The Children of God Oct 4, 2015 Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Sunshine Cathedral) Today’s readings speak about children, and by extension, about families. But the scripture texts aren’t telling what a family must look like; they are reminding us that we are all part of the human family; we are all the children of God, […]
The Children of God
Oct 4, 2015
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Sunshine Cathedral)
Today’s readings speak about children, and by extension, about families. But the scripture texts aren’t telling what a family must look like; they are reminding us that we are all part of the human family; we are all the children of God, and as religious seekers and practitioners, we are challenged to try to live as if we believe that is true.
We heard a passage from Mark, chapter 10. That chapter begins with talk about families.
Trying to trap him, some religious people – the shame and blame, guilt and condemnation kind of religious people – came to Jesus to try to use religion against him as a weapon. Their playbook hasn’t changed much over the centuries.
They asked Jesus if it is okay for a man to divorce his wife.
In that culture, a woman would be less likely to successfully sue for divorce. A wife was basically considered to “belong” to her husband. So, he could leave her, but her leaving him would be very difficult. So, if a man left his wife she could be left in dire straits. She might have nowhere to go, no means of supporting herself. For a man to divorce a woman could honestly ruin her life. So Jesus wasn’t in favor of that.
And maybe the heresy hunters, the defenders of the fundamentals knew that. And they knew that the Torah says that a man can leave his wife by giving her a letter of divorce and sending her away. So, if Jesus says divorce is okay, they can call him a hypocrite because they’ve heard he’s not a fan of it; but if he says divorce is unfair to women in a patriarchal culture, they can accuse of him of not knowing or not abiding by the scriptures. Oh they’ve got him this time: mwahahaha.
And so they ask him, “Is divorce okay, or isn’t it?” And Jesus answers, “What do the teachings attributed to Moses tell us?” And they said to him, “Moses permitted divorce.”
Jesus then applies historical, cultural, and social analysis to the text. Jesus says, “Moses allowed divorce because the people’s hearts were hard.” In other words, rather than just abandoning a wife under the cover of darkness, Moses said you had to at least make it official, give her a document saying she was no longer married.
But Jesus then takes the spirit of the text, that a letter of divorce was to offer some acknowledgment, some dignity, and maybe even some protection to the woman (so she wouldn’t be accused of leaving her husband and judged to be improper by society), and he expands it to the needs of his own day.
So, to protect women from being left destitute, Jesus says the spirit of Moses’ teaching and makes it more inclusive of women’s rights and dignity; he says divorce should be discouraged in most cases. Remember, Jesus isn’t talking to us, but to religious bullies in his day; he isn’t condemning divorce because he can’t imagine that it would ever be necessary, but he is discouraging it to protect women who in his day held very little status apart from a man.
Jesus is reworking an ancient teaching to protect the vulnerable in his male dominated society, to protect the dignity of women, to keep people from getting hurt. Today, in our culture, I don’t for a minute think Jesus would want people to stay in miserable or unsafe marriages. He wanted people to treat others with compassion, to think about others, to try to avoid hurting people. Today he would say, “pay your child support.”
Moses’ rule of divorce was a means to protect the vulnerable.
Jesus’ seemingly harder stance on the issue was, in his own context, trying to protect the vulnerable.
A fair division of property and fair child support payments in our day would be how to protect the vulnerable (in our case, the children).
You see, Jesus believed we are all the children of God, and God’s children must have sacred value, and we ought to recognize the sacred value of all people. When we don’t, we are abusing the children of God.
When we make blanket, hateful statements about Muslims, we are abusing the children of God.
When we threaten people with an afterlife of never-ending torture if they don’t agree with us, we are terrorizing the children of God.
When we force people to stay in unsafe marriages, we are hurting the children of God.
When we tell transgender people that they are inferior or maladjusted simply because they are trying to be more honest and live their truth more openly, we are doing damage to the children of God.
And when we use religion to attack, shame, torment, and margianlize gays and lesbians, we are abusing the children of God.
Jesus’ whole divorce discourse was a way of saying, “do not abuse the children of God.”
Kentucky Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis misuses scripture to deny same-gender loving couples their constitutional right to be married. And there are those who would use Jesus’ teaching about divorce against her, to suggest that she is more than a little hypocritical. But let me clear: I do not judge her for her three divorces…if she has three more that has no impact on my life. And I hope her current marriage is happy and long-lasting. But I hold her accountable before the God of love for doing damage to the gay and lesbian children of God.
After Jesus’ discourse about divorce in Mark chapter 10, the text moves into the part we heard today, where Jesus calls forward children, acknowledges them, and blesses them. It was an object lesson, showing that we are all the children of God, and God loves us and blesses us forever.
Some ancient cultures would expect mothers to sacrifice their first born babies to the tribal gods in order to assure good crops or good weather or some other needed blessing. Father John McNeill once gave a sermon where he pointed out that practice, and he said, “How those mothers must have hated the god that demanded such an unfair sacrifice. A mother would only sacrifice her child because she feared the deity, or the followers of the deity. Fear is why she gave up her child, but she could not love what she feared. She could not fear and love the same god.”
Father John then pointed out that when we worship out of fear, we are not worshiping the loving God Jesus called “Abba”…we are worshiping ancient, pagan, tribal deities that rule with fear and ask us to hurt others in order to obtain divine blessings.
Some of us have been sacrificed by families or churches in the name of God. They were using God’s name in vain, and they did it because they believed a horror story disguised as religion, where prejudices became sacraments, intolerance was the favorite hymn, and people could no longer tell the difference between contempt and love.
If you have been abused by families or churches, by people who used the bible like a battle axe and who suggested that who you are and the love in your heart were sins against God, I want you to know today those people have been hurt by dysfunctional religion.
At a church service, after he came out, someone shouted at our founder Troy Perry, “when you die you’re going to hell!” And he shouted back, “No I’m not because I never want to see you people again!”
I don’t believe in a literal, afterlife hell; but the truth is, when we live in fear and hatred, we are in a self-imposed hell. And if dysfunctional religion put us there, better religion, liberating religion, joyful religion can help us find our way out.
There are members of my own family who struggle between embracing the person they know me to be, and holding onto the soul-killing religion of fear and hatred they have embraced their whole lives. And I am sad to see how often in that internal tug of war the side of fear and condemnation seems to be winning.
It is fear mislabeled as love that causes fundamentalists (of any religion) to hurt others, because they have persuaded themselves that is what God requires of them. They are worshiping a lie and abusing the children of God, because they have been beaten into submission themselves. We resist their rhetoric and we tirelessly offer a counter narrative, but let us remember that they are victims too. A sick religious system of fear and condemnation cannot produce compassion or kindness.
And so we continue our work, because I promise you so much healing is still needed. So many families are still wounded by the religion of hate and fear. Someone’s life depends on our being faithful to this message and mission.
God, our Mother, our Father, our Lover, our Friend, will never abandon us, will never let any of us go, for any reason.
God is love, and in love, there can be nothing to fear, and no reason to hate. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
I give thanks for your unconditional and all-inclusive love.
I allow it to heal my fears and fill me with joy.