The strange and frustrating thing about the lectionary – the three year cycle of readings that is used in many churches in the world – including ours… the strange and frustrating thing about the lectionary is that sometimes it just doesn’t make sense.
Each week we have a reading from the Old Testament, the New Testament, a Psalm, and a Gospel reading. And while most of the time they go together – with the same message and purpose, sometimes they just don’t seem to fit.
Take today for instance. Worldwide, we are celebrating the fact that as Christians we all partake of communion with one another. It is a day to remember that a Christian across the globe is our brother or sister in Christ – that we all partake of the one loaf and we all drink from the one cup.
In the lectionary cycle – today is also the day that we start exploring the books of Job in the Old Testament and Hebrews in the New. Until Thanksgiving, in fact, we will be going slowly through the book of Hebrews as we worship on Sunday mornings. But those readings have very little to do with the Old Testament reading from Job where Satan begins testing the faithful man by raining destruction into his life. It has very little to do with the passage from the gospels about divorce.
In fact, I couldn’t figure out how any of these things hung together – what we were supposed to make of them until I remembered a conversation I had with a patient of mine from Nashville
This patient, Adam, was struggling – deeply struggling with his worthiness before God. You see, Adam had cancer. And on this afternoon he was in a particularly deep hole of doubt and self-pity. On this day, the illness had gotten the best of him. And as I entered the room to visit with him he wanted to know why he couldn’t just die.
As we got to talking, I wondered what kind of comfort I could bring him. I couldn’t take the pain away. I asked him if he wanted to pray with me and he barely lifted his head as he spoke.
“I’ve asked Jesus over and over again to help me and he hasn’t,” Adam cried out, “how can he just let me suffer like this?”
As we talked more I began to realize that Adam was expressing a deep feeling of being forsaken by God. Forgotten. Thrown away. He felt like no matter how much he cried out, God wouldn’t listen.
Instead he was being punished. In his eyes, the suffering he was experiencing was God knocking on the door saying “see, I told you so,” and Adam was going to withstand that suffering. Whether it was sheer pride, or self-loathing, or the medications, he felt like he was being punished and he was going to take it like a man.
I remember asking him at one point: What if God’s just waiting for you to let go? What if God is just waiting for you to stop fighting him so that he can actually heal you? What if who you are fighting is yourself?
And then, I’ll never forget what he said. “Even if I do let go, even if I do admit he’s really there, I don’t deserve it.”
I have no idea what Adam’s past was. I don’t know where he thought that he failed.
I do know that I wanted to shake him and tell him that no matter how unworthy he thought he was, God wasn’t done with him.
God didn’t see him, and God doesn’t see us, as some disposable thing – made and then broken and easily thrown away. God saw him in the words of Psalm 8 as the one who was made just a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor. It didn’t matter what he had done – God’s grace and forgiveness was bigger and stronger than his mistakes.
The amazing thing about the book of Hebrews is that while it is a text that portrays very vividly what Christ has done – it is humans who are the focus. Hebrews is about who God is yes, but about what God has done for us – how God acts because of us.
In chapter 1, we are reminded that while God has always been speaking to us – in various times and places – God chose finally to speak by his Son. This Son is the Word of God that is God and was God and spoke all things into being in the creation. Jesus, the Son of God, the Word of God, is God and is fully of all glory and honor.
But then in chapter two we compare this glory and majesty with what was created. This world, that we live in, was not given to angels or to demons, but to humans. Compared with the moon and the stars we are nothing – and yet God has made us a little lower than the angels and God has placed this world in our hands.
Here, the author of Hebrews turns our eyes back towards Psalm 8. We are reminded that Adam and Eve were made caretakers over the garden – over the animals and the birds and the fish and the land and the seas. This is our world – a gift, given to us by God for safekeeping.
And while chapter 2 verse 8 says that we are supposed to be in control, when we are sick. When natural disasters like earthquakes and tornados and floods ravage. When a brother or a sister harms us – the feeling of control slips between our fingertips. The reality that we experience however is that we feel completely out of control.
That is what my friend Adam in the hospital was experiencing. Completely out of control.
Hebrews tells us that while this world appears to be spinning out of control, we catch a glimpse of Jesus and we are reminded of how he poured himself out, became human – became one of us, and took the sins of the world with him through the cross. That becomes our reference point. That becomes our hope.
We are not disposable in God’s eyes, we are redeemable. As John 3:16 reminds us, For God so loved the world. God doesn’t abandon his creation – he loves it and he redeems it.
And through Christ, we become children of God. Or as verse 11 puts it – we all have one Father, one source – and Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.
What I told my friend Adam is that it doesn’t matter if you feel unworthy or not. It doesn’t matter if you think you deserve help or not. Heck, we probably are unworthy and we are undeserving. There is nothing that we can do to earn God’s love. But God loves you anyways. You are not a disposable part of God’s creation.
Christ invites us each to the table because it is more complete when we are all here. And when we sit at this table, we look across and see our brothers and our sisters. And just as you are not a disposable part of God’s creation – neither are they.
Gathering at the table means that we speak the truth about those we have hurt. It means that we acknowledge that there are people in the world that we have treated as if they can be used up and easily tossed aside. They may be people we never see like sweatshop workers in Vietnam, or coffee farmers in Columbia, or diamond miners in Africa.
But they might also be people who are close to us, people whose lives we share on a daily basis.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus makes a plea with his disciples not to separate the bonds of marriage and to honor the lives of children. And in both of these instances, he is speaking against cultural practices that allowed spouses and children to be considered disposable people.
If your wife burnt your dinner, you could write her a certificate of divorce. If you didn’t like the way she wore her hair, you could write her a certificate of divorce. While this had been in part Jewish custom, Greco-Roman culture also allowed by this time that women could divorce their husbands in a similar manner.
The same was true for children. They were seen as not fully human. Until they reached a certain age they had no voice and no standing. They were non-persons who could be sold and traded.
But just as Christ doesn’t give up on us – doesn’t throw us out with the slightest irritation, so too are we supposed to love one another. The relationship between two partners in marriage does not entitle either one to see the other as disposable. The relationship between parent and child means that the parent should care for the child and the child should honor the parent.
That doesn’t mean that there won’t be brokenness in the body of Christ. We all know situations where divorce has divided a family. We all know situations in which divorce was the only way out of an unhealthy situation. We can all think of instances in which children were not cared for by their community.
And we bring that to the table. And we speak the truth about the ways we have failed one another through confession. And here we receive forgiveness. In this bread and in this cup, we are restored. Whether we deserve it or not. Whether we think we are worthy or not. You are not disposable in God’s eyes and this table is set just for you.