Sunday, October 5, 2003

Seventeenth Sunday of Pentecost
Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrew 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?

I have always enjoyed astronomy. Whenever there is some cosmic event in the night sky, I do my best to catch a glimpse. We have an inexpensive telescope to aid our viewing, though most often it is no help at all. I have gone out in the middle of the night to watch meteor showers or to find a comet streaking across the sky. Most recently we watched the planet Mars for a few nights when it was so close to the earth. I can't help but look toward the heavens and consider the One who created it all.

I have always lived in or near a city, so the night sky I am used to watching is only peppered with a few stars. I remember one summer night in my youth, however, when I was camping with Girl Scouts at the top of a mountain. There, so far from the porch lights and streetlights of the city, I could see that the sky is full of millions of glittering stars. With so much under His care, I can't help but wonder how the Lord even knows of my presence - or any human beings for that matter. We are just like a grain of sand compared to the entire universe - insignificant beings in vastness of all God has created.

The Psalmist also pondered these thoughts. "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, Yea, and the beasts of the field, The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, Whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas." (Psalm 8:3-8, ASV)

When I spend time watching the night sky, I feel quite small and even lonely. Yet, I can't help but know that I am not alone. The Lord, the God over the heavens and earth has made mankind the crown of all His creation. In the beginning, God called Adam to join Him in the creation process. "And out of the ground Jehovah God formed every beast of the field, and every bird of the heavens; and brought them unto the man to see what he would call them: and whatsoever the man called every living creature, that was the name thereof." (Genesis 2:19-20a, ASV) God created all the animals because He knew it was not good for man to live alone. He brought forth from the earth every kind of animal and Adam gave them each names. Yet, none were suitable mates for Adam. So, God made woman out of the bones of the man. "And the man said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." (Genesis 2:23, ASV)

It is said that no man is an island, and we can see how true that is from this passage in Genesis. God brought forth man to be in fellowship with Him, with all of creation and with others like himself. God made Adam a partner in His work of creation and then gave Adam the responsibility of caring for everything He created. Then God made a partner for man so that they would live together as one. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." (Genesis 2:24, ASV)

Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of eternity, it took only a brief moment for Man and Woman to destroy the relationship they had with God. They fell for the lies of the adversary and turned from their God. Once the relationship with God was broken, all the others became vulnerable. As we look around the world today, we see so much suffering because sin builds walls and hardens hearts against those whom God has made for one another. Most of all, we suffer because we are not in fellowship with our Creator.

The Jews were dealing with the question of broken marriages. In the Torah, Moses gave the people a law that said it was ok for a man to divorce his wife if she became displeasing to him because he found she had done something indecent. Divorce was legal, but the different theologians in Jesus' day disagreed about the interpretation of this passage. What did it mean to displease the husband, what was considered indecent? Some thought it meant only marital unfaithfulness. Others interpreted this passage to mean anything that displeased the man. He could even divorce her if she just burned the toast. John the Baptist lost his head because he condemned Herod for his divorce from his first wife so that he could marry Herodias.

The Pharisees sought anything they could use to test Jesus, hoping to catch him in some attitude that would disturb the crowds or the leaders and stop his ministry. In the Gospel lesson for today, they came to Jesus with the question about divorce. "Perhaps we can get him to say something negative about Herod and he'll lose his head just like John." At the very least, it was likely Jesus would upset someone who had an opinion about the interpretation of the Law. Jesus turned the tables and asked what Moses commanded them in the Law. "And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away." (Mark 10:4, ASV)

Jesus again turned the tables and made this not a question of their relationships with their wives, but about their relationship with God. "For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment." (Mark 10:5, ASV) How it must have pained Jesus to see how broken His children had become, so broken that they even needed laws to ensure that their brokenness would be handled in an orderly manner. But even the law could not restore relationships, particularly the one between God and His people. Jesus told the Pharisees that while they had the right, and perhaps even good reason, to divorce their wives, they were sinning against God by breaking the relationship. Jesus made it even clearer for the disciples. Anyone who divorces and remarries commits adultery because they have broken what God has put together.

But that's exactly why Jesus came to live amongst His people. He came to restore relationships - first with God and then through His forgiveness with each other. He came to make it possible for people to live in harmony with their Creator, with the creation for which they have been given responsibility, and with each other. We live in a broken world, and even after the cross we still have hard hearts against one another because we have not yet been made perfect. We will still sin against God and one another, divorce will still happen. But while Jesus encourages us to do everything possible to maintain the relationships which God has given us, He has provided the forgiveness we need when we fail. He died on the cross to establish a new relationship with His people, a relationship based on faith rather than law.

The writer of the Psalm was in awe that the Creator of all would be mindful of man. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews applied those words to the One who was worthy of His concern, our Lord Jesus Christ. Before Jesus, God spoke to His people through the prophets and His law, but it was never enough. We were broken and our hard hearts could not hear or obey God's Word. So God sent His Son to purify His people and restore the world. He didn't come to save the angels; He came for you and I. Jesus was worthy to have the whole world submit to Him, everything is His to rule. He was the exact representation of God, the Son who shines with God's glory. He became like one of us, suffered the death we deserve and was crowned with glory and honor as the author of our salvation. By Him we are saved and in faith we become one of His brothers, sons and daughters of the living God.

It doesn't matter who we are. Jesus loves each and every person so much that He gave His life to bring healing to our lives. Society often sets people aside. The Pharisees did not care about the rights of the woman in a marriage. The law was designed to protect the honor of the men. Yet, Jesus recognized women as being equal in the relationship. He cared that they were put out of a relationship in a way that might cause them to sin. He also cared about children, a segment of society that is often oppressed and rejected. When the disciples wanted to send the children away, Jesus told them to let them come. They needed healing and restoration as much as His other followers and they received Jesus with a very special faith. "Suffer the little children to come unto me; forbid them not: for to such belongeth the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall in no wise enter therein." (Mark 10:14-15, ASV)

God created us to be in relationship with Him, with His creation and with each other. Throughout our lives we sometimes fail to maintain those relationships that God has given to us. When we break the connections that link us to others and to all of God's creation, we not only sin against our brothers and sisters, but we sin against God. There is nothing we can do to fix the brokenness of this world, but Jesus can and did. He restored our relationship with God through forgiveness of our sins on the cross. Now, when we look at the stars in the heavens and feel alone in the world, we can rest in His grace with the knowledge that we are not alone. God is with us. He has made us one of His own, an heir to the kingdom of heaven and part of His great and wonderful work in this world. We continue the work of redemption by sharing the Gospel of Christ with those who are broken, bringing the healing of forgiveness to all who will hear. Thanks be to God.

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