Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12
What God puts together –
Don’t Divide Up
The first Sunday of October is traditionally World Communion Sunday. It’s an occasion for churches to gather at the Table or Altar (depending on your nomenclature) to remember the events of Holy Week and Jesus’ offering up of himself on a cross. It’s also a reminder that the Table of the Lord is intended to be a sign of Christian unity. There is one bread and one cup and one body of Christ. Of course, the truth is, the church has long been divided over the Table. We have often fenced the Table, using the threat of excommunication to achieve political or theological purposes. In doing this, we seem to forget at whose Table we gather.
In speaking to the Corinthian Church, Paul stated that the bread and cup are signs of unity – “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for wall all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:17 NRSV), but he also had to deal with the fact that this community was clearly divided and the Table was one of the clearest moments of division (1 Cor. 11). So, how do we experience unity at the Table if not in the rest of life? Still, the elements of communion symbolize for us the oneness of the Body of Christ. Would that an observance one Sunday each year could move us from the symbol to reality, then the Table could serve as sign to the world that our brokenness has been healed.
Yes, we’re a broken people, for the church is made up of people who inhabit all the lines of division. Our world is fragmented along lines that are tribal, ethnic, social, political, religious, gender, ability, opportunity, and more. These lines can often keep us from experiencing the oneness, the unity, that God has envisioned for us.
The question of unity is important to me. It’s a primary reason why I chose to be part of the religious tradition that I call home. The movement of which I’m a part was born with the vision of healing this fissure in the Christian community. One of our founders, Thomas Campbell, wrote in his Declaration and Address (1809) these words:
That division among the Christians is a horrid evil, fraught with many evils. It is antichristian, as it destroys the visible unity of the body of Christ; as if he were divided against himself, excluding and excommunicating a part of himself.
Indeed, divisions among Christians are a “horrid evil,” and yet, even the followers of this Founder, have divided several times, which suggests that even good intentions can go awry. Still, there is the witness of scripture that calls for unity not division, and even if we’re not perfect in our witness, we must remain constant in its pursuit.
So, with this call to unity at the Lord’s Table in mind we hear the Word of God in three texts. Hopefully, in our reading we will see that each of these texts speaks to this call to heal our divisions and embrace our oneness as a community of faith.
I often refer to this text from Genesis 2 in the weddings I perform. It’s a reminder that God is the author of marriage, but even more than this, God is author of all human relationships. We begin with God’s recognition that “it’s not good that the human is alone” (vs. 18 CEB). Although God has provided the human with a proper habitat and engages the human in conversation, God recognizes that more is needed. Not even the relationship between God and the human is sufficient to sustain the human. That’s a point we often miss – it’s not enough for me to hang out with God. More is needed, and so God, in God’s wisdom, sets out to rectify this problem. God decides to make for the man a “helper that is perfect for him.”
God starts by forming the animals and birds from the ground. God brings them to the human, but the human doesn’t find that perfect companion from among them. When God realizes that this isn’t the right tactic, God decides to put the human to sleep, and then takes a rib, and fashions from it the woman. When God brings the woman to the man, he cries out: “This one finally is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh” (vs. 23a CEB). And so, we’re told, the man leaves his family, embraces his wife, and they “become one flesh.” There is one body – one flesh. At one level this explains the origin of family, but more importantly it reminds us that human beings are not complete unless we’re in relationship with other human beings, whatever the nature of those relationships. Yes, we need each other!
In the two excerpts from Hebrews, we learn that while God chose to speak through a variety of vessels in previous years, at this time God has chosen to speak through a Son, who is heir to everything that is God’s. Not only does God create everything through the Son, the Son is “the light of God’s glory and the imprint of God’s being.” There are hints here of a rather high Christology, suggesting that the author believes that whoever God is, that God is revealed in the person of the Son. If you want to know God, then look the Son, who is the light of glory and the imprint of God’s being. In the life and teachings of Jesus, we learn who God is and what God desires of us. That’s really only act one, because we move on to why God is revealed in Jesus. He’s the one who cleanses humanity from sin, before taking up residence with God. He’s first among God’s messengers. And, he’s the one who has reign over creation.
Although God could have submitted the creation to the care of angels, God turns over control to humanity, and to a specific human – the Son. Although made lower than angels for a moment, because of his willingness to taste death on behalf of all, he is now crowned with glory. We needn’t push a penal substitutionary atonement theology here. We just need to acknowledge that God has recognized this death to be salvific. So, even as the Son is exalted, those with whom he has shares life as a human being are caught up into this exaltation. He is the “pioneer of salvation,” which belongs to the sons and daughters whom Christ is leading to glory. The point here isn’t a death placating wrath. Instead, it’s about faithfulness to God even in the midst of the sufferings of this life. In following him, we become his brothers and sisters. He makes us holy, even as he is holy, so that we might share in the glory of God. Through his life, death, and exaltation, we’re made heirs with him, so that we can stand up in the sanctuary and offer praise to God.
If Genesis 2 speaks of the importance of relationship, in the Gospel of Mark we hear about the dark side of a broken relationship. This isn’t a word not about unity. It’s a word about division. In this passage we face the difficult issue of divorce. This passage is difficult because divorce has become rampant in our society. Even among the clergy, divorce has become common. So, what do we make of this seeming prohibition to divorce. There’s no Matthean exception clause here. In Genesis 2, we’re told that the two became one flesh, but life is full of obstacles to fulfilling that reality. So, if Genesis 2 holds out the hope of a blessed union, Mark reminds us that sometimes these bonds are tenuous.
In our passage, religious leaders come to test Jesus. Their question: What do you think about divorce? Is it legal or not? Jesus answers with a question of his own – what did Moses say? Well, it appears that Moses allowed for divorce, if necessary. All a man must do is write a letter of dismissal and the marriage is over. That may be the letter of the Law, but Jesus sees it as an accommodation to the hardness of their hearts. It’s just not the way things are supposed to be. It’s not God intention. After all, God put people together so that they would be one flesh, and no one should “pull apart what God has put together” (10:9 CEB).
When the test is over, the disciples push Jesus for clarification. How does this work? In Mark Jesus declares that if you divorce and remarry, you commit adultery. There are no ifs or buts, no exceptions to rules. God puts you together, so don’t break the bonds of the covenant. If you do, you commit adultery if you remarry. And if this wife of yours, whom you divorce, remarries, she too commits adultery. Now, it’s important to note that in that day, if a man divorced a woman she was essentially put out to the wolves. She had no rights to property or support. So her only hope lay in another marriage, but Jesus isn’t so sure that’s a good idea. So stay with the one you started with – that’s God’s intention. Although I’m of the opinion that marriage is meant to last a lifetime, I recognize – perhaps it is because of our hardness of hearts – that not every match is made in heaven. There are bad marriages. Indeed, dangerous ones. I would never counsel a woman to stay in an abusive relationship. I also believe in grace that can even overcome what Jesus calls adultery. Still, Jesus’ words are a good reminder to us who live in an age of marriage as convenience, that God desires that we pursue unity in our relationships, not division. Although Kim Kardashian can get married and divorced in a matter of hours, is that really truly God’ desire?
Whether it’s marriage, church, or society, God desires, I believe that we cleave to one another. God is not the author of division. Division is a sign of our brokenness, and God is intent on bringing salvation, that is wholeness to creation. And in this God is glorified!