Sermon on texts from Genesis 2:18-24, Mark 10:2-16
by the Rev. Dr. Kirsi Stjerna
It was not that long ago that the daughters of Eve were kept off this preaching pulpit. The creation story we heard from Genesis 2 has been used, as we know, to uplift the worthiness of partnership in marriage and procreation and to remind the “ribs of Adam” of the proper roles for women.
The same text has been used to enforce the many obvious blessings of marriage as a God-willed union and thus quoted as a proof text against divorce.
This text is still being used to defend a vision of a marriage as a formalized relationship for men and women only, in other words, for arguments that since Eve, the other sex, was the remedy for Adam’s loneliness, then marriage is not an applicable way to support relationships based on same sex love.
Many uses for this beloved text that still speaks to us of the beauty and blessings, as well as of the fragility and vulnerabilities experienced in intimate human relationships such as that of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Many of us have our own Garden of Eden experiences, or we yearn for those.
How can the Garden of Eden text still be of inspiration for us in figuring out how to live in this world as gendered beings with a considerable amount of, let’s call it, the blessed concupiscence? How can the story serve us sorting out who we are as women and men, alone or in a relationship – more specifically: who we are in relationships that last, in relationships that change, in relationships that break down, and in relationships that are new, just as we become new in every new relationship.
There is a new beginning for each Adam and Eve, Adam and Adam, Eve and Eve in every relationship.
The Garden of Eden story continues to inspire us – as long as we adjust our interpretative horizons:
First, we know that not every Eve has or needs an Adam, and vice versa; we know that living a life of a single person is a vocation blessed by God; we know that to be a human being in God’s image does not require one to be in a relationship; the Adam we hear in the Genesis was lonely, he needed his Eve – but that is not the norm.
Second, we can take it as a given that Adam who loves Adam, and Eve who loves Eve, are in the same Garden of Eden with Adam who loves Eve and Eve who loves Adam..
Third, we recognize the brokenness and fragility involved with every Adam and Eve, starting from the Garden of Eden, just as we celebrate the wonders of human loved expressed in intimate relationships. (We have experiences in this department; just check out the best-seller books and block buster movies what they are about!).
Fourth, we respect the reality that sometimes Eve is better off without Adam and vice versa, and we appreciate the pain every Adam and Eve go through when they go separate ways; people who have gone through that dark tunnel, know, what that path through the Garden of Eden feels like. This involves the children. Children go through divorce too.
My children used to blurt out, innocently and with enthusiasm, “we are divorced”. They would do that at restaurants, in grocery stores, etc. They did not know really what it meant other than mommy and daddy were no longer living in the same address any more but on some level they knew that they had entered a new stage, a new web of relationships; they would bear with them a fundamental experience from there on – being divorced, with their parents. They were instinctively wanting to “feel” positively about that while like sponges picking up cues from people they encountered on how they would relate to their divorced parents or talked about divorce; from all that they would pick ingredients for a meaning to the new word and experience of “being divorced”. Also, they used that as a pickup line for me as they were eager to get me remarried.
In the Gospel of Mark, we hear Jesus referring to the creation narrative. We hear people as if begging Jesus to give the “No” answer to the questions “can Adam divorce Eve” and “can Adam then remarry” or the other way round. Their concern was, if a divorce happens, is Adam still ok in the eyes of the community and, most of all, in the eyes of God. We, and our children, are concerned of the same. We are also concerned of Eve and her children; will they be ok in the eyes and in the care of the community and with God in the aftermath of divorce?
Jesus, a known friend of women as well as men, and a lover of children, gives his typical answer that goes something like this: “Yeah, you know what the tradition says; you know the marriage laws set for your own benefit. Because of the coldness of your heart, because you tend to leave your partner hanging, there are laws of protection, such as marriage laws. Can’t you think for yourselves, what else can I say!”
This familiar text that has been used to discourage divorce and remarriage. Important voices have been missing: the voices of those who have left or been left; the voices of women whose experiences can challenge patriarchal views on “good” or “bad” options for women in particular; and last but not least, the voices of children who are part of the divorce/remarriage experience.
With this particular gospel text, we feel the time gap. Our laws allow divorce. Both men and women can divorce and in the eyes of our “law”. We can end a marriage contract without the shame of being labeled as an “adulterer”. Divorce and remarriage are no crimes in Western Christian world – yet, in many places divorce is still not considered a right (and e.g. women may face the potentially dangerous dilemma of whether to stay or leave at a risk to their and their children’s wellbeing.)
Our laws say one thing. Yet, it is not uncommon for the divorced person to be hurt by the unwritten laws in their communities. Lost friendships, rumor mongering, accusations, and discrimination of all sort, even in employment, is not uncommon at all, especially in “church circles”. One really needs to fight to maintain one’s sense of integrity, honor, and right for privacy, especially among Christians who like to… share. Martin Luther had a wise word about that in his explanation of the commandments: “MYOB”. He did not assume we could judge other people or had the ability to discern their matters of heart.
I think we lash out against divorced people – because of a fear of “this could happen to me too”. Divorce is a painful reminder – not of shame but – of our fallibility and brokenness, just as it is also a testimony to our freedom for choices with our yearning for happiness.
With divorce, all that it involves, we know of sin, just as we know of grace. It is hard to own our own part in the carnage. It is extra hard to own it to ourselves that because of our divorce, our children’s lives are changed too, and that they will have their pain to bear. Divorce sucks, say the children – even when it results into something really good. With our divorce and remarriage stories, just as with our stories of loneliness or happiness of living single, we live with a tension. We are grateful for grace, when offered. We are so grateful for Jesus.
In the gospel story it seems Jesus was eager to leave the grown-up talk and do something more important. He wanted to talk about the kingdom of God. He wanted to embrace the children. The divorced children. The married children. The single children. All the children.
Using a Lutheran lens, we could say that Jesus is reminding us that: what happens ‘coram Deo’, in our relationship with our God the creator, redeemer and sustainer, is ontologically different from how we struggle in affairs considered “coram hominibus”, in our human affairs. He implies that such matters as divorce and remarriage are ‘coram hominibus’ issues, the area where we make choices, good and bad, and need a lot of grace. In coram deo, and in the kingdom of God, we talk about new beginnings, and what matters most is is grace. And Jesus has lots of it.
As a mother of young children who once upon a time declared to the world “we are divorced” and then rejoiced that “our mommy is getting remarried”, I think I get it, the point Jesus is making.
Jesus does not only hang on the cross for us to remember or whose words to use to put each other down. He walks right into our private Gardens of Eden, with arms wide open to the children of divorce or no divorce, inspiring us to do the same.