Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
In this Sunday’s lesson from the Old Testament, we hear God take note of the first thing in His creation that was not good: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Comedians and comediennes have made fortunes by observing that His solution was not all that good either: “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife.” But for everything that is wrong or funny about marriage and family, when they are right they are the best gifts, short of Himself, that God ever gave us.
In the Gospel, the Pharisees, apparently aware of Jesus’ unorthodox view of divorce, try to trip Him up with the question, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Jesus turns that particular table on them, but goes on to share His unpopular point of view. He also, for the third week in a row, embraces children.
In the lesson from Hebrews, we read about a very special and very specific family relationship: “Both the One who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”
In an age which has glorified the autonomous individual, our relationships continue to give meaning and joy to our lives and provide the foundation which supports us in trial. In the farm communities of the Midwest, the word “neighbor” (someone whose house cannot even be seen from yours) has a richness and power born of simple caring. Then there is “friend”–a person who knows you and likes you anyway. Finally, for all the pain and frustration and trouble they can bring, those of us who are fortunate enough to have good families reach out to them when the one thing we need most in our hands is another hand. Some of us are blessed enough to have all of these and, no matter what those on Wall Street may suggest, we are the truly rich.
In a chapel address, Joel Lehenbauer, a gifted preacher and assistant executive director of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations, told a touching story about a man who died of loneliness. The medical report would not have stated it that way, but that was, to all intents and purposes, what happened. After his wife’s death, the man had lived essentially as a hermit, shut off from friends, family and fellow church members. Like so many of us, just when he needed others the most, he pulled away.
Not long ago, I told my wife that our pets are often smarter than we are. When our Labrador needs strokes, he gets them. He will rest his muzzle gently on your knee and turn his soft brown eyes to yours and melt you into paying attention to him. If you reject him and run him off, he will obey. But he will soon be back, pushing his nose up under your hand and, sooner or later, he will get petted. When people need strokes, we often withdraw. Unwilling to risk rejection, we spoil any opportunity for love.
It is not good to be alone. We are reminded in Psalm 68 that God sets the lonely in families. More importantly, we are reminded in this Sunday’s lessons that God adopts us into His family. He sent His Son to be our Brother. Jesus is indignant when we keep children from Him and that most certainly would include when we are over 70, widowed, lonely and childishly withdrawing from His love.
I would never want to suggest or even imply that the church should not do everything in its power to lift up and improve marriage and family, but the fact remains that the church is in a unique position to affirm and expand the family of God. The love of the Father who sent His Son to love us as a matter of life and death is even more desperately needed today than it was when He first came.
Jesus pulled no punches when He poked at sin, but there never was a more compassionate lover of those who are in need. Jesus pointed to divorce as an example that there is no such thing as a right to do wrong. A clear example of the ridiculous notion of claiming a right to do wrong is Rome claiming the right to crucify Jesus. But the compassion and mercy of our Lord never shined more brightly than it did at that darkest hour. Now, we who have received God’s love and mercy are called to share it.
Let us do everything in our power to spread the warmth of His love across this world. Far from any negative effects like those associated with another “warming,” this kind of change may even melt the ice from our marriages and reverse our cold indifference to children, born or unborn.