Promise Making, Promise Keeping

This week’s sermon Scripture: Matthew 5: 32-32

31 “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Ok, the Sermon on the Mount is pretty well known, even to the non-religious. But once we get past the Beatitudes, the verses become less familiar. But still not controversial, at least for a few verses. I get it. Murder. bad. Murder in the heart, ok, bad, too. Adultery. bad. Lust in the heart? uh, well Jimmy Carter can tell you how publicly acknowledging that one works.

I then wonder how these verses on divorce would go over today in the public square. With the marriage statistics showing more than 50% of marriages ending in divorce, I imagine that most people would acknowledge that divorce is a bad thing. But not necessarily the worst thing. So Jesus’ words about contributing to adultery by way of divorce would seem like it wouldn’t get many votes on the sentiment meter.

This is where my experience as a destination wedding officiant would help the discussion.  With more than 400 weddings to my officiate credit, I can honestly say that hope reigns supreme.  Most couples are still starry-eyed when they say their vows.  Most still look like they are standing before the most important person in their life. Almost all previously married, then divorced, hope that they have been forgiven and have grown past their former missteps in life and love. Almost all are grateful for a second chance and they act and move as if this present promise is for life.

In my wedding homily I often quote Friedrich Nietzsche when he says that what makes us human is that, “we make promises.”  This, to me, is the core of what makes us noble and marvelously made.  Humans can look at another and say, “I do.”  We can then choose to act and live with that future promise in mind.  Our greatest pains are found when someone who has said, “I do.”  turns and acts out, “I won’t.”

God’s great gift to us in our ability to make promises is also our deep pain when those promises are violated.  It tears at us and separates our identity from its moorings.  For the person who has left the promise, it forces them to re-cast themselves into another person.  For the person violated they, too, must pick up the scraps and look for a new source of hope without scars limiting the range of hope. This is no small feat. Most are in for a rough road with many long nights and difficult days unpacking the rhythm of past relationships and then putting healthy focus on the new life ahead.

The only way to recover from this desperate state is to discover the goodness of God and His powerful promise making and keeping.  He said; “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  For many second marrieds, this gift is found in another patient promise maker.  It’s even more helpful if the couple put their focus on the Ultimate,
Benevolent Promise Maker.

The 7th Dumbest Thing I Ever Heard

This week’s Scripture: Matt. 5: 17-20.  17 “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. 18 For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. 19 Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

In Puccini’s opera, “Turandot,” any potential suitor to the Princess must answer three riddles.  Answered correctly, he wins her hand in marriage.  The wrong answer results in getting the axe.  The first question is what is born at night and dies during the day. Calaf, the orphan boy, gets the answer (and eventually the right to marry Turandot) by correctly answering; HOPE.

The cycle of hope is similar to the outrageous road map that Jesus lays down in these verses. Even when the day’s events grind us down and convince us that there is no real foundation for hope, we find ourselves waking the next day feeling the possibility within reach.We maintain hope even in the face of little evidence.

Justice and mercy are seemingly at odds as well. How can we live in a world of law and still exercise mercy? From a philosophical level, Jesus is helping us all remember that the inherent nobility found within the human heart is rendered dissolute without a clear resolution between justice and mercy. Law given by a Divine hand must be the standard but how does the human race live up to the law that is impossible to keep?  The answer is not to do away with the law but to reform the lawbreaker.  To bring new life into law by the power of love.

Hanging on to our divine rights as people is a deadly prerogative. Insisting that we are noble people to the extent that we insist on having our own way is self-destructive and dissonant to society. However, serving others in the way of Jesus keeps the law and offers redemption to the one who has lost hope.Jesus said it this way, “Whoever wishes to save his life must lose it.”  It’s this kind of crazy making that will redeem the world and satisfy the inherent law of our heart.