Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 4, 2015

This week I got some distressing news. I immediately called a friend and she invited me to her place in case I wanted some company. I usually deal with things better when I can get them out of my head and share them, so I didn’t go to the gym, but went to her house instead. She gave me a new way to look at the situation which will help me move forward. That’s what friends are for.

We all trust our friends. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are dependent on them, for encouragement, for emotional support, for honesty, for having fun. My friend and I have all these things. I depend on her, and she depends on me. (P)

In the kingdom of heaven, that is the way things are supposed to be. God has joined us together to be dependent on one another and God to bring wholeness to our lives. It is counter cultural to believe that wholeness means dependency; we think of individualism as the thing that makes us stand – one person, whole and complete. But we are not whole and complete if we have no one else in our lives. God has joined us together in community and what God has joined together, humans shall not separate. If we do, there is brokenness and fallout for all involved. Best friends that break their relationship expect their friends to side with one of them. The same happens with a divorce. Being separated from a community may cause bitterness and revenge seeking. Not being in solidarity with our fellow human beings allows people to be open to hurt and poverty.

Marriage is a perfect topic for Jesus to use to talk about a kingdom value that disciples should adhere to. In the kingdom of God, human beings are supposed to be dependent on one another as a model of our dependence on God. That is the wholeness of the kingdom. Note that I said Jesus talks about marriage. The Pharisees’ question begins with divorce, about tearing asunder human relationships. Divorce was practiced in the Jewish community. Deuteronomy gave them that right – or at least it gave men that right. A man would give a woman a certificate of divorce, which allowed her to marry again. Women and children suffered under this law. Women lost almost all rights and privileges. They were vulnerable and needy most of the time, and many had to resort to begging or prostitution. So it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife, but parting the relationship tore at both the man and the woman, putting them in need of healing. People who separate what God has joined end up hurting.

The reason they asked Jesus the question was not that there was a question about divorce, but about what grounds there should be for it. One school held that only unchastity was permissible, and one defended the right to divorce when anything was indecent, including preparation of a meal. They wanted Jesus to take sides and thus offend someone. But as he so often does, Jesus escapes their trap and turns the subject to marriage. He tells them the law was given because of their hardness of heart, their inability to stay in relationship, their tendency to tear God-given things asunder. What is really the kingdom ideal is found in Genesis, in the creation stories. God intended people to stay together for life. A man was to leave his family and join together with the wife to become one flesh. One flesh. One whole. One relationship that should not be torn apart because what is God’s plan should not be rejected by humans. He poses even tighter strictures when he talks to his disciples about adultery committed against a former spouse if one remarries.

This statement is hard. It is hard because nearly 50% of marriages end in divorce. It is hard because there are abusive or otherwise negative situations where a relationship is broken beyond repair. It is hard because people over time cease practicing dependence on one another because they are one flesh, and the bonds of marriage finally come apart. It is hard because almost all of us have known divorce, either personally or in our circle of friends and family. What are we to do with this? The church has over the years recognized that some relationships would be more broken if the marriage stayed together than if the marriage dissolved. God’s assumption is mutual dependency of one partner on the other and when that comes unraveled, parting and all its attendant pain and suffering may be the best path to wholeness.

Jesus is explaining what is wanted in kingdom life, but he realizes we are sinners and sometimes experience hardness of heart – a break in love and dependency. But the way to good discipleship is through constancy and dependency on one another.

In Jesus’ encounter with the children, he gets the chance to show the dependency on God that is required to receive the kingdom of heaven. You would think the disciples would know by now, after Jesus has shown them a child as an example of whom they should serve, that Jesus loves children and wants to have contact with them, but they try to brush them aside. Jesus is furious. He tells the disciples to let them come to him because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as they are – dependent, vulnerable, completely at the mercy of those who take care of them and trusting that their needs will be met. We must be like those children or we will not enter the kingdom of God. Again we must be vulnerable, not allowing our dependence on God to be broken by the world’s offering of money, status, power and other distractions that turn us from trusting God. That relationship between us and God, as between husband and wife, should not be torn asunder. But it often is. We go after security in all kinds of ways, instead of trusting God for it, It is true that it is more difficult for us than a little child. They have no choice, and we perceive that we have a choice because we have other ways to provide for ourselves. But it is God that really does the providing. It is God who gives us all we have and accepts us into the kingdom through the free gift of grace, without us giving anything, earning anything or being somebody special. It is God who is the giver, and our only response can be thanksgiving for God’s love, giving back in terms of our time, our talent and our treasure to God’s community for God’s work.

When we are dependent on each other in a marriage, in a friendship or in a community of faith, we grow stronger, not weaker. We are able to pass on the pure grace we have been given to others to let them know how much God wants to provide for them. Arlington County opened its first 24-hour homeless shelter for single men and women this week, the Washington Post reports.

It is the latest project in the county’s effort to eradicate chronic homelessness. Residents will be able to receive job training and health care in addition to other services. Mothers in poverty can now get free diapers for their babies from agencies that have started under the national diaper bank movement. When the vulnerable are helped, we know that God is working to make relationships whole through communities and individuals, to be evidence that the marginalized can trust God that their needs will be met.

Kingdom relationships are built on dependence, not stand-alone individualism. God does not want the bonds of marriage – or any other important relationship – to be put asunder by human sin. God wants there to be wholeness in relationships between individuals, within communities and with God. Our job is two-pronged. We are to cultivate dependence, not independence; reliance, not stand-alone individualism. Our job is also to admit that we are sinners and God’s wholeness is sometimes broken and to realize to our amazement that what Jesus says is that entrance into the kingdom is through God’s free gift of grace. We are to give back to the community both inside and outside the church walls in thanks for God’s incredible gift to us in God’s reconciliation of the world to God through Jesus Christ. Our dependence on others and on Christ frees us to live our lives to the fullest, to become all we can be. Let us practice coming together rather than coming apart and getting in the way of God’s plan for us. Let us not put asunder the bonds God has established so that we can experience the fullness and joy of dependency.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Note: The concept of dependency was mentioned by Karoline Lewis in “Craft of Preaching: Dear Working Preacher”, with the title “Dependence Needs”, posted on Sunday September 27, 2015.