Our High Calling
INTRODUCTION - 1985
It was the summer of 1985. I had just returned home from over 2-1/2 years of Peace Corps service and I was temporarily living with my parents, who had retired in Estes Park, Colorado. I was about to begin the Holy Orders discernment process in the Diocese of Colorado. I was 28, my dad was about to turn 67 and my mom 65. (I am 64 now.) At that point my folks had been married for 41 years. (They would end up being married for almost 52 years by the time my father died.)
I have three older sisters, and as I was returning from Dominica, my sister Adele, the one closest to me in age, was separating from her husband, with a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. In fact, Adele would soon move from Durango to Estes Park, and I would move in with her and Stefan and Kari a few months later. My oldest sisters, Sally and Betsy, had already gone through divorces - or Sally was about to. I can’t remember.
What I do remember was this moment in my folks’ house, when my folks turned to me, in their pain and their anguish, and said to me, “Pete, what did we do wrong? You aren’t going to get divorced too, are you?”
I remember saying to my parents, “Mom and Dad, I’m not even dating anyone at the moment!” Outwardly, it seemed like they wanted some kind of assurance, some kind of promise from me. But inwardly, there was something deeper going on. They felt like failures. They took the divorces of my sisters personally. They must not have been good parents for this to happen. They must have done something wrong.
I met Julia about a year after this. Early on, Julia shared with me that she had been married for about 2-1/2 years right after college, then had gotten divorced. She had been divorced for 5 years when I met her. She asked questions like no one I had ever met, I noticed her sense of humor right away, she was beautiful inside and out, and we were both in the beginning stages of trying to follow Christ. We got engaged four months after our first date and were married just over a year after we met.
THE PAIN OF DIVORCE AND JESUS’ CHALLENGING WORDS
As we discussed today’s Gospel passage on Thursday, there was a lot of struggling. I would say that, for some, painful memories came up. One person said, “This passage has caused many to leave the church, especially when church leaders have applied it in harsh ways.” We talked about the patriarchal culture in the time of Jesus, about cases where a spouse has been abused, and of course what a difficult decision it is to decide to file for divorce, and how painful it is for families when a divorce occurs.
We wondered if Jesus was trying to make a point to the Pharisees, who, according to Mark, were testing Jesus with this question. A number of us noticed that Jesus used the phrase “hardness of heart.” “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation (Jesus quotes from Genesis), ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
We talked about how, in focusing on divorce, we are focused on the end of marriage, but how we don’t tend to put enough emphasis on preparing people for marriage, that often the engaged couple puts way more energy into planning a wedding than they do in really reflecting together on what it means to take a vow to be partners for life. Heidi Jaeger said that Jesus was basically saying, “Marriage is serious business. It’s not about the dress or a wedding day party. It’s serious!”
SITUATION - Our high calling
I want to take a step back for a moment and reflect on another of our scriptures for today. The author of Hebrews quoted from Psalm 8, which says in part, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, or mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than the angels [God], and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet…” (Psalm 8:3-6)
In other words, we have been given a very high calling by God. We have been made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor, called to be stewards over all that God has created. I would say, we have been called, as followers of Jesus, like Jesus, to be the reflection of God’s glory. (Hebrews 1:3)
One of the ways we can reflect God’s glory is through marriage. Just as God, in the Trinity, is mutual love flowing back and forth from the Father to the Son, in the Spirit, so two people, called to love each other… called to love as a reflection of the One who is Love and who supports and upholds them in love… seek to honor and love each other and be united to one another, through the power of the Spirit… “for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 423)
COMPLICATION - Our failings
And the truth is… sometimes we fail to live up to our high calling of being reflections of God’s glory.
Marriage is not the only arena in which we fail.
We fail when we get consumed with greed, or when we do violence against other human beings in word or deed. We fail whenever we fail to love our neighbor, whenever we fail to even see the needs of our neighbors, when we fail to love our enemies, when we hold on to resentments and fail to forgive.
The disciples failed when they spoke sternly to the parents and children who were coming to Jesus, trying to shoo the children away. They thought they were doing the right thing, maybe protecting Jesus in some way, but in fact they were misusing their authority.
But we do not just fail as individuals.
We have failed as the Church, when we have tried to follow the commandments of God and have put judgment and punishment ahead of mercy. The abuses of the Church range from waging war in the name of God to supporting oppressive regimes to sexual abuse and subsequent cover-ups to shaming and excommunicating the faithful with the same hardness of heart that Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel lesson.
We have failed and sinned as a nation when it comes to stealing from and killing indigenous peoples and by actively promoting and institutionalizing racism.
We have failed and sinned as nations, allowing our greed and propensity for going our our way, no matter what, to ravage the planet.
There are examples of hardness of heart all over the place, in all the centuries since the time of Christ, both individually and corporately.
Deborah Smith said on Thursday, “It is not easy to follow Jesus sometimes… what he tells us to do. And, he is compassionate. We can get through the hard parts because we know the compassion of Jesus is also there.”
That’s the good news… the amazing news… right?
The compassion, the mercy, the forgiveness of God… the willingness of the Son of God… of God, actually… to take on the suffering, the pain, the dis-ease, the sins of the world… in love - to restore us, to heal us, to make us whole again. We are restored as individuals, as a Church, as a nation, as nations, if we are willing to receive the kingdom of God as a little child. (Mark 10:15)
If you have known this forgiveness, this divine mercy, then you know what it is like to be just like those children… the ones Jesus took up in his arms and blessed.
When Tim Ramsey tried on being one of those children on Thursday, he shared, “I think that Jesus laying his hands on me and blessing me would change me for the rest of my life. I would probably not be able to express why, as a child. But I would have been changed forever.”
The people - presumably parents - brought little children to Jesus “that he might touch them.” (Mark 10:13)
Isn’t that what we are all looking for - to be seen, acknowledged, and swept up into the loving arms of God - knowing, in that moment, that “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’ - as Dame Julian of Norwich said in her Revelations of Divine Love.
NEW BEHAVIOR - Living into our vows
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
“I will, with God’s help.” (The Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305)
“In the name of God, I, Peter, take you, Julia, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 427)
God has a very high calling for us: to be a reflection of the glory of God. We do that by being full human beings, by living into our potential to love as Jesus loves us.
And so, by the grace of God and by the power of the Spirit, we live into our vows and enter into the love of God.
Thomas Keating: “We participate as human beings in God’s life just by being alive, but much more through grace. We participate in the movement between the Father giving himself totally to the Son, and the Son giving himself totally to the Father. They empty themselves into each other… This stream of divine love that is constantly renewed in the life of the Trinity is infused into us through grace. We know this by our desire for God.” (A Daily Reader for Contemplative Living, p. 275)
We have great opportunities, daily opportunities - as spouses, yes, but simply as baptized Christians - to be like children… to have open hearts, to ask questions of our God, to be filled with wonder and gratitude, to trust in God’s goodness, and to love.
We have been made a little lower than the angels, and can be - will be - reflections of God’s glory.
My parents didn’t articulate this at the time, at least not that I remember. But I think the reason they were so pained by my sisters’ divorces had something to do with their own pain in realizing that we all, as Paul put it in Romans 3:23, have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
And yet, each day, we are given new opportunities to be the reflection of God’s glory, to be the reflection of God’s love, to be - in our relationships - the reflection of the love and unity found at the very heart of God in the Trinity.
Never forget that when you are most fully alive as a human - when you are your most loving, most faithful, most generous, most gracious and forgiving, and most joyful - you ARE the glory of God!