Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Messy Affair

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2009
Mark 10:2-16

This came in the email just in time for today’s Gospel reading which is about marriage and family. Questions about marriage are asked of children:

“How do you decide who to marry?”

Alan, age 10, says: You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.

Kirsten, age 10, says: No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.

“What is the right age to get married?”

Camille, age 10, says: Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then.

And you have to wonder what kind of home Freddie, age 6, grew up in to say: No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.

“How can a stranger tell if two people are married?”

Derrick, age 8, opines: You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.

Out of the mouths of babes often comes the harsh reality of how sin has impacted God’s instituting of marriage. One of my favorite comic strips, the Wizard of Id, shows us exactly the problem here. A woman in a funeral home standing next to the coffin of her deceased husband says to another woman: An operation might have saved him, but our insurance denied it. Apparently he had a pre-existing condition. To which the other woman asked, What was it? This met with the response: He was alive.

Jesus shows us that this is our problem in the Gospel reading today. Whether you are married or single, divorced or have never been married or are widowed, have children or not able to, grew up in a big family or are an only child, adopted or orphaned, there is something you all have in common: you are all part of a family. In families genes are passed along. We carry on certain traits. One thing that has been passed along from Adam and Eve was alluded to in the comic strip and evidenced by the children who were asked how they view marriage: we are all born in sin. This is called original sin and we can no more escape that genetic trait than we can our eye color or a congenital disease.

God’s creation is perfect, our sin has damaged it. How we approach the good things God has created is even tainted with sin. Today’s Gospel reading gives us some good examples of this. How the Pharisees approach God’s gift of marriage betrays their approach to it. They ask a question consistent with the Law. But this begs the question, doesn’t it? After all, who is the author of the Law? It is God. Jesus even affirms that the Law in the Old Testament permitted divorce. Here Jesus is speaking against it and then admits that God allowed divorce. Oh, He gives a reason. But He allowed it. I hate it when God gets things wrong. How are you supposed to teach that divorce is against God’s will when He gave people an out because of the hardness of their hearts? Wouldn’t that just give people an out today?

Actually, what Jesus is doing is what He always does. He responds according to what is in our hearts. He responds according to what He knows we need. If you seek what you want according to the Law what you will get is the Law. If you are given the Gospel it will be Law to you. On the other hand, if you seek the Gospel that is exactly what you will get. If you get Law you will think it is Gospel, only, it won’t be. God always gives you exactly what you need. Sometimes you need Law. Sometimes you need Gospel.

It all gets to be a very messy affair, this business of Law and Gospel. It’s kind of like a family. Having a family is a messy affair. There’s all kinds of people running around the house complaining about how so and so isn’t doing enough work and so and so messed up my homework and so and so won’t leave me alone and so and so said she’d play with me but now is playing with so and so and some people in the family are just wondering if there will be any peace and quiet at some point in this day or if the yelling and the TV and other annoying sounds will continue on into eternity.

Families do not always seem to be a place of refuge of love and peace and quiet. Maybe that’s why the Pharisees come at the whole situation to Jesus from a Law perspective. If it gets to be where being in this family is bringing me down, can I just get out? I notice Mark yet again doesn’t tell us what the disciples asked Jesus but he does give us Jesus’ response, and if we can judge from that we can see that the disciples still weren’t getting it. Though not testing Jesus as the Pharisees were, they were approaching marriage and family from the same Law perspective as the Pharisees were.

There’s not a whole lot of difference between the Pharisees and the disciples. Conversely, there’s a universe of difference between them and Jesus. They approach marital and family matters the way they approach life. What do I need to do to make this better? How can I make this work? What can I do to get out of it what will be best for me? We are heirs of an astonishingly pathetic tradition. It can be summed up in the cartoon. It’s a condition we all suffer from. We’re alive. Which means, we’re dead. Living for us means what can we do to satisfy ourselves in this life. What that means for us is death. It means if we approach these matters, and life itself, from a Law perspective we’ll get a Law answer. And the Law always condemns. It doesn’t only condemn, but it always condemns. It guides and instructs and shows us the best way, but it never leaves you where you need to be. It always leaves you coming up short. It always ends up condemning you.

On the other hand is the Gospel. But this too is a messy affair. Because the Gospel only comes in when you’re in the mess of sin and need. The Gospel comes in for you, a sinner. Those cute little kids that were being brought to Jesus were cute little sinners. We can smile all we want at the cute little baby in her little white Baptismal outfit. But the true joy that comes from that baby’s life is not in being cute but in being drowned in the waters of Baptism and raised to eternal life.

There will come a point where God will leave you to your own desires. Your ways are the ways of the Law. He will not force the Gospel upon you. He will always offer it to you, but never beat you down with it. If you want to get out of marriage or life only what you want to get out of it He will let you go your own way. But He will always be there for you, offering you the blessing you need. That’s why He blessed those children, because they needed it. They weren’t just cute. They were sinners. They needed to be forgiven. That’s why they were brought to Jesus. That’s why we bring babies and children and adults to the font to be Baptized. To be blessed. To receive the blessing of Christ. To receive salvation. To receive eternal life. To be forgiven of all their sins. To go from that font a child of God.

No matter, our sinful flesh will sit there and step into the role of Pharisee or ignorant disciple. But the Kingdom of God belongs to children! Why do they need Baptism if Jesus says to such belongs His Kingdom?! Yes, our Old Adam loves to approach things from the Law. That’s what got us into the mess we’re in and the need for the Gospel in the first place. We’re shackled by the Law. It’s like being in a marriage you feel like you’re suffocating in. Your consuming thought is How can I get out of this? It’s like longing for the day you can get out from under the demands of your parents so that you can have the freedom that will make your life so much better. The Law will always get you to a place that will leave you coming up short.

Jesus does not say the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to children. You don’t get into heaven simply because you’re a child. You get into it when you are such as they are. And how is that? Well, they certainly didn’t do anything. They didn’t come to Jesus. They didn’t ask Him for anything. They were brought. They were brought to Jesus by their parents. And that is how we must be. We must be brought to Jesus. We can’t come to Him on our own. They didn’t do anything; neither can we.

We get in not because of what we do but because of what has been done to us. We are brought into the eternal Family of God through Baptism. Our Lord is our Savior. Our Master is not ashamed to be called our brother. He has brought us into His family in which there is no longer any genetic strain of sin. We are born of God and inherit the righteousness of Christ. We are brought into a relationship that is of unconditional love. Our Lord is our Husband. We are His Bride. We are joined to Him in Baptism. He invites us to celebrate the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

We await that day. We await it by celebrating a foretaste of it in His Holy Supper. It was a messy affair what Jesus did in instituting His Holy Supper. About to die. To put His life in place of ours. To be the sacrifice, the one slain, the one whose blood was shed. There was no messier affair, the sins of fallen humanity shouldered by the sinless Lamb of God, and yet no more beautiful thing in all of history, no greater love shown. The risen Lord and Christ now comes to you in His very same Body and Blood to grant you His life, His forgiveness, His salvation. Amen.


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