Recently, someone asked me to reflect on one of my earliest experiences of faith; they asked me what shaped it, how it formed me, and what did it teach me about God. My answer came as most answers to questions like this come with a surprising amount of clarity but being unable to articulate the details. Despite the fuzziness, I remember that early on in my young life of faith, I learned that our holy scriptures could offer a world of delight. That digging into them and exploring them and all that it means for us 2,000 years later brought me deep and abiding joy.
Unfortunately, the way my spiritual journey unfolded, this deep joy, this very tangible sense that God is present with us, no matter our circumstance was undercut by the way scripture was used to silence me. Our holy scriptures, for which I have a deep love, became gnarly, painful, and complex; rather than a knot to untangle, they became a trap of thorny vines, because without nuance and context, it can be easy to see how a woman should not be in the pulpit, and when I hear those scripture passages used, they sting. I love our holy scriptures, but sometimes when scriptural passages have been used to hurt or demean or dismiss, they are painful.
I can imagine that our gospel passage stings for many of us. When we hear Jesus’ teaching on divorce read aloud in this holy space, it can feel like Christ is directly demeaning or dismissing anyone who’s lives have been touched by divorce. It can feel as though all our greatest fears about ourselves, and our life’s events are being confirmed by the very son of God. But just like those scriptures passages that I have had to wrestle with to find God’s blessing among them, I want us to wade into this water together. It might very well sting, but divorce is something that touches so many lives.
One of the things that I have learned to love in my short tenure as a priest is when someone asks me a direct question that they have about a scripture passage or a liturgical practice. For a lot of us, I would imagine that hard and fast question to pose is, “is divorce wrong?” I’ve heard it asked in defense, I’ve heard it projected with vile, and I’ve heard it ask from a fragile, tender place. But like most things in scripture, the answer about this passage just isn’t simple. Because I do think that God hates divorce; I do think that Christ’s teaching on divorce here is important, but when we think about divorce, it must be more than a personal moral weight.
The truth of divorce, and hear me out, is that divorce is wrong. It is wrong in the sense that it is not how any marriage is supposed to end. Divorce is never the ideal situation for anyone, and anyone who has been through a divorce or has divorced parents or whose children have gotten a divorce will tell you that it’s not anyone’s first choice. When people ask if divorce is wrong, I think the question is often more internalized; the question is actually asking, “am I wrong?” Beloveds, if your life has been affected by divorce you are not any further away from God’s blessing than if that relationship had turned out how it was intended.
For Christ, divorce is about justice. It is about who gets left behind. It’s about the pain that such a break will cause in the lives surrounding it. Divorce has long been a source of brokenness and pain, one that inevitably causes harm to all that it touches. Is divorce wrong? Yes, because it certainly ain’t right. It is not good and right when our relationships fracture and break. It is not good when such pain filters out into every aspect of life. I do think divorce is wrong, but sometimes it’s not the death nail in a holy partnership, it’s the funeral for something that has already died. Divorce is a source of grief and pain, no matter what the circumstances, and for so many people of God, it’s a grief that is never truly held in a way that allows God’s blessing cover it.
After Christ’s teaching on divorce, he blesses the children, and I knew that I could not speak about blessings; that we could not speak of God’s presence in pain and God’s blessing which is available to literally all of us, without first wading through these murky waters. Beloveds, divorce is the result of broken human relationship, and I do believe that God grieves divorce, if in no small part for pain it causes. This might be one of those scriptures that truly feels like a tangle of thorns for you, but I do hope that we can hold our pain while we lean into God’s blessing.
Part of that blessing today we get the deep and abiding joy of welcoming a new member into this life of faith. And I do say we, because though I will invoke the sanctification of the Spirit upon the water before I baptize Sophie in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it is all of us who will care for her. It is all of us who are responsible for leaning into God’s blessing, not only for ourselves, but also for our new sister in Christ.
There is a risk to weeks like this, when the lectionary hands us tough texts to wonder where is the Good News? I see Good News in God’s blessing; in God’s blessing of the children that come to Christ, and in God’s blessing that we will pray over Sophie as she is baptized.
And I want to ask you to do three things this week. First, pray for Sophie by name this week. Pray for her parents and godparents; pray that they may be able to lean into the work God has given them to do as they nurture Sophie in her growing life of faith. Together we will welcome her into the household of God, and I ask that you pray God’s blessing be upon her. Blessed to be a blessing.
Second, I want to invite you to try once a day to offer a blessing to those you love. This might be to your spouse or partner or to your children who live at home, or it might be to those who live in a different house or town or country. If you can, lift your thumb in prayer and trace the sign of the cross on their foreheads, tell them you love them, and that God loves them, and remind them that they are marked as Christ’s own forever. Or if you cannot be physically present with them, imagine doing it in your mind. Just for a week, try to do this once a day, because we are always better when we can remember the blessedness of others and own our ability to extend that blessing as well. Blessed to be a blessing.
And lastly, I want to offer a blessing station at the end of this service, at the prie dieu in the back, using the same oil with which I will anoint Sophie’s head as we baptize her, I want to offer a blessing to you. Whether you are one of the people for whom this scripture passage stings, or if you are carrying broken or strained relationships with your spouse, or your parents, or your children. Of even, if you are just weary; if you are tired and need to be reminded that you, too, are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever. Come and be blessed to be a blessing in this broken and fragile world.