Today I wish to attempt to build a conversation around collective or communal responsibility. This I believe is valuable as our nation seem to hurdle towards self-destruction based upon a unchristian ideal of sole -responsibility. I teach our kids that Christianity has three “I” s so that we can keep one eye on God, one on ourselves and the other is to be able to look out for each other. At the very heart of the readings for today is an understanding that our faith in God leads us to be responsible for each other. This responsibility is not one of choice. No, my brothers and sisters. Our very lives and all of creation depends upon our willingness to be our brother’s and sister’s keeper. To do the opposite … to be the opposite … is not merely harmful but detrimental to our survival and it’s a deep-seated sin against God. That is the premise upon which the conversations in today readings are based.
I choose to begin where it all started which is God’s act of creation. My friends it is that it’s hard to deny that our world is facing an ecological disaster. Why? Because we have failed our responsibility to sustain God’s creation. And now, we’re all at peril. The recent violent flood in our very own city is only a precursor for worse disasters in the very near future. And if you were lucky enough to have escaped loss and injury this time, it may not be a good idea to count on being so lucky when the next disaster appears.
In the Book of Genesis, God invites us to be in relationship with each other not only as husbands and wives but also as responsible participants in the creation. My friends, it’s very easy to add labels in our unconscious desire to avoid the task of journeying together. So, let’s not do that. Instead, let’s take a quick look at some of those labels that have so easily gotten attached to the participants in today’s readings from Genesis and Mark.
The discussions on divorce in the Gospel story can easily be labeled as a condemnation of failed marriage until you look a little deeper. The conversation on divorce began in Deuteronomy 24, which states,
“If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again[.]
I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t make much sense to me that a man who divorces his wife, then, when he realizes that someone else sees her worth and value, will try to reclaim her the first chance he gets. Does that make sense to you? Why did he let her go in the first place?
The Pharisees were not really looking for a true answer to their question. What they were trying to do was to entrap Jesus. They saw how John the Baptist lost his life after he condemned Herod for divorcing his first wife to marry his recently divorced brother’s wife. So their questioning wasn’t about trying to empower women or condemn men. No, it was all about their strategy of trying to ‘catch and destroy’ Jesus. But, as you saw, Jesus didn’t get angry at their foolish questions. He just brushed them aside.
But you also saw how he unleashed his anger on his disciples who “spoke sternly” to the children who were being brought into his presence “in order that he might touch them[.]” Jesus got indignant at that! He told the disciples, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
My friends it is so sad that so much attention is given to the trivial matters that affect the rich and powerful – like Britney Spears’s fight with her father (who cares?) – while the matters that create brokenness and destruction for the powerless are tossed aside – like police brutality, inadequate schools, food insufficiency, children living in poverty and want, and men, women and children treated like animals in Del Rio, Texas.
Do you see, brothers and sisters? Failure of compassion is the travesty that today’s readings are calling out.
Our creation is being horribly destroyed. The victims are those in impoverished communities and nations while the rich and powerful head off to space in their new toys that were paid for with our money. Yes, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos actually had the nerve to say that! Politicians, who are owned by the rich, brazenly stand in the way of legislation that will alleviate poverty. They’re the ones who get all the attention. Men who torment Haitian children on our borders are perceived as protectors of the Land of the Brave and the Free while children suffer and die. Men who have no true understanding of childbearing believe they have the right to rule the minds and bodies of women who they apparently see as nothing more than chattel – just as their forefathers saw enslaved black people.
Our children have lost faith in our teachings and practices because the children can see that our teaching and practices are no longer transformative and are powerless to build equity and sustainability. Our religion has failed them because we focused upon labels and misunderstood the true meaning in the teachings of Jesus.
God made us great and wonderful in His act of creation. God created us in his image. God created us to be in relationship with Him and each other. God sent Jesus to redeem our relationship and then sent His Holy Spirit to sustain our relationship. This is what we believe. We are creatures of God’s love, and our call is to share and sustain this love by being in communion with God and each other. That is what we believe. God created us to sustain His creation as if our very lives depend upon it. And they do! That is what we believe!
My friends, we need to understand and recapture the basic teaching: Jesus on the cross turned a minus into a plus. Right now, in our homes, communities and our nation, there is too much minus happening. So much attention is being placed upon what can be lost rather than what we can gain.
My God is an addition God. He takes away sin to add salvation. He takes away brokenness to add healing. He takes away enemies to add companions. He takes away grief to add celebration. Let us no longer focus on the minus but become a plus faith community, inviting our neighbors in to add to their and our faith in the living God.
Let us be the church where the hungry are fed and the naked clothed, where the weary find rest and the sinful gain pardon and peace. Let us be a people who are willing to do our part in sustaining the environment. Let us be the urban church where urban families gain strength, healing, and support. Let us renew through our act of worship and Holy Communion in our partnership with God and each other.