Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Treasure Hunting in the Kingdom -- Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 7A


Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
 
31 He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” 
33 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with[a] three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” 
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 
51 “Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

                What is the kingdom of heaven like?  When we hear the words “kingdom of heaven,” I expect that our first thoughts go to a non-earthly realm.  We live on earth and God lives in heaven – “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed by your name.”  The kingdom of heaven lies wherever God is present – even in our midst.  But, it’s not easily spotted. 

The realm of God, which Jesus uses parables to describe, runs counter to our preconceptions.  We know what kingdoms and empires look like.  They’re hierarchical, top-down, power-sucking entities.  The people of ancient Israel went to Samuel and demanded a king, so they could be like everyone else.  Samuel got them a king, and Saul acted like Samuel expected.  He sucked the air out of the room.  He drafted the people to pursue his military escapades.  David would do the same.  After all, David the king wasn’t the same person as David the shepherd.  Power can corrupt even the person whose heart is said to be set on God.  Even the best of kings struggled to keep the things of God in mind.   There was always the need to expand the borders and defend them. 

When Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, he had a lot of history to reckon with.  And so, he told parables.  He told parables that had a subversive bent to them.  Matthew brings a number of them together in Matthew 13.  We’ve already looked at the parable of the sower and the parable of the weeds.  Now we’re invited to focus our attention on a series of relatively small parables.

There is the parable of the mustard seed.   It is interesting – thinking back a week – that the mustard seed might be small, but when planted (intentionally or not) it produces a shrub that most people of that day would have considered a weed.  It’s not something you want in your garden crowding out roses and tomatoes.  And yet this weed that messes up the garden is a sign of God’s realm.  When the kingdom of God draws near, it upsets things.  That’s why we try to institutionalize it.  Yes, church-folk like things to be done decently and in order (I prefer some orderliness).  In America the church is the harbinger of the middle-class – it lifts up the value of being nice.  Remember cleanliness is next to godliness!  The kingdom of heaven, however, is like the mustard plant that takes root in the garden and is threatening to take over.  It started small, but it’s growing fast.    

            Then there’s the yeast.  The woman mixed it into her flour, so that the bread would rise.  But yeast can be a problem at certain times of year.  In fact, for Jews of that day yeast was a symbol of corruption.  Just a little will leaven a loaf.  This woman is playing with fire!  But of course Jesus plays with fire as well.  Paul got a reputation for doing much the same thing.  Wherever the reign of God is present, things get changed and transformed.  Consider the children at the border.  They are a challenge to us living in the United States.  They are the “least of these.”  What should we be doing?  More importantly, what are they saying to us on behalf of God?

            Then there are two parables – one involving land and the other involving a pearl.  Both speak to treasures that are desired.  The question is, what are you willing to part with in order to obtain this treasure?  It too is hidden.  It might be buried in a field that doesn’t belong to you.  Or it might be a small pearl, hidden in a jeweler’s drawer.   Whatever it is, the treasure is waiting, but you have to act.  So what are you willing to give up to obtain this blessing?

                These parables are brief in scope.  They are short on details.  But they are rich in their message – the realm of God is not easily discerned.  You have to be looking.  You have to be aware that God is on the move.    

                Then there’s the final parable – the one about the fish catch.  In many ways it’s a parallel to the parable of the weeds.  The fishermen go out into the lake, bring in a haul of fish (who are hidden in the depths of the lake).  When they bring in the catch, they separate the good from the bad (as opposed to the weeds, which are to be left in place).  But again we’re not doing the sorting – that’s the job of the angels.  I think we can see in this parable a reminder that we are not the power of the realm of God.  We have our responsibilities, but we’re not the sorters (even if we’d like to have the job). 

                As we contemplate the realm of God, using this diverse collection of parables as fodder for our consideration, it is good to be reminded that the realm of God is not to be equated with structures of power, whether in church or in state.  The traditional idea of an invisible church fits this understanding.  Structures and clergy can be used by God to sow the seeds of the kingdom, but they’re not one and the same thing. 


                Do you understand Jesus’ message?  Are you ready to go the distance when it comes to the realm of God?  I’m not completely sure that I am ready.  I like my orderliness. I like my comfort.  And yet, I want to be part of what God is doing in the world.  So what shall I do?  What will you do to bring out the treasure?              

Monday, July 21, 2014

Dare We Speak of Hope? (Allan Boesak) -- A Review

DARE WE SPEAK OF HOPE?: Searching for a Language of Life in Faith and Politics.   By Allan Aubrey Boesak.  Foreword by Nicholas Wolsterstorff.  Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.  Xiv + 202 pages.

                Religion and politics – these can be and often are volatile partners.  The founders of the United States sought to separate them institutionally, but since religion and politics are central to human life, the lines are often blurred.  So, how does one speak a word of hope when faith and politics intersect?

                Religion played a significant role in the South African struggle for freedom and equality.  Both sides in this struggle appealed to religion.  Both found support and sustenance.  That apartheid finally collapsed could be a sign of God’s favor, but that is a matter of interpretation – as was true 150 years ago in the midst of the American Civil War.  One of the key figures in this struggle for freedom in South Africa was Allan Aubrey Boesak.  Boesak recently served as the first holder of the Desmond Tutu Chair for Peace, Global Justice, and Reconciliation Studies at Christian Theological Seminary and Butler University in Indianapolis.  Before this recent honor, Boesak served as a pastor, theologian, and anti-apartheid activist in South Africa.  He was a member of the Coloured branch of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa.  Like everything else in that nation, even the church was separated by color. 

                In Dare We Speak of Hope? Boesak brings his experiences in the liberation efforts in South Africa into the contemporary conversation.  He also brings into the conversation the election of Barack Obama, for it too signaled a change in the political fortunes of persons of color in this nation, even as the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela did in South Africa.  The journey, in both countries, has not reached its climax.  In neither places has a true – post-racial society been born.  But, there is hope that we can build bridges of hope that will move us to that day of reconciliation.  The greatest enemy in both countries is cynicism and the pursuit of power at the expense of the most vulnerable in society.  Will we, fall prey to the “lure of what Martin Luther King defined as ‘detachment?’”  That detachment involves being “too unconcerned to love and too passionless to hate . . ....” (p. 13). 

                With the challenges of cynicism and detachment standing in our way, can we embrace a vision of hope?  In writing this book Boesak challenges people of faith not to abandon politics, but instead “strengthen our commitment to the politics of justice, peace, and equity” (p. 21).  Boesak’s understanding of the relationship of the two emerged from a liberationist context.  Simply retreating to a non-political religion would not bring to an end the injustices perpetrated, often in the name of God, in his country and in ours. 

                In the course of this book, Boesak invites us to consider a word of hope in six different contexts or ways.  First, we must speak out of a sense of woundedness.  It is not victimhood, but recognizing that injustice occurs, people are physically, emotionally, psychically, and spiritually injured by injustice.  It is recognition of suffering, and it is a hope that emerges from suffering that refuses to be silenced.  It is resilient, Boesak writes, because it is “rooted in the promises of God, in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and in the faithfulness of God’s people.

                Hope involves speaking of Hope’s children – and Boesak reminds us that hope takes on the woman’s voice.  He draws from Augustine who said that hope has two daughters – anger and courage.  Boesak reminds us of an important element of organizing – one must own one’s anger at injustice.  But both anger and courage are needed for there to be hope.  One must be outraged to act

               Hope involves speaking of struggle – and for non-white South Africans that struggle continued from the formation of the Union of South Africa as an independent white country that denied political rights to a considerable portion of its population to the end of apartheid in 1994.  That was a period of eighty-four years.  For some the pathway involved violence, and for others, like Boesak, it was through non-violence.  That is, by way of the cross.  Boesak writes that “hope is found where Jesus is to be found, this Jesus who was despised and rejected, whose countenance, like the faces of the wretched of the earth, no one desires to gaze upon” (p. 80).    

                Hope comes as we speak of seeking peace.  This chapter should be a challenge for Americans who by and large find it difficult to recognize their (our) complicity in imperialism.  Our ability to act in peace is complicated by ideas of American innocence and manifest destiny.  Boesak asks whether we are willing to embrace the message and example of Jesus and pursue nonviolent struggle.  He writes: 
If we have a hopeful word to say at all, we should, in these matters, seek to be the voice of the innocent victims of war, never the voice of the powerful, who for whatever ambiguous reasons “have to have a war.”  (p. 114)
As history demonstrates, violence is never the solution to the world’s problems.  Neither world war was the war to end all wars, they just spawned new ones.   As one who embraces non-violence, but isn’t a committed pacifist, I take to heart Boesak’s challenge. 

                Hope comes as we “speak of a fragile faith.”  It is recognition that we, in ourselves, are weak.  We do not act from a position of strength.  It is a faith that wrestles with the lure of power.  Boesak notes that in political life, President Obama could not maintain the “audacity of hope” that he first heard Jeremiah write speak of in sermons.  That is because, “hope is too subversive of politics” (p.  139). Our hope, then, lies not in the power of politics, but we cannot avoid politics either. 

                Our ability to speak of hope requires an ability to dream.  Martin Luther King spoke of dreams, and Joseph was a dreamer.  Indeed, Nelson Mandela was a dreamer.  Boesak speaks of Mandela’s recognition at the end of life, looking forward not from the position of power or glory, “but as a hope-filled captive of ubuntu:  my humanity, and my human well-being, is caught up in your humanity.  I cannot be what I want to be until you are what you need to be” (p. 169).  It is a forward looking vision that is not content with what is, but looks to what needs to be.

                Boesak’s book emerges from his experience in South Africa.  It is a story that many of us have heard, at least in parts.  We know the stories of people like Nelson Mandela and possibly Stephen Biko.  It is a story of oppression and liberation.  But it remains an unfinished story – even as the road to freedom in America has not yet reached its destination.  Politics is part of the story.  But it is not the whole of the story.  If we are to pursue justice and experience hope, then, as Boesak reminds us, “we have to learn the lesson that while our hope has to shape our politics, the center of our hope never lies in politics or politicians.  Christians have to look elsewhere if we are to find a hope that is durable, life-affirming, and life-giving” (p. 176).   Neither political party has the final answers to our search for hope.  They can be a means to an end, but they are not the end. 


                Hope involves the pursuit of justice.  It is a struggle that requires anger and courage, dreaming and a recognition of our own weakness.  If we want to engage in a struggle that truly changes the reality for those on the margins, then we would be wise to consider the wisdom of Allan Boesak, a wisdom forged in the struggle for human dignity and justice.  Both Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama are signs of hope, but not the means of hope.  The struggle is not over.  Thus, we need guides like Boesak, if we are to understand the relationship of our faith to our politics – that we might be harbingers of hope.   

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Oh God, Please Let My Team Win. Please. Amen. -- Sightings (Joseph L. Price)

It is common to hear athletes thank God for delivering them victory.  God seems rather partisan when it comes to sports -- or at least many of us hope so.  That must mean that the Cub fans are rather poor in their praying (not to mention Lions' fans).  The World Cup brought out many pray-ers on behalf of team and nation.  Obviously God was on the side of the Germans and not the Argentinians.  Could this be a sign that God preferred Benedict to Francis?  (I hope not).  In any case, Joseph Price offers us interesting reflections on the phenomenon of sporting prayers.  I invite you to read and reflect.   By the way, I'm praying for a either a repeat of the Bay Bridge Series of 1989 (so the Giants can obtain bragging rights) or a repeat of the 2012 Series (with the Giants winning, of course).     


Oh God, Please Let My Team Win. Please. Amen.
by JOSEPH L. PRICE
Thursday | July 17 2014
                                                                                            Photo Credit:  Ed Yourdon / flickr creative commons
More than half of Americans believe that divine forces play a role in the outcome of sporting events (according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted prior to this year’s Super Bowl).

American sports fans are not alone in seeking God’s help. Shortly before the World Cup soccer competition began in Brazil, the Church of England issued a news release authorizing several prayers related to the games. For this year’s World Cup, the Bishop of Leeds, the Right Reverend Nick Baines, who is described as a “die-hard Liverpool fan,” revised the set of prayers ecclesiastically embraced four years earlier for the World Cup events in South Africa.

The first of Bishop Leed’s prayers implores the Lord “who played the cosmos into being” to guard and guide the games’ participants so that they might enjoy “an experience of common humanity” and “generous sportsmanship.” One prayer requests support for the tournament’s thirty-two nations— especially for Brazil as the host nation; and another, intended for use by Anglicans immune to World Cup fever, petitions the Lord for patience with those who are possessed with futbol passion.

Two other prayers manifest national partisanship, beseeching blessings on the British team.  While most of the prayers are brief, the shortest is specific to English fans and players. The two-word prayer, “Oh God…,” initially intended as a plea for England’s advance, effectively served (with different intonation) as a lament following England’s early exit from the competition.

In a manner akin to the Anglican news release, the Catholic News Agency reported on Pope Francis’s World Cup message. In a brief address telecast throughout Brazil on the eve of the games, the Pope focused on the value of sports, especially their challenge to overcome individuality, work as a team, and promote peace based on the experience of camaraderie. The Pope concluded with a prayer asking that the games “take place with complete serenity and tranquility, always with mutual respect, solidarity and brotherhood among men and women who recognize themselves as members of the same family.”

More spontaneous than either the Anglicans’ crafted prayers or the Pope’s telecast message are prayerful gestures by players, and petitions by futbol‘s global fans. One American professor writing for The New Republic’s World Cup blog reflected on his agnostic friends who implored God to support their favorite team, and he noted Neymar’s prayerful display—crossing himself—moments before scoring Brazil’s go-ahead goal on a penalty kick in the opening game. Identifying how prayer can even bring out the best in some fans, the blog also reported that one skeptical fan had gone to church specifically to pray for the safety of referees in World Cup cities filled with passionate Brazilians.

Prayerful petitions are not limited to futbol. Organizations, churches, players, and fans offered public prayers for their teams during the NBA season, the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the NCAA World Series.

Whereas some of the Church of England’s World Cup prayers exposed national pride, prayers can also betray sectarian partisanship. On the eve of the NBA playoffs, the New York Times featured a story about the Oklahoma City Thunder who precede all home games with an invocation, the only professional basketball team that maintains this practice. Seventy percent of Oklahoma residents, according to a Gallup Poll, identify themselves as Protestant Christians. Not surprisingly, although the team asks prayer leaders (including priests and rabbis) to deliver non-sectarian invocations, the prayers frequently resound with a Protestant tone.

Ministerial leaders, devout practitioners, and even agnostic fans often beseech God to intervene on behalf of their favorite teams, especially for championship events.  During the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Catholic diocese in Montreal encouraged the faithful to support the Canadiens by lighting a virtual votive.  And before the final game of the NCAA World Series, ESPN began its telecast with a shot of the Vanderbilt team huddled together with heads bowed. They then confidently took their places on the field, beating Virginia for the championship.

As a passionate sports fan I have often wished that prayers for my favorite teams or players might influence their performance; yet I do not believe that the Lord of heaven and earth really cares about the outcome of games on the field. What kind of ecumenical dilemma might God face if Notre Dame and Baylor should meet in a championship game?

Even so, it is possible that when participants experience the freedom and joy of genuine play in sports, their efforts can be understood as a kinesthetic form of prayer to the One who “played the cosmos into being.”
Sources and Further Reading:

“Church Releases World Cup Prayers including Prayers for England Team.” The Church of England. http://www.churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2014/06/church-releases-world-cup-prayers-including-prayers-for-england-team.aspx.

Hamilton, Graeme. “Montreal Canadiens Fans Paying Catholic Diocese $1 apiece to Light Virtual Candles for their Team.” National Post. April 21, 2014.http://sports.nationalpost.com/2014/04/21/montreal-canadiens-fans-paying-catholic-diocese-1-apiece-to-light-virtual-candles-for-their-team/.

Harris, Elise. “May the World Cup be a ‘feast of solidarity,’ Pope exhorts.” Catholic News Agency. June 12, 2014. http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/may-the-world-cup-be-a-feast-of-solidarity-pope-exhorts-92547/.

Keh, Andrew. “Praying for the Home Team in Oklahoma City.” New York Times. February 27, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/28/sports/basketball/praying-for-the-home-team-in-oklahoma-city.html?emc=eta1&_r=0.

Price, Joseph L. “Playing and Praying, Sport and Spirit: The Forms and Functions of Prayer in Sports.” International Journal of Sports and Religion I (2009): 55-80.

Stavans, Ilan. “God Uses the World Cup to Teach People Geography.” The New Republic. June 13, 2014. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/118144/world-cup-soccer-and-god.

Survey. “Half of American Fans See Supernatural at Play in Sports.” Public Religion Research Institute. January, 16, 2014. http://publicreligion.org/research/2014/01/jaJune 13, 2014.n-2014-sports-poll/.

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon / flckr creative commons
Author, Joseph L. Price, (Ph.D. University of Chicago) is the Genevieve Shaul Connick Professor of Religious Studies at Whittier College. He also serves as the series editor for the “Sports and Religion Series” published by Mercer University Press.



Editor, Myriam Renaud, is a Ph.D. Candidate in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She was a 2012-13 Junior Fellow in the Marty Center.


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Friday, July 18, 2014

Prayers for Peace

Yesterday we watched reports of two horrific events.  First there was the report of the downing of a Malaysian Airlines plane over the Ukraine-Russian border.  Appears to have been either the separatists or Russians.  All 289 on board are likely dead,  Then comes news that Israel has begun its ground campaign in Gaza.  At the very least, many will die.  Hamas likely will survive, but many innocents will die as Israel tries to defeat its enemy.  General Sherman said that "War is Hell" -- justifying total war.  It is.

I work for and believe in peace, but as a historian as well as a pastor/theologian, I have to agree with Reinhold Niebuhr:

For all the centuries of experience, men have not yet learned h to live together without compounding their vices and covering each other "with mud and with blood."  The society in which each man lives is at once the basis for, and the nemesis of, that fulness of life which each man seeks.   [R. Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study in Ethics and Politics (Library of Theological Ethics), P. 1]  
     
Despite my Niebuhrian realism (perhaps it's my age that I'm becoming more attuned to Niebhur), I pray for peace.  In that spirit, I share words from Niebuhr's colleague, Harry Emerson Fosdick, as a prayer for our times:

Cure thy children's warring madness,
Bend our pride to thy control;
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in goods and poor in soul.
Gant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss thy Kingdom's goal.
Lest we miss thy Kingdom's goal.
  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Fit Companion – Genesis 2:18-25


                Why do people get married?  Is because we have a biological need to procreate?  Of course, one needn’t be married to procreate.  Is it because children need two parents to grow up into productive members of the community?  If so, then why do people who are past child-bearing years or who have no intention of having children marry?  
    
In Genesis 2, which provides us with a second creation story, there is a possible answer to the question – why do people get married?  According Genesis 2, God after creates the man, puts him in the Garden, and gives him some instructions (don’t eat of the Tree of Knowledge), God notices that “it is not good that the man should be alone.”   God discerns that the man needs a partner who is fit to him, and God is not that partner. 

This is an important recognition on God’s part, because for the first time in the creation story, God discovers that something isn’t right.  After every previous act of creation, God has pronounced it to be good.  That includes the creation of the man.  This time, God cannot say this.  Being alone is not good for the man, and so God sets out to rectify the situation.   

            Wanting to make sure that everything is good, God goes back to the drawing board.  The first attempt to solve this problem entailed creating non-human creatures.  The man gives each creature that God presents to him with a name, but none of these creatures – living on land or in the air – is that fit companion for the man.  The man remains alone and incomplete.    

            Since nothing that God has presented to the man will suffice, God must start fresh.  This time God puts the man into a deep sleep, takes a rib, and fashions the rib into a new being – the woman.  When God presents the woman to the man, the man shouts with joy: 
“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman (ishshah), for out of Man (ish) this one was taken.”  
The passage continues in a way that is often repeated at weddings – “therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).

                Nothing is said here about reproduction or about being fruitful and multiplying.  In fact nothing is said about sex at all.  It is simply that this woman is a fit companion who shares the same substance with the man.  As a result, they can enter into a covenant relationship. 

                After the man affirms this gift of God, the author writes that the two leave behind their parents and are joined together as one flesh.  We have often understood this statement about being of “one flesh” in sexual terms.  That is, they are joined together sexually.  In many cultures if two people do not consummate the marriage sexually, they are not considered married.  Or, in other cultures – if you engage in sexual activity with a person you are deemed to be married to them.  Obviously, in our culture the latter is not the case.

                What does it mean to be “one flesh?”  It could mean sharing sexual intimacy, and most marriages include sexuality.  In fact, conversations about marriage raise the question of whether or not there is a proper sphere for sexual activity.  We read in the Bible about adultery, which involves breaking a covenant relationship to engage in sexual activities outside one’s marriage relationship, and fornication, which can be seen as engaging in promiscuous sexual activity.  Although change is occurring, traditionally any sexual activity outside marriage was considered inappropriate. 

                But does “one flesh” refer specifically to sexual intimacy?  William Stacy Johnson believes that such an interpretation is too narrow an interpretation.  He suggests that what this means is that the two become one family.  This leaving one’s family of origin and joining with another is a shift in allegiance.  Therefore, “the intensity of marital “cleaving” no doubt flows in part from the natural, erotic desire that exists between a man and a woman in love.  Nevertheless, there is more to it than that, as the story of Ruth makes clear” [Johnson, A Time to Embrace: Same-Sex Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics, 2nd edition, p. 151.]  In the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman refuses to “leave” (‘azab) behind her mother-in-law, and insists on “cleaving” (dabaq) to Naomi.  This isn’t a sexual relationship, but it is a transition in familial relationships.  The question then is this – must every family relationship involve a man and a woman, or could there be other forms, some of which do not involve sexual intimacy?

If Genesis 2 speaks of the importance or necessity of human companionship, does this mean that one is incomplete as a human being if one is not married?    That is, can one be single and still be fully human?  This is an important question that needs attention because often in our churches married life is deemed normative, and therefore to not be married is to live outside the expected norms.  This reality can make church a difficult place to be if one is not married.  What happens is that we become a community of “pairs and spares.”  But, if we can take Genesis 2 as speaking to marriage, but not being tied to marriage, then can we not think of family in a variety of ways?

As we ask these questions, we must also face the question that is so pertinent in our day – does  the fact that Genesis 2 speaks here in terms of gender differentiation here mean that the only fit partner is a person of the opposite gender?   If this is true, that what do we say to persons whose attractions are for someone of the same gender and not the opposite gender?  Is it possible for that fit partner and companion to be a person of the same gender, with whom a person desires to enter a covenant relationship with?  There are those who answer no to the question.  Others, with greater frequency, are saying yes. 

The issue here is one of particularity.  Does the fact that when the biblical authors speak of marriage, they speak in terms of male-female relationships mean that this is the only possible pattern?  Are we limited by social norms present among those who gave us the biblical story?  After all, in the Hebrew Bible there a number of persons living in polygamous marriages.   That the culture has apparently changed by the first century doesn’t mean that official rules against polygamy were issued.     

This is a question that remains under discussion.  My own feeling is that what is said here of a male-female partnership, could be said of committed covenanted same-gender relationships. The particularity of the language in the Bible reflects cultural norms.  Those norms are changing, so should we change with them?