Rev. Dan Haugh
Please read: Mark 10: 1-16
As technology and communication capabilities increase, it may be safe to assume every single day the world is becoming more connected. This phenomena can be defined as the globalization of the world, unprecedented in history. Yet, with all of this progress and advancement in connectivity, the world is as fractured and divided as it has ever been. Even within the Body of Christ, we find ourselves today a far cry from the united group of Christ followers we read about in the New Testament.
As Pastor Scott alluded to last week, the Protestant church has a long and sullen history of division. The church today finds ourselves growing in numbers but shrinking in unity. We quip and quarrel over many issues and often focus on our differences rather than celebrate what, and who, unites us. We make our distinctions become our identity rather than the Gospel and this has splintered us. Did you know that the latest surveys show there are approximately 41,000 different denominations!
Like the church, our world faces disunity across every boundary and border: geographic, political, economical, social, and sadly even religious. In fact, often it is religious views that fuel hatred and bitterness that leads to suffering. Though connected on a global scale, our world appears to be very disconnected. Our world is indeed broken and in need of healing. This mirrors also the condition of our hearts. This suffering leads towards hardness, isolation and then separation. Separation from loved ones, from God, and from the dream of wholeness that God intends for humanity.
The lectionary texts we read, although difficult in one sense, can help us discern the situation we find ourselves in. The first reading from the book of Job is indeed a difficult passage to understand. The entire story of Job brings up the question of good and evil. Who is to blame for the suffering in the world? Are we justified in accusing God for willing, or at least allowing bad to come upon us?
We know that in this story, Job was tested by the tragedies he endured. The story of Job illustrates that the suffering of the innocent is a mystery that defies all human logic. We cannot control certain actions or outcomes and we may never be fully able to understand why things happen. However, what we can control is our reaction in the face of suffering.
The test for Job was whether to let his heart become hard in the face of suffering. Would he blame God or not? Would this lead to separation? Would bitterness and mistrust rule his heart or praise? Like Satan assumed, it may be easy to praise God when everything in our life is fine, but what happens when storms arise on the sea of tranquility we built our faith around? What happens to our hearts when we face difficulties, tragedies and suffering? There are all forms of suffering in the world and in our lives, and perhaps a very clear example has come to your mind right now. The one constant is that suffering includes loss. We grieve the loss of a dream, a job, love, or even a loved one.
Our gospel text invites us to think about a form of loss. Jesus begins by answering a question about divorce. It should be noted that this question was also meant as a test. Divorce back then, like today had very serious implications, especially on the women and children involved. Unlike today, women had no rights. In Jewish law, the practice of divorce was exceedingly easy and at the entire discretion of the man. In fact, in Jewish law a woman had no legal rights whatsoever and the result was that the man could divorce his wife on almost any grounds.
The law found in Deuteronomy 24:1 permitted a man to divorce his wife if he finds in her some “indecency”. Of course, how one defined that was a matter of bitter debate during Jesus time. There were many schools of thought on when a man could divorce his wife, ranging from adultery alone to a more liberal interpretation if she spoiled a dish of food. Knowing the condition of the human heart you can imagine which school of thought won the day.
Knowing the hardness of human heart, Jesus takes his authority back to the Creation story and quotes Genesis 1:27 stating God’s plan for marriage; the union of two individuals to become one. In this text, Jesus is advocating for the highest standard of unity and protection of the family unit. He is a proponent of “until death do us part” covenant and communion of spouses.
Though allowed, divorce is not ideal and was never part of God’s original plan. For those of us who have been divorced you know the suffering that it involves. Our hearts can become cold and hard towards the person we were so willing to give it to. Our hearts can also become bitter and calloused towards God. This is the test that Job faced and that we all face in the midst of suffering.
Very often divorce impacts the entire family, including children and so it makes sense that Mark immediately retells a story portraying Jesus’ view of these little ones. We read that the disciples mirror the attitude of society, while Jesus once again takes a radical and inclusive view of social structure. According to Jesus, community in God’s kingdom is a place where children are welcome; in fact where any and all are welcome, especially those deemed less worthy by society or the religious authorities.
In this passage Jesus deepens this message of welcome and advocates in stunning fashion that adults must be willing to become like children if they are to take their place in the kingdom of God. This would indeed be a radical saying since children in that day were largely regarded as property, without status or right.
What is so special about children that we must become like them? All of us probably have a relationship with children, perhaps your own, family members or ones you care for or teach. There is great humility in a child.
Children trust and are dependent on parents. Children are vulnerable and fairly straight forward, sometimes to the embarrassment of their parents and even pastors!
This reminds me of story. One day a Sunday school teacher asked her little children, as they were on the way to church service, "And why is it necessary to be quiet in church?" One bright little girl replied, "Because people are sleeping."
There is a time when children think their parents know everything and are always right. To our shame, they soon grow out of that and over time learn distrust. Children place remarkable confidence in other people. A child does not expect any person to be bad, still believes the best about others, and is willing to make friends with a perfect stranger.
Sadly, they are taught that you cannot trust most people and the world is a dangerous and scary place. They are taught to see differences in people. One of the great beauties of children is that they have a short memory; they have not yet learned to bear grudges and nourish bitterness. Children love all things, believes all things, hopes all things. Indeed, in the heart of Jesus, such is the Kingdom of God.
What would it look like for us to see the world through the eyes of a child? Where all are friends and everything can be shared. To see others with trust and not suspicion and to have arms open wide for embrace rather than folded in bitterness. To see the world as a playground and everyone as friends; to see people not based on race, color, creed, tradition, lifestyle, or reputation but as a brother and sister.
You and I know that we do not live a child’s playground anymore. It is true that we live in the “real world”, a fallen world where promises are broken and vows forgotten; a world in which abuse, neglect, and adultery break the union that was once established.
The temptation is to let our hearts become hardened and calloused over time. The test to point our fingers in blame to others or God. To let pride rule our hearts instead of praise.
Yes, there are people in our lives who have hurt us and wronged us. They have caused suffering in our life and we may feel justified to point the finger in blame. But rather than accusation, maybe a child-like forgiveness and love is what is needed.
If Satan was correct in assuming that people will give up everything they have to save their lives, then what great love was demonstrated on that day when a humble servant sacrificed his very life for the sake of others! The cross demonstrates a turning point in the story of humanity. The selflessness and sacrifice and suffering of Christ are the ways towards forgiveness, healing and wholeness.
The cross of Christ, which we celebrate on this Communion Sunday, fulfilled the promise made through Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”
Friends, may we be reminded on this day that God demonstrated his love for us in this: that while we were still sinners, Christ Jesus died for us. He had ever reason to point the finger and appoint the blame. Christ took the blame upon himself and took our sinful nature and hard hearts to the cross with him. In the cross of Christ there is forgiveness and healing. There is freedom and wholeness for our hearts and the world.
Perhaps Jesus’ challenge to us, to be like the little children, extends beyond trust and dependence upon God. Perhaps we are to forgive and forget the wounds of the past, love with abandon, and laugh and embrace our differences with childlike playfulness.
Even in the midst of suffering, our hearts can turn from stone into flesh. Humanity can be healed and our world restored.
May we have the heart of a child towards God and may we see others and the world around us through the eyes of a child. For in doing so we see through the eyes of God a vision for humanity and his Church; whole and united. May this become our vision in this World on Communion Sunday. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.