Ask Almost Anything AGAIN!! (I will never get tired of this!)

Is divorce a sin?

When I first set out to answer this question, I thought that it would be one of the “easier” ones for me to tackle.  I have been through a divorce and I believed that I had thought through the issue fairly well.  On top of that, our denomination is fairly clear on the topic with a stance that does not condone divorce yet at the same time offers hope to a person who is facing or been divorced.  It is a stance that I would say reflects my personal views as well.

“God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage.  The church must be on the forefront of premarital, marital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages.  However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful  consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness…Divorce does not preclude a new marriage.  We
couple-arguingourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God’s grace is shared by all.”  (Book of Discipline, electronic edition page 161)

What happened as I began to answer the question, though, was that I began to recall very vividly the “struggle” I had when I was going through my divorce.  Although no one in the church ever spoke a word of condemnation to me, I “felt” it.  Most likely what I was feeling at the time was a combination of guilt brought on by thinking I had “failed” and some misunderstandings of my own concerning Scripture.

When you read the New Testament passages that speak about divorce and especially about divorce and remarriage, it is extremely clear that both are considered sinful.  (It appears to me that there are four main passages in the Gospels that deal with the issue of divorce – Luke 16:18, Mark 10:1-12, 1 Corinthians 7:10 and Matthew 19:1-12.)  The clearest of these passages, the Matthew reference, says flat out that a divorced person who remarries is committing adultery.  At that time in my life, age 23, I could not even imagine going through life single.  And yet, when I was reading the Bible, I knew that to remarry would mean that I would be breaking one of the commandments.  I knew the United Methodist position, but just couldn’t make all the “bad feelings” about myself go away.

To me it was pretty clear, Scripture said that divorce is wrong and remarriage after divorce is sin.  Our denomination said that divorce doesn’t preclude a new marriage.  How could that be?  Wouldn’t the person who divorced and remarried be living in perpetual sin?  Wouldn’t they need to “repent” and change their way, their life and stop the sin that they are committing?

I searched the Bible for some way to say that it would be okay for me to one day remarry but I couldn’t find anything.  Yes, my divorce did meet the slim criteria set forth in Matthew for the possibility of remarriage but I didn’t want my eternal life hinging on the reasons my first marriage ended.  A lot of times – and this was certainly true in my case – infidelity in a marriage is just a symptom of something deeper being wrong.  I couldn’t trust my eternal life on how we look at what went wrong.  I needed assurance!

sign2treeIt wasn’t for some quite some time that I began to understand that my problem was in how I was reading the Bible.  I was looking for a tree – God was offering me the whole forest.  It happens each and every time we look at the Bible for some “pat answer” to what is right and what is wrong and how that affects people who follow Jesus.

Romans 13:8-10 says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”  The single most important thing we do as Christians is told to us in this passage – love one another!  (Now, I know some would say, “Preacher, that’s just looking at a different ‘tree’ and basing your eternal life on it.’”  In one way I would say, “Yep.  Sure is.”  In another way, though, this passage isn’t so much a “tree” as it is a “sign” pointing us to the forest God gives us.  If you have any doubts, just read John 3:16 AND 17!)

I can tell you this much…there was no way for me to remain married and “love” my first wife.  Besides the child we gave to this world, the most loving thing we did for each other was ending our marriage!

And the way I feel about my present wife, Pam?  Well, suffice it to say that one of the greatest gifts I have ever received from God is the gift this Godly woman is to me.  After meeting Pam and getting to know what a gift she was to my life, it would have been silly for me to reject her based on the passage from Matthew.  I would have practically been denying God’s love for me not to accept the love he was sending me through Pam.  Marriage was not just an option…It was a fulfillment of the love God had for me!

So, is divorce a sin?  Yes, it most certainly is.  The question that wasn’t asked is this: “Can a divorced person remarry?”  Yes.  They most certainly can.  We would have to stand in judgment of a person for the rest of their life because ojerry-maguiref the “sin” of divorce if we deny them the right to remarry when God brings someone into their life that most certainly makes them complete – “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6 (Not Jerry Maguire!)

I hope this answer was worth the wait…next question?  “How was there nothing in the beginning?”

Ask Almost Anything (Leftovers Again…)

One question that came up during the Ask Almost Anything sermon series – where I received text messages and emails from the congregation during and after worship and answered those questions during the sermon time – was a question that I believe is very basic to our understanding and living of the faith: What is the definition of a “Disciple”? 

Now, when I first saw this question, I didn’t notice that the word had been capitalized.  My immediate (and as usual, sarcastic, response) would have been: “I don’t know…why don’t you try looking in a mirror!”  🙂

However, I think the person askikitten-or-lion-which-is-itng this question is looking on two levels.  First, I think that they want to know what the definition of a “Biblical Disciple” was in the days shortly after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  There has always been some interest in identifying the “Twelve” and distinguishing them from others who followed Jesus and giving further distance to those who made up the “crowd.”

This first part of the question can be answered fairly briefly: a “Disciple” is one of the Twelve, was  one of those  Jesus called to follow him and who were witnesses to his resurrection.

A second a deeper part of this question, I think, has to do with what makes one a disciple of Jesus today.  And the answer begins in the same way…those who are called by Jesus to follow him and who are witnesses to the power of the resurrection in their lives.

There does need to be a sense of “calling” for someone to be a disciple.  Those callings come in many ways.  Some hear or feel the presence of God leading them to some deeper relationship to him that is found in Jesus.  Others feel some sort of void or absence in their life that only the presence and calling of Christ to become a part of something bigger than themselves can fill.  Either way…a person is called.  (I guess in United Methodist circles, we would call this the grace of God at work in our lives even before we are aware of it – something called prevenient grace.)

A disciple also should be able to show that they are witnesses to the power of the resurrection.  (The original “Twelve” did the same, however, they were also physical witnesses to that resurrection.)  I like to think about it like this…As those who have heard some call from Jesus and answered it to follow him, we discover that this man chose to give up the power of heaven to become human while remaining the very Son of God.  As that person who walked, talked and taught among other humans, Jesus found himself constantly on the outside of both religious and political power by introducing us to a new way of seeing the Kingdom of God being present with those around him.  Eventually, Jesus was arrested and killed on a cross for the sin of humanity – failure to see the power of God at work in the humbleness of the servant Jesus, the servant God who wants to be in relationship with each and every one of us.

In a very real and powerful way, Jesus showed his love for all human beings by allowing himself to become this sacrifice for us.  God accepted that sacrifice and resurrected Jesus to show that death – the ultimate price of sin – would no longer hold power over anyone who followed Jesreflections-in-mirror 1us.  We become witnesses to the power of the resurrection not when we talk about the glory of heaven or about the gift we will receive for following Jesus, but when we do the very same thing Jesus did – love one another as he loved us.

So, the brief answer for the second way of looking at this question can be found in John 13:31-35.

You can know a disciple…by the way she or he loves.  Short and simple.

Until the next question…keep heading towards home!!

Ask Almost Anything (Leftovers…)

Over the course of receiving questions in our three week series of “Ask Almost Anything’ – a series where this preacher took anonymous text messages and emails from people in the congregation and community and answered them during Sunday worship – many topics came up.  Some of them came up  more than once.

During the first week, I received a question concerning “dinosaurs and creation.”  I tried to answer it broad enough to cover most of the questions that arise when science and the creation stories or other Biblical pericopes (stories that stand on their own within the Biblical text) seem to come at odds with one another.  However the following question was sent in at the end of both that first week and during the third week.

  1. When God created Neanderthals did he create them as animals or humans?

So, I think I wiIMBR-00228365-001ll revisit the topic a little.

It is important to remember that when we read the book of Genesis it is difficult to tell exactly how creation took place.  In Genesis 1:1 through 2:4a, we have one story of Creation:

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.adam-eve

28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude.

(Keep in mind that any chapter and verse divisions that appear in our Bibles are actually a MUCH later addition to the original manuscripts.  Because of this it is very apparent that verse one of Chapter Two is the ending to the story found in Chapter One.)

This story – the story of the Creation of the world in “six days” with “rest” proclaimed for the seventh, holy, Sabbath day is probably be the best known of the two Creation stories in Genesis and is the one that follows a “day by day” account of Creation.  It is “ordered” in such a way that many people have memorized what was created on each day and the Creation was not complete until the first man and first woman were created.

We know without a doubt that a second story about Creation is coming in the second half of verse four of Chapter two where it says: “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground…”  The language is clear.  Creation had not yet begun in this story.  Some very well meaning folks will attempt to say that Chapter two is just an “explanation” of the Creation story found in Chapter One, but a clear easy reading of the chapters just will not allow that assumption.  Look at the rest of the second Creation story:

 then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

10 A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12 and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” 19 So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”

It cannot be an explanation of the first story for the “order” of Creation is totally and completely different.  In story One, humankind is created last.  In story Two, man is created, then animals and finally woman.  They just don’t fit together.

So?  What does it mean for us to have two basically contradictory stories about Creation in the opening chapters of our Bible.

It really is not all that complex…We just don’t know exactly how God went about creating the heavens and the earth.  What we do know is equally simple to point out – God created them.

The next question we have to ask is “where does the Neanderthal” fit in either one of these stories.  We cannot dismiss their existence – we have found proof that they not only were on earth but that they also formed communities, hunted and even had “religion” in their life – burial ceremonies and artifacts point to worship of some kind.  The Neanderthals were real.

However, the Bible’s Creation stories make absolutely no mention of them, so there is no real way for us to know if the Neanderthal was “human” or “animal.”  We simply know that for some reason that is not covered by the Bible, the Neanderthal was “created” by God.

At times, we want Scripture to either explain science or vice versa.  Neither of these is being true to what the other is supposed to do.  Scripture is revelation of God given to us through human beings who are sometimes centuries removed from the events that took place.  Science is the observation of the world around us.  There is a lot of mystery between the two.

It is important, I think, not to allow scientific explanation to “take away” from the mystery of God’s creative power.  I also think it is equally important not to allow religious belief to dismiss science as untrue.  We can no longer deny scientific observations any more than we can stop breathing.  Those observations are there and we must deal with them.

The fact is that our Creation accounts make no mention of “Neanderthals.”  (Sure…some could speculate that this group is another part of God’s creation that may have provided spouses for the children of the first man and the first woman – but the Bible doesn’t say that either…It would be pure speculation on our part.

What we can be sure of is this…God created the Neanderthal (and any other sub-specie we may find and identify).  The Bible does not tell us whether they are human or animal, so we are left to make up our own mind given the great intellect that God has given us.

So, don’t let those seeming contradictions between religion and science throw you!  God created.  We observe.  We attempt to understand.  In those attempts we must be careful to hold onto what Jesus told us to do with one another – love each other – even in the face of disagreement.

Did God make the Neanderthal?  Yep.  Did God make the Neanderthal as an animal?  We don’t know.  Did God make the Neanderthal as a human?  Once more we don’t know.  God creates…that is all we know from these stories.

(Oh…that and the fact that even God took time off from Creation AND that the creation of humankind was never complete until both male and female were created…but that is probably a different question!)