In These Last Days – October 7, 2018
In these last days.
The disciples and those who followed Jesus in the early days of the Church thought that the end was near, that their Lord would return at any moment. They believed those days were literally the last days. There must have been some confusion in those first few years of the Church when the man they knew didn’t come back to them.
Fast forward 2000 years and theses times feel like the last days, don’t they? War and earthquakes shake the earth. Social upheaval seems to be everywhere. Old institutions are being torn down, both for better and for worse. Our climate is changing – I think this past summer is proof of that. Divides between us deepen. And in these last days, God speaks to us by a Son.
One of the ways that God speaks to us, of course, is through scripture. And what does Jesus speak to us about this morning? Divorce? Not exactly a topic I imagine when I think about the Good News.
This might be a morning when preachers choose to talk about liturgical colors, or why we process, what the significance of incense is or the virtues of prayer. But the same question about this text keeps coming back to me. Why is it there?
Divorce was, and is, a relevant issue. It was a matter of Jewish law, so it makes sense that the Pharisees would have tested Jesus on it. They were looking for a way to dispatch of him, and catching him on a legal technicality would have been the perfect way to do this. So, they ask Jesus whether it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife.
Jesus’s answer comes with some resignation to it – “What does Moses command you?” It’s as if he’s saying – “you know the answer already – why are you asking me?” The Pharisees answer that Moses allowed for a man to divorce his wife as long as he provided a certificate of dismissal. Jesus answers the Pharisees by citing our Old Testament reading for this morning from Genesis: “for this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh…therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Then Jesus goes on in private with his disciples, saying that a man or woman can divorce their partner but if they marry another, that this is committing adultery. Not exactly a glowing endorsement of divorce, or for that matter relationship that are not hetero-normative. Implicit is the assumption that marriage takes place between a man and a woman. It is easy to see how both our Gospel and the text from Genesis could be used enforce ideas about how men are superior to women, or that the only form of romantic relationship acceptable is between a man and a woman. They have been used to promote both ideas throughout the history of the Church, and are still used this way today.
In answering the Pharisees questions, Jesus interprets scripture in a way that makes sense for his time. He takes texts that would have been know to those around him and uses them to answer the question presented to him. Like Jesus, we also interpret scripture in a way that makes sense for our time. In doing so, we have come to understand that God is big enough for all forms of relationships, and there is no reality in which one human is superior to another if God created everyone in this church, in this town, in this state, in this country, on this earth – in God’s image.
Scripture is a living thing. It speaks to us, as a living thing would, and not as something written in stone. It speaks to our moment, it speaks to our individual lives. So what is it saying today? What is going on in these readings, on a deeper level? What are these readings about?
Like Jesus, how can we interpret our readings this morning for our current moment? For these days that feel like the last days? What deeper theme can be found in them?
What about community? What about love?
The Bible is a long story about community. It is a story of God’s relationship with us. From its beginning, when God created man and women, to the end when he sent his Son Jesus to us in these last days, the bible is a story of God and us. It is story where we fall out of relationship with God – we become divorced, separated from him. But more than this, it is a story of God’s love.
Community is at the root of our reading from Genesis. “The Lord God said, ‘it is not good that the man should be alone.”
The root desire here is that the human God created not live in solitude or isolation. That what God created should not live alone, but together in community
Community is also at the core of our reading from Hebrews. That in these last days God sent his Son Jesus to us, to speak to us, to be in community with us, is a communal act. God sent God’s self in the form of a human to become closer with God’s creation. God came to live with us, for a little while!
And this Son speaks to us. He speaks to us about love. About love of neighbor, love of enemy. About love that is radical, that sees no boundaries, that defies the powers and principalities of this world. Love that forgives, that reconciles, that redeems. Love that is risky, vulnerable. Divine love, that cannot be dimmed by any power of darkness. This love might be the love that bind two together in marriage. But it’s also the love that can binds us together as the body of Christ manifest in the world.
This love is the foundation of Jesus’s teachings. When he is discussing divorce with the Pharisees, he does not have the law on his mind but the divine love of God: “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”
What has God joined together? Perhaps two in marriage, yes. But God has also joined himself together with us since the first days of creation when we were made in God’s image. He joined himself to humanity through the covenants with Abraham and David. And he joined himself to the world through Jesus. What God has joined – himself with us – can never be separated.
In these last days, where truth sometimes seems impossible to find, when some truths are believed and others are not, one truth reigns. The truth that the love of God is with us always. That love is the glue which binds this breaking world together. That when we live in community, and show this love to each other, we are embodying the love of Christ to each other.