Sermons

"Live with Big, Open Hearts," Sermon for the 20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

"Live with Big, Open Hearts," Sermon for the 20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

Oct 07, 2018

Passage:Mark 10:2-16

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Pentecost

Category: Love, Abundance

Keywords: abundance, companionship, love, value

Summary:

We often think we know how things are and how they should be. But in this reading from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus turns the Pharisees' worldview and our own worldviews upside down. He places women and children on equal footing with men in the Kingdom of God. He places them all in relationship so that all are welcome, all are valued, and all are loved in the Kingdom of God.

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Sometimes we go along in life, believing certain things.  We believe we know what is right.  We believe our way of looking at things is the way things are everywhere.  We believe it’s the only way it can be.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry tells a story about a young man named Kenneth.  Kenneth was an African-American Baptist preacher in the 1940s.  He was engaged to a young woman named Dorothy.  One day she talked Kenneth into coming to church with her at her Episcopal Church.  This was a time when segregation was still prevalent. 

African-Americans were often not allowed to eat at the same establishments or drink from the same water fountains as white people.  While Dorothy came forward for communion, Kenneth remained in the pew, watching to see what would happen.  Dorothy was the only African-American at the altar. 

Kenneth watched as the priest gave each person bread.  Then the priest returned to serve the cup to each person, person after person, until he got to Dorothy.  To Kenneth’s surprise, the priest didn’t even hesitate.  He tipped the chalice forward for Dorothy, then continued to the next person.  Kenneth had never seen Black people and white people drink from the same cup. 

His views on how the world worked and what was possible in Church changed forever.  He thought he knew how people were.  But this glimpse of the Kingdom of God on earth showed him that there was more to the world than what he had experienced and witnessed...that the Church could transform the world.  Kenneth eventually became an Episcopal priest.  He and Dorothy also became the parents of our Presiding Bishop.[i]

As we hear familiar readings today, we think we might “know” what they mean.  But over time, we’ve twisted them and used them as weapons against people to make sure things fit with how we think the world should be. 

We have heard these scriptures and think we might “know” what God is telling us.  We’ve heard people say that:  God created women to serve men.  Getting remarried after divorce is a sin.  And we should all come to God as innocent children.  Now, I hope you know that we’re going a different direction today.

If we stick with these interpretations, we end up with a a pretty limited view of the Kingdom of God.  We sometimes read the Scriptures as a set of rules...to tell us right from wrong...to tell us what to do and what not to do.

The Scriptures are so much more!  They tell us the story of God’s abundant and never-ending love for us.  They expand our view of ourselves and each other.  They show us possibilities that we would never dream of.

Instead of reading them quickly and assuming we know what they mean, what if we take some time to dig deeper into these passages...work harder to understand them...pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit?  What if we read these passages through the lens of what the whole of the Bible tells us is true?   God created us.  God loves us more than we can ever imagine.  And God’s creation is a gift of abundant grace that leads to freedom.

When we look at today’s scripture from the Gospel of Mark, we often come to it from a place of “knowing.”  We think that this scripture is about Jesus condemning those who remarry after divorce. 

Jesus tells us that the law was given because we have hard hearts.  But Jesus wants us to come to the Scripture with hearts that are open and loving, hearts that see through the eyes of God.

Jewish women in the first century were considered property of their husbands.  They could be divorced and left at the whim of their husbands.  They would be left with nothing...no means to support themselves.  Their survival depended on their husbands.  If their husbands divorced them, then they needed to find another man to depend on. 

So, Jesus is really arguing with the Pharisees about how they’re clinging to a law that leaves women without equal footing to their husbands.  He’s questioning their understanding of the Kingdom of God. 

We think that this passage is about Jesus scolding the disciples for sending the children away.  I’ve heard the interpretation that Jesus is saying that we should come to him as happy and as innocent as children.  But that’s missing the point once again. 

First of all, this interpretation paints a picture of children as objects.  In the first century, children were the property of their fathers.  They didn’t have rights.  They certainly weren’t allowed to voice their thoughts, feelings, and preferences.  And many children ended up on the streets, discarded due to the harsh economic circumstances of Jewish families at that time.[ii]

What children are now, and were then is at the mercy of adults.  They depend on us to feed and clothe and protect them.  They depend on us for their very survival.  They depend on us for love and companionship.  We are their first lessons in relationships.  We are their first image of God.

We might believe that these Scripture readings have to do with rules and restrictions.  Do this...don’t do that. God will condemn you.  Jesus will be mad at you.  When we read it like this, we’re restricting God.  We’re doubting that God’s love is big enough to include all of us.

But, if we come to this passage with hearts overflowing with love and open to all the possibilities of life, we’ll read it in a different way.  We’ll accept Jesus’ challenge.  We’ll look at each and every person as the amazing creation of God that they are. 

We’ll take care of each other.  We’ll lift each other up.  We won’t put people in categories that make them less than beloved.  We’ll see that we all depend on each other...that is how God created us...each and every single one of us.

So what is the point of these readings today?  If they’re not just about marriage or divorce or children, what’s Jesus trying to say? 

Although this passage in the Gospel of Mark says that the Pharisees start out “testing” Jesus, Jesus is the one who ends up challenging them.  He challenges what they think they “know”...what they believe to be right...what they think is right and what is wrong. 

Jesus turns their view of the world upside down, literally upside down.  People are created to be in relationship with one another.  Women who have no rights and are viewed as objects to be owned and discarded are as valued as their husbands in God’s kingdom. 

Children who depend on adults to care for them are as important as those who are the most powerful.  In God’s kingdom, people take care of one another and value one another.  They offer companionship as they face life’s ups and downs together. 

And this isn’t just about married people and the children in our own families. It’s about all of us in our relationships with one another with every person we encounter.  We all need each other whether we realize it or not.

Just as Jesus showed Father Kenneth Curry that God’s ways can transcend the limits we place on each other.  Jesus shows us that God’s love brings a kind of freedom that we find hard to imagine. 

We limit God.  We limit God’s creation.  We run from a love that is so abundant and so live-giving that we miss out on all that God offers us. 

God’s gift is that we are not alone...we have one another...we share this life together...whether child or adult or married or single or divorced.  We are all welcome, all valued, and all loved in the Kingdom of God. 

We can live with big, open hearts and live in the world with a spirit of abundance.  We can see the world, not just as it is, but as God created it to be.  We can walk in love with God and with each other.   Amen.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[i] “Eucharist: The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry,” #NewTracts, YouTube, June 6, 2014.

[ii] Culpepper, R. Alan, “Mark 10:13-16: Exegetical Perspective,” Feasting on the Gospels--Mark: A Feasting on the Word Commentary, Kindle version