- Parish House
Sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost – Mark 10: 2-16
The Rev. Dr. Kate Alexander
Remember being asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? If you’re still a kid, you probably get asked this a lot. It got intense in high school, as I recall. Adults came in for career day to explain the merits of their chosen professions. For the record, I’m still waiting for my Catholic high school to invite me to come talk about being a priest on career day. I might have to wait a little longer. But if memory serves, the pressure for kids to figure out their aspirations starts much earlier than high school. Even in kindergarten. We had a pretty strict kindergarten teacher, one could even call her a little bit mean. One day we were asked to think about what we wanted to be, and to come to school the next day prepared to tell the class. My enthusiastic best friend Jenny was prepared and excited. We went around the circle, and kids said things like firefighter or teacher or astronaut. When it was her turn, Jenny proudly declared that she wanted to be a doctor-diver. The teacher was swift to shut her down, since technically doctor-diver is not a thing. Apparently creativity was not part of the assignment. Jenny’s answer might have been illogical, but in her defense, it was kindergarten. In the end, Jenny did not become a doctor-diver, but she has stayed true to that same adventurous spirit.
I suppose I shouldn’t be too harsh about that teacher. She may have been overzealous in correcting five-year-old dreams, but there is a distinct need for more logic in our world. In these divided times, we disagree on everything, from immigration and sexual assault accusations to what counts as real news. We all think of ourselves as logical people, but we disagree. Enter abstract mathematician Eugenia Cheng, who has a new message about how logic can help us. Logic can help us solve our divisions, or at least help us disagree better. She says that we need to acknowledge the current epidemics of black and white thinking, false equivalents, the taking of extreme positions, and the errors in our own reasoning. She suggests that two opposing positions can both be logically sound, and if we get to that understanding, real dialogue can begin. So here’s to more logic in our lives. But then, in a surprising move for a mathematician, Cheng adds that logic isn’t everything. Sometimes, she says, we need to be moved by something more when logic isn’t enough (“Science Friday,” October 6, 2018).
In today’s gospel scene, we have an exchange that began as a logical argument, but turned into something much more. The Pharisees asked Jesus whether divorce was lawful. This was a polarizing issue, with people on both sides. Black and white thinking was a thing back then, too. So they asked Jesus, yes or no? Jesus, of course, was no slouch when it came to logic. He had a knack for using it to change the question. His first move was to ask about scripture. Clearly, Moses had said yes. But then Jesus quoted a different scripture with a different answer, the one from Genesis. “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female…the two shall become one flesh…’ Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” In other words, Jesus argued, there is a logical contradiction in scripture. On those grounds, divorce can’t be settled as a simple yes or no question. And then he changed the question.
What about the highest standard of love that God intends for us, about two becoming one? Marriage is about unity, love, and fidelity in a creation declared good and whole from the beginning. When marriages fail, what is or is not permissible is not the real issue. The real
issue is the reality of hurt and brokenness and insecurity. That’s what concerned Jesus. And the same goes for remarriage, a difficult teaching at first glance, but also a compassionate one. In marriage we are deeply bound together, as in that Genesis vision. When those ties are broken, complicated realities and painful mixtures of connection and separation remain. Anyone who has been through a divorce, and also a divorce and remarriage, can attest to that complication.
At first, what comes next doesn’t seem to be related to the divorce and remarriage teaching. We hear that people brought children to Jesus in order that he might touch them. Note that people usually sought Jesus’ physical touch for healing, so it’s fair to assume that these children were in need of healing in some way. And who were these people who brought the children to Jesus? Parents, most likely. I wonder, given the context of the divorce debate, if there were married parents, divorced parents, single parents, all in need of Jesus’ healing grace for themselves and their children. God knows that whether we are single, married or divorced, widowed or remarried, we all fall short of that original vision of wholeness set forth in Genesis. Jesus welcomed those people with their children that day, proclaiming that the very kingdom of God belonged to them. In their brokenness, the kingdom of God was theirs. By extension, it’s ours too, not for our perfect relationships, but by virtue of our need. The gospel, you see, is not for logical arguments about yes or no questions. The gospel is about the healing that is possible when we stop trying to win those arguments or justify ourselves. God’s grace is bigger than our narrow minds and hearts.
Francis of Assisi in the 13th century understood this. From a young age, his life was laid out before him. If his kindergarten teacher had asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, he was supposed to say a wealthy merchant, taking over the highly successful family business. But logic was insufficient for Francis. Instead of that predictable path, he chose to leave it all behind, an answer as creative and unwelcome as wanting to be a doctor-diver. He walked away from his wealth and security, because he was moved by something more. He had fallen in love with Christ. He glimpsed that original vision of unity and goodness in Genesis, and spent his life working toward that vision. He loved God’s creation, slept outside, preached to the birds, and talked with a wolf, as the story goes. Like the children people brought to Jesus, Francis cared most for the broken-hearted, the poor, and the marginalized, loving the least of these as Jesus had. His life was illogical by the world’s standards. But by gospel standards, it was full of grace.
It seems to me that we could, indeed, use a lot more logic in our world today. Logic can help us navigate the difficult questions we face. Jesus himself used logic, usually to help people see the narrowness of their questions. We could also use more of what moved Francis. As followers of Jesus, our point of reference is not our own winning arguments, but the kingdom of God, a power and a presence rooted in that original, breathtaking vision in Genesis. Maybe we could aspire to be more like doctor-divers in the faith, creatively open-minded and open- hearted. We, too, can be moved to fall in love with a vision of wholeness. And no matter how short we fall of that vision, we can know that the kingdom of God is ours, too. Grace has a logic all its own.