the slow work of God does not take away our responsibility. Just because the healing tide is flowing in that direction doesn't mean we don’t have a key role to play.

    We have the power through our choices to either help the healing tide of spiritual evolution or hinder it.

    We can speed up the coming of the Kingdom of God or slow it down.

    I believe that is God’s invitation for us. That is our calling. The great evolutionary movement of Jesus love continues to flow and he is inviting you to join him in the healing of the world.