Proper 22B2: Genesis 2: 18-24; Mark 10: 2-16
So this is about being in love. About the romance of a lifetime. About the passion that would carry you to the very heart and soul of your identity. About the tenderness of heart and longing that would draw you out of yourself. About what it is that stirs in our heart that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. That never ends. That surpasses the highest hymns of men and of angels. That is patient and kind. Not irritable or resentful. Not insisting on its own way. All about being in love.
Oh, that my ways were made so direct, that I might keep your statutes. Echoes of Psalm 119, to hear in the background. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not forget your commandments. I treasure your promise in my heart, that I may not sin against you. I have taken greater delight in the way of your decrees than in all manner of riches. I will meditate on your commandments and give attention to your ways. My delight is in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Behold, I long for your commandments . . . . This is my comfort in my trouble, that your promise gives me life. Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger. The law of your mouth is dearer to me than thousands in gold and silver. Oh how I love your law! All the day long it is in my mind. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.
For Jesus this is all about being in love, and so it is, it would be, it could be for us. Stirring in our hearts. That our hearts and minds, our eyes and ears, everything about us, breathing in and breathing out, waking or sleeping, working, resting, could all be perfectly in him, the one who is our beloved. Unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known. From whom no secrets are hid. Who shaped us in his own hands from the red clay of the earth and walked with us so tenderly in the ancient Garden, in the early light of the first fresh morning of the world. Who breathed into the life of our first parents his own life, whose life is nothing but love, giving himself from that day forward for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health. For that day forward, and at the Cross and at the Tomb. The whole story. And who knew us intimately, each one of us, from the beginning of the world, from before our life was first alive in our mother’s womb. Who knew us and knows us. And so it is, it would be, it could be for us. What we would desire, long for. One heart, one mind, one will. Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight. Love that bears all things, hopes all things, that does not insist on its own way. That never ends.
For the Pharisees this morning in Mark 10 it seems like it has become more of a game, a contest. I love your law, O Lord, I love your will and purpose, in the way a wily tax attorney loves the codes and regulations and footnotes and convoluted paragraphs of the Internal Revenue Service. To apply all my wit and craftiness here to achieve my own goals, and always within the letter of the law. But turning it all. Not necessarily the spirit of the law, mind you. The masters of the loophole.
The ones who pay their ceremonial tithes of mint and cumin, but who neglect justice and mercy. Who will raise a holy fuss about Jesus healing a blind man, because it is the Sabbath, but who somehow miss the fact that they are standing in the very presence of God’s miraculous power. For heaven’s sake: he once was blind, but now he can see! Isn't that important? Whitewashed sepulchers. Beautiful on the outside, in perfect order, respectable, but all chaos and corruption hidden within. Loving God’s Word and Law and Will and Presence not because they are opening their lives and their hearts to be transformed, restored, healed, forgiven, renewed in his image and his likeness, but because they think somehow that they can find an angle, a special power over others. That in their mastery they can find a weapon to intimidate and control.
What’s your angle on the divorce thing, Jesus? Their question. What's your angle?
That’s not exactly where Jesus goes. Oh, that my ways were made so direct, that I might keep your statutes. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not forget your commandments.
And if the word he speaks spooks us a little at first, we would remember who it is who is talking here. The one who lifted the Woman taken in Adultery up from the ground, having shamed and sent away her accusers and those who would have crushed her to death under a mound of stones. With all that tenderness and the blessing of forgiveness and a fresh start of life in those words, “Go and sin no more.” The one who healed the daughter of the Woman of Lebanon. The one who met the Samaritan Woman at Jacob’s Well, whose words of life revived a broken and defeated soul.
So it might be something other than fear, anxiety, distress, as we hear his word, even in a world and in our own lives where we know all kinds of messiness, where ends are frayed, where bright hopes have sometimes fallen into dark shadows. You don’t have to worry about him. Really. He’s not out to get us. Not a game, not an attack. Those first parents of ours made their exit from the Garden long, long ago, and the story of our lives ever since has been about whether we from this distant land would begin the journey back, about whether we would lift up our eyes to see the Father rushing toward us with joy and love, to sweep us into his arms, to welcome us home.
Sometimes the practices of the ancient religions seemed to prescribe a pattern of prayers and sacrifices and ritual acts that would if performed perfectly appease the gods, get on their good side, provide at least some level of protection from the storms and floods and lightning strikes that they seemed almost arbitrarily to direct against their weak and vulnerable human subjects. But that’s not the way God is.
Yes, in the world we live in. Falling short, forgetting, losing our way. All of us. But we would remember who is talking here. Bad things happen. A precious vase is taken from the shelf at the grandmother’s house, and then it falls to the floor and shatters into a thousand pieces. And all the kings horses and all the kings men can do nothing about it. Sometimes the story of our lives.
The Pharisees want a legal debate, about how to contort something in paragraph 23, footnote 9, into a strategy to make things work their way. Jesus wants to talk about the one who loves us, and who made us for love. And I know it’s hard at first for us too, to see that and hear that. But love. God’s intention and gift, his promise and hope. For this life and the life to come. And how even in the midst of things beyond our ability sometimes to make right, we know that he does want what’s right for us, and that we would desire that gift, because he is the one who gave it to us. I long for your salvation, Lord, and your law is my delight.
I think Mark gets it just right by setting this passage alongside the scene that is so beautifully represented for us in the great window over our high altar. One of those sermons that this great place has been quietly preaching for us for a hundred and six years now, and I hope working itself ever more deeply into our minds and hearts.
It’s not just the Pharisees who are so focused on externals and good order that they forget the essential substance. Missing the point. Even the disciples want to send the children to the Nursery. Get the inconvenient people out of the way. But Jesus says no. They may be noisy and disruptive, and they may jostle your sense of how this all is supposed to unfold with dignity and order. But this is why I came, this is who I am, who I have been from before time and forever. And he takes them into his arms and gives them his blessing. How beautiful is that? Surprising everyone, and yet at the same moment we know immediately that this is how it is supposed to be. The way things have been supposed to be from the beginning.
From the beginning his gift, his plan, his purpose. All about love. For us, for one another. No betrayal, no hurt, no broken promises. Yes, it’s about marriage. The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people. That’s our Prayer Book, and right on target.
But also, about more than marriage. Jesus this morning in the scriptures, and who we are and who we desire to become. Where we are, and where we are headed. Not about the gymnastic legalism of the Pharisees. About the generous love in which we were made, and to which we would return. About the song that springs from our heart and inspires our mind and guides our feet even as we sojourn in a world that seems so very far from home. Not about trying to avoid facing our brokenness, our fear, our disobedience, our limitation. But all about being in love, and walking as best we can in the way of his love for us. This is my comfort in my trouble, that your promise gives me life. Your statutes have been like songs to me wherever I have lived as a stranger. The law of your mouth is dearer to me than thousands in gold and silver. Oh how I love your law! All the day long it is in my mind. I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight.