Friday, October 30, 2009


I am watching people I love struggle.
And it is really hard to find my role in it.

Yesterday I spent an hour with Lisa who has breast cancer.
I read Audrey's blog as she struggles with her place in the church as a gay ordained (and gifted!) minister. (
Kacey and Brett are still in a quandry about their future - whether to stay or move and where to move.
My friend Susan - like others I know - is dealing with issues of parent care.
And that is just a few.
And now I begin the weekly struggle with a text and what is the word for God's people for this week.

Joan Chittister wrote a wonderful book about struggle some years ago after September 11. It is Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope. I know and have experienced some struggles which have defined who I am. And I am unabashedly a woman of hope.

Even yet, I know how easy it is to want to give answers to others as if there is an answer. And to try to superimpose order in the midst of the chaos that is part of the struggle.

And so I know (intellectually, of course) that my role is to be present and to listen and to pray and sometimes to cry. And to wait for their truth to emerge.
As I write this, it seems pretty clear.
But as I live it - it is its own struggle.

I think that when life is really lived - it is harder than we want to admit.
But it is also richer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


It is Sunday night and I am waiting for Chuck's race to be over so then we will have dinner together. As I wait, I am watching Chris Noth on a Law and Order Rerun and happy. Waiting.

Our gospel praise service is in a time of transition and I think that we are going to grow. I hope so. Charles Ferguson, who has been our preacher for 3 years will be leaving at the end of the year. Today we had a guest preacher and it was really great. Robert Hearn preached and brought his family with him - his father who is a pastor in Mansfield and 4 siblings and their families. Plus some other friends came as well. We had three times as many people as we usually have and it was so much fun to sing and to pray and to just be together. It was wonderful and I hope that we will get to a place like this soon. One of the men who came is an evangelist who lives across the street from the church. He and I talked in the parking lot afterward and he gave me a lot to think about - about bringing the church to the community. It feels like the spirit is moving.

Yesterday Chuck and I bought a mattress at a store on Morse Road. The man who sold us the mattress also lives in our neighborhood. He is a Palestinian Muslim originally from Jerusalem. We got into a really interesting discussion about religion and exchanged names and numbers. With the possibility of further conversation. With both of these men, I wonder what the future will hold - people very different from me, but with a perspective that might help me to learn.

One other blessing from the weekend was dinner at Marnie and Erik's house. Erik's mom was there and we really enjoyed her company. She is a person who loves to do crafts which will give her a wonderful bond with Reagan and Addie (and certianly not something that I am interested in.) I see this new family forming in good ways. After dinner Addie and Reagan made a tend in the living room from blankets and tables. I remember doing that as a little girl and I remember the girls doing that as well. You can buy kids all kinds of toys - but sometimes making a little place of your own is the best thing in the world.

Anyway, as always, an interesting weekend - fulfilling in its own way.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sermon - Asking the Right Questions

I am not going to be putting this in every week - but I thought this was interesting. For the first time I preached on a text I have avoided for 24 years - about divorce.
Here it is:

2Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”
4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”
5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.
6But from the beginning of creation, ‘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.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.
9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.
11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But 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. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
I have had a half dozen opportunities to preach this text over the years as it comes up in the lectionary and I usually stick to the last verses – let the children come. Receive the kingdom as a child.
Because the first 10 verses are a can of worms.

This text has been used and misused by the church.
The words of Jesus spoken 2000 years ago to a particular culture – have been laid on people today.
And for many people, this is what is cited that keeps men and women in abusive relationships. Because Jesus said – don’t divorce
Some churches has used this text to "shoot their wounded" through excommunication or rejection
For those of us who have been through divorce – it is a text that brings guilt and shame and confusion.

So this morning I thought I would open up and struggle with it, ruminate on it, and tell you what I see in this. Lets start with the three big problems and get them out of the way

1. The first problem is that most of us are ignorant about the differences between marriage itself in Biblical times and today.
Marriage today is about people who love each other, pick each other out and want to start a life together in mutual fulfillment.
Marriage in Biblical times was often between families – where an economic alliance was formed, the woman had much less power,
Divorce was different then too.
a husband could initiate a divorce from his wife by giving her a document called a get, which terminated the marriage and made it possible for the woman to enter into a subsequent marriage legally. Jewish men could marry more than one woman, at least in theory, and so did not need a divorce in order to marry again.
Then men were clearly in power and it was easier then to divorce than it is now.
2. Second problem is interpreting it literally.
And that of course, is to look at the issue of adultery and what that means. I have heard lots of people explain the righteoueness of their divorce because of a literal reading of the word adultery. We also need to recognize that Jesus brought a new definition to "committing adultery" in Mt 5:28. Anyone who looks at another lustfully has committed this sin. I doubt that any of us can plead "not guilty" to this commandment. In our imaginations we break faithfulness with a spouse (if we are married).
We say – it is sexual adultery and not want to name all the other forms of adultery that get in between relationships – people who have emotional affairs, a job that is a mistress, a family that they are more loyal to than their spouse, an addiction to a computer, pornography, alcohol drugs. There is only one literal understanding of adultery.
And so… you can see where that leads us.
3. These problems – make us ignore the text altogether and reject what Jesus is saying. See it as quaint and outdated and having no relevance in our lives.

So, having said all that – what is it saying to us today

Start with the Pharisees who are asking a question – what is legal
And that is connected to a deeper question – what is the loophole. When we are talking about marriage – and want to get out of it – how can we make that happen? (also a trick question - because what he says may offend Herod who has recently divorced his wife and married his brothers sister!!!)

Jesus does his answer a question with a question thing – revealing that they know what Moses Said
But then we hear Jesus' answer - answer to the question that should asked

Which is – what is the will of God – and in this case – what is the will of God about marriage
Then he goes back to the beginning – to Adam and Eve – to remind them of God’s design
Jesus is asked a legal question, a technical, down-to-earth, question about everyday, lived reality, and he answers with an ideal that is, to be honest, almost impossible to achieve, at least for everyone.
This is what Jesus always does – he radicalizes the demands of the law.

Jesus describes marriage with utmost seriousness, as something that transcends contractual obligations and economic utility, as something rooted in human identity
That they would leave their mother and father and cleave to one another……………..become one flesh.
We are talking about something deeper than sexuality here – we are talking about become united – in mutual submission – mutual love. Forever………….That is the will of God.

Leslie Weatherhead wrote about the will of God – and he divided it into three categories –
There is first of all the Intentional will of God
And that is what Jesus tells us – reminds us
That we would be in a deep committed loving, relationship with our partner. Forever.

But he also talks about God’s circumstantial will.
God’s circumstantial will is what happens in the circumstances that occur as a result of human sin. We are not perfect!
We are far from perfect.
We come into marriage immature, often with very unrealistic understandings of marriage, we come not knowing ourselves, and not wanting to know every part of our partner.
We come and we have not left our mother and father –
- fail to cut the strings and bring unresolved issues into the marriage – and we don’t even know it
In our selfishness, our impulsiveness, our rebellion we make mistakes that can wound the other deeply. And sometimes the marriage is far from God’s intentional will. Disordered, destructive, damaging

That now all we can do is come to God and say – what is your will for me now in these circumstances.
And like Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane – praying on our knees because of the reality of sin that has brought us to this place
We say – not my will but thy will be done

Not – what is the law, what are the loopholes – but what is your will for me in these circumstances.

And then we become like children –Who call our father ABBA knowing that we do not know what to do without our lord’s protection and guidance
- and I can only tell you what I believe – there are times when our Lord’s circumstantial will is to leave – to shake the dust off your feet, to bind our wounds, to accept the death, and to trust our future to God
- and there are times in which the lord is telling us clearly to stay – to forgive, to love, to rely on God’s grace, to trust our future to God

We become like children –to our father - Abba - knowing who we are and whose we are and ask for grace and mercy and new life.

This Sunday – world wide communion Sunday, marriage and divorce Sunday, let the children come Sunday

There is only one word that brings all of these themes together- and that word is relationship. God wants us to be in relationships that are broad and deep.

God calls us into relationship – with each other – all around the world – and intimately and deeply in marriage and family. And we come as we are – as sinners seeking to be saints
Divorce is never God’s intentional will for us but because of human sinfulness it happens, and we need divorce laws for protection. (Divorce is probably better than murder ).
Divorced (and remarried) people are sinners, but so are all of us. Jesus refused to condemn and punish the one who had been caught in adultery. I believe that that same grace and mercy is extended to all of us sinners -- even those who have been through divorce and remarriage. How much more does someone whose life has publicly been torn apart need the comfort and love and acceptance from a community?
The law will allow – then and now. But God’s grace will give life.
I mentioned that Leslie Weatherhead writes about God’s will – God’s intentional will, God’s circumstantial will and God’s ultimate will. Which is for his glory and our good.
We are resurrection people – Christ’s resurrection that brings life out of death and our resurrection that does that same.
· I have watched people who “hung in their in their marriages” through some very difficult times with their partner. And they experienced a resurrection as grace and mercy prevailed and they found their way back. Not just to stay for the sake of the kids or finances – but they found new life and new love in their relationship. You can only describe it as resurrection.
· And there are people whose resurrection – new life came afterward – as God prepared them for a new partner which whom they could experience God’s grace and mercy. And it seemed – and it seems like the greatest gift. And I am certainly one of them in my marriage to Chuck.

We have to be people asking the right questions – and the right questions are not going to be – what is legal
But what is the will of God – what is your will for me
And there is one more question that is found in this text.

We only need the law – because of the hardness of our own hearts.
So I leave you with that today. What is the state of your heart.
The text ends with a picture of the disciples whose hearts were hard as they tried to exclude the children from coming close to our Lord.
It is my hope that we recognize the ways in which God wants us to have the vulnerable, open hearts of a child.
Who live our lives knowing our need of Abba, Daddy, our Lord Jesus
Having nothing and knowing our need of Abba – our father who will guide our steps,