Sunday, October 4, 2009

Goodness and Brokenness

Genesis 2:18-24; Mark 10:2-16

The world God created was good. The first chapter of Genesis says that repeatedly, like a congregational response. “And God saw that it was good.” That the man was lonely was not good, so God created animals, and then a woman, to be companions for the man. God established rules for the man and woman, restricting them only from eating the fruit of one tree, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The rules were to protect the humans from harm.

However, God created the man and the woman with the ability to disobey, and we know it wasn’t long before they did just that. They were enticed by the serpent to eat of the forbidden tree. When God called on the man and woman, they hid themselves, because they were ashamed of their actions.

God established punishment for the man and woman, and for the serpent, who would from then on crawl and slither on the ground. The man and woman would suffer for their disobedience, pain in childbirth for her, and hard labor in working the ground for him. They were cast out of the garden God created for them, never to return.

Within three chapters of the creation story, the relationship between humans that began so perfectly was already broken, and so was the relationship between humans and God.

Throughout scripture there are stories of broken relationships. Human relationships within the Israelite family are often broken. The larger the family grows, the more the relationships are torn apart. At the same time, the relationship between people and God is also stressed, as covenant after covenant is broken by the humans.

For example: It’s not hard to imagine the conversations between Abraham and Sarah as they waited twenty-five years for the promised child to be born. … Abraham didn’t trust God to give him and Sarah a child, so he had a child with Sarah’s maid Hagar. It’s not hard to imagine those conversations, either. … Sarah kicked Hagar and the child out of the house. The resulting broken relationship is still seen today, in the broken relationship between Jews and Muslims. Broken relationships between humans put challenges on the relationship between God and humans.

As Moses and others crafted the Torah, God’s instructions for living, often translated as the Law, they provided for a man to divorce a woman. Little provision was given to the woman, so she might survive on her own, and even less provision seems to have been made for a woman to divorce her husband. You may remember that women were only slightly better than children; they were property, to be owned or cast off by men, at will, with only a piece of paper. The woman’s dowry may or may not have been returned. She was just a piece of property, after all!

By the time of Jesus, the Greek and then Roman culture had surrounded and invaded the Jewish culture. Divorce was a common feature of life in Roman society, and women were often the ones to ask for it. The Jewish leaders ask Jesus about divorce. What, they want to know, does he think? Is he Jewish or Roman in his understanding of divorce? His response is to expand the Jewish definition of adultery. Now, not only does the divorced woman commit adultery if she remarries, but also the divorced man. The Jewish leaders – all men – must have been shocked at this new interpretation!

Because of Jesus’ comment, for centuries, divorce has been frowned on by the church, but it still happened. In recent decades, divorce has lost its stigma, and become a common reality in- and outside of the church. It’s just one obvious aspect of human brokenness.

There’s no denying it is a painful process, from the first stirrings of discontent, to broken expectations, to deciding to separate, to telling the family, to going to court and coming to an agreement on property settlement, to custody issues, to moving out and moving on. After the divorce, there’s still the resentment, the broken dreams, the chance encounters, the custody issues, the economic issues, the learning to live alone, the learning to love and trust again. Some people find healing and hope; some never quite recover. The whole family, several generations of the family, and friends, and many others are affected by one couple’s divorce.

There are many other places of brokenness. Girls as young as nine or ten are sold into the sex slave trade. Murder takes the life of people every day. Illegal drug use is a major industry, putting millions (billions?) into the pockets of drug czars. Financial mismanagement (to say the least!) has stolen billions – perhaps trillions of dollars from our own pockets and caused the poverty of millions of previously employed persons. Many denominations – all branches of Christ’s one Body, the Church – are at war within themselves over issues of sexuality, of leadership, of control. Abuse of the world God created as good has destroyed not just the scenery but the health and welfare of countless people.

With all our brokenness, we might expect that God would simply throw up the divine hands and give up on us. Or send a worldwide tsunami to wash us all out to sea and start over. But, that’s not what God did. God sent the Son to show us how to treat one another, and to assure of God’s grace – God’s unmerited forgiveness.

God welcomes us, even with our brokenness, the same way Jesus welcomed the children on that day, with open arms! Feeling the open-armed welcome of Jesus heals us, heals our brokenness, and challenges us to seek ways to heal the world around us.

Your challenge this week is to seek to welcome others as Jesus would. Who around you needs a word of encouragement? Who around you needs a hug? Who around you needs your prayers? Who around you needs food?

Here’s a more specific challenge: Vic asked us to sign up to help with Angel Food Ministries. Can you help take orders? Can you answer the phone calls? Can you help pick up the food from Crystal River? Can you help distribute the food once a month?

Please pray with me. God of mercy, you created us good, but we so often disobey the rules that are meant for our benefit. Forgive us. Give us enthusiasm for ministry, for reaching out to those in need: of a hug, of a kind word, of a meal, that we may do whatever we can in your name. Amen