A sermon delivered by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo., on October 7, 2012.
The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
I love Donald Miller’s kooky memoir of how he found faith in his book Blue Like Jazz. Here’s how he opens it: “I never liked jazz music because jazz music doesn’t resolve. But I was once outside the Bagdad Theater in Portland one night when I saw a man playing the saxophone. I stood there for fifteen minutes, and he never opened his eyes. After that I liked jazz music. Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It is as if they are showing you the way. (In the same way,) I used to not like God because God didn’t resolve.” Miller sees faith the way the great jazz musicians look at a simple melody. He sees faith as something akin to life itself, “a thing to be explored, a passageway to a treasure trove of even richer melodies, rhythms, and harmonics.”
If we were to map our worship this morning, plotting all the stops and turns and themes, here’s how we might describe it in three movements: The first movement of worship began with jazz & we’ve marveled at the gentle soothing pace of how the two elements of individuality and community create a sacred dance each instrument having its own life, its own unique sounds and music. But individuality is still connected to the shared music of the other instruments. Melodies and harmonies are woven together to make one another somehow better, somehow more alive than if they offered their music alone.
Our second movement of worship comes from the New Testament reading as it takes us through these difficult Jesus teaching stories in which he contrasts the hard teachings on divorce and relational pain with the sweetness of a child, using the child as a teaching lesson that encourages us to never lose the child within, a sense of being we all must somehow find if we’re to live faith.
Does anyone like divorce? I don’t. Never have. Never will. But liking divorce is not the issue. How would it be if we re-read the text and substituted the word “liberate” in lieu of the word “divorce”? Would that make a difference? The word “divorce” in our text may actually be so frozen in meaning that an alternative reading would be helpful as if coming up for a gulp of air while swimming laps. In the Greek, the word we read as divorce is also translated as “to let loose from” or to “let go free.” Literally it is to break free from the bonds of marriage [which implies the most negative and controlling view of marriage to begin with]. A healthy relationship between spouses should never necessitate anyone being owned or bound but how else should we think of it?
So what is there to say on this troublesome subject? First I would note that the bonds of love are everywhere in this church and we are a total marriage church providing a full-service faith community around the making and breaking of “the bonds” of marriage.
Your pastors provide all manner of counseling before, during and after marriages with church members and any others who come calling. We do pre-marital counseling. My advice to young first-timers … call me before you call the lawyers.
- We do interventions with couples.
- We do counseling with all kinds of crises, transitions, sicknesses and deaths.
- We counsel with couples dealing with infidelity.
- We meet couples in our offices and around the coffee pot in homes.
- We meet with couples who are making choices around hidden secrets of other lovers, lost love, and even those coming out of long-hidden closets.
- We do counseling around the bonds of commitment with traditional opposite-gendered couples and same-gendered couples. In the end, everyone’s looking for pretty much the same things … someone to love, someone to give yourself to while at the same time someone who will love you in return. Gay or straight, in the end it’s all pretty much about the same issues.
- We dedicate children & families when a child is born.
- We do counseling for re-marriage when they choose to try again.
- We offer prayers of blessing at anniversary milestones.
- We have counseled with couples when their marriages are boring and lifeless and even when they are confronting the worst fears imaginable.
I suppose we’ve seen it all as we stand ready on behalf of our Lord and this church to meet people where they are, whether they’re tying the bonds of love with one another, or setting themselves free from the bonds that have not made love happy
Nathan Stone, my predecessor in San Antonio, would call this text “a flawed conversation” because the Pharisees are talking about marriage from one point of view while Jesus is talking about marriage from another. Perhaps it’s like the conversations most dysfunctional couples have with one another, each talking loudly and insistently, but neither talking to nor with one another.
The Pharisees were toying with Jesus trying to get him embroiled in a debate that even their own rabbis did not agree upon. One school of rabbinical teaching claimed divorce was justifiable for any displeasure while another insisted it was only justifiable only in the case of sexual infidelity. What they did agree upon was that divorce was available to the men only and that resulted in a terrible plight for the women and children.
Jesus on the other hand, talked about God’s ideal in creation whereby couples were joined together in creation, not in some contractual legal sense, but bound together organically and spiritually. As Jesus described it, it was one man/one woman; “the two shall become one flesh joined together … never to be separated” (Mark 10:7-9).
Jesus moved beyond the rabbinical differences and introduced parity and mutuality. Divorce was not to be a male-only thing. It was also to be a female-thing. Jesus ever the radical one by suggesting that women needed no longer to be victimized by the singular whim of her husband broke through the argument of the rabbis and shattered their limited view.
There’s an art to marriage as there is to any creative activity we humans engage in. It’s an art that demands that we pay attention to the little things as well as the big ones that makes up the intimacy of marriage. That kind of artful living is about our individuality and it’s about our community with one another.
Marriage like jazz is beautiful when it’s done well. Marriage is a reminder of our individuality and our community together.
Finally, in our last act of worship, we end up at the table of the Lord, gathered together to eat the bread and to drink from the cup as a taste test of sacred memory.
When we get to the Table, we realize we’re all welcomed there by none other than the Lord who bids us all to come. At the Lord’s Table, no one is left out suggesting that in God’s kingdom there’s always room for anyone seeking to commune with God and with one another. Let’s prepare our hearts to share the bread and the cup.
 Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003
 Paul L. Metzger, Multnomah Biblical Seminary, liner notes, Miller, Ibid.
 Nathan L. Stone, “Divorce: A Pastoral Perspective,” Lake Shore Baptist Church, Waco TX, 10/9/94
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).