Focus on the Family – I’ll bet you didn’t expect to hear me say that on Diversity Sunday. But families these days are diverse – nuclear families, adopted families, church families, unlike what Family Focus folks would have them be. We no longer live in the worlds of “Leave it to Beaver” and “Ozzie and Harriet.” Apologies to millennials who don’t know what that means, not those phones with dials, manual typewriters, or cheap gasoline.
Over our history St. Paul’s has grown more diverse. I imagine the church of our founders looked different than we do now. Many of us are transplants from other places. Some prefer Bourbon Manhattans, and I understand some among us like sweet tea. We hail from various church denominations and faith traditions. Our education levels differ, as does income, and life experiences. We are different colors, different races. Some find the freedom to be as God created you – and with whom you will be in relationship. We are more diverse now, in more ways, than ever.
A church’s diversity differs from the world’s. The world tolerates differences. We follow Jesus, who seeks and welcomes all. We appreciate, listen to and learn from people who see the world differently. Christ unites and unifies us, making us into his body. If everyone had to look and believe alike, we would be, frankly – BORING. We are diverse, yet one in Christ.
Jesus’ pronouncement on divorce we heard read today has been used to exclude people – making divorced people feel marginalized, even worthless serve in the church. If that thinking prevailed, I wouldn’t be here. I imagine most of us have divorced parents, friends, or been through divorce ourselves. We are, as family in Christ, divorcees; some never married, yet wanted to be; some choosing to remain single – as well as married, blessed, and remarried. Sometimes life circumstances are out of our control. Adjectives don’t define us. God does – we are God’s children, and never forget. A wise friend says, “No one I know gets married thinking they’ll divorce later.”
Maybe we focus on the wrong thing here. Laws were created to accommodate a reality God didn’t intend, like divorce. Yet divorce is not the unpardonable sin some make it to be. Jesus takes us behind the laws to the intention and will of God. God creates us to be in relationship with him and others. Marriage is not the only way. In fact, scripture has many forms of family relationships.
Dishonoring our commitments and relationships isn’t in God’s game plan. We fail. We break promises, for good reasons and bad. We reach limits. Some people’s relationships turn destructive – and divorce sadly becomes a healthy option. We can mess up our lives and others along with us. God intends we live in healthy relationships and communities.
Jesus is the ultimate barrier breaker. He bars the disciples from barring children from him. He even says we enter God’s kingdom like a child. To follow Jesus is to serve and welcome the vulnerable – the different – people he welcomed and healed. We need the gifts of those who differ from us. We include the broken, those at risk, and those who mess up and seek to try again – not because we’re nice, but because that’s what God does. At its best, that’s the church. And deep down, when we realize we are needy children – needing divine blessing and arms around us, then we more able to receive God.
People ask me if God loves them with their imperfections, sin, brokenness and weakness. That’s when I realize we are not all that diverse. We are alike. We all fail at relationships. We break vows and promises. We suffer consequences. We are selfish. We judge others, and fail to reflect on our actions. We exclude people. We make excuses: “We are only human.” We half-heartedly follow Jesus. Our only diversity to God is by the creative ways we manifest our brokenness and sin. You have to wonder, when you think about it, how God puts up with us.
Ultimately, I believe this story is less about us and more about God. It’s about God’s limitless love that never fails – a love so unlike ours. God divorces none of his children. From the beginning God brings us together, holds us in bonds of love, and never separates from us. Jesus even suffers and dies for us – on a cross – to let us know how much God is with us and for us. God never fails. The good news is you are divinely loved wherever and however you are – forever loved by the God, who made you, love to be shared for one another and the divine. God is always faithful – even if we’re not. Jesus consistently calls us all – sinners, marginalized, church people, people who judge and critique others, good people – we can all live better than we are.
Our unity is not in agreement with each other, or being and thinking alike, or being correct. Our unity is in Christ – loving and welcoming all, the stranger and vulnerable; listening, helping outsiders find their belonging with us, in God; and teaching them how to be members of Christ’s Body. If we don’t, would they believe they are welcome and belong here? So, in Jesus’ words, what God joins together – let no one separate. First, that is our relationship with God which then flows into all our relationships, even families. What God joins together, may none of us separate.