Tuesday, October 9, 2012

An Unexpected Invitation to Grace

Today's guest post appears  thanks to my wife Linda Wilkerson.  Linda is director of pastoral care & pastoral education for the Parkland Health and Hospital System, where she has served for 12 years.  She has also served for 6 years as my co senior pastor at Iglesia Bill Harrod. Last Sunday she preached on the subject of divorce, basing her sermon on Mark 10:2-16

We often have the pleasure of celebrating with couples in this church who have been married for many, many years.  Just recently we celebrated with Mary and Tony Diaz and with Rachel and Daniel Alonzo.  We also see it in marriages like those of Debbie and Daniel Solis, Mike and Andie Garcia and many other couples in our congregation.  

Their stories remind us of what is possible when two people stick together to raise a family and to contribute to the health and stability of their churches, their neighborhoods and their cities.

We have also had the painful privilege of weeping with and supporting those who are looking for healing from the death of their marriages.  Divorce is common in our day, as it seems it was in Jesus’ day. We get married making a lot of promises to one another and sometimes we fail to carry out those promises.  And those failures have real consequences.  Everyone suffers—husband, wife, children, in-laws.

Many of you know that I am divorced.  And remarried, thankfully, to Mark.  I know from first-hand experience how painful divorce is, no matter the reason.

I am convinced the vast number of couples who go to the trouble to make wedding vows do so with every intent to stay together.  There are many reasons that people do not stay together.  Some of them are tragically flawed, but some of them are also painfully obvious.


For centuries the Christian religious establishment, while offering grace on other fronts, has commanded women and some men to stay in marriages in which they and their children were grossly mistreated and made to suffer on a daily basis.

So today’s passage, where the Apostle Mark records Jesus as clearly saying that divorce should be prohibited and that men and women who divorce and then remarry are committing adultery, could be for me and many of you, like taking a stake through the heart.

Jesus’s words seem to leave no room for a balm of any kind on the soul of the wounded divorced or divorcing man or woman.  And the church, I think, over many years has been guilty of using Jesus’ words as just that—a sword or battering ram—using them to beat up on the suffering while some of those who have not been divorced feel a self-righteous pride.

One woman wrote that when she reads this piece of scripture or hears it preached, she feels as though a load of garbage has been dumped on her, making it impossible to get rid of the stink of divorce.

And, I want to say clearly—I think that when we take this approach to Jesus’ words, we have badly misunderstood what Jesus was about and what he was attempting to do in his teaching on this subject.


First, though I imagine that the emotional pain of divorce is the same no matter what the time period, in our days or Jesus,’ divorce in Jesus day was a far different matter than it is today, in this respect: wives were considered property.  According to Hebrew law, a man could write a bill of divorce for any reason. 

One Jewish interpreter of the law made the famous, or infamous, statement that a bill of divorce was allowed if the wife burned the toast.  A woman’s life was never secure. If she lived with a tyrant she was always one step away from a life of poverty because without being in a relationship with a man she was an outcast in the community, with no way to earn a living a survive. 

Jesus knew that.  When he was asked whether Moses allowed divorce, he went right to the heart of the matter, calling out the hard-heartedness of men who would divorce their wives and leave them destitute. He took a step further when he said that no matter what Moses allowed, this despicable behavior that allowed one person to ruin another was never what God intended.

Pictures of the Happy Couple
Photo Credit: Mark Grace

That’s good news for everyone in a relationship who has been abused, demeaned or made to feel worthless.  God created every one of us in God’s image.  Divorce cannot cancel out that essential fact. As the Psalmist said in the reading from Psalm 8 which Mark just spoke on, we have been created just a little lower than the angels.  We are each a priceless, beloved creation of God. 

No one can ever take that away.

Also, for most of history marriage was not about romance or fulfillment; it was viewed primarily as a legal contract, the lawful exchange of property.

So Jesus, quotes Genesis saying, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ I think that by linking marriage to creation Jesus intended to retrieve and to elevate, marriage as something more than just a legal obligation. He may have wanted to assure men and women that, in fact, God blesses our marriages and wills for them to flourish, and that any time a marriage ends in ruin it grieves the heart of God, not because some legal standard has been broken but because of the damage done to Gods' beloved children.

Come back tomorrow to read the conclusion of Linda's sermon taken from Mark 10:2-16

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