A Promise and A Possibility


600 years before Jesus came into the world there was a philosophy developed in China that eventually became known as The Tao. Taoist philosophy explained the existence of good and evil as a struggle in the spiritual realm of light and darkness. The eastern yin-yang symbol seen in our pop culture depicts this struggle as two swirls. One of light, and one of darkness, pursuing each other in an infinite circular cycle of motion. It was believed that all people are consumed in this struggle and that both the light and the darkness seek to tip the scales of our thoughts and actions by influencing our choices and circumstances as human beings.
Two months ago there was an unveiling of this struggle in the news as one particular story came out. It was revealed in the intentional harm of nine black Christians in a Charleston, S.C. Church by a man obviously oppressed by evil. I doubt there is anyone whose heart did not go out that week to the Emmanuel AME church community at their heartbreak and sorrow in losing their beloved friends and relatives. This tragedy was for all of us totally incomprehensible in its scope and shock.
But, even as it played out over the day’s news, it was reported that there were no bitter words from the Christians who were left to pick up the pieces, no calls for who was to blame, no demands for justice, no law suits planned . . . only forgiveness from that community for the man who caused so much heartbreak and only words and deeds of comfort for the man’s family. It was through their faith that the community remained strong, convinced of the redeeming work of God in their lives. They knew their loved ones were in paradise and that they would one day see them again. They knew that darkness can not win over light . . . that evil will never prevail.
The struggle of darkness to overcome light is more insidious in our current world than it has ever been. Through television and the internet we are bombarded with every kind of temptation. From commercialism and manufacturer’s propaganda that tell us we need everything there is to buy even to our own state selling us lottery tickets, with that one time quip . . . all you need is “dollar and a dream”.
But God is hardly about a dollar and a dream . . . He is more about a ‘promise and a possibility’ – the promise of salvation and the possibility of a redeemed life wrought through faith and servanthood. Where darkness takes our time and money and exploits our dreams and fantasies, God only gives . . . our life, our talents, our resources and our ability to love on another.
From the very beginning God has tried to show us through his word and his example what it takes to lead a happy and fulfilled life. And we, as humanity, have often laughed at the simplicity of the truth that God has in mind for us. The truth is, relationships take work and they take care. Whether you are talking about a relationship with a child, a spouse, a friend or with God himself, they all require an abundance of giving and very little taking. That is the way of an enlightened person and the way of God, always striving to give of one’s self and one’s love in a relationship. The greatest example we have is in the relationship of marriage.
Today’s readings offer some insight into how God views the institution of marriage in particular and relationships in general. We read throughout the Bible about the marriage relationship between one man and one woman and how this relationship mirrors the relationship between God and Israel . . . and Jesus and His Church.
In today’s world marriage has taken quite a few hits due to many factors, the most prevalent of which is a ME FIRST attitude which has permeated much of our society. The feeling that “I want what I want and that’s what I want”, and “What’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine too”, brings about with it a prevalence of greed, apathy, pride, neglect, and ambivalence resulting in the highest divorce rate ever recorded. Humankind seems to be on a collision course with something yet unseen, something that is tearing us apart before we even get a chance to really know each other. With a divorce rate currently at 45% and rising, it is no wonder that many people are content to remain single.
But what happened to marriage? In a little more than one generation, married life has gone from the norm of American life to only one option among many. 60% of our children are growing up in households with only one parent who is an actual blood relative.
I can remember as I was growing up, how Television depicted the normal family. You might remember shows like ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or ‘Lassie’ or ‘Ozzie and Harriet’. These demonstrated to us what the quote ‘Perfect Life’ was all about. My own family and the families’ of my childhood friends mirrored this main stream way of life shown on television. Each family that I can remember had a devoted mother who stayed at home to be a homemaker, a father who worked all day to support his family of about two or three children. Although I don’t remember if my mother wore pearls while vacuuming the living room rug like Helen Cleaver, I do remember a very ordered and happy life back in the fifties. Although, I am sure divorce must have occurred at that time, it was one of those things that was rare, done usually for reasons of marital infidelity or abandonment and usually under the watchful eye of the local parish priest.
But times have changed. What is depicted today on television as the American norm in our present day has little resemblance to the life of the fifties. Today, more women work outside the home than ever before. They hold down jobs, usually out of necessity, in order to meet the bills and payments of an increasingly expensive way of life. In today’s world, a family like my own, represented by a father who works, a mother who stays at home represent less than 20% of American families. That’s only 1 family in 5. The rest are either working married couples with children, single working mothers with children, single working fathers with no children, or working singles living together with possible children, or working singles living alone, or retired couples with no children or just plain singles trying to get by. Holy Matrimony! What happened?
It seems pretty obvious from today’s readings that Jesus is not in favor of divorce, yet the Pharisees wanted to test him because in those days, all a man had to do to be rid of his wife was to get a scribe to write her a letter of dismissal. (In other words….. He fired her!) Even in today’s world this would be considered cruel. Jesus explains why this law was on the books. He said that Moses gave them that law because of their ‘hardness of heart’. Moses probably figured it was better than having men ordering their wives assassinated. You have to remember that here was a paternalistic society where women were considered property and nothing else. I don’t think any of us would have wanted to live under that system.
The real system, the one that Jesus quotes from the book of Genesis was the one where God joins two people in order that they become one flesh, one organism, if you will, in order to provide mutual love, affection and help in difficult situations. Marriage started out as an extremely good thing for the man and the woman. It provided protection and security for the woman, love and companionship for the man. Meanwhile, the institution of marriage perpetuated, through a promise, the possibility of a human species producing off-spring who would also grow and take on for themselves the marriage promises that their parents had taken, thus establishing the basis for community and government, the family unit. And so it worked pretty well for the last million years or so.
But, in today’s world, that basis for community has been eroded to a point that community and government have had to change in order to keep up with the current family unit. Divorce among married couples has prompted a complete change in the way government does business. The gay rights movement has created a whole new family unit that didn’t even exist 50 years ago, (at least not out in the open) and family discord remains at an all time high. The arguments about who is in control (i.e. who is getting more out of a relationship) continues to be the defining battle in all relationships.
But that is where God comes in, because within the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, (that is a marriage ordained by God and sustained by God), control is not an issue, because it is God who is in control and we need no longer to see ourselves as power brokers, but as servants, doing the will of him who put us together, to love and to cherish each other. It is when the world outside our homes breaks into our marriage through power, control, and abuse that our marriage falters because there is no longer room for God in our lives. God becomes relegated to some small corner in the back of our minds, and we feel a tremendous need to fight for control, if only for own emotional survival, in a love story gone bad.
The prophetic book of Hosea is about just such a love story gone very bad. In a way it mirrors God’s relationship with man.
In the story, God tells Hosea to go out and marry a prostitute. I am sure Hosea probably wouldn’t have chosen this for himself, but being a man of faith, he does what God asks. He marries Gomer, a prostitute, and he as three children with her, and supports and loves his wife and family and all seems very well, until his wife starts to long for the money and excitement of her past life. For the lure of licentiousness and extravagant living, she leaves her husband Hosea and her children behind to become once again, a prostitute for hire. But things don’t go well for her. She becomes abused and decrepit through riotess living and finally ends up as a slave. Hosea, meanwhile, still loves her and goes out looking for her everywhere. Upon his final search, he finds his wife for sale in a slave market. He buys her back for fifteen pieces of silver and a bushel and a half of barley. He brings her home to her children and promises to remain ever faithful to her and asks her to do the same. In a word, he forgives her and shows more mercy than most of us given the same situation. This is a story of abiding love and of great mercy and is the story about God’s relationship to his people.
Hosea is God in the story and Gomer is Israel, but it could just as well be any one of us. You and I were created in the image of God but we were born into sin through Adam’s fall. We have been held captive by sin all of our lives – in effect we are slaves to our sin, just as Gomer was a slave to hers. Jesus came looking for us and bought us back, not with money, but by giving up his own life. We need only believe this to be true in order to be set free. And if we believe this to be true, we need only confess our sin with a renewed commitment and amendment to life and all will be forgiven (just as Hosea forgave his harlot wife). This is the way of God to his people and it should be the way of all of us towards each other.
Jesus picked his disciples, not because they were pure and without shame, but because they were responsive to his word and ready and willing to confess their fault and be restored into the Father’s love.
Our job, and I have said this in many sermons over the years, is from the prophet Micah . . . “and what does the LORD require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” And that’s it. You don’t need a black belt in religion. You need not wear a collar or a stole or pray out in the streets. You don’t need an icon or crucifix hanging around your neck to show that you are Christian because you are already the icon of Christ in the world. If you are doing your job right, people will instantly recognize you for what you are. And what is your job? Your job is to do the work Christ has given to you to do (i.e. to love and serve the lord in all people and in every situation of life).
God made us man and woman for our benefit and for the good of all humankind. We are made the way we are for each others companionship, affection, and security. Though different in many ways, I am sure you would agree that our lives would be exceedingly boring if we all thought the same way and if we all viewed life in the same way. If we truly see God as the strength and control in our relationships, we will be most blessed, because we will become one with our God as we become one with each other. A dollar and a dream . . . or a promise and a possibility, the choice is yours. Jesus gave us a promise and asks us to choose life.