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Morning sermon
Ninteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 7, 2012
Inclusion, not exclusion, is the purpose of the Word of God. That is the mission of Christ’s Church. That is God’s will. Every proclamation of the Gospel [and] every liturgy of Christ’s Church must communicate that so that there is never a moment when someone hearing the Word is — or even feels — excluded. That includes our liturgical experience today, shaped as it is by the first reading and Gospel. Even with texts such as we have today, the Word that is “inseparable from God;” the Word that is God must always include all of us. And so, at the outset, I want to clearly say that the Genesis text and Gospel are not about monogamous marriage, procreation or divorce, despite the fact that this is the way Christians and Jews have used the Genesis text and the Church has used the Gospel text for most of the past 20 centuries. Rather, both of these texts are about God embracing all, whether single, married, divorced, practicing birth control or living at any point along the gender spectrum. Today’s Gospel and first reading are God’s Promise; are the Gospel; are Good News for all and are succinctly summed up by God’s observation that “It is not good for the earthling to be alone.” (I’ll get back to that “earthling” language in a moment.
And yes — in case you’re connecting the dots — that means that, as I read these biblical texts, I am convinced that they directly contradict the highly publicized, much chattered-about and colossally misnamed “pastoral letter” just released by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey. Using these same texts, Archbishop Myers concludes that “marriage can be seen as the ‘primordial sacrament’ predating the Fall and surviving original sin.” On the basis of these very same texts, I believe the archbishop’s is wrong.

Let me explain by starting with the first reading from Genesis 2. First, let’s look at that readings wider context, namely the entire Hebrew Scriptures or, as some still erroneously call it, “the Old Testament.” There is no place in the Hebrew Scriptures where monogamous marriage is viewed as a goal. In fact, there are virtually no examples of monogamous marriage anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. In those scriptures, virtually every biblical hero and, for that matter, every biblical villain is male and each has more than one wife. In that context, it is impossible to understand this passage as being about monogamous marriage because
that would make no sense to its earliest audience. So using this text as the foundation for the primordial sacrament of marriage is absurd.

Second, please consider the immediate context of Genesis 2’s story. It begins this way in the second half of verse 4: “In the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” You should immediately notice that this creation story, although in the very next chapter of Genesis, is not the same as the first creation story. Among the many differences is that this story occurs on one day, and not over six days. Of greater importance is that, in this story the LORD God begins, not with a formless void, but with a well-watered garden and creates the earthling not as the last act of creation on the sixth day, but as the first.

Remember the story? There in garden, the LORD God stoops to the ground and forms the earthling out of the moistened dust (hence my use of ‘earthling”), then breathes into the earthling “the breath of life” and the earthling becomes a living being.” And then this creation story gets even better. God makes a pronouncement: “It is not good, “for the
earthling to be alone.” What then to do? “I will make the earthling an appropriate helper and partner.”

If this story was about monogamous marriage, then its writer should have skipped the next 2 long verses and gone immediately to general anesthesia, open chest surgery and that “flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone” companion, but that’s not the story. Instead, before that procedure, God creates— out of the same moistened dust — “every animal of the field and bird of the air.” Isn’t that that a rather circuitous route to the concept of monogamous marriage as a “primordial sacrament”? I think so. I think this story, including its conclusion that “the two become one flesh,” is about more than monogamous marriage and more than procreation. I think this is about God being good and gracious will for us, summed up as God’s will when God says “It is not good for the earthling to be alone.” That statement is about more than marriage. That statement is about every one of us.

Now the Gospel and again, please look at the wider context; in this case, the entire Gospel according to Saint Mark.
Today’s story is part of a long-running dispute between Jesus and his opponents, which begins with an argument about ritual hand washing in chapter 7 and concludes with the High Priests’ charge of blasphemy, which then leads to Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate and crucifixion in chapter 15. In these 8 chapters, covering half of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is confronted with an escalating series of exclusionary interpretations of the Torah, interpretations which either throw people out or keep people out of the community of God’s people. Listen again to their question. “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” Jesus’ opponents consistently interpret Torah as exclusionary, bad news for everyone who doesn’t fit their mold. Jesus consistently interprets Torah as inclusionary, as Good News gathering all people into the wide embrace of God loves. The least you can say about today’s Gospel text is that it is about divorce, specifically about a man divorcing a wife, and not about monogamous marriage. But seen in its own larger context, this is really about a greater issue — an issue Jesus that is willing to die for, namely, that in God’s gathered community, no one has the authority to dismiss or expel another because
“it is not good for an earthling — a living being — to be alone.” God, you see, is in the business of assembling a community, God is in the business of never leaving us alone.

“Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?” “Is it lawful to dismiss or exclude another?” Jesus’ opponents clearly think it is and so, in response to Jesus, they engage in the greatest exclusionary tactic of all: Death. And not just any death, but death as criminal, death on a garbage heap, death outside the city walls, death on a cross. By using death to exclude Jesus, his opponents seek to have the last, most dismissive, most exclusionary word of all. But God raises Jesus from the dead, which is God’s last Word to all; and no one speaking for Jesus Christ has the authority to say otherwise.

“It is not good for earthlings in whom there breathes the breath of God to be alone.” That’s God’s last Word and best Word to every one of us — single, married, divorced, celibate, practicing birth control or living life anywhere on the gender spectrum. That why God becomes one of us and gathers us together. That’s why, right here and right now
and always and forever, God nourishes us with the one who became one of us, the crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, God’s last and best Word inseparable from God. There is nothing else to say and no one is authorized to say otherwise. Thanks be to God!