A sermon preached by the Rev. Linda Harrison
Prop 22-Ord 27; October 7, 2018
Genesis 2.18-24; Psalm 8; Hebrews 1.1-4, 2.5-12; Mark 10.2-16
Bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh. A most glorious hymn of praise and honor to God for relationship.
First, God formed the human creature from the earth. God created ha ’adam from ’adama. The human was formed out of humus – and no, not hummus, that lovely Middle Eastern dish made with chickpeas and tahini, but humus, pronounced HYOOMUS: compost, rich soil. God created the earth creature out of the rich earth … and the creature was alone. Every attempt to find an equal and fitting companion failed. No beast of the field, no bird of the air, no creature of the sea could fill the void.
Then, at last, God created a full and equal partner for the earth creature, and ha ’adam sang for joy: at last, at last this is one who is like me, with whom I can be on an equal footing!
Until this point in the text, the earth creature has been alone and without gender. The language in the Hebrew is very clear. Only when God creates the companion for ha ’adam does the creature become ish and ishshah – male and female. It is not until after their transgression at the end of chapter 3 that we read the proper name for the man, Adam (Humanity), in connection to the proper name for the woman, Eve (Life-giver).
Before things go awry, ha ’adam sings out in delight: bone of my bone; flesh of my flesh – there is completeness in companionship and relationship. There is grace in equality as the two human creatures share the same weakness of flesh and the same strength of bone.
From the beginning, God’s intention for creation has been one of relationship rooted in equality and mutuality. The flourishing of creation is dependent upon relationship: the man leaves his family and clings to the woman. The Hebrew word for woman and wife is the same: ishshah. Consequently, it is just as easily translated “a man leaves his family and clings to a woman and they become one”.
I am not alone in contending that this text is less about marriage, specifically, than it is about the need for relationship, more broadly.
“Marriage”, since recorded history, is a human construct fraught with rules and regulations in which governments seem to be highly vested. It is, after all, about property. Governments are highly invested in who owns and controls what property. For most of recorded history, marriage was the transfer of control and ownership of the reproductive organs of a woman from one male – her father – to another male – her husband. In the landed classes, marriage contracts were used to forge inter-familial alliances, with women as the pawns in contract negotiations, and the issue from their wombs as guarantees to continued holds on claims – through male progeny, of course. Not very romantic.
We haven’t strayed too far from that concept of property ownership within marriage – it is now about material goods, called marital property. As evidence, I submit to you the terms “pre-nuptial agreement”, “common property”, “joint property”, “marital asset” … and of course, these terms only take on significant meaning in the context of a marriage rent asunder … We do not have equivalent legal terms protecting one’s dignity or humanity or emotional well-being in connection to a relationship torn apart. What does that tell you?
Throughout the ages the text from Genesis has been used against two groups of people: single people who dare to choose to live differently and not conform to societal or biblical standards of marriage and family and, especially in conjunction with the gospel portion, to condemn and revile divorced people. The texts are wielded like bludgeons against single people and divorced people as if the ultimate expression of companionship and relationship can only be manifest in marriage.
Stop. Just, full stop.
In the gospel, we are in the midst of stories concerning those who are vulnerable, without power or agency, those who are in need, and who are dependent upon others in some way. Indeed, in our gospel text for today, immediately following Jesus’ pronouncements against divorce, Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come – the ones who are dependent and of no account in society: Yes, let them come to me.
Jesus teaches about the ideal, about how we ought to live. And in a world where women were dependent and vulnerable, who were property and could not own property, the ideal was certainly not to cast them out with no protections. Both widowhood and divorce had devastating economic and status related consequences for women. Divorce in particular left a woman shamed and disgraced and unmarriageable. The best she could hope for was to become the shameful burden of her father’s family; at worst she became homeless and destitute, forced to sell her body to earn her bread.
With its shunning and blaming of already broken persons, this concept of marriage distorts the original intention of human relationship. This concept attempts to limit God’s grace to those who are consider, by human standards, to be deserving. Granted, divorce may not bring that kind of societal disgrace anymore, but it still can be fraught with economic hardship by either gender. It is nonetheless painful. Marriage in the 21st century is about romantic love, not alliances. When love “dies” there is deep grief. Divorce still produces the rending of relationships and the consequence of deep hurt, brokenness, and pain.
How a people, how an institution, how a community responds matters, because that also is about relationship. Blaming and shaming and excluding do not heal. There is no grace. Those reactions only break relationships further, causing increased pain.
Pain is not what God intends.
Jesus taught the ideal of what God intended for humanity. Jesus preached the deep desire of our God that humans be in respectful, caring, mutually fulfilling, flourishing relationships. Whatever your relationships – marital, familial, collegial, acquainted, professional – first and foremost, are they mutually respectful? Is there acknowledgement of a shared weakness in flesh and shared strength of bone?
We know, marriage is not for everyone; nor are all marriages ideal. Indeed – some marriages are abusive and need to be dissolved for the safety and life of another.
And there is grace. There is God’s love. Always. No matter what.
Whether you choose to marry or not, whether your marriage is a struggle or a cake walk, whether you are divorced, or divorced and remarried, God’s grace is yours. God’s mercy is yours. God’s love is with you, because you matter to God. And God’s community is here with you and for you. We share the beauty of our equality in the weakness of our flesh and in the strength of our bone. We stand side by side, together, rooted in God’s love. We stand side by side at the foot of the glorious cross from where God made known to all humanity that God’s love is bigger than any of our errors, and deeper than all of our brokenness and pain.
And from the empty tomb, God echoes, “I have taken all that pain and brokenness and the very worst you think you may have done and turned it into My very best – for you, because I love you.”
Because I love you.
Thanks be to God.