Week 6. READ: Mark 10:1-16
The ethics of discipleship is explored in part in Mark 10:1-31. This section has the makings of a teaching manual or catechism. The topics in these verses include discipleship in marriage (vv. 2-10), discipleship and children (vv. 13-16) and discipleship wealth and possessions (vv. 17-31, the week 7 study).
The geography in 10:1 is confusing as is often the case in Mark. The question of divorce was a hot topic both for Jews and for the Christian church. Eduard Schweizer in The Good News According to Mark, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1977 asserts that Matthew 5:32 has recorded the original Jewish form of this teaching: that the divorced man only commits adultery if he marries a divorce woman whereas the woman who gets divorced is an adulterous simply due to this legal act. At least in the Mark version, adultery is mutual for male and female only if they remarry.
What do we say about divorce today as a community of faith? Here is a collection of my best thoughts as your pastor on the nature of relationships. God created us for relationships with God, with family, neighbors and friends. Special bonds have existed since ancient times that unite people in the covenant of marriage (in the Old Testament, this included polygamy). Not everyone chooses to get married and some have desired to experience marriage but find themselves single. Still other people have searched their soul and know that they are homosexual and have pursued the gift of marriage as well. While God created us for relationships, they do not always work as we hoped or intended. The gift of marriage can become a burden and no longer be the desire of one or the other partner.
Sin is experienced as a broken relationship. In the first three commandments (of the Ten Commandments given to Moses and the Jews in Exodus 20), God alone wants to be honored, followed and worshiped as our God (Commandment 1), God’s name is to be honored and respected not used to “curse, swear, practice magic, lie or deceive” (Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, Commandment 2) and keep the Sabbath day as holy unto God as we listen and learn God’s word (Commandment 3). When we fail to live as God expects us to live in relationship to God, we search our heart, seek to change and confess our failure to God.
Even in a good marriage, we hurt each other with our words spoken and unspoken and with our actions and inactions. Like in our relationship with God, we learn to examine our hearts, desire to change and ask forgiveness and give forgiveness. It is this give and take and hard work of a relationship that makes a marriage even stronger. When both partners are committed to this work, it is life-giving and knits the hearts and minds as one. When only one party does the heavy lifting, the relationship will only work as long as that one person is willing to bear that burden. This is not the way God intended a marriage to function because it is one sided.
I am not a proponent of open marriage, swinging or infidelity to your spouse. These actions all fall under the category of adultery or unfaithfulness to your partner…even if you both agree to it. Marriage is so much more than sex. Sexual relations are a beautiful thing! It is a gift of God intended for married couples; two people. As a married Christian pastor, I still contend that when both people in a marriage pray together consistently, it is much more intimate than sex. Prayer involves the heart and the mind and not just the body!
Marriage is about companionship, authentic communication where you can be known and know another person at deep levels, developing healthy conflict and resolution skills, practicing forgiveness on a personal level, as well as the love and enjoyment of sharing your life together. We get the gift of knowing ourselves through the eyes of another. When done well, marriage is the spice that adds amazing flavor to your life.
Adultery is a sin because it breaks trust when one of the partners (usually sneakily) brings another person into this marriage through sexual union. The special bond is broken. One of the partners in the marriage has cast their eyes on another. With repentance, honest confession, and the willingness of the spouse, forgiveness can be given and the road of rebuilding trust may begin. This is not a given. If it happens, it is a gift.
Parents, it is our responsibility as Christians to give wise advice and counsel to our children about sex. This is equally true for our daughters and our sons. It is true I am old school and reserving sex for marriage still has value. Sexual intercourse creates a special memory in the brain. To randomly have sex with whomever you are with is not what God intended. To be making love to your spouse while you are thinking of another person you made love to is committing adultery in your heart. For couples who are living together outside of marriage, what is holding you back from taking the next step and making a life-time commitment? Let’s talk and get things moving in the direction of pursing marriage.
There are expressions of the Christian church that have so strongly condemned divorce that people have been driven from participating in the meal at the table and even away from faith. There are many factors that lead to divorce. Some marriages are unhealthy and even some that are dangerous to a spouse or their children. While divorce is often messy and if there are children involved it is painful, it happens. It takes work to heal a marriage where there is brokenness and it takes work to heal after divorce. Know this: God is a forgiving and healing God. All people who want to eat at the Lord’s table, to receive the forgiveness and love of God are welcome at the table at Grace because this is God’s table.
Couples who are living together outside of marriage and desire to receive the forgiveness and love of God are also welcome at God’s table at Grace. Gay couples are welcome to receive the love and forgiveness of God. Straight couples who are married are welcome to God’s table as well because we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.
Once again, marriage is gift from God. For those who are married, keep working at this important relationship. For those who are single, you are equally loved by God. Marriage is not for everyone – just listen to the Apostle Paul chat about that in his letters as he boasts of his singleness! The point is that God created us for relationships, married and otherwise. Value them, work at them, and be blessed and blessing through them. Not the least of which is our relationship with God.
Discipleship and Children (vv. 13-16)
The old adage “children are to be seen and not heard” may have roots in a biblical story like this text. While it is clearly not the attitude of Jesus, it is reflected in the actions of his disciples. The disciples function like the secret service for Jesus screening those who had access to him. It is a controversy story brought about by the disciples speaking “sternly” to the parents bringing their children to Jesus to bless them with his touch. Jesus responds to his disciples with “indignation” at their attitudes.
Jesus had recently invited a child who was in the house with the disciples and himself in Capernaum to enter the circle of conversation (9:9:33-37). As Jesus sat, he wanted to make clear that greatness as one of his followers meant that they were humble and servant-minded. Holding this child, Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me,” (v. 37). The disciples just a few verses later (10:13-16) are portrayed as missing the point of Jesus about children once again.
Despite the fact or maybe because of the fact that children were overlooked in the culture in Jesus’ day, he once again jabs the listeners in the ribs to make the point that no one, including children are outside the scope of the love and concern of God. In point of fact, Jesus’ teaching says that children are a perfect example of what entrance into the kingdom of God looks like…receiving the kingdom as a child means receiving it without ambition to be a figure of authority, but being content to be “last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:33-37, quotation from v. 35). The threat “shall surely not enter into it” in 10:15 foreshadows the saying of v. 25, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” This link suggests that receiving the kingdom as a child means receiving it without being held back by wealth and possessions, (Collins, p. 473).
Jesus welcomes the children into his arms, lays his hands on them as he does in some healing stories and blesses them (v. 16). There is a natural energy released as we touch another person. There is even greater energy and power exchanged in the spiritual action of blessing. The action of the disciples is rebuked and the desire of young parents with children was met with the welcome blessing of Jesus.
Grace has been blessed for many years with passionate people of faith who love teaching and caring for children. Back in the day, the children’s ministry was called “Christian Education.” As I review the history of Christian educational coordinators, there are some people I do not know: Bob Hammerstrom (heard many great things about him), Margaret Piper, Char Kronser and Anne Holzapfel. Gifted and caring CE coordinators that I do know are: Carol Johnson, Mary Edwards, Judy Kretsinger, Jane Freehauf, Mindy Clark and Julie Frykman. What a solid team of educators who love children and the Lord!
Mindy and Julie served on the Grace staff with me and I am so appreciative of their exemplary leadership. Like Jesus, they blessed many children with their faith and the solid core of teachers they gathered and led. Our current director of children and family ministry is Amanda Monroe, someone I love dearly as my daughter! She carries on the strong foundation that the coordinators before her have laid.
Comments that other people have shared with me about Amanda fall into three categories. First of all, she is very relational. She sets children and parents at ease. This creates an atmosphere of welcome and inclusion. Knowing that you matter and have a place where you belong is important. This is both an important Christian value as well as a characteristic that Grace has worked at for years.
Secondly, Amanda brings creativity and fun to her work. Many families have expressed their appreciation for the Faith Fix boxes they take home to encourage faith conversations around their dinner tables. The July 2017 Living Lutheran magazine picked up on this story and wrote a feature article about Amanda and Faith Fix.
Another example of Amanda’s creativity was the launching of Mom and Tots. This midweek group has grown wide and serves many mom’s and tots most of whom are not part of the Grace community. Through a safe place for tots to play and mom’s to socialize, it has been a source of new friendships and good fun. Out of these relationships a few moms have made their way into our worship life at Grace. At the very least, Mom and Tots has been a blessing to many young families.
Grace Kids (aka Life School) has been reworked and refocused by Amanda as well. Autumn 2017 will see a new, exciting and engaging approach to experiencing the stories of faith as they relate to the life of our children. The Education Team at Grace is very excited and supportive of this new launch.
Finally, a number of people who are involved in VBS, Preschool chapel, the children’s choir, or the other offerings for children’s ministry have appreciated Amanda’s love and faith that are evident as they observe her at work with kids. She teaches prayer by praying with the children. Stories of faith are taught from Scripture through story and song. Kids are attracted to Amanda because they sense God at work in her in a compelling and fun way. Like Jesus, Amanda knows that children are important to God and have the capacity for faith. All they need is the opportunity to experience God and to learn. Kids have the capacity to trust God in a way that adults need to rediscover.
Questions to Consider:
- The disciples were miffed by parents who brought their children to Jesus for his blessing. What does this story say to us as a church about children?
- How could our worship be more engaging for children and youth?
- What do you think would strengthen our children’s ministry?
- Children’s ministry can grow the church community. What young parent and their child can you invite to check out our children’s ministry this week? Write the names down and contact them.