Monday, October 19, 2009

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do - A Sermon

I would like you to take a pen, take out your bulletin, and draw a line through the sermon title. But remember it - that’s next week’s sermon. We do clergy bible study a week in advance, on Thursday, which is usually when I give Dyan the sermon title. Well, I came out of bible study thinking about next week’s sermon - and gave her that title. If you want to have a title for this week’s sermon, let’s call it: “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”

In Mosaic law, the woman had little power. All you had to do was write a certificate of divorce. In some mideastern cultures, the man still only has to say, “I divorce you” three times to the woman and send her away. (There is the story going around about the man who tried to divorce his wife by sending her an e-mail with the message, “I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you.” She contested it, and the judge upheld her complaint, insisting that one must tell the woman face to face. I believe the man gave up on the divorce because he was afraid to face her.

Well, to be honest, I can understand that. If you’ve ever been divorced -- and most of you know that I was divorced in my 20s -- you know it is painful and messy and affects you for the rest of your life. Many peole prefer to simply run away - or have affairs - than deal with the firestorm of ending a relationship.

Of course, if you were a woman in Jesus’ or Moses’ day, it was easier -- you were property and could not send a man away. Property has no rights -- and property has no relationships.

Here is the spirit of what Jesus was getting at. The divorce law perverted the idea of relationship. God created us male and female -- God created us to be in relationship -- and when we turn that relationship into a commodity, we destroy its purpose. We also make it disoposable.

Rather than invest ourselves fully into the relationship -- which makes getting out very hard -- we keep it on the surface level. “She’s property to get rid of when she becomes inconvenient or irritable. I can get a replacement.” That’s hardness of heart.

But if you invest yourself into a relationship -- put your whole self into it -- you know that it’s ending is painful, hard, too much to bear alone. That is as it should be in marriage and in life.

You can skim along with superficial relationships, saying hello and goodbye with relative ease -- with the simplicity in fact of writing a certificate of dismissal. But they will remain forever superficial, disposable acquaintances who cannot help you grow in your heart. You remain cold and sterile.

When you commit to another person, something new appears. Jesus calls it two becoming one. Whatever you want to call it, the bond is strong and does not break easily because to break the bond is to break a part of yourself.

This is how our relationship with God, can be too. Remember old Job? God lets Satan torment him, kill his children, destroy his business and ravage his body with sores. Lot’s wife says, “Why don’t you just curse God and die?” Not that she really wanted to get rid of him -- I think -- but she figured he was done for. She believed God had abandoned Job, so Job should do the same.

Only Job could not. He did not understand the abuse God was putting him through, but he knew that they had been together a very long time. He knew that his relationship with God had been real and committed. He could not and would not let go so easily. Not until he heard directly from God that it was over. For him, the greatest tragedy would have been to be without God even in the midst of the pain and suffering.

Now, I should point out that the message of Job’s story is not that God likes to play with us like a cat with a mouse. The main point of the story was meant to be that bad things happen to ALL people, not just those who deserve them, which was a prevailing thought at the time. You know, “if you’re sick or poor or blind, you deserve it, so we don’t have to help you.” The story was told to remind us that your circumstances are not a reflection of your goodness, so don’t judge the poor.

But it is the depth of relationship that comes through. It is more important to Job than riches or health or even posterity. And that is what we seek in our relationship with God -- and if we’re smart -- with each other.

Remember the words from the marriage ceremony? For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till we are parted by death. This is not only good for marriage, but for all of us. For it is in Christ that we are not many but one, and what God has joined, let no one separate. Amen.