October 6, 2018
Is there room in today’s world for a love story?
In the tangled web of human relationship we see, not only in our own lives, but on the news, we wonder–is there any hope for human relationship?
As our nation watches brave witnesses of sexual abuse come forward and get discredited and even mocked, we are left astonished, wondering, “Where are things like mutual consent, respect and trust between people?” It is a twisted time, when a brave one comes forward to speak about profound harm done, in some cases harm done recently, in other cases harm from long ago, and is told, “We do not believe you.” We are living in a time when victims are plainly told, “Your reality does not count.” And what this does in human relationship is give permission to the dominant power to have his way, assuring him that his reality will prevail, that his version of history is that which will go on record. With this being modeled on a national level right now with Kavanaugh being nominated for the Supreme Court, it casts a sinister light on human relationship. In current events, in our own current relationships, we wonder, “Is there room in today’s world for a love story?” Or are relationships doomed, out of fear and distrust and suspicion?
Our reading from Genesis has long been used by the church to establish a clear hierarchy between male and female, indicating that the order of creation, first Adam, then Eve, indicates a priority between the genders. Furthermore, this has often been used to justify abuse, dominance and harm by men to women–”we were created first, therefore we are superior and you are inferior, and that is God’s will, now just submit to me.” But is this the objective of the authors of Genesis? Or is Genesis less about this misguided male/female dynamic and more about the need for trusted human community, whether that be heterosexual, homosexual, asexual, platonic or whatever? Is it perhaps about the basic human need to somehow exist in connection to another human being, that to be alone is undesirable and scary? Perhaps the miracle is not that woman and man are created and man is created first, because we all know what Jesus says about those who claim the right of being first in anything, that there is a kingdom reversal about the first being last, and perhaps this, then, is more about the creation of community.
And what we see unfold in this story is that even when the community of human hands soil what God has created good, God does not abandon. This does not give permission to abusive powers, with the claim that God will simply wash clean whatever human hands make dirty…because there is a reckoning, there is judgment, there is a time when we all stand toe to toe with God and make an account of our actions and our lives–there is justice, both worldly and godly, even if wordly justice doesn’t always prevail…but does God not show in this reading from Genesis that whatever harm we bring to human relationship, whatever mess, that God is in…and will not abandon? I often say that, in my opinion, the words that most reveal the grace of God are found in this passage from Genesis, as the third chapter comes to a close, where, after Adam and Eve have destroyed the goodness of the garden of Eden and God expels them from the garden as punishment, God sews clothes for them before they go. Does this image not reveal the goodness of a mother God, who lovingly clothes her children before shoving them out in the cold, because she loves them, and does this image not show that she is in–that although there is punishment and periodic estrangement, there is no abandonment? In the messiest of the mess in relationships between one another, as Adam and Eve’s blame laying shows, or in the mess of human relationships with God, as our disobedience in eating the fruit in the first place shows, God is in, God does not abandon.
And this carries through to the Gospel today, where Jesus is once again put to the test by the Pharisees–”tell us, Jesus, what do you think? Is divorce wrong?” And Jesus, familiar with this game, says, “God doesn’t want you to break up things that God puts together.” And in the anticipated way, the Pharisees say, “Ah ha! So, then, divorce is a sin–just as we thought!” And maybe it is. But is Jesus not also referring to all the other ways that we break up the things that God puts together–including the commandments, our relationship with creation, our relationships with each other, our relationships with ourselves, and our relationships with God? Does God not also piece these things lovingly together, only to have us break them apart? It reminds me of when Philip first learned to walk and would teeter into the living room, where his brothers had just carefully constructed a world created entirely out of Legos. And to their utter horror, what took them hours to create, Philp swiftly destroyed within minutes. Were they angry? Yes. Did they punish him? Yes. Mostly by putting him in a laundry basket and pushing him down the stairs. But did they ever abandon him? Did they exile him forever, did they cut him off from being their brother? No. His destruction of their creation just made things messy; but it did not destroy their relationship.
I stand before you today as a divorced person, I am not afraid to admit that to you. I remember when the divorce unfolded in the midst of my pastoral ministry to two rural congregations in eastern Iowa. So many people said to me, “Pastor, I am sorry, but I don’t believe in divorce.” To which I replied, “I don’t either. But I do believe in Jesus.” In other words, sometimes death happens in relationship. And we as Christians know where there is death, there is resurrection. In the mess of human relationship, Jesus does not say, “Divorced people are cast away from my grace,” or “There is no room for you in my kingdom.” Given Jesus’ own family ancestry and genealogy, he himself comes from a long history of deceit, incest, rape, murder and unfaithfulness. But it is from this human history that the Savior comes. Jesus doesn’t transcend human history, he emerges from it.
And this is precisely when the glory and beauty of Jesus shines most brightly, when the brokenness and sorrow over wrecked human relationship seems to prevail, Jesus welcomes the little children to crawl all over him. This is not a diversion tactic or a distraction by showing people how cute babies are. Children, we all know, are a the epitome of mess, and Jesus pulls the little ones onto his lap, not groping them or molesting them or harming them, but rather letting their messiness ooze all over him, their slobber and sneezes and coughs and germs and kid-sweat and their tears wept over things they do not understand. And so Jesus is soaked with the humanity, And still, he’s in. And does not abandon. Even when all others abandon him. He’s in. Till the bitter end and beyond, by bringing the future reign of God into our present time.
Is there hope for human relationship? Is there room for a love story in these dark and shadowy times? Yes, absolutely, I heard and saw traces of it just this week. Walking one night, I saw a neighbor boy walking a classmate home, using his cell phone as a flashlight. They got to her front porch and he said, “Well, here you are! Also I think you’re pretty great!” And she yelled, “I think you’re pretty great, too, and I’ll walk you home tomorrow!” as she ran inside and slammed the door. I saw my oldest son run off on his first date, with a girl who bought the tickets to the movie only if he agreed to buy lunch, thus splitting the tab and sharing the power of this first encounter. Asking permission to hold the hand, splitting s check, taking turns walking one another home–this is the new love language. Yes, but these are merely children, we cynical adults say. Maybe, but they are exactly the ones Jesus lifts up today as models of human relationship, because we adults have gotten it wrong. And so we look to them and learn from them, praying that the holiness God is working in our young people will stir us older folks to action, to bring about the goodness of human relationship intended by God. We all play a role. May God’s grace so work in us that the love and respect and consent in relationship might be restored and finally celebrated, the way God intends..as a love story between broken and faithless human beings and gracious and faithful God, who will never abandon and is in this, in all of our mess and in all of our glory.