Monday, October 8, 2012
In thanksgiving for Mark and Wendy: The Sunday after their wedding
Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her."
But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."
Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But 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. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it." And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Ah, another day of difficult lessons. Which ones shall we choose to preach about, is the refrain of my clergy friends. Which ones, indeed.
Shall we mention Job, a righteous man, whom God allows to be tormented by the devil, just to prove his faithfulness? Or shall we mention that VERY difficult lesson about marriage? Or the more difficult lesson about children, and their participation in a life of faith?
I’m going to go a slightly different way and focus on the hope that Jesus calls us all to when he talks about Divorce and Children – in one lesson.
I was part of a joyful celebration yesterday, and two who were one were joined together. Let no one separate them, says Jesus. And I say, let them not separate themselves. And several months from now, this couple will find their lives changing in another way – baby #1 is due to arrive in December!
Two of the most active parts of the wedding were the groom’s nephews. Five and three, plus a bit more for each, they were not quite into the more reverent moments. I spent the meal being entertained by the 5 yr old who was drawing pictures and totally clueless to ‘the importance’ of what was going on, no matter how often his mother said it was someone else’s big day.
Now you might think this is kind of funny, coming from a priest who is not married, and has no children. But I think this is one place where we all fail to honor Jesus’ teachings.
Because, my friends, Jesus is a giving ALL of us a model, a model of faithfulness in marriage, and a model of faithfulness in raising up the next generation. But they are both models which we often fail at. And that’s a fact.
Examine those lessons closely again.
Jesus does not follow his words about marriage and adultery with words that say we are no longer his if we fail to honor our marriages.
And he does not say that the children are welcome only when they are well-behaved.
I’m here to say that while we have a standard, it is a standard that we will fail at. All of us. And while we will fail at it, we must, over and over again, try again.
Marriage is much like how a child grows. Did any of you who are married know what you were getting into when you were first married? I think not, even if you had lived together for some time.
It is the same with raising children. No matter how well prepared your nursery is, and how many birthing classes you have taken, you still don’t know so much.
I was thinking yesterday of a friends whose baby #1 was perfect, no muss, no fuss. Several years later, Baby #2 was quite the opposite experience. He had colic from day one and it took nearly a year for the pediatrician to light on the right combo of meds to overcome it. I think if #2 had been #1, there would not have been another child for Kelley and Susan.
I recall going over to their house on occasion to babysit #2 so mom and day and #1 could get some time together. Even if all they did was nap and watch TV. But both #1 and #2 are grown and married and doing well these days.
The point is that whether we are making a marriage or raising children, we learn as we go. And since we are only learning, we have to understand that we will fail.
“Ah Guar-an-tee it” as that TV Cajun cook used to say.
But just because we know we will fail, there is no real reason why we should not keep trying.
However, and this is a big however, to keep trying also means to forgive ourselves. Because sometimes there will be that one relationship, whether of spouse or child, where things are not working. The marriage was simply to the wrong person, or you have grown into people with different needs and wants. The child, now grown and responsible for themselves, has chosen a way of life that is not your way of life.
Sometimes we have to learn to let go of our preconceived notions of what a relationship will look like in the future. That may – or may not – mean letting go of the relationship. Often what it means it taking the relationship to a new place. A different place than what we expected.
One in which a couple are no longer married but can remain, if not friends, at least civil to each other. One in which a parent lets go of parental expectations, and sees “their” child for the child of God that they really are – unique in this world.
Those friends of mine with the different children? I knew them from high school, but they moved to NC about 15 years ago, for HER job transfer. My friends are themselves a social worker and a lawyer – and both of whom had midlife career changes to get there. And by the way, he’s the social worker and she’s the lawyer.
Child #2, the difficult one, is pretty traditional in his outlook and lifestyle. There’s nothing much about him to report that’s not what we ‘expected,’ whatever those expectations might have been. Child #1, the easy one, blew off higher education. He has some of the most interesting ink on his body that I’ve ever seen – and so does his wife. And now, closer to 30 than 20, he’s back in school.
Yes, you could say that nothing in that family was kind of expected. But throughout the years that I’ve known them, which has included some years when communication was only via email or Christmas letters, I’ve been impressed. Two people whose marriage has been challenged at every turn, and whose marriage looks conventional only to those who have not known them for so long. Two children who have turned out in some very interesting ways.
Don’t get me wrong: God has standards for all of us. Even if you don’t fall into these particular lessons, there are still those pesky commandments to deal with.
It would be wonderful if life were such that we were always in full obedience to what God has required of us. I don’t mean just honoring marriage, or not murdering each other.
How are we doing with that coveting thing? Anybody here who has never coveted anything that belonged to someone else?
Or honoring parents, or other elders? Are we doing all that we could?
And what about honoring God? Have you never slept in on Sunday mornings?
The point here is that we have standards – and God knows we will fail at them. Yesterday, today and tomorrow, we have failed, and we will fail again. Yet our God does not throw us into the fires of hell for failing. Instead he invites us, again and again, to get up and try once more.
My friends, don’t give up on yourselves.
Don’t give up on those you love, or even those you just like.
Because God is not giving up on you.
God has never given up on you.
I ask that you remember that the next time you have a fight with your spouse. I ask that you remember that the next time you see one of the children here do something disruptive. I ask that you forgive yourself the next time you accidentally do something hurtful or break one of those commandments.
It might feel a bit corny to say so, but each one of us is still a work in progress.
Young or old, each one of us is still learning what it truly means to be one of God’s children.
“God is not finished with us yet.”
And that’s not just a phrase for children. Thanks be to God that God is not finished with any one of us yet!