Grace was Never Practical


Biblical Text: Mark 10:2-26
Full Sermon Draft

This sermon is a little longer than my typical one. The subject from the gospel text is marriage and divorce. Because the contextual density of the topic and because of its high profile in our general culture this sermon takes its time and spells out all the steps. I believe I arrive at the proclamation of the gospel, but it might not be the gospel we always want to hear.

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Genesis 37:1-36 and Mark 10:1-12

Genesis 37:1-36
Mark 10:1-12
Prophetic words can be rough
The Mystery of marriage and the hardness of our hearts

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Deuteronomy 30:1-20 and Matthew 19:1-15

Deuteronomy 30:1-20
Matthew 19:1-15
Moses preaches the Gospel/Circumcised Hearts & The nearness of the Word
Moses’ allowance for uncircumcised hearts, divorce
The normative nature of marriage & even Jesus’ acknowledgement of its toughness

Daily Lectionary Podcast – Malachi 2:1-3:5 and Matthew 4:1-11

Malachi 2:1-3:5
Matthew 4:1-11
Marriage & Divorce as an image of covenant and faithfulness
The first person you meet


Why she moved to the Daily Beast(?!?) I don’t know, but Megan McArdle writes this morning about the VP debate and she says something deeply true.

There was an interesting exchange on MSNBC after last night’s debate when one of the hosts asked one of the string of professional Democrats who were streaming through how she thought Biden had done. I paraphrase, but her answer was roughly: “I thought he was great. He really showed contempt for Paul Ryan.” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley enthusiastically agreed that yes, Biden had been really contemptuous, which was great.

What an odd thing to celebrate…Yet I suspect that MSNBC was right: this was what the Democratic base wanted to see. Yes, they also wanted to hear him defend their issues. But they already agree with him on the issues. Their biggest desire was just for someone to express their disdain for the Republican Party, and particularly its rising young star–to display their collective contempt in a public venue. I’m not sure exactly why this is so important, but I seem to recall that the same dynamic from Republicans in 2004. There’s a lesson there about where American politics is headed, and it’s a pretty grim one.

She doesn’t expand on that sentence I put in bold type. But that triggered my memory of where the warning comes from – Dr. Gottman’s research on marriage. Gottman, on a bunch of factors claimed he could predict divorce with 90% accuracy. He had a bunch of factors, sometimes called the four horsemen of divorce, but the one riding the pale horse was contempt. When Gottman observed contempt, he stopped watching. It was over.

Now individuals in this society can divorce. And at the margins I have a feeling that we might have been practicing something like that over that last generation. There aren’t too many NY liberals who wake up and say, “I’d love to live in Texas.” Likewise I don’t know too many died in the wool conservatives pining to be residents of CA and NY. When I worked for IBM which had an interesting outpost in Austin, it was always interesting seeing who was happy at a move to Texas and who started to break out in hives. But there is no such thing as an amicable divorce for a nation. Nations are like marriage pre-1960’s. Nations aren’t protestant but catholic. Living with contempt makes the home an awful place.

Incidentally, doing a word study on contempt int he Bible is interesting. (Just take out you concordance, look up the word, and scan the verses it is used in.) Here is my quick look. Those are not stories or places where you want to find yourself inserted. When you find yourself with contempt, the first thing necessary is repentance in the underlying sense. Turn around and change because nothing good comes from that. That way leads to death.

(Genesis 16:4 ESV) And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.
(Genesis 16:5 ESV) And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!”
(1 Samuel 2:17 ESV) Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt.
(2 Chronicles 32:17 ESV) And he wrote letters to cast contempt on the LORD, the God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, “Like the gods of the nations of the lands who have not delivered their people from my hands, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver his people from my hand.”
(Esther 1:17 ESV) For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’
(Esther 1:18 ESV) This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty.
(Job 12:5 ESV) In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.
(Job 12:21 ESV) He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong.
(Job 31:34 ESV) because I stood in great fear of the multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me, so that I kept silence, and did not go out of doors–
(Psalm 31:18 ESV) Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt.
(Psalm 107:40 ESV) he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
(Psalm 119:22 ESV) Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.
(Psalm 123:3 ESV) Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
(Psalm 123:4 ESV) Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.
(Proverbs 18:3 ESV) When wickedness comes, contempt comes also, and with dishonor comes disgrace.
(Isaiah 9:1 ESV) But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
(Isaiah 16:14 ESV) But now the LORD has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.”
(Ezekiel 22:7 ESV) Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you.
(Ezekiel 28:24 ESV) “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.
(Ezekiel 28:26 ESV) And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.”
(Ezekiel 36:5 ESV) therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Surely I have spoken in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasturelands a prey.
(Daniel 12:2 ESV) And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
(Micah 7:6 ESV) for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
(Nahum 3:6 ESV) I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.
(Mark 9:12 ESV) And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
(Luke 18:9 ESV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
(Luke 23:11 ESV) And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.
(Hebrews 6:6 ESV) and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Three Interesting Items

1) From the Economic Files, Tyler Cowen injecting a heavy word into the discussion. I think he (maybe Academic Economists in general?) might be stumbling back to a more fundamental understanding of the economy. I remember studying all these models and even building some in prior work and they all worked pretty well, until they didn’t. That didn’t work phase was usually because something big had changed, but if you are focusing on your model and that quarter or even worse that month, you didn’t empirically know what the big things was. You knew it in your gut, but everyone would say, “no, stick with the model for now.”

Trust was broken, most of all in the financial system, but like a wet spill this has soaked into many parts of the economy and polity…In one very real sense, the economy is well below potential output (though less than many people think, due to the great stagnation). In another very real sense, that gap cannot be exploited in the short run by reflationary policy. Once again, it requires a reestablishment of trust. Trust is more easily broken than repaired.

[If you want to see a prime example of the moral blindness, or the unwillingness to consider more fundamental things such as trust, take a look at the comments which take Dr. Cowen to task for using a morally laden word, trust.]

2) An emotionally tough family reflection about the results of the way we live now. This is the story that would go along with last Sunday’s sermon. This is also part of the call of the church to bind the wounds. This generation’s wounds are deep and possibly fatal.

What strikes me most powerfully about the defenders of the sexual revolution is their immovable abstraction. Always the matter is couched in terms of rights, or individual desires—what I want, what I may pursue. That this sexual laissez-faire destroys the common good, by undermining families and rotting whole neighborhoods from within, seems not to matter. Honest sociologists can give us the numbers, of children growing up without fathers or mothers, of the incidence of venereal diseases, of births out of wedlock, of delinquency and crime. I think instead of the people I have known.

3) An editor at Real Clear Religion (part of the burgeoning empire of Real Clear X sites) is thinking along the same lines as I was on the Pew Survey finding more “nones”. The biggest difference is that they don’t think that compounding effect across generations has happened, where I ended in saying that is exactly what we are seeing right now. The statistical numbers are just catching up with the reality. He ends with this.

Fischer’s take was that the Pew survey is basically reinforcing the poll results that they’d worked with a decade ago. And he offers this thought:

“One open question is when this becomes self reinforcing — when the ‘nones’ raise no-religion children, when the cultural climate changes.”

To me, the latest Pew survey brings to mind the chorus of an old union organizing song: “Which side are you on boys? Which side are you on?”

Political and religious pressure from the right is pushing folks who once would have been happy to sit in the middle to pick a side. And increasingly, the side they pick is away from religion.

What he doesn’t address is if that is a good or a bad thing. Is that a call for further gap straddling? Or is that a recognition of Jesus saying things like “I’ve not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matt 10:34). The nature of gospel is to cause a division.

The City of God

Text: Mark 10:2-16
Full Draft of Sermon

Augustine is one of those people who even if we have never read him still influences our thoughts. He influences the categories that place things in without us knowing it. Two of those categories are the City of God and the City of Man. We tend to slip into a little too dualistic thinking, making the City of Man all bad or evil. That isn’t really the case. The City of Man has its good and proper things. In fact it is usually good enough that we refuse to consider something else and spend out days desperately grasping what we have in the City of Man.

In Mark 10 Jesus lays out core distinctions between the Kingdom or City of God and the common perception. And he starts with marriage and divorce, which to be polite, Jesus is beyond the bounds of polite discourse.

But core distinction that he is trying to get at I think is this. The City of Man runs on accommodation. Because everything in the city of man comes with an expiration date, everything runs on making accommodation. The City of God runs on absolution. Accommodation hides. Absolution reveals. Accommodation eventually fails. You run into something that can’t be accommodated. God never runs out of grace. And that’s it, the currency of the City of God is grace. It buys nothing in the City of Man; but its what opens out eyes to something better.

The Elephant in the room…Mark 10:1-16

Full Text

This sermons subject – sexuality and specifically divorce – is a hard word in our culture. Jesus doesn’t allow it – divorce that is. Divorce is not in God’s plan. And we can’t keep that – neither in what our society formally calls marriage, nor in our sexuality that assumes marriage rights without the committment. And it is a standing judgment against us – sexual sins are those we can’t fix, are those we commit against our own bodies. Wouldn’t it be easier if Jesus was just more laid back about divorce? Go that way if you want to lose the Gospel. Marriage is how God describes his relationship with His people – and he took reconciliation all the way to the cross – no divorce indeed. We are sinners, but our God’s grace and mercy are much larger than our ability to mess it up. Trust in that faithful relationship sealed on the cross made sure at the resurrection.