Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Rules for Love

Tuesday, August 9, 2011 -- Week of Proper 14, Year One
Herman of Alaska, Missionary to the Aleut, 1837

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, 978)
Psalms 97, 99, [100] (morning)      94, [95] (evening)
2 Samuel 14:1-20
Acts 21:1-14
Mark 10:1-16

Life is difficult.  Life is complicated.  I remember a conversation I had with a good friend the summer before we were heading away to seminary.  Our anxiety was showing.  We both wanted "the answer book."  Is there ONE BOOK that we could take to seminary, and it would give us the answers we would need for all of the questions we knew we would face?  So we contacted some priests we respected, asking for a ONE BOOK recommendation.  Only one priest took our bait.  He recommended a systematic theology book -- if you start here, you can't go wrong, he said.  A few weeks into seminary, I got a note from my friend.  "Don't quote that book!" he exclaimed.  He had done so and harvested a crop of red marks.

How many centuries have we tried to set up a consistent, simple set of rules?  Follow these and you will be okay. 

Every system always seems to break down when it tries to define the mystery of love.  It appears that love insists on transcending definition.  It is hard to draw a box around love.

Today we've got some difficult and complicated conversations about love answers.  The Pharisees ask Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce a wife?"  They site the permissive tradition from the Torah.  A man may write a certificate of dismissal and be divorced.  (They site no such power for the woman, though there is evidence outside of Israel that some women could sue for divorce.) 

Jesus moves to the heart.  "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment."  Remarkable.  Jesus' words challenge the authority of the scriptural tradition, claiming that Moses got it wrong.  God's will was more gracious than reflected in the command of Torah, he claims.

To support his challenge to Torah, Jesus goes to another place in scripture.  "The two shall become one flesh  ...Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."  Jesus raises up God's intention that married people be faithful to their covenant and to each other in a lifelong divine union.  (Hasn't every person spoken their marriage vows with a sincere, lifelong intention of faithfulness?)

Then we shift scenes.  Jesus is in private with his disciples.  His answer wasn't enough for them.  They want more.  So they get some more.  "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery."  Pretty clear, isn't it?  Bam.  That's it.  Rule.  Law.  From Jesus' mouth.  That ought to end it right there.  We've got the ONE BOOK answer. 

That's the way it was for Episcopalians, until recently.  We did not allow remarriage of a divorced person in the church. 

Then we witnessed something complicated.  There were people, good people, whose marriages died.  It was tragic.  Sometimes they continued to live together in obedience to their vows.  Occasionally their relationships found resurrection.  Thanks be to God.  But others just seemed to continue to coexist in a living death.  Married to outward eye; alone and alienated within.  They obeyed the commandment, but it was not the abundant life that they read Jesus promised.

Some other people, good people, got divorces.  Some divorces were contentious.  Others were very civil -- each partner releasing the other from their vow in order that they both might get on with their lives more fruitfully. 

Occasionally one of those, now single again, would meet someone, and the possibility of love might bloom anew.  If that couple wanted to make a lifelong commitment to one another through marriage, we couldn't marry them.  The rules, you know.  We sent them somewhere else, say to the Methodists.  Then some of them returned to church and lived happy lives together.  They lived as "one flesh."  But how can that be?  It's against the rules.  It's adultery pure and simple.  Right?

So we went to other places in the scripture.  We looked at the story of resurrection -- life out of death.  We listened to Jesus' words about forgiveness, hope, and the recreative power of love.  We saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the lives of these divorced and remarried Christians.  We remembered Paul's words:  "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and temperance.  There is no law against such things." (Gal. 5:22f)  We sought the heart of the matter.  Eventually, we changed our rule.  Within a raised set of expectations, some divorced Episcopalians now may be remarried in the church.

Some people think maybe we shouldn't have done that.  It just opens the gates to other things.  If we would only stick to the strict interpretation, we wouldn't have so many divorces and family breakups.  Or would we? 

The rules are always there to protect love.  The intention is to provide love a nurturing container.  But sometimes the rules seem to block love, don't they?  What do we do?

It's hard.  It's complicated.  Maybe someone reading this is living in a fulfilling and abundant relationship that is not your first marriage.  You are probably very thankful to have another chance at love.  And we always are left in that difficult, complicated place of trying to do the best we can in a world that resists being neatly defined. 

Takes some faith.  And a lot of heart.



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to http://lowellsblog.blogspot.com, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am one of those you mention in a second marriage, who came out of her first marriage with anger, with guilt, with sorrow, much pain and the simple question: "God?"
After much seeking, I found HIS answer: confess your sins in this matter (for whatever the cause, there will be things you did or didn't do) and follow me. And I will bless your life. BLESS it! So I claimed it, and God has given blessing to start again.
But then every day is a new beginning for each one of us.

At 10:19 AM, Blogger Judi Neal said...

I have been married more than once, and found myself in more than one loveless marriage. I stayed for the kids. I stayed because I made a commitment. I stayed because I didn't want to admit failure again. I started dying inside. I got sick and depressed. It's hard to believe that that is what God would want for someone's life. I am now very happily married to someone who is loving, spiritual, and a joy to be with. God is intertwined in our love, and that feels right. I'm glad the Episcopal church has the ability to evolve and become more and more loving over time.

At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Judi, love is an action. You stayed, that was the action. Your dying inside (whatever that means) was your sense of entitlement to some emotion (of which love is NOT). Love must be defined properly and Biblically before we can expect people to understand the whole thing. Love is not some soap opera where you find your "soul mate" for the day.

At 7:30 AM, Anonymous janet said...

Wow, I am rather astounded, once again, at the seeming cruelty of those who post under cover of "anonymous", like this last post. Of course human beings are 'entitled' to our emotions! No woman, or any person should be told to stay in an abusive relationship or marriage. They should be empowered and supported by their faith communities. And if Jesus was standing before me telling me what some of the churches tell women, I would have to argue with him, like the woman who felt 'entitled' to healing for her daughter, even though she was not from the house of Israel. We can all read that bible story.

Lord have mercy on our hurtful words to each other.


At 8:55 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the lively conversation on this post about love and marriage. Life is difficult. Life is complicated. Life is blessed.

I am thankful that ours is a church that supports marriage, and encourages couples to work to heal relationships. Love is an act. It is also a field of emotion.

I am also thankful that ours is a church that recognizes that abuse is not to be sanctioned in the name of promises or institutions. We also recognize that sometimes relationships die. And resurrection happens!


At 1:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too am rather astounded (nothing new here) at the total lack of Biblical understanding of such simple terms.
First, as humans, we are entitled to nothing. We are condemned (read your Bible). We are due death, period (again, read your Bible).
Second. We are not empowered, we are allowed. God allows us the opportunity to do the right or wrong thing. Judi never mentioned abuse, just a lack of love (or at least the soap opera definition of love).
Third. don't tell me what you would tell Jesus, you can tell Him yourself. Jesus tells us the truth, even when it hurts. When the truth hurts, then we need to hear it, that Janet, IS love. This forum is not the place to successfully extend the appropriate tone of voice, so I don't waste my time, I just tell the truth.

If you bring this psuedo emotion into marriage, then it becomes very easy to get out of a marriage. Any time you don't "feel the love", then you can cry abuse and leave. That is not a Biblical model, sorry for bringing the truth, but Janet, you can certainly talk to Jesus about truth anytime you want.

Greg (i am anonymous, just too lazy to log in)

At 7:24 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Janet, Greg, et.al

Part of our disconnect is that we are speaking out of two different worlds of interpretation. Greg does a good job of articulating a form of Calvinism, a theology rising out of the substantial work of the 16th century reformer John Calvin. It is a theology that some in the Episcopal Church would endorse, but it is not a dominant interpretation. It is considered heresy by the Roman Catholic Church and (I believe) most of the Orthodox branches.

One characteristic of Calvinism is called the Five Points, sometimes referenced by the acronym TULIP --
Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, Perseverance of the saints.

From that context, Greg makes perfect sense.

I find Calvinism, and TULIP in particular, un-convincing and a particularly poor reflection on the person of Jesus as the incarnation of God.

Calvin starts from a position of contemplating God and humanity -- God's absolute sovereignty, and the total depravity of humanity. From that starting point, his theology makes sense.


At 3:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel a great swell of pity when I hear someone suggest that the depravity of man arose from Calvin. It came a lot earlier from a person named Jesus.

Joh 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
Joh 3:18 He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Joh 3:19 And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
Joh 3:20 For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.
Joh 3:21 But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.

We are depraved, totally.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Lowell said...

I'm not going to get into a scripture bullet war with you. But do note that all of your quotes are from John.

Jesus didn't treat people as depraved. He treated them kindly, generously, lovingly, as human beings. He remarked on their goodness. The only people he really jacked around were those who were so positive that they were right and everyone else was wrong. He had a lot of sharp things to say about them.


At 11:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus treated us as depraved, and HOW? by dying on the cross. If we could save ourselves He would have let us.

He treated us KINDLY, yes, what is more kind than giving your life for the undeserving.

He treated us generously, yes, what is more generous than free salvation and forgiveness.

He treated us with love, yes the truest love ever known, the kind of love that ACTS and sacrifices (not leaving when it gets no soap opera love in return).

I wonder what Jesus would say to your certainty that we are NOT depraved. I am not saying I am right, I am simply agreeing with Jesus and his words (which you regularly discard).
My view is that of utter humility. Acknowledging my depravity, my bent toward sin and self, my lusts and my lies. Utter humility because of my total depravity and total need for free grace and mercy. I am unable to earn it. I am due nothing but seperation from a HOLY God who choose me for some reason unknown to me. Thank you Jesus, it is all about YOU, not me and my Earthly desires.


At 7:03 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Greg, your most recent post is eloquent. Beautiful and touching. Underscored by thanksgiving and grace. If you would continue to write in the first person, your witness would be compelling.

But when you leave yourself and start throwing darts at others, you blunt and soil your witness. (In the previous post, you only do that in parenthesis.)

Maybe we are closer than we think. The word depraved is not accurate for me. I am not depraved. But I am in need and I have missed the mark. (that is the definition of sin -- missing the mark. Not quite depraved.)

I too am "bent toward sin and self" and I still live with "lust and my lies." I live with "utter humility" in gratefulness for the "free grace and mercy" that God extends to me in the Spirit through Jesus Christ.

Because God I experience God's grace and mercy as God's unqualified love toward me, I am empowered to live to some degree within that same love. I can love others. Sometimes that involves seeing their goodness -- celebrating and appreciating the grace and love they exhibit. Occasionally it means sacrificing. Never does it mean regarding them as depraved or treating them so.

What you expect to see, you will see. That's where Calvinism is so destructive to community and to self. If you believe everyone is depraved, you will see depravity. You will interpret others' behavior as depravity. You will become as blind as those Jesus called hypocrites, who couldn't see his goodness or dance with him.

The Bible tells us that every person is created in the image and the likeness of God. God confirms that essential truth in the incarnation of Jesus -- a human being who is completely one with God. I expect to see Jesus -- to see the image of God -- in every human being. Some of us are very disguised, but if you look closely, you will find their grace and beauty.

I think your starting point makes a difference. I think starting with the assumption that everyone is depraved is a poor place to start. It will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You'll have radar for depravity. (That's how the Puritans ended up burning ordinary women as witches at the stake to save them.)

If your starting point is the unquenchable power of resurrection love and the image of God revealed in creation, you are more likely to recognize goodness and beauty in all its disguises, including a cross.


At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Depravity is painted beautifully in Isaiah. Our rightousness is as filthy rags. Depravity is 100% about salvation. I would define depravity as "if you think you are too bad for God to save you are wrong, if you think are are good enough to save yourself you are wrong." Depravity is about God, not us. Depravity is about God doing what we can't, won't.
This in no way means people can't do good things, just not good enough things to save themselves, and that starts with ME. My starting point is God's Grace for a sinner, unable to save himself. I then see my neighbor as a sinner, unable to save himself or herself. BUT GOD . . . .

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Lowell said...


I think that is beautiful. I agree with you 100% when you say "if you think you are too bad for God to save you, you are wrong; if you think you are good enough to save yourself, you are wrong." I'm in absolute accord with you. I would never have used the word "depravity" with that definition. But I agree with your assertion.



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