Monday, September 28, 2015

Sunday's Sermon

At church yesterday we learned that the woman who was scheduled to preach next Sunday will be out of town so they asked me to trade with her. It usually takes me a week or so to get one together but I had some time this morning after waking up early so I tried to get it finished. This is it:

Receive the Kingdom of God as a Child
October 4th, 2015
Mark 10:2-16 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

I’d like to share with you from Mark 10: 2 – 6 this morning.

Some Pharisees came, and to test him 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.

Our Worship helps for today’s theme explain a little background about these scriptures. 

Mark 10:2–12 is about marriage and divorce. Mark 10:13–16 deals with the blessing of little children. Since Mark’s Gospel is short enough to read at one sitting, it suggests we read today’s passage in the context of the whole Gospel of Mark. Instead, we will examine the content. 

Mark begins with Jesus proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14–15). This contrasts with the bad news of Caesar and the oppressive Roman Empire, and Herod and his brutal Galilean and Peraea kingdom. If you recall the story, John the Baptist is arrested and eventually executed by Herod. And Jesus has already warned twice of his impending crucifixion at the hands of the authorities in Jerusalem (Mark 8:31, 9:30–31). He certainly knew if and when he left the countryside and moved into the cities with his message of the kingdom of God, his life would be in danger. And punishment for preaching against and inciting rebellion against the Roman Empire was an offence worthy of execution by crucifixion.

In the preceding chapter, Peter, James, and John saw the transfigured Jesus (Mark 9:2–8). For them, it is a mountaintop experience. But as is sometimes the case, they came down the mountain only to enter a valley. The other disciples could not cast out a demon from a child and then all of them argued about who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:14–29, 9:33–34).

The kingdom of God has a different view the disciples still did not fully understand. To help the disciples understand, Jesus talked about service not domination, and then took a little child, put it among them, and holding it in his arms he said: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me…” (Mark 9:37). 

So today’s passage should be read in the context of God’s kingdom where its citizens take the lowest place to serve and children are blessed and welcomed. Peter, James, and John’s mountaintop experience is not meant to elevate them but to empower them to serve the least. In God’s Kingdom, they are taught not to expect to be rulers, with the power to dominate and execute, but to be servants. According to Mark’s gospel, Jesus taught them that God’s kingdom is to be different than the kingdoms of this world.

Next we will examine the first part of today’s passage which addresses marriage and divorce (Mark 10:2–12). Jewish law only allowed men to divorce their wives…wives were powerless to initiate such action (Deuteronomy 24:1–4). In Jesus’ day husbands could divorce their wives for very little cause, leaving the women destitute. By quoting the original intentions of God in creation (Genesis 1:26–27 and 2:24) Jesus seeks to correct the then Pharisaic understanding of marriage and divorce. Women and men are both made in the image of God. Women are not things or property that can be discarded. Rather women are persons of equal dignity to men, made in the likeness of the ultimate personal being, the Divine.

Jesus is saying marriage is to be different in the kingdom of God. Extending the teaching from the preceding chapter, husbands and wives should not dominate or abuse each other. Rather they should serve and bless one another. Finally, nothing and no one should separate two joined together by God.

The second part of the passage—on the blessing of children (Mark 10:13–16)—follows naturally after verses on marriage. Marriage of parents should be faithful, loving, and committed. This is the biggest blessing possible to give a child. Children, like women, were powerless and marginalized in the first century. They too were considered property in that culture. 

These two stories remind us of Jesus’ concern for both groups. Marriage, family, and society in the kingdom of God are to be child-centered with men and women of equal dignity and worth. The kingdom is to be a safe place for all children.

Today is Communion Sunday. The Communion prayers speak of remembering Jesus. To remember Jesus includes remembering his teaching. The prayer on the bread includes the admonition to keep his commandments. God has joined us all together in the covenant of baptism. Let nothing separate us. And let us be a congregation that treats all humans with dignity and is a wonderful place for children.

Marriage equality and the dignified treatment of women and children are expected in the Kingdom of God. That certainly has not always been the case and as we all know, in many parts of the world, it still is not the case.  Women and children are abused in America as well. We all have a lot to learn about God’s peaceable kingdom. 

Marriages and congregational life are to be lived in the light of Jesus’ teaching. Each person regardless of age, sex, race or sexual orientation should be treated as a child of God. 

Jesus reminds us to be a blessing to children in our fellowship and neighborhoods. We here at Crossroads have had a history of embracing the neglected children in our neighborhood. Some will recall the neighborhood children we gave and received ministry from when the church was located on 11th street in Coffeyville. We hope we are all still as hospitable to the children in today’s congregation. 

The sacrament of Communion is an ideal time to remember Jesus’ teaching and our covenant with God. Marriage and divorce are very sensitive topics. We need to be very careful how we share this part of Jesus’ message since many people in today’s world have suffered divorce. We need to learn how to preach on this passage without making people feeling condemned or judged. After all, we have not walked in their shoes.  It is the special responsibility of all of us to bring loving ministry to families having trouble in their marriages. 

As some of us marry couples from time to time, we are advised by the church to encourage all who  conduct the sacrament of marriage to suggest to couples to prepare for the sacrament with premarital classes to prepare them better for marriage. Some will accept such counseling, especially from someone who has been carefully trained to do it.  

So let us ask ourselves, How best can our congregation be a place of blessing for all marginalized people, especially children? And how might we “receive the kingdom as a child” during the Lord’s Supper as well as in the rest of our lives?

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