Psalm 8 and Mark 10:2-16
See below for a video version of this sermon
“Change” by Rainer Maria Rilke
Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.
The artist, when sketching, loves nothing so much
as the curve of the body as it turns away.
What locks itself in sameness has congealed.
Is it safer to be gray and numb?
What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.
Pour yourself out like a fountain.
Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.
Every happiness is the child of a separation
it did not think it could survive. And Daphne, becoming
dares you to become the wind.”
Why indeed, do you (God) bother with us?
I have asked that so often at night
as I look into the umbilical channel
between me and God,
between us and it,
between known and unknown.
I’ve asked why bother with us
in the early light
shimmering on the lake
piercing the squint
protecting my eyes
from glistening jewels
dancing before dog and me.
I’ve asked why bother with us
shyly, between the lines.
Why would God bother with us —
dust mites of star dust
on some anonymous planet
in a small solar system
and an even smaller galaxy?
As a species
we are like, as Agent Smith says
in The Matrix,
more like a virus than
But hey, individually we’re kind of cut.
Look at us.
Sticking with that image for a moment,
I think what so much of the sacred text
is trying to tell us is, “You can change.
You need to change. Here is how you change.
Don’t be a virus upon the planet.
Don’t be a virus that destroys other species.
Don’t be a virus that infects other humans
with your dark matter
and your corrupting influence.”
Wow, put like that,
because we are in a pandemic
and we see how easily a virus spreads,
maybe it will cause us to take a second look at ourselves,
and our species,
and at what we are and how we act.
Psalm 8 and the Rilke musing
are much more compelling to me right now
than unpacking Jesus’ seemingly
retrograde teaching on divorce.
But those verses left to themselves
are nasty and unsettling
for anyone connected to a marriage breakup.
But I would remind us
we have left Jesus in the dust many times.
”Turn the other cheek.”
”Sell all you have and follow me.”
”If your eye offends, pluck it out.”
”Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Ha! ”Love yourself.”
I could go on and on and on
naming the simple teachings of Jesus
that are both ignored and refuted
The fact is, we do not pay that much attention
to Jesus and in indeed,
it seems like those who preach about him the most
pay the least attention to him.
All of which is to say
that I don’t really want to spend a lot of time
unpacking this gospel
any more than I wanted to unpack
last week’s “if your hand offends, cut it off.”
But…I will do a drive-by unpacking.
You may remember my talking about this before,
how the question Jesus was really being asked,
was whose side is he on — Hillel or Shammai?
The two great Teachers of Israel
from the previous generation
dominated theological thinking in Jesus’ day.
They had argued about the proper justifications
It was not a matter of if,
At stake in this argument,
at least in part,
was how the wife was to be treated.
Though neither Hillel or Shammai
saw husbands and wives as equals.
Jesus, as usual, didn’t side with either one.
He cut his own path through the thicket.
He changed the nature of the conversation.
He basically said, by implication,
”Look, you may have a legal means for divorce,
but when two have become one,
it is an amputation.”
He is recognizing the trauma of divorce.
Some say he is trying to protect women.
Some say he raising Genesis above Deuteronomy.
We don’t really know
any more than we know why God
would bother with us.
But now I want to go back to change.
”Want to change. Be inspired by the flame
where everything shines as it disappears.”
Oh my, Rilke is so brilliant.
Want to change.
Not tolerate it
or come grudgingly into it.
Want to change, inspired by the fire.
Yes, change involves loss
which is why we hate it.
But resistance to change
involves decay — as in, we decay
as we actively resist the change
that is inviting us into the fire.
”What turns hard becomes rigid
and is easily shattered.” Rilke warns.
“Every happiness is the child of separation
it did not think it could survive.”
is the child of separation
it did not think it could survive.
we have the opportunity to wake up
Every day we can ask ourselves
if we are just trying to hang on
and keep what we have
or if we are letting go.
Our every instinct is to hold on
and clutch what we have
and what we know
and not let go of anything
we don’t have to.
But that is the posture of a virus.
It is the holding on
and grabbing more
and making sure no one gets what’s ours
that turns our species from cute mammal
to death dealing virus.
I don’t have any special tricks
for how to let go
or more precisely, how
not to resist change.
I’m only a preacher —
I can only tell you what’s on the cue card
I was given.
But what I know
is that more than any other spiritual practice,
becoming open to the flame
that makes everything shine as it disappears,
is the most important.
I also know
that much if not most
of our religious tradition
has been geared toward holding on
and clutching what it had.
I believe that is why it is decaying
instead of leading the way forward.
It really does come down
to how we think,
and how we frame our lives
and the world we live in.
Will we wake up in the morning
and clutch what we have
and fret about what we might lose?
Or, will we wake up
to be open
and trust-fall into the change
in and around and among us?
Mammal or virus?
I truly do not know why God would bother with us
but I do know God does,
and I do know that God cares which we are
and which we become.