Category: Sunday Morning Sermon
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
“SITTING IN THE LAP OF JESUS”
Pentecost 20B Lectionary 27
October 7, 2018
Christ Lutheran Church
Rev. Dr. Steven E. Albertin
When I meet with a couple to discuss their coming marriage, I tell them, “You may think that you are getting married because you love each other. But actually it is just the opposite. You are getting married because this is how you will learn to love each other.”
We then begin a conversation about the challenges and blessings that lie ahead. During the course of their dating, they have probably been more interested in impressing each other than in telling the truth. They have tried to look their best and behave their best. They have made sure that every hair was in place and that no one caught a whiff of an embarrassing odor.
However, when they marry, when they promise that nothing short of death will separate them, things change. The truth starts coming out. Before making this promise, they could have easily separated after he discovered that she has smelly feet or the she discovered that he picks his nose. However, from now on only death ought to cause such a separation. They are committed to each regardless of what they discover about each other. Now they will find out what it means to love someone regardless of how unlovable they can be.
It is not easy. The divorce statistics in our society testify to the difficulty of meeting the challenge. The pain of divorce has wounded all of our families. That is what makes Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel so troubling. These are hard words. They sting. They hurt. There is no compromise.
Today’s Gospel begins with another confrontation between Jesus and those guardians of morality, the Pharisees. The Pharisees were the moral conscience of their society. They were the experts in right and wrong. In the case of divorce, they had developed a vast system of rules and regulations defining under what conditions divorce was permitted and under what it was not. They came to test Jesus because they were suspicious that he was not following the rules.
Jesus refuses to play ball. He is not about spelling out the rules that justify divorce. He points out that Moses permitted divorce under certain circumstances not because he wanted to excuse it but because it was a concession to human sin. Divorce can never be “justified” to God. The existence of divorce is symptom of a deeper problem. It reveals our “hardness of heart.”
What is “hardness of heart?” A rock is hard. It is impervious to outside influences. Water cannot penetrate it and runs off. So is it with the “hard heart.” The “hard heart” always wants to be right. The “hard heart” insists “I am right and you are wrong! And this is why . . .” as the excuses and rationalizations come running off our tongue. The “hard heart” knows it all. The “hard heart” is unwilling and unable to concede any weakness or failure. The “hard heart” only wants to know “Is it lawful?” because the “hard heart” wants to know what it can get away with.
The “hard heart” is the enemy of marriage. When a spouse always has to justify himself; when a spouse can never say, “I am sorry. Forgive me;” when a spouse always has to win; when a spouse insists that her needs are all that matter and can only say “me, myself and I,” then the marriage is crumbling. Then the divorce is not so much the thing that destroys the marriage as the recognition that the marriage has already ended. It exposes the “hardness of heart” that has been lurking beneath the surface of the biting sarcasm and half-hearted kindnesses for years.
The “hard heart” is unwilling to be soft. The “hard heart” has got to be in charge. The “hard heart” is terrified of being vulnerable and dependent. The “hard heart” resists ever conceding that it needs to trust anything or anyone other than itself. The “hard heart” is the enemy of love. Like water running off a hard rock, the “hard heart” is impervious to the love and tenderness of another.
But it gets worse. Jesus reminds us Pharisees that our “hardness of heart” and unwillingness to keep our marital promises is like thumbing our noses at God. Marriage is grounded in the very nature of creation. Jesus refers us to the creation of man and woman in the book of Genesis, also today’s First Reading, when he says, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Our “hardness of heart” puts us at odds not only with each other. It puts us at odds with God. Mess with God and we are messing with trouble, big trouble!
So here we stand . . . or should I rather say . . . here we slump, ashamed, afraid and hiding, offering our excuses and justifications. “But the marriage was over. It was time to end the conflict. It was the lesser of two evils. It was the best for all involved.” But Jesus will not wink. There is no wiggle room here. Divorce can never be what God wants for his people. And the more we try to make a case for it, the more we reveal our “hardness of heart.”
The way of the Pharisee is a dead end street. Our once strong, hard and proud hearts are now cracked open, bleeding and grieving over the loss of what we had once hoped would be but now is shattered and lost. We want to cry and stay hidden in the dark recesses of our privacy. We compartmentalize our lives because we want no one to see that our hearts and self-esteem are so pulverized. We feel so tiny, so soft, so vulnerable and weak, like frightened children who feel lost and can’t find their parents.
However, when realize that we don’t have to go down the road of the Pharisees justifying ourselves and making excuses for everything that went wrong, Jesus has us just where he wants us.
Then the crowds bring to Jesus little children to bless. Remember, in the first century world little children were not the cute little kids we love to spoil today. In a world riddled with poverty and high rates of mortality, adults wanted those little urchins with their runny noses and smelly diapers to hurry and grow up so that they could make themselves useful. The disciples, those dopes who never seem to get it right in the Gospel of Mark, protest that Jesus should not waste his time on such little urchins. But, Jesus blesses them anyway. He takes them up in his arms, puts them in his lap and hugs them, declaring “it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”
That is exactly what Jesus does for us. Jesus loves us in spite of our “hardness of heart.” Jesus loves us in spite of the wreckage we have made of our marriages and our families.
He reaches down to take us up in his arms. As he opens his hands to pick us up, we see hands we did not expect. They are scarred with nail holes. These are the hands of one who has been nailed to the cross. These are the hands of one who has suffered, who also knows what it is like to be rejected and despised, who also has a soft and vulnerable heart with a special place for people like us. However, unlike us, this soft-hearted one did not run and hide. He trusted God all the way to the cross. His trust was not disappointed. On the third day God raised him from the dead and announced to the world that because of Jesus all the soft hearted trusters of this world will never be hung out to dry.
Therefore, when we drag ourselves through the doors on Sunday morning after a week that may have pulverized our hearts and battered our self-esteem, we come because we know that here Jesus says to the soft and broken hearted, “C’mon kids. Have a seat on my lap. Let me hug you. Let me love you. Let me assure you that I will always have a place for you.”
When we get out of Jesus’ lap and walk back into the world and its marriages, we no longer have to be hard. We can let our hearts be soft. We can do things and say words that the hard-hearted would never think of doing or saying: “I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you. Join me in the lap of Jesus.”