Sermon By The Rev. Diana L. Wilcox
Click link above for the audio.
October 7, 2012 – 19th Sunday After Pentecost – Year B
1st Reading: Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm: Psalm 26
2nd Reading: Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Gospel: Mark 10:2-16
May God’s words alone be spoken, may God’s words alone be heard. Amen.
Before I get started here, I just want to say that as I was working on this sermon, I realized that is was a year ago now that I started here, and I am so grateful to all of you for the way in which you have embraced my ministry here, and surrounded me with love and support. I am so blessed to be a part of this parish, and thankful that it will be here, in December, with my St. Luke’s family, that God willing, I will be made a priest. Thank you all for a great year.
Several years ago, a very dear friend of mine, Jennie, was quite sure that she had found the man of her dreams. Bubbling over with excitement, she hurried over to me at a party to say that they were engaged, showing me the ring glistening on her finger. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she said, and I nodded and smiled and said “Of course!, congratulations!”. But, having spent quite a bit of time with the two of them, and thinking this is a match made in hell, I began thinking of ways I might prevent myself from running down the aisle waving my hands, screaming like the end scene in The Graduate, saying “Noooooooooo, don’t do it!!!” when the priest asked “if any of you can show just cause why they may not lawfully be married, speak now; or forever hold your peace.” I behaved myself, and they did marry… and divorce about a year later. In the months following the divorce I remember her saying “why didn’t you say something?.” And mustering all the comforting patience I could, I answered “because you would not have listened. I wouldn’t have been heard.”
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is answering the Pharisee’s latest round of great ideas to test him. This time, the subject du jour was the laws of marriage and divorce. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” they asked. And Jesus throws it back on them, asking them “What did Moses command you?” The Mosaic law did allow a husband to divorce his wife (and under Roman law, the reverse was also true – ya gotta love those Romans). But Jesus tells them that it was due to their “hardness of hear t” that this law existed, and that “what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
“What God has joined together.”
How do we know where God is leading us, and to whom?
Apparently, the folks living in Jesus’ day had difficulty knowing, hence the law. But, are we any different today? Is this Gospel telling us about marriage, or something more?
Jesus is talking about relationship all right, but as he is want to do, he is using marriage as a metaphor for something larger than whether my friend Jennie should have gotten a divorce. Jesus is talking about what is of God, and what is of humanity. Humans make decisions all the time: who to form a relationship with, where to live, and to what vocation we are called. But how do we know if we are really hearing what God wants for us, or “thinking in human terms”, as Jesus said once to Peter? To hear, we must listen, really listen, and we are not very good at listening – not to each other, and not to God.
When we turn on the TV, there are scores of news programs where apparently the way to discuss something is to yell at each other until the other guy gives up trying. Is this how we
understand open debate in our time? I remember watching former President Reagan’s funeral many years ago. As his wife Nancy was entering the church, clearly in distress, clearly a very poignant moment no matter what side of the political aisle you are from, the commentators prattled on and on and on. It seemed that it was more important to tell us what was happening, and how we should feel about it, than to allow us to step into that space ourselves.
Are we that afraid of silence? We seem in this day to fill every moment with music,TV, phone calls… whatever white noise we can find. And yet, God asks us to “be still and know that I am”. We cannot hear each other if we are talking or listening to something else, and we certainly cannot hear God. So, what are we to do? How can we embrace sacred listening in our lives?
Jesus gives us a hint.
As Jesus often does, he offers to his followers an explanation of what he was just saying to others. After the encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus and his disciples are in a home, when he welcomes the children in the house to him. He tells his disciples, “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
“As a little child”.
Children are funny aren’t they – monsters in the closet, and under the bed, invisible friends and rabbits. They see and feel so much. Is that it? Could it be so simple? Children see and sense things we adults do not, and we are so quick to box in their experiences, to “teach” them not to trust these things – that it was only their imagination. What would the world be like if we did not do that?
A friend of mine, Judy, who is both a priest, and a psychotherapist, once told me this story. She recalled something that happened at the repast following her father’s funeral a few years ago. Her little niece came running into the house from playing in the backyard. She said, very excitedly,“Grandpa told me to tell you all something.” Judy rushed over to her, sensing that the others would, as we all seem to do, dismiss this announcement from the girl as being the product of an overactive imagination – after all, Grandpa was dead. And kneeling down to her niece’s level she said, “Debbie, when did Grandpa talk to you?” “Outside, just now. I was playing and he came right over to me.” “What did Grandpa say?” “He said that he was alright, that we didn’t need to worry about him, and that he’d be watching out for us. I wanted him to play in the sandbox with me, but he said he had to go… Can I go back and play now?” Imagine what might have been lost had the adults in the room been able to convince the girl that what she saw was just her imagination.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” As adults, we abandon the openness and fearlessness of childhood, and replace it with logic, analysis, sensibility. Things that don’t fit into the mold are cast aside, and people who hold onto their child like wonder we look on with suspicion. Lily Tomlin once said “Why is it when we talk to God, we are said to be praying, and when God talks to us, we’re said to be schizophrenic.”
Jesus is asking us to open our hearts as a child so that we might hear each other, and God. This isn’t a lesson condemning divorce, but about opening our hearts to hear where we are called, in our
relationships, our vocations, our neighborhoods, and in our faith communities. We are being asked to unplug and disconnect from the noise of life, and listen, really listen. We are being asked to move our inner child to the forefront and embrace each moment as a child does. When we do, we will be open to experiencing God in our midst.
In the book “Listening Hearts: Discerning God’s Call in Community” we are reminded that call comes in all shapes and sizes,and no one call is superior to another. The authors write, “People call us to get our attention, to make contact with us, to draw us closer to them. So it is with God. A call may come as a gradual dawning of God’s purpose for our lives. It can involve an accelerating sense of inner direction. It can emerge through a gnawing feeling that we need to do a specific thing…Call may be emphatic and unmistakable, or it may be obscure and subtle. In whatever way call is experienced, through the centuries God has chosen to speak to us and bids us to listen.”
As Christians, we need to open our hearts to where God is calling us. Today, we launch our Stewardship season, where we will hear testimonials about why people give to support the work of this parish. And next week at coffee hour, many of the 65 ministries and groups of this parish family will be on display.
This IS the “Church Alive” – and it is calling you.
I urge you all to walk around next week, engage with those who are there to share their ministry with you, and then open your heart and listen. In this season of Stewardship, listen to where God is calling you as a member of this parish family. Pray about it. Listen for the ways in which you are being called to engage in and empower the ministries of your parish family. Because God is looking for us to step forward with the excitement, imagination, and expectation of a child – to truly live the life to which each of us are called.
As for my friend Jennie, she opened her heart to who she really is as a child of God, and to what God was calling her to. And when she did, she met and married the love of her life. She and her partner Susan have adopted a lovely little girl, and they will soon be celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary.
And what God has joined together, let no one separate.”