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.

 

It’s Not About Divorce, Genesis 2: 18-24, Mark 10: 2-16 Pentecost 19B, Oct. 4, 2015 October 5, 2015

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I am a Lutheran gal who loves the Hebrew Bible. I love it because of the richness of the literary genres, the messiness of the history, the complexities of the relationships with God and each other, and the grace that drips from each word from God who never leaves God’s people. Basically, if you want a good soap opera, read the OT. I also love it as it reminds me that there is nothing new under the sun. There is deceit, mistakes, vulnerability, violence, indiscretions, agendas, sorrow, joy, paradox and confusion. That sounds like a just another day in our humanity doesn’t it?! And of course, there are laws, we call them the 10 commandments and all of the “laws” that are in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

The commandments and all of the laws spelled out were intended to help us as humanity plagued by all of the drama I listed above, to remember what we read in Genesis 1 and 2: God created everything, including us, and we are created in God’s image, which is love. Everything in the Bible that happens after Genesis 2 is about humanity’s grappling with God declaring creation and us good, God desiring relationship with us, God desiring us to be in loving relationship with one another. In our Genesis 2 reading, it’s the story of how God created the female. In reality, it’s the second account of how woman, came to be. Genesis 1: 26-27 is the first account which explicitly states that humans were created in the image of God-male and female God created them. Genesis 2 is the second account of creation and God recognizes the loneliness of the earthling man, Adam. Adam was created from the humus, the dirt, and so is a human, literally an earth creature.  God wanted to create for him a “helper.” Now this word gets mistranslated. Any other time that this word for “helper” appears in the OT it refers to a divine helper or to God. So God is making Adam a “divine helper,” not a lesser being, not an afterthought, not someone to do what Adam does not want to, but a divine helper-so divine that this earth creature created in God’s image will continue with creation within her own being.

So bound together are the two earth creatures, that God declares no one will be able to tell them apart. They will appear to be the same and of the same mind, soul and spirit. They will be one. God’s intent for all of humanity-earth creatures-is to be one. Not just married people, but all people. But we know the next piece of the story and sin, brokenness, shame, separation and hurt enter into the relationship of the earth creatures. God created oneness, wholeness, equality, and love. We stumbled onto individualism, separation, hierarchy and hate. God was grieved when we stumbled, but didn’t leave us, didn’t give up but began right then and there redeeming and transforming the earth creatures to live into their true divine image.

But we love the law-we love the law so much that we took 10 commandments and turned them into 617 purity laws to follow. We loved the law so much that we would rather uphold the rules than love and forgive our neighbor. We get stuck in worrying about if we or other people are following the correct laws in the correct way. We worry more about who’s in and who’s out of God’s love and grace than stopping to take the time to see that’s not even the what God wants us to worry about. In Mark, the Pharisees are testing Jesus about the law. It didn’t really matter what law they picked, but they picked divorce. It could have been a law about unclean food, although they had already tried to trap Jesus on that one, so divorce it was. It’s unfortunate, as we now read this passage and assume that it has everything to do with the actual action of divorce, when in truth, it has nothing to do with divorce but has everything to do with refocusing to Genesis 2: we are all created in God’s image for one another but we fail to live into that promise.

It’s not an accident that the writer of Mark moves right into Jesus blessing children and highlighting the importance of everyone to God, even those who in our society and culture have no importance. Jesus is breaking the crowds open to their own love of the law, supposed order and rules instead of God’s order of inclusion, love and transformation.

We saw firsthand on Thursday our love of the law above everything and everyone else. The tragedy that unfolded in OR, had unfolded 274 previous times this year, some with media coverage but most without.  Mass shootings are so prevalent that media can’t even cover them all and only cover the events where the toll on humanity is so horrific that it can’t be swept under the rug. The conversation in the wake of the loss of life on Thursday immediately turned to law. We need more gun laws, fewer gun laws, more laws for helping those with mental illness, regulations on campaign funding by special interest groups like the NRA, more laws on how media covers such events. Now, I’m not here to shy away from taking a stand on these issues, and you may or may not agree with me and that’s ok too.  My father was in the military and I grew up around guns, I’m not a Polly Anna about this, but they were called what they really are in the military…weapons. Guns have one purpose, none other; they are to inflict harm on another of God’s creatures. The conversation is about more than guns, it’s about how we kill each other in so many ways. While I don’t own a gun and will never own a gun, I am just as entangled in the culture of violence, entitlement and hardness of heart as anyone. By living in the U.S. with all of my privileges, I participate in systems everyday that lead to the demise of someone else in the world.

But I will also say that laws will not completely stop this. Maybe it will help but laws don’t transform someone’s heart, mind and spirit. Laws have never been able to do that. Jesus points to the vulnerable children to remind the adults that they were once vulnerable and non-important to society too. Jesus is reminding the crowds gathered and us of our common humanity, our common earthiness, our common creation in God’s image. What transforms us is God’s work begun in Genesis 3 of reconciling all of creation that is now broken, divided, hurting and literally bleeding, back to God. What transforms us is God’s love for all of us. God desires transformation so deeply that God walked among us as Jesus, suffered violence, murder and death-shared in our common humanity-to be raised and to raise us to our common eternal life in God.  We each have God’s divinity in us as evidenced in the two creation stories-we have what we need in us to allow God’s transforming Spirit to fill us, to move us, and to gather us again as one people, divine and equal helpers for one another.

You see, we, like the Pharisees, think that we can regulate relationships, we can put laws on divorce, LBGT brothers and sister, gender rules, racism laws or all of the other ways to try and keep each other in what we consider a proper box. We are complicit in systems that leave some marginalized and forgotten. We forget Genesis 1 and 2 where we are made from dirt, all of us and God gathers us dirtiness and all, for deeper, mutual relationship. This means that we are bound to one another in messy, invasive and uncomfortable ways no matter what laws we enact. We are so bound together that we are one body, one flesh in Jesus Christ, that we partake in each time we gather through bread and wine that crumbles in messes to the floor and spills out all over us. We are so bound together that we do what is best for our neighbor and not only ourselves. We are so bound together that we are called to quit fighting about laws and we simply love and allow God’s transformation. We are so bound together that we must move beyond prayers to actions for true unity and oneness with each other and Christ. Our actions don’t save us but they do point to and reveal to the world that salvation and wholeness that God freely gives for all.

It’s messy, hard and God is present. We must go back to the beginning to see what God has planned for us for eternity. Let’s be as children and allow ourselves to be gathered in Jesus’ arms and not worry about what the law says. Let’s refocus to God’s plan from the beginning of creation: God’s plan that includes you, me, all of us together as one, filled with the transforming love of God, now and forever, amen.