“Living with Integrity in a Broken World”


Pentecost 19

October 4, 2015

 

Text: Mark 10:2-16; Psalm 26; Job 1:1; 2:1-10

         

          Today’s Gospel lesson is one of the hardest Scriptures for me to preach, yet one that I find usually demands that I preach it. I’m not talking about the last part, which talks about Jesus welcoming the children. Everybody seems to like that passage. I’m talking about the first part, where Jesus talks about divorce, especially when the divorced person marries someone else, in ways that many people find harsh.

          I find that the difficulty in preaching this passage is that in virtually every church there are people whose lives have been touched by divorce. Either they have been through a divorce themselves, or they have been through the divorce of their parents, their children, other family members, close friends, and in some cases their pastor or other significant church leaders. In many of these cases a divorced person has eventually married someone else. I know this church is certainly no exception to this. Because people have a variety of opinions and experiences surrounding this subject, one runs the risk of offending someone, no matter what one says. In fact, there have been times in the past that someone took offense at how I approached this subject at the time.

          As Mark’s Gospel tells the story, some of the Jewish religious leaders approached Jesus with a question to test him. Either they were trying to get a grasp on how much this itinerant rabbi actually knew of the Law, or they were hoping he would say something they could use against him. They asked him, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?” Instead of answering, Jesus said, “What did Moses command you?”

          They replied, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to divorce his wife.” That was accurate.   Deuteronomy 24:1 allows a man to write up divorce papers and send her away if he is displeased because he has discovered something inappropriate about her. Other writings of Jesus’ time tell us that the rabbis debated at various times what could be considered legitimate grounds for divorce. Some rabbis said the inappropriate thing had to be something serious, such as adultery. Others, however, said a man could divorce his wife for any reason—even bad cooking.

          At this point, Jesus decided to cut to the chase. He told the Pharisees that the commandment allowing divorce was written because of people’s hard, unyielding hearts. Jesus was more interested in what God intends. Jesus found that intention in two verses from the creation story, Genesis 1:27 and 2:24: “God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” Because God has made the two to be one flesh, Jesus said, humans are not to tear apart what God has joined together.

          Jesus said divorce is not what God intends. I think most people of faith believe that, even though our lives don’t always work out that way. I suspect that what rankles people more is Jesus calling remarriage after divorce adultery. What I had not realized before this past week was that here Jesus also was expanding on teachings from the Law of Moses. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 says that if a man divorces his wife, she remarries, and the second husband either divorces her or dies, the first husband cannot marry her again, because she was considered polluted. In Leviticus 21:7, priests were prohibited from marrying promiscuous women and divorced women, because priests were expected to be pure and to marry such women was considered to make them impure. Leviticus 21:14 even takes the rules further for the high priest—he wasn’t even allowed to marry a widow. He could only marry a virgin.

          The culture we live in finds what I just shared really strange. American culture today has a much different understanding of sexuality than the Bible does. Most people in our time do not seem to connect sexual practices with moral and spiritual purity. Some people have rightly pointed out that when people try to enforce purity codes, the brunt of the enforcement comes down on women, and very little of it on men.

          I do not aim to solve this reality in one sermon—that is too big a subject for the time allotted. I simply want to point out here what Jesus was doing in this passage. Just by making rules intended for certain people (namely priests and divorced men) apply to everyone, Jesus was able to conclude that God’s intent was not only that there should not be divorce, there should not be remarriage after divorce—although in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is quoted as making an exception in the event the divorce was the result of the spouse’s unfaithfulness.

          Speaking of God’s intentions, let’s look at the passage from Job. This story is familiar to many of us. Job was a righteous man: he was honest and lived with absolute integrity, honoring God and avoiding evil. Job had been blessed with considerable wealth and a large family. By all accounts, he had it made. But then things took a serious turn for the worse. Unbeknownst to Job, Satan, the Adversary (which is what the Hebrew word hasatan in the Bible actually means), challenged God concerning Job’s righteousness. The Adversary believed that if Job’s fortunes went to pot, Job would curse God to his face. So God allowed Job to be tested to see if that would happen. Sabean raiders stole Job’s oxen and donkeys and killed his farm hands. Lightning struck and killed Job’s sheep and the shepherds who cared for them. Chaldeans stole Job’s camel herd and killed the cameldrivers. And a violent windstorm struck the house of Job’s oldest son while all his children were there having a party, killing all of them. Even though Job lost his wealth and his family, he maintained his integrity and continued to honor God.

          The Adversary persisted, however. He argued that while Job had lost his possessions and his children, he had not been touched himself. The Adversary believed that if his own flesh and bones were affected, Job would curse God to his face. So Job was stricken with horrible sores over his entire body that left him hurting and itching, sitting on a mound of ashes and scratching himself with a broken piece of pottery. He was so miserable that even his wife urged Job to curse God so he would be put out of his misery. But Job still maintained his integrity. He still chose to bless God, even when bad things happened to him.

          Was it God’s intention that Job suffer like this? I do not believe so, for Scripture tells us in Lamentations 3:32-33: “Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” However, Job’s story does demonstrate to us that God does sometimes allow us to be tested, as we are reminded in 1 Peter 1:6-7: “for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Job passed the test. He continued to maintain his integrity. He continued to trust God, in spite of all he had been put through.

          Much of what happens in our world is not what God intends. Our world is broken in many ways. We experience brokenness in our relationships with others, in our physical health, in unjust systems that value some people less than others and treat them accordingly, and in many other ways. Faithfulness to God does not guarantee us loving relationships, prosperity, success, or a happy, comfortable life. We may, indeed probably will, be tested in this life. We will almost certainly experience trouble and difficulty somewhere along the way. The question for me and for you is: Do we maintain our integrity when this happens? Do we continue to put our trust in God and seek to live in God’s ways? Do we keep the promises we have made to others?

          Regardless of the tests that life in this broken world may throw at us, let us live with integrity. Let us trust God without wavering. Let us continue to do what is right and good, and turn away from evil. Let us be faithful in our living, our loving, our relationships, and our service to God and to our neighbors.

                                                                   Amen.

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