10/7/2012: The blessing of relationship

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Mark 10:2-16
19 Pentecost, Proper 22, Year B

The blessing of relationship

God surely has a sense of humor! Some twenty years ago, when my rector at another local parish wanted to bless the animals during the main service inside my church (as we are going to do today), I was that old curmudgeon who didn’t think this was a good idea. Actually, I took the idea as a personal affront. The real issue for me—which I have never divulged publicly until now—is that as a human being I enjoyed a certain status, a certain rung on the hierarchy of creation that was waaaaaaay above any animal’s place. Blessing animals at God’s altar seemed like sacrilege, travesty.

Of course I couldn’t express this view directly. Doing so would have revealed my hardness of heart about animals, my pride of place as a human. So instead I used another excuse against blessing all of God’s creatures. And my alternate excuse was a very good one, one that worked.

Well, God has been working on me over the years. I stand before you a new person, one who has to explain to you how my past thinking was wrong. Yes, God surely does have a sense of humor! Because the thread of my former errant ways is what ties our lessons together today. I’ll tell you up-front that this thread of logic is a distorted understanding of creation and the blessing of relationship, a distorted sense of what these scriptures are saying. In this distorted view:

  • There is a hierarchy in our world. God, our creator, is the highest point in the hierarchy. Now we know that God is not even on the ladder, really, but rather is above and beyond all that God has made. But in this distorted view, God is on the top rung of the ladder.
  • Next are the angels, who are just below the top rung, fighting with us as we try to climb our way through them to God.
  • Then, we humans are just a tad-bit lower—just a smidgen lower—than the angels, almost God, really. Hasn’t God given us dominion over everything in our world? Don’t we humans have so many more capabilities than the other creatures that God created?
  • And, hasn’t God given us, man really, dominion over woman, since woman was created from man?

I have to admit, that at first glance, our lessons today seem to reinforce this distorted way of thinking. But when we step out of this “dominion” mindset, this hierarchy thinking, we begin to see a new way to connect these scripture lessons. The reality that we begin to see is that life is meant to be communal, relational, rather than about hierarchy and dominion and dominance. When we catch this glimpse of reality, we begin to envision creation as the blessing of relationship, the vocation that God has given to us: to be the stewards of creation. When we read our lessons with this new mindset, our new perspective allows us to “see” what we previously had glossed over.

For example, our Old Testament lesson begins with God observing that something had been missing from creation, that creation was not complete, even though God had judged his creation to be “very good.” Man was missing a “helper,” a “partner;” man was missing the blessing of relationship. So, God created animals and birds to be in relationship with man. We Anglicans understand that God is incarnate within all of his creation; God has placed a bit of the very God-essence in everything that is, so that when we are in right-relationship with each other, we are in relationship with God.

When we view the creation account in this way, we begin to notice that the partner who God eventually made for man is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Man is meant to be in relationship, to be the husband all of creation; man is also meant to have a human partner in this endeavor. God, it seems, created all that is to be in communion, to be in community with God and with all that God had created.

Our Psalm today is a song of praise to our creator. Here we thank God for blessing us with life and for honoring us by wanting to be in relationship with us. “What is man that you should be mindful of him?” this Psalm asks, “the son of man that you should seek him out?” Here the mastery that God has given man over creation is not cause for swagger, but cause for awe, that God should task us with being the stewards of all that had been created.

When we turn to our epistle reading—which is an ancient sermon about our Old Testament reading and which quotes today’s Psalm—we should not be surprised to discover that God is in community, too. God’s community is not only with all that he had created, but also with a Son, a Son who is the “exact imprint of God’s very being.” God sent this Son to earth, to join—in person—the community of creator and creation.

In our gospel lesson, some legalists put Jesus to the test by asking him about divorce. According to Jesus, God’s vision for humanity is a world in which there is no divorce, a world in which community and relationship are the norm. However, Jesus’ answer contained a surprise, because—he explained—God had given the Law allowing divorce only because of man’s hardness of heart, our lack of mercy. Jesus insists that God’s will for us is to not get divorced.

Curiously, in our own day we have largely ignored Jesus’ teaching about divorce, even as we have turned this teaching into a law against same-sex marriage. We’ve even used this teaching against single people, as if Jesus had directed that we all be married. We humans, we Christians, are very creative in our avoidance of God’s desire for our lives. God wishes for us to be in right-relationship with others, with all others, especially with the one, our spouse, who completes us and makes us whole. But we humans make laws.

What this part of today’s gospel lesson shows us, though, is that some things that we think of as God’s laws are not what God considers ideal. Rather, God bases his laws for us, in part on what he thinks we can handle. This is what John Calvin called God’s “accommodation” of the ways in which we cannot, in our fallen world, live up to God’s ideals.

This is the tragedy of humankind. We want God’s power, and we want God’s place in creation, but we do not have God’s mercy. But we need mercy to be in relationship, the ability to make allowances for the other to remain in relationship. God has made accommodations for our lack of mercy, made allowances for our hardness of heart. If we are made in the image of God, if we want to be like God, we should pray for God to “Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy,” as we prayed in our Collect today.

“But wait a minute,” you might say, “you’ve left out Jesus blessing the children. How do Jesus and the children fit into this new vision of reality, this vision of community?” In Jesus day, children were considered to be a little lower than the animals. And when people brought their little children to Jesus, he blessed them—he gave the children a preemptive healing; that’s what a blessing is, a preemptive healing—Jesus gave the children a blessing as a sign that they, too, belong in this community that God envisions for us.

Today, we include children as full members of our community; who WE leave out often are the animals that God has placed in our lives. Today we will bless you and whatever animals you have either brought or who you name. In this way we affirm that we are to be at-one with all of God’s creation, not as Lord and Master, but all with the same status—created by God—to be in relation with God and with each other. This is the blessing of creation, the blessing of relationship.

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