A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

God’s Powerful Word October 8, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed in the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on Oct. 3, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC. The texts were:

Genesis 2: 18-24
Psalm 8
Mark 10: 2-16

Young Friends Message: How many of you know any words in another language? Yep, I know a little as well. I took French in high school and college, that’s actually the class where Mike and I met our sophomore year, and I can remember learning some words and phrases in French that when translated to English made no sense at all and were kinda funny to me when I was 15. Such as when we are walking in a mall or on a street with shops but not going in, we say that we are window shopping. In French, the words for that activity literally translate to “window licking.” Mike and I still use that from time to time. When we went to Paris and we didn’t see anyone licking windows, which is good as that’s gross. But if we took it literally and didn’t know the culture of France, we might think that people went around licking windows. Or that the word “gateau” in French is “cake” and in Spanish is “cat.” You don’t want to mix that up!
Something we forget when we read the Bible is that we are reading a translation. It wasn’t written in English originally but two ancient languages of Hebrew and Greek. So, we are careful when we read the Bible, particularly passages that seem hard to understand. The English words may not tell us exactly what’s going on, and then we misunderstand. Today we have two bible stories that are hard for us and have been used to make people feel bad about themselves, to make certain people seem less important or to imply that God doesn’t love them. If you learn nothing else from me, I want you to know that yes, that God sometimes says some hard things, but God only wants you to be healthy, safe, and loved. All the words, the words we don’t like, the words we don’t understand, the words that make us uncomfortable, are all words in the Bible are ones that we should hear as love you and for everyone. And sometimes it’s hard for us to remember that.  We’re going to talk a little bit more about that.

You might think it’s a cop out to take this angle of how we read the Bible with these two really hard passages from Genesis 2 and Mark 10 in our lectionary today. And maybe you’re correct, but what I couldn’t shake all week was how these two stories are ripped from their cultural, historical and textual (which means the placement in the Bible) contexts deeply matters in how we wrestle with them. It matters that what we understand that what we read in English, isn’t the same as in the Hebrew or the Greek. These words have power, because God’s word has power, and it matters how that power is wielded. You see, when we take passages such as the creation of humans, and one of Jesus’ teachings on divorce and use the question “what does it mean for me?” instead of “What does God intend?” we will always pervert it. The Genesis 2 passage has been used for centuries to exert power over women and to deny LBGTQIA+ folks relationships. But when we really dig into it, that’s not what God intended. Genesis 2 tells us how God uses God’s power to create what God desires, community and connection. God sees that the new human is lonely. Here’s where words matter: the Hebrew that is translated in English as man, isn’t “man” in the Hebrew. It’s ha’adamah, the earth, mud creature. No gender. In Jewish tradition this person is non-binary. And while in our English we use the word “adamah” as a proper name of Adam, in ancient Hebrew there are no capital letters. None. Not even for God, Yahweh, Elohim, El Shaddai nor the gender pronouns used for God. (Gender pronouns for God is another sermon.) Giving the first letter of certain nouns a capital letter is a western concept and one that is directly rooted in hierarchy and human power.

So, this mud creature is lonely, and the animals aren’t quite cutting it as friends. Our English alludes that it’s the mud creature who can’t find a suitable partner, but in the Hebrew, it alludes that it’s God who thinks the animals aren’t suitable. Ha’adamah might have been perfectly happy with a cat, but it’s God who decides to make another earth creature.  The English translation says God wanted to make “ha’adamah” a helper, but that’s problematic, as that word in Hebrew is “ezer”, and means divine helper and is only used in the rest of the Hebrew Bible to reference God. That doesn’t sound like a subordinate creature to me. God causes ha’adamah to fall asleep and takes a piece of them and creates another creature who is slightly different from the first creature because God loves diversity. The mud creature wakes up and see the other human and speaks words that were a Hebrew idiom or poetry for connection. “Flesh of my flesh” can mean “one who faces my face.” This new human pair are standing together, connected, both created by God, equal, not separate. There is not a command to be fruitful and multiply in this creation story as well. They are created to simply be together with each other and God. God’s power creates flourishing relationships and community. Yes, that gets disordered just a few verses later, but the rest of the Bible is God’s word to us that God is at work to bring us back to this face to face relationship with God and each other.
And we come to Mark 10 and this pernicious passage on divorce. This too been used and abused to wield power and shame, so let’s dive in. While ancient divorce mores are far different than ours today, a commonality is that divorce is hard, can cause economic hardships, often leaves women and children vulnerable and causes grief for all involved, even if it’s needed and the best answer. The Pharisees are trying to trap Jesus and ask him if a man can divorce his wife and Jesus asks them what Moses says. Yes, Jesus knew Deut. 24:1, but he was curious how these learned leaders would respond. They quote the verse. Jesus doesn’t disagree with them and notes how humans are always looking to exert power over each other, even the people we’re supposed to love. And then Jesus flips the script on the pharisees, he recalls Genesis 2 and what God does, what God’s desires and what God’s power enacts: connected, beloved community. Jesus showed this power throughout in the previous nine chapters of Mark as well as, throughout all the gospels, but time and again, the disciples, the religious leaders, the Roman leaders keep getting stuck in their own power needs. This is evident when the disciples asked Jesus again, and Jesus levels the playing field and responds that anyone, male or female, who simply discards a relationship for a new one, causes hurt. What Jesus doesn’t do here, is condemn anyone. Jesus doesn’t use his power for condemnation only to reveal God’s love and mercy.
This is witnessed fully in the last verses seemingly unconnected to the divorce conversation, but they’re not. As we discussed last week, children were the most powerless and vulnerable in ancient society. Jesus welcomes these powerless and vulnerable little ones and says that this is what power in the kingdom of God looks like, it looks like not worrying about your power and coming to God. And then Jesus blesses them, by touching them and gathering them to himself and holding them. This is God’s power on full display.
These texts have power, not because they give us specific rules of what we are supposed to do, the Bible is not a rule book. The Bible has many stories of humanity’s broken relationships: marriages, families, friendships, and even Israel herself divorcing into two kingdoms. The Bible also has many stories of God’s power to create love, connection, of community authentic and healthy relationships. It’s stories of God’s presence and blessing amid heartbreak. Broken relationships are real, and God understands that they break for reasons that are valid and necessary for healing and wholeness to take place. God never wants us in relationships that keep us powerless. If you hear nothing else today, divorce is sometimes necessary and yes, can be a holy and good decision that God supports because God loves you, and the person you are divorcing. Not every relationship is for a lifetime and that’s part of the human paradox.
The Bible opens us to witness God’s power active today, as we are more divided and divorced from each other than ever. God gathers us and blesses us, all of us, people we like, people we don’t, and people who don’t like us. God’s word of love echoes from the past to now translated by God’s Holy Spirit. God created us, for God’s purposes of wholeness. God blesses us to bless others, to be part of God’s gathering and care for the vulnerable in our society and speak words of love and connection, not condemnation or separation. God’s word joins us together to be face to face, not separated, and that is a powerful blessing. Let’s turn to the person next you and offer this blessing: +God’s powerful word of love is for you+
Amen.