The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Speaker: Samantha Gottlich
Tags: christian, covenant, episcopal, sermon
Come, Holy Spirit, and be present among us. For if you are here, nothing else matters, and if you are not, nothing else matters. Amen.
‘Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ Phew. That’s a pretty lofty mandate. Leave it to the new seminarian to preach on marriage, divorce, and the immutability of God’s will. Let’s start there…the new seminarian…that’s me!
My name is Sam, and I am a statistic. I am part of roughly 50% of the world that is female, and I am part of the 8% of the world with hazel eyes. I am one of 27 million people that call the great state of Texas home. I am part of the 90% of the population that is right handed. I am in the 80th percentile for my height. And I am part of roughly half the population as a daughter of divorced parents. I am a statistic. I am many statistics. Unfortunately, the way I experience my life means that pie charts and bar graphs and data plots just don’t quite express my reality. My hazel eyes mean I almost never go outside without sunglasses, being from Texas means I often wear boots and say ‘y’all’ more than any other word in my vocabulary, and having divorced parents means, apart from some of the more obvious thoughts about pain and separation, that this passage makes me very uncomfortable.
So, what does God intend for us in marriage? Jesus takes us straight back to Genesis and creation in his rebuttal of the Pharisees. What can creation tell us about the nature of the relationship we are entering into in marriage? The narratives of our ancestors - Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob - tell us the story of covenant. Covenant, as introduced to us in the Old Testament, means a coming or binding together. It requires at least two equally met parties to uphold the bond that is formed through shared roles and responsibilities. And over and over again, from the beginning of creation to today, we discover a God who wants desperately to reveal the meaning of covenant, intends for us the deepest bonds of covenant with each other, and even desires, desperately, to enter into covenant with us.
Our human condition, however, means that we are flawed. We, all of us, are imperfect. We are broken by the changes and chances of this earthly life. Our human condition creates separation from God. That means that God’s hopes and intentions for us in covenant relationships, any covenant relationships - marriage, partnership, friendship, our personal relationship with God - often go unrealized. We fall short. We fail. And in those moments, separation occurs. Divorce. Loss. Pain. Loneliness. Leaving the church. It can look like many things. In the OT, as far back as creation, we can see the complicated and often painful consequences of separation because of the human condition.
But is separation always a negative thing? In the Gospel today we hear Jesus tell us “what God has joined together let no one separate.” We love our NRSV in the Episcopal Church, but that particular verse leaves a certain sense of vagueness. Here I think it especially poignant to dig a little deeper. The Common English Bible says “Humans must not pull apart what God has put together.” and the New International Version says “what God has joined together let man not separate.” Friends, separation is hard. It is painful and grief-ridden and messy. But I would argue that it can also be beautiful, healthy, and even life-giving. Let’s go back to creation.
“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.”
God created the world by separation. God created. Our universe exists because God separated light from darkness, day from night, water from water, and even male from female. Separation can be an act of creation. Our Gospel today isn’t condemning a failed marriage, friendship, or faith journey. It is offering us an opportunity to see the work of the Kingdom of God in the world. It is here, all around us. God’s intended world for us, despite our human condition, is on the edges of our vision. And in our Gospel today, Jesus even gives us a hint at how to see it more fully.
“Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Do you remember what you thought the world was like as a child? Do you remember believing in fairy tales and prince (or princess) charming? Do you remember happily ever after? Yes, maybe those notions are idyllic and fantastical and whimsical - but I would argue that it is actually closer to the truth of what God intends for us in covenant relationship than we are willing to give it credit for. Let me be clear, you do NOT have to find God as an actual child in order to receive the Kingdom of God. But I do think having a faith as a child has faith, without concern for the world or what is possible according to human law or human understanding, gives us the most complete vision of the Kingdom of God on earth. It is vulnerable, it is inquisitive, it is passionate and irrational and whimsical. And most importantly, it is far less jaded by the changes and chances of this earthly life than adulthood. It is not dictated by patterns and properties and statistics.
We are all statistics. We are all the things that categorize and systemize and prioritize us. But God is not calling us to a kingdom of statistics, God is calling us to a Kingdom of wholeness, completeness, fulfillment, and relationship. We are so much more than the things that describe us. We are our experiences - our thoughts and feelings and dreams. And God intends for us the most wonderful bonds of relationships. Let us dream of those through our childlike faith, allow the work of the Holy One to enter into our lives, and live into the Kingdom of Heaven as best as we can. God is with us, here and now, in our friendships, in our marriages, in our partnerships, and in our faith journey. God is with us in the union, and God is with us in the separation, even when the darkness tells us we are alone. God can overcome the human condition, and God can transform any shortcoming, pain, or loss into the life-giving work of creation. Thanks be to God. Amen.