preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, Rector
Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, Arkansas
4, 2015; 19 Pentecost, Proper 22, Year B, Track 2
Revised Common Lectionary
(Genesis 2:18-24) The LORD God said,
"It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as
his partner." So out of the ground the LORD God formed every animal of the
field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he
would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was
its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to
every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his
partner. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he
slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the
rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and
brought her to the man. Then the man said,
at last is bone of my bones
shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was
a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become
(Mark 10:2-16) Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked,
"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them,
"What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to
write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to
them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for
you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For
this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about
this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries
another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and
marries another, she commits adultery."
People were bringing little children to him in order
that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when
Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, "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.
As English speakers, our name for Ultimate Reality is God, a
word from the Germanic traditions. The native language that Jesus spoke was
Aramaic, a language related to Hebrew. Jesus called God Alaha, which is similar to the Hebrew word Elohim and the Arabic Allah.
The meaning of the name Alaha points
toward the oneness of all that is as Sacred Unity. Unity without boundaries or
qualifications. Oneness. Alaha.
In Genesis, Alaha
says, "Let us make adam/humankind in our image,… male and female he
created them." The Hebrew word for humankind or for the human person is adam. The sound of "A" (pro. Ah),
pointing toward Alaha as the source
and sacred unity of all, and the sound of dam,
meaning blood, or sap, or essence. Adam/humanity/the
person: the embodiment of the essence of the whole, the all: Alaha. Every human being is created in
the image of Alaha, male and female,
each whole human person containing both male and female, masculine and feminine
along a continuum, as a human being. Genesis says that Alaha formed adam from the
dust of the earth/adamah. Alaha breathes breath, spirit, air into
In the story of Genesis 1, at the end of each day of
creation, God pauses and sees that everything God has created is good. Light,
day, night, sky, water, earth, sun, moon, stars, birds, sea creatures and
animals, and finally humankind/adam.
"God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good."
It was all good, that is, until Genesis 2, the second
creation story, when Alaha placed the
human person into the garden and realized, "It is not good that adam/the human person should be
alone." Humankind was made for relationship. So Alaha determined to make a helper as a partner. From the same
earth/adamah, Alaha formed "every animal of the field and every bird of the
air." And adam gave them all
names, identity. They are all related to adam/humankind,
formed of the same earth. But none of them was found to be a suitable helper
and partner. So Alaha created from
the rib of man (ish, in Hebrew) one
called ishsha/woman. A new oneness in
creation, "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; …one flesh." She
will be named Eve, meaning
"living one, life-source, experience."
Adam, the human
person who is the blood and essence of Alaha,
the whole, the all; and Eve, the
living one, life-source, quickening, reviving, nourishing helper/partner. One
flesh. Centuries later the church will speak of God the Holy Spirit as the
Helper, the quickening, enlivening, life-source.
So we see from these ancient stories that humankind is
created to be in essential unity with Alaha,
Sacred Unity itself, and to be in a living relationship of oneness within
humanity. But we're not particularly good at being whom we are created to be.
"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" It
was hot-button question in Jesus' day. Marriage was an agreement negotiated
between two families for the purpose of creating family alliances to increase
their honor or wealth, and to provide heirs if they have property, or workers
to help support the family with or without property. The loving relationship of
the couple was a much desired but secondary interest.
The Hebrew grounds for divorce were found in Deuteronomy 24,
allowing a man to write a certificate of divorce if the wife "does not
please him because he finds something objectionable about her." The words
of scripture are pretty ambiguous. What does "something
objectionable" mean? There were two schools of thought in Jesus' day. The
liberal school of Hillel held that divorce is permitted if, say, the wife ruins
the meal. The conservative school of Shammai required a serious offense such as
adultery. The Pharisees ask Rabbi Jesus, what do you think? Jesus took the
conservative view. Earlier he sided with the liberals over the Sabbath.
Jesus asks his challengers what Moses says. They start to
answer with that passage from Deuteronomy 24, but Jesus interrupts them and
says this law was spoken only because of their hardness of heart. Jesus
completely changes the focus, from Deuteronomy to Genesis, from the law and
legalisms to origins and purpose. Jesus shifts the conversation from legal to
relational categories, and he speaks in solidarity with the vulnerable.
A woman in that patriarchal culture had no identity or
protection except through her male relationships – father, brothers, husband,
male in-laws. A divorced woman was radically vulnerable, in need of male
protection. It was a hard-hearted system. Jesus decries it.
Moreover, he goes on to say something remarkable about the
consequences of the customary male hegemony. "Whoever divorces his wife
and marries another commits adultery against her." Against her!
In that world, if a man was unfaithful to his wife, he would have offended or
shamed her father or her brothers; they are the ones who entrusted her to him.
But Jesus says the husband has sinned against the woman, against her dignity
and honor and rights.
Jesus deflects the law in Deuteronomy and goes back to the
origin stories of Genesis where we read that God cares about relationship.
God's intention is unity. We are to be one flesh. Unspoken but implied:
humanity may be unfaithful to this fundamental unity, but God will not. The
Sacred Unity of Alaha is utterly
dependable and eternal love. God will not be separated from what God has
joined, and God has joined humanity, for good.
But you, human beings: There is much hardness of heart.
Jesus then reaches for a child. Be like this. Receive the
Sacred Unity of the kingdom of God as a gift. Receive it simply, with open
hands, like a child.
It is important for us not to read this scripture
legalistically, like the Pharisees tried to do. I know some churches that have
created rules and canons based on passages like this one. I have seen the
hardness of heart behind their enforcement. I have known marriages that were
destructive to the human spirit. I have known marriages that have died. I have
known broken hearts when well-meaning clergy have imposed strict rules upon
vulnerable, hurt people in the complications of divorce or remarriage.
Until 1973, the Episcopal Church would not allow remarriage
after divorce. We were trying to be faithful to the scripture and words like
these we read today from Mark's gospel. Eventually we also returned to our
beginnings and remembered. "It is not good that the human person should be
alone." (Gen. 2:18) We saw the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the loving
relationships of divorced Episcopalians who had been remarried outside the
church. Their lives together did not look like sin; but rather, resurrection.
We remembered Paul's words: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance.
Against these there is no law." (Gal. 5:22-23)
Jesus came that we might have life, abundant life. God
created us to be in relationship, to be one. That oneness can be exquisitely
experienced in the relationship of one flesh in a lifelong, commitment of
faithful love. It is both hard work and a divine gift when that happens.
Whatever happens, God is faithful. God breathes divine life
and Spirit into our being moment by moment, loving us and re-creating us
constantly, over-and-over. Renewing God's promises of acceptance and
forgiveness, the essential qualities for an enduring, loving relationship. Alaha, Sacred Unity, is one with adam, you and me. We are the blood and
essence of that divine love and unity. Every week we renew that oneness and
identity as we take the sacred body and blood of the divine into our bodies and
we are recreated – whole and one.
We are one – with each other and with God. Therefore what
God has joined together, let no one separate.
The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and
God's infinite grace, acceptance and love.
For information about St. Paul's Episcopal Church and its life and
mission, please contact us at
P.O. Box 1190, Fayetteville, AR 72702, or call 479/442-7373
More sermon texts are posted on our web site: www.stpaulsfay.org
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