Making a Fuss

In my last blog entry Sustaining Service, I noted that Episcopalians no longer expect to see God materially active in their day-to-day lives, or in the world around them. What’s more, I encounter men and women who have devoted lives of faithful service to Church and community and who have never expected God to even notice them. Is this the unfortunate consequence of low expectation or might it also be the self-effacing spiritual humility which is characteristic of our Anglican Culture in general?

That as may be, I also detect a recent movement, recent in the sense of a development of the last 100 years, whereby Episcopalians along with their Liberal Protestant neighbors have become confused between being in discipleship with Christ and being good persons doing only what good people do. A pervasive social humanitarianism has increasingly blinded us to the fact that the goal of Christian discipleship is not becoming good, but being in love.

I am aware that placing God as the object of our being in love seems strange to many Episcopalian ears. Such language has a very non-modern, vaguely revivalist tone. It is this revivalist-evangelical tone, so pervasive in the religious culture of United States, that Episcopalians see themselves in opposition to.  Although our Anglican Tradition of public worship has deep roots in mystical theology and uses the language of metaphysical experience, alas, at the personal level of our individual day-to-day lives we have come to view mystical or metaphysical experience as a relic of past centuries.

For many of us God has set the laws of the universe in motion and now stands off-stage. Our task is to be good servants and stewards of church and community. This attitude is akin to servants in a great house getting on with their work and never expecting to encounter, or be encountered by, the master of the house.

I recall Carl Jung having made a comment somewhere in his voluminous works about how 20th century people no-longer possess a medieval mindset. He was referring to something that Charles Taylor, in his magnum opus, A Secular Age refers to as the process of disinchantment. In the enchanted world of the medieval mindset, God is magically present and experienced as a tangible, material reality. In the enchanted world human beings experience the reality of God primarily through the external material world in contrast to internal emotional reality.

Taylor charts the historical process whereby the world of enchantment becomes supplanted.  The disenchanted world is a world in which God becomes displaced from external material reality. The first stage of this process relegates God to the sphere of internal emotional experience. The end of this process produces the secular age in which it is now possible for human beings to understand themselves and their world without any reference to the existence, let alone the presence, of God, active in the world and in their personal lives.


Anglicanism has always displayed a surprising  openness to contemporary culture. Pick any age and Anglicans were in the lead among those Christians who embraced the spirit of each age. This is one of our great strengths, but also poses a danger for us; that in an age when God has largely disappeared from wider social and material discourse, we find it increasingly hard to contemplate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Our deep liturgical life, designed to open us to the mysterious and yet identifiable experience of God permeating our experience, now functions as something that filters-out direct experience of God. For us the practice of religion has become very safe. The celebration of the community in love with God becomes the mere celebration of the community for, and of, itself.

My very superficial excursion into the historical process that has contributed to Episcopalians no-longer expecting to see God, is a preamble to saying, I wish I could be a person like Bartimaeus in the Gospel passage set for this Sunday, which is a continuation of Mark chapter 10.


I just hate myself when, in an over-priced restaurant serving mediocre food, the waiter comes over and asks: ‘Is everything all right?’. I usually find myself responding in my best brought-up voice: ‘Everything is lovely, thank you’, and then muttering through the rest of the meal, ‘well I shan’t have to come here again!’

I wish, oh how I wish, I could be like Bartimaeus who seems to have no difficulty making a fuss in order to get what he wants. He is completely unperturbed by the admonishment of the people around him telling him to shush and not make such a scene.

Bartimaeus, is not only completely impervious to what others think of him, but he knows exactly what he wants. He also has no doubt about who it is that has the power to help him. Bartimaeus not only knows who Jesus is, he expects to be noticed and responded to, by Jesus. What is it that motivates Bartimaeus? If it’s self-confidence then he earns only my envy. If it’s his desperation, then he earns my admiration. Could I allow myself to show that degree of vulnerability and to take such a risk?

Although confidence and desperation are clearly part of his motivation, Mark intends us to see Bartimaeus’ action as faith-driven. The crowd tells him the commotion is caused by Jesus of Nazareth passing by. Bartimaeus does not call out Jesus of Nazareth in calling out to Jesus. He calls out instead for Jesus, Son of David (code for Messiah) to pay attention to him. Bartimaeus is compelled by the courage to believe, placing all his hope in the expectation that God will notice and hear him.


In Jung’s sense, Bartimaeus has a medieval mindset. He lives in a world described by Taylor as one of enchantment. He is surrounded by a tangible and material presence of God’s Divine power. Divine power is located in objects, categorized as pure and impure. Divine power resides in places, this one holy, this one profane. It manifests through situations and people. If the divine is materially present then so too is Satan and evil. Evil too, surrounds Bartimaeus and he knows it, intimately! Being blind he may well have felt himself cursed. Certainly others would have attributed his blindness to the results of sin. Bartimaeus is a human being feared and shunned by others in his world as a source of spiritual defilement, a human manifestation of evil.

However, I have to conclude that Bartimaeus is not like me or you. His motivations and expectations have been shaped by a culture of enchantment, whereas, ours are shaped by living in a post-enchanted world, a world of  disenchanted, in which God is felt by us to be materially absent. There are some Christians who struggle to maintain the medieval mindset. However, Episcopalians are not found among these kinds of Christians. We no-longer look for God or really expect to be encountered by God. Instead, we live in a world of personal agency and personal responsibility. In fact, we are spiritually constrained to become increasingly self-referenceing within a world of disenchantment. We have become the authors of our own salvation.


What then, is the value for us of this Gospel story? I believe Mark’s story still carries a value for us because it is through this story that God continues to speak to us. Culture separates us from the individual called Bartimaeus. However, Bartimaeus is still a human being. We share with him motivations that are still a condition of the human heart. Where we differ is in our sense of what expectations.

Bartimaeus has faith and the courage to hope. In that hope he risks not getting. He risks disappointment! Yet, Bartimaeus risks, with all his being, because he is at a point in his life where he can’t afford not to take the risk. Bartimaeus is a man who not only expects a response from Jesus, he also knows what he wants. It might have been easy for Jesus to assume he knows what Bartimaeus seeks, as in, another blind person to be healed. Yet, Jesus does not assume he knows and so asks Bartimaeus to asks him, what is it you want me to do for you?

As we share the contours of the human heart with Bartimaeus perhaps there are some questions that help us with this story.

  • What have you seen or heard that brings you to back to Church week by week?
  • Do you long to see hope walking by?
  • What do you need Christ to free you from in order to become?
  • What will it mean for you when God removes what has been holding you back in your life?


Jesus connects with Bartimaeus in a manner that results in the removal of his blindness. This is because of a change that has already begun to take place inside him. Using the more appropriate terminology of our culture I might say that Bartimaeus’ faith, hope and courage to risk failure allows him and Jesus to come into alignment. We seek and find God through the way our hopes, and disappointments bring about an alignment between us, and God.

Borrowing from computer technology, the cordless keyboard and mouse have to come within range of the bluetooth signal. They have to be in alignment with the desktop. We come into alignment with God through giving expression to the yearnings of our hearts.

Mark’s Gospel story ends in a key phrase.  For weeks now, in successive sermon blogs, I have been mining this phrase to create an image for our coming into alignment with God. Mark tells us that Bartimaeus having regained his sight followed Jesus on the road.

Sustaining Service

I have been exploring in recent posts the central metaphor for discipleship – that of being on the road with Jesus. Jesus invites us to join him on the road. The road leads to Jerusalem. The Evangelist Mark records a series of events involving Jesus as he travels towards Jerusalem. Through the chronology of events Mark shows Jesus gradually revealing to those who are with him what being in discipleship means.  As in today’s section Mark 10:35-45 we once again see how the disciples continually remain imprisoned within the limitations of only what they are able to imagine. Their imaginations, like ours, have been shaped and remain encapsulated within very conventional ways of looking at the world. As I mentioned last week, the impact of Jesus’ teaching about the meaning of being a disciple has the potential to shake us to the core and break open our encapsulated world views like the proverbial martini – vigorously shaken and not just stirred. The road to Jerusalem is a metaphor functioning at two levels of perception. Jerusalem is both a place-name on a map and a symbol of the destination of our own road of discipleship. This is the destination for our own internal dying to the old in us and rising to the promise of the new.

Last week we passed the road sign TIME TO EXAMINE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY. Approaching this signpost we become uneasy, fearful of an implicit demand. We are unsure we will have the courage to meet this demand. Here we enter a less familiar stretch of the road. Here in order to pass-on we have to face-up to the most difficult realization of what being in discipleship means. It means accepting that being on the road requires us to relinquish our illusion that the money we earn is  ours to control. For it’s difficult to face the implication that if we long to open our hearts publicly, we cannot continue to keep the open or closed state of our wallets as a private matter between us and God. 

Having passed through this section of the road we may be somewhat relieved today to find that the next section of the road is better paved and the route more familiar to us. It is with relief that we approach the next sign post that reads: WELCOME GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS.

Yesterday, at the Diocesan Convention, Trinity Cathedral was recognized as a center for Jubilee Ministry. Trinity Cathedral has become designated by the Episcopal Church as a center for Jubilee Ministry. The concept of Jubilee Ministry is taken from Isaiah’s proclamation of the year of Jubilee – the seventh year when all social injustices will be righted. This is God’s call to his people to build societies based on divine principles of social justice. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus echoes an important element of Jubilee when he tells us that we are not to abuse one another through the exercise of power. Among us, he or she who wants to be first must become the servant on all.

While Episcopalians may have a low threshold for pain in the area of giving till it hurts, in the area of service they show a remarkable pain tolerance. Here at Trinity Cathedral we know about service. As was duly recognized yesterday at Convention,   we give of ourselves unstintingly in the service of others. The proof of this can be seen in the summary of ministry achievements for 2012, which you will all receive as part of your Annual Renewal Packs this morning.

So does this mean that we have met the challenge of Jesus’ teaching on servanthood and passed with flying colors? I think not! For while the product of our service is second to none, one question remains. What is the motivation for and the spiritual fruit of our service?

Much of our motivation for service seems to me to be continually outwardly focused. We long to make a difference in the world and we give of our energies to make the world a better place. Does this mean that we are good people only doing what good people should do? I suspect many of us operate from this motivation. Again while the product of our labors is beneficial, so much of our service could be seen as just another expression for our self-assertion – which is always an expression of our power. Service becomes our equivalent of following the commandements. The rich man in last Sunday’s Gospel followed the commandments as an expression of his self-assertion, his self-sufficiency, his being well and truly in control of his relationship with God. All of this masqueraded as spiritual faithfulness, and deep down he knew it, because he felt the promise of eternal life continued to evade him.

In our world, commitment to social justice, the imperative of the Year of Jubilee, is not a characteristic confined to Christians alone. Many non-believers hold Jubilee values with passion as an expression of Humanitarianism. I am not troubled by Humanitarianism. I welcome and applaud it. The rise of Humanitarianism, a product of the Enlightenment, has made our world an infinitely better place. The question I am asking is, is there a difference between being a disciple of Christ and being a good person, doing what good people do? For me there is a difference. The difference is not discernible in the product of our service but it is discernible in the motivation for, and the spiritual fruits of, our service.

The difference between a Christian and a Humanitarian approach to service lies in the direction of the motivation. For the Christian, it’s not enough to have the outward focused motivation of wanting to make the world a better place. For the Christian service is our response to God’s invitation to come into the intimacy of relationship. We are motivated to make the world better because we are in the process of growing more deeply in love with God. Growing in love with God through being in discipleship with Christ, is our motivation for service and produces the spiritual fruit that is the hallmark of our discipleship.

Anglican openness to a dialogue with culture has its dangers. We have become much influenced by the humanitarianism of the age.  As Episcopalians we no longer expect to see God active in the world. The world is no longer enchanted, a term coined by Charles Taylor. By this he means a world full of a magical sense of God in all things. Our world has become as Taylor terms it, disenchanted. God seems far off. God is the prime mover who has set up the clockwork of the universe to now run itself. Our job has become that of good servants of the machine oiling and cleaning and repairing so to maintain its efficiency.

Lives of service will always be missing something when the service is not motivated by a deep love of Christ and an expectation of being in relationship with Christ. In such a relationship we expect to encounter God intimately in our day-to-day living. In such a relationship we expect to not only notice God, but be noticed, by God! This personal component of intimacy with Christ, in which we feel a love for Christ and expect to be loved in return, is the engine of our service. It is also the spiritual fruit, the promise of eternal life, for which perpetually seek and for which our hearts are continually in restless search.

I discern that there are two kinds of need in our congregation. I see traditional church people, committed to lives of service and outreach. They are the backbone of this congregation. Their need is to enter into the intimacy of relationship with Christ and let this become the driver for their  service in the world. I encourage them to expect to see God and to see themselves no longer as merely faithful servants, good persons doing what good people do. They are called into the being-ness of discipleship that takes them beyond being merely useful to God. They are nothing less than courageous disciples of Christ, beloved of God and accompanying Christ on the road.

I see others here who have little experience of being good servants in any traditional sense. They are newer arrivals to this Cathedral, drawn here by a force that defies rational explanation. They are here because they know they can be no-where else. They sense here in the depth of the liturgy, God’s conversation with them, mediated through Lectionary and Sermon. They know they are being personally addressed. They know the pull of the longing to open your heart to God. For them, the need is to move beyond a solitary search and to enter on the road in the company of others. For them it is through community dedicated to service that they will find themselves to be already on the road with Christ.

Going for the Jugular

Being in Discipleship      I note the feelings and thoughts within as I begin to blog on Mark 10: 17-31 where the story of the rich man seeks from Jesus the answer to eternal life. I experience discomfort at having to address Jesus’ encounter with the rich man and his famous words about rich people, heaven, and the eye of the needle.   Jesus continues on the road which is a key phrase for Mark. Being on the road is not just about the destination of Jerusalem and its tumultuous events. Being on the road for us is about an internal journey. A journey towards a transformation within each one of us, leading to the state of being in discipleship. Being in discipleship, rather than the normal expression of being a disciple, better describes for me the experience of trying to open myself to this transformed state. This is an experience of the continuous present, i.e. being in – rather than a state of arrival being a -.

Mark wants us to scoff a little at the obtuse way Jesus’ disciples continually miss the point. We have been merrily scoffing away since the early part of September when the lectionary started to focus our attention on Mark’s picture of Jesus starting-out on the road. Yet, being on the road with Jesus – the process of being in discipleship, is also for me a struggle to take-in and make room for a particular world view, which shocks me to our core.

Our World View      My world view is the way my individual life experience conditions me to experience myself in the flow of life around me. Being on the road with Jesus turns my world view upside down. There isn’t a part of me that remains untouched by this upheaval. Like the proverbial Martini, we are all shaken and not merely stirred. This starts with Jesus’ instruction to anyone of us who wants to be his disciple to deny self, take up our cross, and start-out on the road. For further thoughts on this, I refer readers back to my blog Follow Me for the 16th September.    

Illusions      What do I need to do – to inherit eternal life? This is the rich man’s question. Isn’t also our deepest question? The rich man tells Jesus that he has done all things necessary for salvation and yet there is something that continues to evade him. So, please good teacher Jesus, he says, tell me what I need to do? Jesus gives him what he seeks:  go sell everything that is stopping you starting out on the road with me. My discomfort with this text tells me that it is not only the rich man whose heart falls at these words. Unlike the rich man I don’t even have houses, money in the bank, stocks and shares to dispossess myself of. My discomfort lies in Jesus’ call to me to give up another secretly guarded illusion.   

Money is the single-most powerful illusion of happiness. Or if happiness is too much to expect, then at least money provides the illusion of security. Jesus is telling us that this illusion endangers our inheritance of eternal life. Yet, what is eternal life?  I have long ago jettisoned the notion of eternal life as pie in the sky when you die. I am interpreting eternal life to mean the here-and-now experience of being on the road, i.e. to being in discipleship with Jesus. At Mark 10:17-31 we arrive at a signpost on the road that says in bold letters: LOOK AT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY. 

The Myths of Scarcity and Abundance       Currently, there is a lot being written about our relationship with money and setting this issue within the larger context of how our collective and individual world views are shaped by the fear of scarcity which fuels our obsession with the need for more and more- the illusion that what we have is never enough! For those of you who live in Arizona, if you have a chance to attend one of Canon Timothy Dombek’s STEW-U’s (stewardship university) I recommend you do so. With conviction he explores the myth of scarcity and our obsession with over abundance, and how this distorts the lives of our Christian Communities. I also refer readers to Lynne Twist’s book Unleashing the Soul of Money. For those of us who can’t bear the thought of reading one more book, Twist’s book comes in audio format and makes for compelling listening. You can also refer back to my reflections on illusion and the illusions of scarcity and more is better in my blog Passing Through The Veil of Illusion.

The Comfort of Self-Assertion       I want to take us back to look at the construction of the rich man’s question. The construction presupposes that there is something we need to do.  In my experience we tend to ask the question – so what do I need to do, or how do I do that? – when we seek to quieten the anxiety we feel at having arrived at a significant insight so disturbing in its life changing implications that we need to run from it as fast as we can. We run from the possibility of being changed by our arrival at an insight. We take refuge in the futility of our own inability to see how we can act. This is part of our universal human experience – we long to change with such a desperate intensity, while at the same time, fearing with an equal intensity the prospect of changing. If I let go this source of grievance, if I puncture this illusion of safety and security – what would happen and/or who then would I become?

Following the Commandments is code for how we confuse self-assertion with living as if we are on the road to being in discipleship. The rich man in Mark’s Gospel follows the Commandments because he easily has the material and spiritual resources to do so. Following the commandments is, in other words, the action of self-assertion and self-sufficiency, masquerading as spiritual faithfulness.

How do I know this? I know this because the rich man is me and he is you. I know this from the rich man’s reaction to Jesus asking him to sell his possessions and give the money not just away, but to the poor i.e. those who are in need, and enter onto the road. This I can easily identify with, but because it is about him, I can also take the moral high ground and judge him at the same time. He could not do it because this would require him moving beyond controlling his relationship with God. Through selling his possessions he is being called back into relationship. Not a private relationship with God in which he is always in control of his own feel good factors and personal security. He is being confronted by the need to enter into a public relationship with a God who is present to him through his relationships with others, commonly called community. What is the rich man’s response?  He goes away with a heavy heart  .Here is the litmus test that we all face within the context of our own relationship with money and possessions. It matters not,  how much or how little of these we feel we have.

Going for the Jugular       I heard some funny quips this last week about Episcopalians and money. Did you know that Episcopalians give until it hurts? It’s just that we have such a low pain threshold. Episcopalians when faced with the invitation to pledge will stop at nothing! Think about it. Alas there is an uncomfortable truth in these parodies. Episcopalians are unstinting in their service of one another and the wider world. Ask them to do something, to get involved with a mission and they are right there. Ask them, are you on the road to being in discipleship with Jesus and you usually draw a puzzled look and may evoke a response, oh I am not one of those – those being Evangelicals. Ask Episcopalians, would you like your name published as a supporter of the Opera, or the Ballet, or NPR?.  They will gladly go public with their generosity. Ask them to go onto a list of those who are pledging, and heaven forbid, tithing members of Trinity Cathedral and the look of horror has to be seen to be believed. No! The good Episcopalian says. That’s private between me and God – and the cute among us might even quote scripture, parade not your faith in public and go into your closet and let not the right hand know what the left had is doing. Well, we usually avoid the going into your closet, bit, – but you get the drift.

Last week I coined the snappy phrase: open your wallets as wide as you long to open your hearts. This week’s Gospel confronts us with our willingness to publicly open our hearts and yet, to keep the open or closed state of our wallets, our secret. As a priest, I avoid becoming categorically prescriptive on issues. However, on the issue of money I have to state, our money is not our money, and our relationship with it is not a private concern. God calls us to account publicly for our relationship to money. Because – God’s dream for us is, that the use of our money becomes a source of blessing and spiritual transformation for us.

Money, Being Transformed, Becoming Sources for Transformation       The rich man’s question for assurance that he would inherit eternal life represents all our narcissistic anxieties. Jesus’s response offers a possibility of transformation – turning the question into: are you willing to use your resources to make a difference in the world?  The rich man is afraid of such a transformation and goes away sad. He would rather rely on his own self-sufficiency.

Don’t we all want to make a difference in a world where we mostly feel so ineffectual? Our use of our money becomes a blessing and a fulfillment towards our spiritual longings when we allow it to become an instrument for making a difference. It makes a difference through the way it brings us into a transformed and transforming relationship with others – and together, we build strong community.




For the Hardness of your Hearts

The Dilemma        Today is the Sunday Trinity Cathedral has designated as the beginning of our two month Annual Renewal Program. I have a phantasy that if Trinity Cathedral was a mega church I would be well prepared for the commencement of the program by having pre-selected a text or a series of texts well in advance. I would then have built an impressive series of sermons around my text or texts, all of which in a subtle variety of cleaver ways, utterly convinces you- my hearers-  of the need to open your wallets as wide as your desire is to open your hearts.

Alas, this option is not open to me. In a liturgical tradition the preacher is both constrained and enabled by the fixed nature of the Lectionary. Constrained, because as we begin our Annual Renewal Program, I am not able to pick and choose scriptural texts around which to build an utterly convincing argument for the necessity of tithing. Enabled, because the Lectionary forces me to stay within the conversation that God chooses to have with us as a community concerning his dream for our becoming. The Lectionary disciplines us, not only me, but all of us, to listen to what God is telling us as a community – a community that seeks to remain within a covenanted relationship with God’s self. In our tradition preaching is not so much a conversation that I have with all of you. It’s the articulation -often in seemingly inarticulate groans and sighs – of the conversation the Holy Spirit is fostering with us.

All of this is a preamble to the more difficult task of squaring-up to the gospel for our commencement Sunday – Jesus’s teaching on divorce. Aghhhhhhhhhhhh!

Taking the text Head-On      In some churches you would hear the preacher present this text as the scriptural basis supporting the indissolubility of marriage. In other churches you might hear the preacher attempt to explain this text away. Both approaches successfully avoid struggling with the text. The opportunity this text presents is one of the most powerful examples of what we as Episcopalians really believe God is calling us to do. We are a tradition that believes that each generation has to sit in the tension between the tradition, as we receive it, and the lives we actually live. At Trinity Cathedral we express this through our tag-line:

Trinity Cathedral where traditional worship meets with contemporary ideas. 

If you want to know who we are and why you might feel drawn to belong here, this tag-line says it all.

This is the fourth week of a consecutive reading from the central chapters of Mark’s Gospel. Each week our struggle with the text has led us to an understanding which connects the scripture with the reality of the lives we live without hopefully, damaging the integrity of either. You might like to refresh your memory of this journey by rereading my sermon blogs beginning on September 16th or listening to the sermon podcasts posted on the Trinity Homepage or Facebook page.

Jesus’s words about divorce are not, as in the case of last week’s Gospel reading, an example of his use of hyperbole. The context is one of those pesky ones where the Pharisees, presented in the Gospels and the bad guys, seek to entrap Jesus in the manner reminiscent of a presidential debate. It’s refreshing to see that Jesus does not pivot.

The key line for me is where Jesus, referring to the Mosaic Law tells the Pharisees that divorce was allowed:

Because of your hardness of hearts …

He then tells them that this was not what God intended from the beginning of Creation. So does this mean, as the Church once universally contended, and in some sections of Christianity still does, that divorce is a sin against God’s intention at the Creation that men and women to live together in indissoluble marriages? I think not!

For a more in-depth exploration of the reasons why I think Jesus is not universally ruling out divorce, I refer you to an exegesis of the context and meaning of today’s text by Matt Skinner in his 2009 commentary on the Mark 10:2-16 at

Themes Within the Text      What I see here is not so much Jesus talking about divorce but about the integrity of marriage, and within that integrity, the rights of the woman. For it was, and remains, God’s intention that human beings accept their responsibilities for one another when they choose to enter into covenanted relationships. What makes marriage a covenanted relationship is that God at Creation intended that human beings should not live alone. It is also an earthly image for the covenanted relationship between Christ and the community of those who follow him.

Last Wednesday, I was part of a discussion of the upcoming Gospel passage at the Bishop’s weekly staff meeting. I listened hoping to glean some helpful pointers for addressing this text. Instead I became deeply moved as in this mixed group of colleagues, some clergy, some lay,  several persons spoke of the painful memories of their experience of divorce. If I could sum up my sense of their pain, it was the pain of the loss of innocence. The pain of the disillusionment at finding themselves unable to continue to live in an unhappy marriage. What seemed to have hurt them most was not the emotional trauma of the break-up of their relationships but the breaking of their sacred vow to live with their marriage partner for the rest of their lives. It seemed to me that no-one in that room who had been through a divorce, had remained unscathed by the loss of their once innocent belief that when you make sacred promises everything should work out, and people should live happily thereafter.

The loss of our innocence leaves a deep and often ugly scar in us. And yet, I also noted that each of these persons had gone-on to make a new and fulfilling marriage with another person. For me there could not be a more graphic example of how we are called to live in the tension between the tradition we receive and the lives we actually live. As Anglican Christians this place of tension is where we expect to encounter God. It is in this tension that God comes looking for us.

I am at the point where I feel I could go on writing about Mark 10:2-16 all day. I interpret this feeling to be a sign that I need to wrap-up this blog entry.  The central statement in this whole passage for me is  when Jesus refers to divorce as a law written to mitigate the hardness of human (read male) hearts.

Two Distinct Conversations     Jesus has one conversation with the Pharisees and then moves to a different conversation when he goes indoors with his disciples. With the Pharisees Jesus seems to be concerned about the plight of women in the case of a writ of divorce. Under the Mosaic Law the writ of divorce was to be given to the woman as a protection against the huge discrimination she would experience in a patriarchal society where women were merely the chattel firstly of their father and then their husband. The Pharisees, all men of course, make no mention of this aspect of the Law.

When Jesus is alone with the disciples he specifically includes the possibility of a woman divorcing her husband in cases of adultery. Matt Skinner notes that this was such a shocking suggestion that Matthew, in his Gospel omits mention of this possibility altogether. It’s an interesting aside that in the Church of England the priest hands the marriage certificate to the bride reminding her that the certificate is her legal property and not her husband’s. This custom is a historic leftover from a time when proof of marriage was a woman’s only legal protection in a society where it was men who held the upper hand.

Jesus seems to be saying not that there can never be a divorce but that in divorce men and woman are equal.  In his conversation with the Pharisees his message is that divorce is impossible when it is being used by men as a loophole to justify adultery. When this is the case, divorce or no, the new marriage contract does not protect the guilty person from continuing in an adulterous state.  Jesus does not see the sin of adultery as a sin against the property rights of other men, but a sin against the marriage partner- against the wife – a sin against covenanted relationship. This is the link to his second and different conversation with the disciples. Here, Jesus alludes to the centrality of the marriage partnership. He seems to understand that both men and women can institute divorce and that both will be morally accountable to each other for their behavior. I don’t read his words to be saying that relationships never fail. I hear him speaking against the reduction of the marriage relationship to a matter of male property rights over women and divorce as the easy legal loophole to justify male or female adultery.

Jesus’ Concerns    I note how having shown his concern for woman Jesus then rebukes the disciples for their exclusion of the children from his presence – suffer the little children to come unto me for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven. In today’s passage we hear Jesus continuing is teaching about vulnerability.Woman and children are the images Jesus uses for the way that God, incarnate in himself, volunteers to become vulnerable to the hardness of the human heart. To be vulnerable and excluded from the protections of power is the chief qualification for inclusion into the Kingdom of God.

Jesus’ seeming prohibition on divorce is not a denial of the propensity for human relationships to fail. It is a reminder that covenanted relationships carry responsibilities that can’t be sloughed off without a recognition of the pain of relationship failure. This is a pain that is healed only through repentance. Only in repentance do we gain the ability to move forward and learn from our failures how to make better informed future choices.

Linking the Improbable   Perhaps this Gospel reading is not such a bad one to have on the Sunday we commence our annual renewal, looking forward to 2013. Rather than being read as a prohibition on divorce the text is about the integrity of marriage and the costs to the human heart when marriages fail. It’s about marriage as a model of covenanted relationship intended by God at Creation. That God intends marriage as a fruit of Creation necessitates in our own generation, extending the concept of covenanted marriage to include our gay brothers and sisters. It is also a reminder that through our baptism, we, as the saving, and cross bearing community of Christians at Trinity Cathedral, on the corner of Central and Roosevelt, have entered into an intentional and covenanted relationship with God. As members of the Body of Christ we incur responsibilities and obligations to our faith community.

Not to put too fine a point on it. One of the responsibilities of our covenant of baptism is to open our wallets as wide as we desire to open our hearts. Wallets and hearts exist in a virtuous cycle.  If we are serious about being in covenanted relationship with God, the opening of one is intended by God to lead to the opening of the other.  However, more about pledging and tithing in weeks to come. So stay tuned!

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