In our Gospel lesson,
Jesus overturns a millennium of Jewish law
to ban divorce entirely.
For those who have lived through a failed marriage,
this lesson is hard to hear.
But there may yet be something helpful in it.
First, we have to go beyond the literal legalistic reading.
In 1st Century Galilee, marriage and divorce
were quite different from today.
Women were property. Men owned them.
For a woman to divorce her husband
Property cannot disown its owner.
But the owner can disown his property.
No courts dispensed justice.
The man just handed his wife a note saying, “Get out.”
And that’s what she did.
No property settlement. No alimony. No child support.
There were few, if any, jobs for divorced women.
Their parents might or might not take them back.
For most, there were just three options:
begging, slavery, and the sex trade.
That’s what Jesus rejected in 30 A.D.
Today, trapping someone
in an soul-killing marriage
might conform to the letter of Jesus’ teaching,
but it would go 180 degrees opposite to the spirit.
When Jesus condemned divorce, as it was back then,
he rejected the property ownership model of marriage.
When he said “the two become one flesh”
and “God has joined them together,”
Jesus re-defined marriage as a sacred relationship.
That opens a window on the place of relationship
in Christian spirituality.
Simple basic point: It’s all about the relationships.
When Christians say the word “God”
we mean the source of reality,
the destiny of reality,
the basis and the meaning of reality.
The word God then gets really interesting
when Christians say God is not a Being.
God is not the cosmic CEO giving orders.
God as Trinity is a network of relationship.
Theologian Elizabeth Johnson says the point of the Trinity is:
“At the heart of holy mystery is not monarchy but community; not an absolute ruler, but a threefold (partnership),”
The source, destiny, foundation, and meaning
of life resides in mutual, caring relationships.
That’s why our central act of worship is Communion,
We join our hearts to God by joining our hearts to each other.
We cannot get closer to God than we are to our neighbor.
That’s what Jesus means when he says
the second commandment is the same as the first.
We love God by loving each other.
Theologian Patricia Fox says the first Christians discovered that
“to become fully a person... is to break through
the isolating boundaries of individualism
into a life of inclusive communion with persons
valued for their uniqueness and differences . . ..
Arriving at full personhood in this way . . .
is what it means to be saved.”
Our salvation does not depend on doctrines,
religious feelings, mystical experiences,
loving Jesus, or being upright individuals.
Our very salvation depends on how we relate
to one another
Family relationships are part of our salvation.
How we treat each other as a city, a state, and a nation
is part of our salvation.
Between the family and the state lies the Church.
Educator Parker Palmer says the Church
is where we cultivate the habits of behavior
and qualities of character that we need to do two things.
First, in the Church we learn how to be better at family life
-- how to set healthy boundaries, to be patient,
to appreciate another person.
Second, in the Church we learn the skills we need
in order to function as a democratic society.
We learn how to care for people more than projects,
to listen, to think fresh thoughts, to learn for each other,
and to compromise.
In his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy,
Palmer says government is not working today,
democratic society is coming apart at the seams,
because institutions like the Church
are not teaching the necessary skills
and instilling the kind of character it takes
to be a democracy.
To put a point on it:
how we treat each other in Church matters.
Sometimes we get in bad habits in our relationships.
We can get in bad habits at home.
We have clearly gotten into some bad relational habits
in the public square.
Name-calling, ideological rigidity, and partisan gridlock
keep us from having a functional government.
We get stuck in the choreography of a bad dance.
No one’s having fun but we don’t know how to change it.
At the first Church I served,
the vestry didn’t think they could adjourn
until there was sufficient blood on the floor.
They couldn’t do their mission because they were stuck
in old grievances and grudges.
That didn’t change during my time.
But later it did change.
Today, they are a flourishing congregation, a fun Church,
with a lively youth group, active social ministries,
and a spirit of delight in their diversity.
Their story proves that it is possible
to re-choreograph our dance,
to change the habitual attitudes and behaviors
that define our relationships.
But just how does that happen?
It starts with our imaginations.
I recently went to Le Reve for the third time.
I love that show.
Le Reve presents human beings
doing acrobatic feats
I had not imagined possible.
It fills the room with lights, colors, shapes, and textures
-- wild forms of beauty I had never dreamed of.
In the midst of that is something even more wonderful.
The cast practices incredible mutual trust
– repeatedly placing their lives in each other’s hands.
They practice gripping tightly and letting go
– each at the right moment.
If that can happen at the Wynn, how about the Church?
Becoming the kind of trusting community
that will nurture families and democratic society,
not to mention transforming and healing our own souls,
begins with imagining a congregation
where trust, compassion, and mutual appreciation
are the prevailing attitudes.
But it takes more than imagination.
It takes practice.
There are ways to intentionally re-choreograph our dance.
These are just a few examples:
Faith based community organizing
like Nevadans for the Common Good
teaches us how to cooperate for a mission
with people we might not enjoy personally.
Continuing Indaba is a process from African village councils
that uses issues and differences to deepen relationships
instead of breaking them.
Parker Palmer’s Circles of Trust process
creates safe places for deep and vulnerable conversation.
Finally, transforming our community
takes the will to change.
We need these three things: imagination, practice, and will.
Our diocesan slogan is “Together We Can Change The World.”
This is true.
Together we can transform our characters, our families,
and our society.
But first we have to leave the world alone for a moment,
and just read the first part,
“Together we can change.”
That is the core of Christian spirituality.
We change; we grow into the likeness of Christ,
not through private study, not through individual devotions,
not through solitary prayer disciplines
-- all those things are good and helpful
– but they aren’t where the action is.
We change; we grow into the likeness of Christ
in the crucible of our relationships with each other.