Wednesday Sermon: Yielding and Unyielding Hearts

Wednesday Sermon: Yielding and Unyielding Hearts October 7, 2015

Photo: Flickr, "If Your Glass Heart Should Crack," by Chris O'Brian, creative commons license, some changes made.
Photo: Flickr, “If Your Glass Heart Should Crack,” by Chris O’Brian, creative commons license, some changes made.

Pastors have a frequent question when they begin to discover mimetic theory. “That’s great. But how does it preach?”

Reverends Tom and Laura Truby show that mimetic theory is a powerful tool that enables pastors to preach the Gospel in a way that is meaningful and refreshing to the modern world. Each Wednesday, Teaching Nonviolent Atonement will highlight Tom and Laura’s sermons as an example of preaching the Gospel through mimetic theory.

In this sermon, they discuss the human problem of power. Often we use power to be “over and against” one another and our hearts become unyielding. We see it in the Gospel text for the day where husbands had power over wives. Jesus transforms our understanding of power so that it isn’t over and against anyone, but that our hearts yield to one another. As Tom and Laura state, the issue is “power; who has it, how can it be shared and how to use it for the good of the union.  Jesus wants us to take power over ourselves and not the other and to use that power to listen, yield and bless.”   

Yielding and Unyielding Hearts

Year B, Pentecost 19
October 4th, 2015
By Thomas L. and Laura C. Truby
Mark 10:2-16

Here’s the question.  “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?”

Is there anything about the question you find troubling?  Are the terms “man” and “wife” equivalent?  No.  To be equivalent the question would have to be “Does the Law allow a man to divorce a woman or a woman to divorce a man or does the law allow a husband to divorce a wife or a wife to divorce a husband.”  But that’s not the question the Pharisees ask.  They ask “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife” and the text says it’s a test question.  Built into the question is the assumption that the woman is subordinate and belongs to the husband.

How will Jesus respond?  Will he accept their assumption that wives are subordinate, an assumption that is built into the law or will he contradict their law and place himself against his own culture?  It’s a man’s world and hierarchical and yet Jesus is coming from another place.  In fact, he has just lifted up children as of the highest value and made no distinction between boys and girls.

Since they have approached him with a question, he asks a question in turn.  “What did Moses command you?”

“They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.”  This is true.  All a man had to do was write out a statement documenting the ways his wife had failed to meet his expectations and he was free of all responsibilities to her.  With this letter she was cast into the world with no resources, no protection, and despised by all. To survive she would have to go back to her family of origin who probably would take the side of her ex-husband, beg or prostitute herself.  Her prospects were very grim and knowing this the man had tremendous power in the marriage relationship.  The “rightness” of this was embedded in the culture and considered normal.

But was it right?  Jesus could see that it wasn’t but not many could.  It’s like the hidden racism in our culture that appears to be race neutral but actually results in the incarceration of a huge and disproportionate number of people of color. Some recent books on this topic are The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson and Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Just as women were unacknowledged and highly vulnerable then, and still are in many places and many ways, so people of color, particularly if they are poor, are at risk now and our culture doesn’t see it.

In response to their correct reading of the law “Jesus said to them, ‘He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts.”  Just as men wrote documents divorcing their wives so Moses wrote a commandment for the men because they were unyielding and insistent on having their own way.  They wouldn’t listen, bend, adapt, or work cooperatively with their life’s mate and Moses allowed it.  But the way it is supposed to work, the way God intended it to work and the way it’s stated in their own Book of Genesis is that “God made them male and female.  Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” 

Where is the over-against in that?  How did it become this situation where women belong to men and are subordinate to them?  People married to each other aren’t two individuals fighting each other or one holding absolute power over the other so that they can’t fight.  No, they are no longer two at all, but one flesh. Each side to the union constantly yields to the other.  God made us this way; and strangely, we become human as we learn how to make it work.  We must learn to converse and compromise.  We must yield our hearts if we want to be fully human.

Ironically, Jesus implies that Moses yielded to their hardness of heart in writing his commandment.  Moses himself didn’t have to have it just his way.  He could compromise.  Can the Pharisees compromise or do they make their law higher than those it’s meant to serve? This is not an empty question.  It’s the issue with which Congress is currently wrestling.  Can they compromise and make government work or do they insist on having it their way even if it destroys the union they live in?

The disciples, stirred by this, bring it up again when they are alone with Jesus inside a house.  This time Jesus answers “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  He takes a strong position honoring commitment before God and then he adds the missing clause that makes the genders equal.  “And if a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  He holds wives and husbands equally responsible for avoiding adultery.  There is no subordinate partner but both stand before God, their creator.

All along the issue wasn’t marriage and divorce.  It was power; who has it, how can it be shared and how to use it for the good of the union.  Jesus wants us to take power over ourselves and not the other and to use that power to listen, yield and bless.

An opportunity to demonstrate this kind of power soon follows.  “People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them.  But the disciples scolded them.”  They didn’t want Jesus to take up his time blessing children.  They have no power and therefore don’t count.  They have nothing of significance to say and therefore why listen.  Just as women have been made subordinate to men, so too, have children.  That’s still the way it is in much of the world.

“When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, ‘Allow the children to come to me.  Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.’”  “God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.”  He grants full citizenship to those without power.  They are of value too. He became angry with people who cause the little ones to stumble and now he is angry with those pushing the powerless away.  For the third week in a row Mark has featured an awareness of the vulnerable and their importance.

Beginning with the children he widens his description of participants in the new culture he is bringing.  Everyone who wants to belong to this community must come to it as a child.  You can’t come with arrogance and the assumption of your own superiority.  You must be willing to take the other, even the one you consider lesser, into account and listen to them.  You must allow yourself to be changed by them, and adapt your own behavior to them.  The kingdom of God is a web of dynamic relations each vibrating in response to the other and all are in the web.  On this World Communion Sunday we recognize that the web connecting us includes all persons.

“I assure you,” Jesus says, “that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.”  For the second week in a row I picture the five year old Hispanic girl on the edge of the Pope’s caravan route running eagerly into the street to see the Pope.  The big, gentle policeman grabs her and carries her to the edge.  The Pope sees this as he approaches and asks his driver to stop.  He motions for her to come, listens to her as she tells him about her family and blesses her.  Later her family sheds tears as they talk about it in front of TV cameras. They speak in Spanish.

I assure you those who come to Jesus like a child; vulnerable and full of hope, trusting themselves to him and to his love, find themselves hugged and blessed in a way deeper than they have ever known.  And they find themselves part of a new kingdom of love that has come and is coming still.  Amen.

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