West Baptist Church

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a tale of two texts: Jesus and divorce

March 28th, 2010 by Thalia Kehoe Rowden

I’ve been quite sick this week, and found it hard to do justice to the texts we looked at today.  Lucky for all of us, what the Holy Spirit chooses to do with preaching seems to be pretty independent of its ‘quality’!  If anyone would like to think further about what we discussed today, I thought I’d give a couple of resources here.

Today we looked at Matthew 5:27-32 and 19:3-9, both texts where we are clearly eavesdropping on a conversation we don’t understand.  Jesus says throughout Matt 5 ‘You have heard it said’, but we haven’t – we don’t have a clue, as 21st century Christians, what 1st century Jews were debating when Jesus came along.

I found David Instone-Brewer’s book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, extremely helpful in getting the background to Jesus’ teaching (it’s pretty scholarly, so I’m not recommending that you go and buy it, just acknowledging how helpful it was for my sermon).  It seems that Jesus was affirming the majority position at the time, that couples could divorce for reason of abuse, neglect or unfaithfulness, and that after such a divorce, each partner could remarry. Divorce was painful and problematic but it wasn’t something to bring shame forever after.

And isn’t this just like Jesus, the God of Second Chances? We began by watching this animation of Jesus’ famous story of the Ratbag Son and his welcoming Dad from Luke 15 (and the same group does other animations of Bible texts, just follow the link). God gets excited at welcoming home lost people.  There is nothing we can do that disqualifies us from a second chance.  We have a stack of Get Out of Jail Free cards from God to use 73 times a day if necessary.

And the same is true of people who have gone through the pain of divorce, as many at West have.  The God of grace offers a fresh start.  It’s good news for all of us, I reckon.

If you’d like to think further about how churches can respond to the pain of divorce, I’d highly recommend checking out Brenda Rockell’s excellent sermon on divorce.  She’s the pastor of Cityside Baptist in Auckland, the first kiwi church to start using the You are God’s Servants benediction, so they’re kindred spirits, for sure.

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