What Have We Confirmed? – A Sermon On Mark 10:2-16

Proper 22B – Mark 10:2-16

Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh, Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Proper 22B, Mark 10:2-16, Sermon
The Supreme Court of the United States by Hydetim – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons 

The confirmation of Judge Kavanaugh has been completed. But here’s what I wonder. What have we confirmed?

I am not speaking of Judge Kavanaugh’s qualifications or character. This is about more than particular individuals. We have confirmed more than a new Supreme Court justice. 

  • We have confirmed our divorce from one another.
  • We have confirmed our reliance on procedure over substance.
  • We have confirmed our willingness to talk about each other and our refusal or inability to talk with each other.
  • We have confirmed our focus on what can be done and our blindness to what should be done.
  • We have confirmed our readiness to accomplish an agenda regardless of the costs. 

Some will claim a victory in this confirmation. But let’s be clear, there are no winners in what has happened. As in every divorce there are only victims: Judge Kavanaugh and his family, Dr. Ford and her family, America, the human heart. 

Others will claim that they lost the confirmation hearing. That should be the least of our concerns. Look at what we’ve really lost and what we continue to lose: hope, trust, integrity, equality, authenticity, love for each other. 

This process has been a test, the same kind of test the Pharisees set before Jesus in today’s gospel (Mark 10:2-16). “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Is it lawful for Republicans and Democrats to divorce each other? Is it lawful for me to say of another, “I have no need of or concern for you?” The questions may be different but the test is the same. 

Today’s gospel isn’t really even about divorce. From the start Mark says this is a test. It is not a pastoral question about divorce. The Pharisees are not inquiring about a woman in an abusive or dangerous situation. They aren’t asking about a young couple who through illusion, immaturity, or naiveté made a mistake in choosing to marry. They are not dealing with a marriage that has become spiritually dead, not only devoid of life but destructive of life. They are not focusing on the spiritual or emotional well being of the couple. 

They want to know Jesus’ view on the state of the law. Is it lawful? Can this be done? Jesus is clear, however, that this isn’t about the state of the law but the state of their hearts. The Pharisees tell Jesus that Moses allowed for a certificate of dismissal, a divorce. And that, Jesus says, was “because of the hardness of your heart.” 

Just as he did last week and the week before Jesus is deepening and moving the conversation inward. The issue in today’s gospel is not divorce, it is hard heartedness. And if the Kavanaugh hearings have confirmed anything, it is our hard heartedness. 

Hard heartedness lives in an economy of right and wrong, and its currency is self-justification, defensiveness, privilege, blame, name calling, and finger pointing. We read and see that every day. 

Bipartisanship is not the answer to what is happening in our country. That’s just another transaction. “You get this and I get that. You can do this and I can do that.” We might balance the books but hearts are not changed, a new day does not dawn, a new life is not lived.

Let’s not settle for a reconciliation of what has happened; either within ourselves or between each other. Reconciliation is nothing more than the final decree of divorce, the terms under which we agree to continue living unchanged, hard heartedly. It still leaves us divided and the two still have not “become one flesh.”

We need the dawn of a new day, a new way, a new life. We need the possibility of the impossible. We need forgiveness. Reconciliation is a negotiation and settlement of the past. Forgiveness, however, releases us from the past. Forgiveness repairs the past not by undoing it, but by letting us step into a new day, a new way, a new life. 

I am not talking about a forgiveness that says, “I will forgive only when you have confessed, feel bad about what you have done, made restitution, and resolved to never do this again.” That’s just another transaction, another balancing of the books, another reconciliation. I am talking about forgiveness as unconditional, as pure gift, as an act of love. We write off the debt. We wipe away the offense. We release the other to go in peace. 

This kind of forgiveness is sheer madness. It means forgiving even when the offender has not confessed, or continues to sin, or is not deserving of forgiveness. What if we did not view change or repentance as the prerequisite for forgiveness, but understood forgiveness to be a gift of love that offers another the freedom to change and repent (or to not)? This kind of love, this kind of forgiveness, will always overcome the economy of right and wrong. It sounds crazy to even consider this. It make no sense and it’s not the usual way of thinking about forgiveness. It’s not the usual way most of us offer forgiveness. But it is Jesus’ way of forgiveness. 

Unconditional forgiveness received let’s me become like a child. Unconditional forgiveness given lets another become like a child. This child, like the children that Jesus takes into his arms in today’s gospel, is representative of a new beginning, a new life, a new possibility. “It is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

God help us if we look at what has happened and see only the confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice. God help us if we look at what has happened and do not see a confirmation of our heart’s need and our nation’s need for forgiveness. God help us in this work because it is, at least for me, a struggle every day. I don’t know where to begin or how to do this. I only know that I must and that we must. That much we have confirmed.

9 thoughts on “What Have We Confirmed? – A Sermon On Mark 10:2-16

  1. If we can put principles above personalities, we should be able to speak about what the role or job should entail, and whether the candidate fulfills the criteria. There are many excellent conservative judges who would fulfill the criteria for the job. If we think about the problem of sexual assault, and how ubiquitous it is, (for millenia, most likely), the onus falls on our legal system to help remedy the social rules which might make rape, incest, assault, and even harassment less crippling to almost half the women in the country, and a good portion of young men. But we did not do the work to remedy the social problem and we did not do the work to actually give “due process” to the person who will sit on that court with a life-time appointment. I have researched the current status of the “Violence Against Women” act. It was set to sunset on Sept. 30 if the Republican majority would not renew it. Luckily, enough helped the Democrats to get an extension until Dec. 7. So far, NO Republicans have signed it. And today, we were informed by our congressman, that reproductive rights were eliminated from the human or civil rights, by the Republicans in Congress. We have a new Supreme Court justice who thinks that contraception is abortion. We have an entire congress full of old men who do not seem to mind that sexual assault is still ubiquitous, and that more than 68% of young women have been harassed if not assaulted by the time they leave high school. We have a president who is personally a sexual assaulter, and who ridicules the victims. One of the best things that happened this week was that the National Council of Churches came out asking for the withdrawal of Mr. Kavanaugh, and against his confirmation. This was for some of us a huge win, that some Christians are standing up for women and girls, and saying NO MORE to sexual assault. The other best thing, IMHO, is that America magazine, the Jesuit magazine, withdrew their previous endorsement of Judge Kavanaugh, after they saw how he behaved in the Senate hearing. What we need now is more help exposing the problem and getting to truly go through DUE PROCESS, which would be a full FBI investigation, asking the people who were waiting to speak, not just whoever they decided they could ask something of. And it would be great if someone would stand up and start talking about how alcoholism is a family disease, and that it uncouples executive brain function so that a drunk person may do things they would never do sober. Also that black-out drinking is a serious sign of advanced alcoholism, even in a very young person, and it’s hallmark is that one doesn’t remember what happened, because the brain erases memory in that state of inebriation which is pre-fatal.
    Once we go through this exercise of real “due process” we may find that we are more united than we thought, and that most of us believe that violence against women needs to be recognized, and that behavior like that doesn’t change without serious effort, such as joining a 12 step program, and working to be a person with behavior which shows respect for others. I pray that this is the long-term outcome of this week.

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      1. I am sorry you have lost a listener due to me. I have been grappling with the problem, because of my 40 years in gynecology, listening to and trying to help heal hurt women. I do not think we are done with this issue, nationally. And we really need to renew the “violence against women act”, and extend it to young men who are also targets of abuse. We need to do concrete actions to show love. WWJD is a good rule to follow in this time. I am now able to pray for both the victims and the perpetrators, even though the anger comes to me along with the tears, I pray through it.

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        1. Thank you Martina but I don’t know that it was because of your comment. It may very well be something I wrote or completely unrelated to either of us. I appreciate your commitment to and work with women. There is a lot of pain in the world and much work to be done.

          God’s peace be with you,
          Mike+

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  2. The writer made many great points to which we all can agree except many assertions are wild and likely wrong. i.e. we dont have any reason to reach any conclusion that we now have a new Supreme Court Justice that believes contraception is abortion. Judge Kavenaugh’s judicial record is judicial mainstream. His decisions were the same as Obamas SC Justice nominee 95% of the time. And dont cram the National Council of Churches down our throats, their liberal policies dont the policies of the majority of my Denomination. And before you use the bar established by the Catholic Church., youd better look at the Cultural disaster their Celibacy has caused. They need help worse tha all.

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    1. Thank you for responding. I agree about sexual abuse in the clergy, and I think that is why the editors at America took the stance they did, trying to not “rubber stamp” a person who looks very much like the clerical abusers. Alcohol is a problem there, also. The reason I said that about contraception is that Judge Kavanaugh has said that. I was angry about this appointment, and what I felt was not due process. On the other hand, I am a person of faith, and I will be praying for both him and his family, and the country. I do not think he is mainstream in his judgements, and I worry about his being more for corporations than for individual citizens. The country is split, as Rev. Marsh said, we did not get to work through the issue. The fundamental problem of it will continue to plague us, and that was what I tried to say.

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