Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 am on Sunday, October 4, 2015Is it lawful?
The Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
Is it lawful?
Does this count?
What about this?
I have a lot of sympathy for the Pharisees this morning. Sure, they are trying to trap Jesus, and that’s not very nice, but mostly they’re just looking for an out. They’re looking for a loophole. They’re looking for a way to get out of a terrible mess. That’s what happens when we are talking about divorce. That’s what happens when we ask “is it lawful?”
“Is it lawful?” is the question we ask when we want to know the rules. And the rules are there to give our lives structure. So we can know if we are in the right or in the wrong. So we can know who is good and who is bad. And we want to be in the right. And we want to be good. We want to be able to sleep at night and not be wracked with guilt. We want to know that it’s OK, that we’re OK … or alternately to know that there’s nothing we can do and we’re pretty much stuck.
“Is it lawful?” is the question we ask when we are looking for some order to come out of chaos – when we are praying for a situation in life that is impossibly messy to somehow become neat and tidy.
The Pharisees ask “Is it lawful?” and I feel them, I really do. Because I know so much of my life isn’t neat and tidy. So much of my life involves relationships that are complicated and messy – and that I am complicated and messy, too. And I want to be in the right. And I want to be good. And I don’t always know what that looks like. And so I ask:
Is it lawful?
Does this count?
What about this?
And I want Jesus just to tell me. Just tell me what to do so I can do it then I can either be happy or unhappy but at least I’ll be clear. At least I will know and then I can make my choice. Tell me, Jesus – is it lawful?
And what drives me crazy about Jesus is he is incapable of giving a straight answer. He can’t give the Pharisees what they want. He can’t give me what I want in this moment.
But what he gives is actually so much better.
The Pharisees, ask Jesus “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” and Jesus turns the question back around on them. He asks them, the teachers of the law, what did Moses, the law-bearer say. Well Moses said yes. Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.
Case closed. It’s lawful. Thank you Jesus.
But not so fast.
Because Jesus says “it is because of your hardness of heart that he wrote this commandment for you.” This law is an accommodation. This law – and in fact all law – is there because we have such a hard time living in the messiness. Because we need things neat and tidy and simple and life doesn’t work that way, so we have laws and rules to try to just help us get through the day … but don’t confuse obeying the laws, don’t confuse following all the rules and checking off all the boxes with what’s really important.
What’s really important is relationship. What’s really important is loving. And loving is really, really, really, really messy.
From the beginning of creation, Jesus says, God joins us together. Wholly. Intimately. Into one flesh.
We are inextricably bound up with each other. And it is not neat and tidy. And it is confusing and it is wonderful and it is incredibly, incredibly hard. And we are so amazingly imperfect in our struggle with relationship with each other. And as much as we would love it all to fit into convenient little categories we are much too complicated for that.
And thank God, Jesus knows this.
And so Jesus says “I know it’s not that easy. It’s not about following the rules and you get to be good instead of bad. It is messy.”
Jesus knows the truth is we can’t love without pain. We can’t pledge to be in relationship with each other and not sometimes have those relationships fall apart. And a lot of times we aren’t exactly sure what being loving looks like and we just have to take our best, messiest most imperfect guess. And then a lot of times we know what being loving looks like and it’s just too hard or we’re just too tired or we’re just too hurt or it’s just too much to take anymore. And sometimes we’re just going to make mistakes and it’s going to be a great, big, awful, hot, holy mess. And that’s really, really scary.
And Jesus knows this. And so Jesus says “what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Jesus says, like it or not we are in it together. And it’s going to be really, really messy because love is really, really messy. And we can argue all we want about whether it’s lawful or not to divorce but the truth is that we are connected in ways that we do not have the power to sever. And because we are not God we are going to be imperfect, and frankly we are going to be a holy, hot mess in those relationships. And there is going to be pain. And sometimes it will be unbearable. And we will feel guilty. And we will just want Jesus to make it stop. We just want Jesus to tell us that we haven’t broken any rules, that we are good after all, that it’s OK and we can get some sleep.
We just want Jesus to tell us we can stop feeling so bad.
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Maybe you’re there right now. Maybe there’s a relationship that is tearing you apart, that’s gotten out of control and that maybe doesn’t fit into neat categories anymore … or maybe you’re finding there are things going on inside you that don’t fit into neat categories anymore and it’s really, really scary and you don’t know where to go with it or what to do? Maybe? Can you maybe relate to that even just a little bit?
I know I can. I know in those moments I just want to know the rules. I just want order in the chaos and to know that I have a chance to be in the right. There’s something about our struggle in relationships that turns us into little children who just want to know the rules. And Jesus knows this. Because Jesus’ answer is not just to give us the rules and to praise or condemn us on how we do on the test, but to take us in his arms like children and lay his hands on us and bless us. To tell us that this messiness is what the kingdom of God looks like. To tell us that it’s not easy. And that it’s really, really messy. And that he is right there in the mess with us. And that he knows it’s hard. And that he loves us, oh that he loves us so much. And that we need to just keep trying. Just keep trying to love each other. Just keep trying to believe that God loves us. Just keep trying to remember that law is about perfection and that we will never, ever measure up and that’s OK because we don’t need to measure up to earn God’s love, to earn God’s blessing, to earn God’s delight in us.
All we have to do is hang in there and love the best we can, knowing that it is a great big mess. Knowing that rules and boundaries are a good thing because we need the help navigating our way through the mess, but that the rules are never an end to themselves but only a means to the true end of loving relationship – and no rule or boundary will never ever take the messiness of that away. And that, most important, whether our behavior is lawful or not … our worthiness and belovedness by God is never in question.
So what does that mean?
It means that sometimes we will divorce and sometimes we will stay together.
It means that we will shed tears and stay up night worrying.
It means sometimes we will be selfless and sometimes we will be selfish.
It means we are going to have moments of incredible glory and moments when we screw up in a epic fashion where it all flies apart so spectacularly that we can’t even conceive that it could ever be put back together again.
It means that we will absolutely not have it all together tied up neat and tidy with a bow.
It means that it will be really, really messy but that we will be in that mess together, and we will love each other through it. And we will trust that Jesus’ promise to love us through it all is the strongest thing of all.