October 3: Worldwide Communion Service

Readings from the Scriptures  (CEB)  Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?”

Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.” Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts. At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.” 10 Inside the house, the disciples asked him again about this. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”  13 People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. 15 I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.”  16 Then he hugged the children and blessed them.

Pickles and Peanut Butter                       Rev. Chris Fickling

Try as we might, there are some passages of scripture that are obvious remnants of the past, such as today’s reading from Mark 10.  But before we discard the whole text, let’s look at the parts separately, pulling apart this pickle and peanut butter sandwich,[1] into their respective parts.

The first part presents the pickle: divorce is awful.  No one chooses it without rippling pain through many relationships.  And Jesus’ judgement filled pronouncement doesn’t make it any easier, but these words reveal that divorce was much a part of Jesus’ time as it is ours.  The comments about adultery were part of the ‘purity code’ of ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 24) which complicate things further and honestly, end up being a lecture rather than a sermon.  For those whose lives have never been touched by divorce, I can say as a child of divorced parents, I didn’t understand then what I do now.  Marriage is difficult.  Relationships take work.  Divorce is problematic but sometimes it’s the only way.  There can be good divorces where a couple are better friends than partners, but this text remains in our scriptures to make us question, what is your responsibility to someone else?  Because after relationships fall apart, responsibilities remain.  Biblical men, those whom their culture decided were the only ones to provide for others, gave a potential death sentence with divorce papers.  Walking away from their families was commonplace.  Since Jesus’ time we’ve created laws and repercussions to protect those disenfranchised and destitute after divorce, we’ve realized that staying in toxic or unhealthy marriages isn’t the solution either, as sticking together isn’t good for everyone. 

Which brings us to the peanut butter, and why the story of the children is attached to this first text. 

Mark 10: 13 People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. 15 I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he hugged the children and blessed them.

The Gospel of Mark, the shortest of the gospels, lacking the other gospels’ embellishments and explanations, goes out of its way to mention children here in chapter 10 in addition to the few times they were featured in chapter 9.  This kind of repetition is significant.  It’s the ‘every child matters’ of Jesus’ time, not for what they can add to society, but instead for who they are.  Discarding children, women and others who by Biblical society would not be counted as “productive” or “contributing,” in Jesus’ words, is the equivalent of discarding the kingdom of God.  It’s missing out on the goodness of life.  It’s treating them and others as superfluous to creation – instead Jesus says, it’s all good.  It’s all needed.  All bear the likeness of God.  All bring about the kingdom.  This is an important teaching integral moreso as we have just passed our first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. 

It pains me to read this text knowing that so did those who instituted and taught and harmed children through the residential school system.  They read this text and believed they were helping the children.  Or helping them come to Jesus.  But those adults leading the residential school system were no different than the disciples scolding the parents bringing children forward.  They missed the point.  They didn’t hear Jesus.  They didn’t understand his teaching of the kingdom. 

So what do we do with this pickle and peanut butter sandwich of a text?  I think it perfectly introduces our October theme of gratitude.

Without exaggeration, this year has been hellish.  Health care workers still cannot find peace, businesses and front line workers are increasingly put in the firing line for those with misguided anger towards proof of vaccination, and as we experienced at our reopening meeting this week, things still are so complicated.  With numbers low in the region, it’s easy to become complacent, but after my household went through a potential exposure last week, it’s a sobering reminder that this isn’t going away.  We shouldn’t live in fear, nor do we ignore the countless ways that have emerged to keep everyone safe.  We hold in tension the not-so-good and the good, because this is how we fully embrace gratitude.

 Gratitude is not a psychological or political panacea, [or a one-size-fix for all of societies’ ills] like a secular prosperity gospel, one that denies pain or overlooks injustice…because being grateful does not “fix” anything. Pain, suffering, and injustice—these things are all real. They do not go away. Gratitude, however, invalidates the false narrative that these things are the sum total of human existence, that despair is the last word. Gratitude gives us a new story. It opens our eyes to see that every life is, in unique and dignified ways, graced: the lives of the poor, the castoffs, the sick, the jailed, the exiles, the abused, the forgotten as well as those in more comfortable physical circumstances. Your life. My life. We all share in the ultimate gift—life itself. Together. Right now.[2]

We cannot ignore the awfulness of the world, but neither can we neglect the healing work of gratitude.  Jesus in welcoming the child, welcomes the reality of his moment – the ultimate gift – life itself, and with it the runny noses, the sticky fingers, the pickle and peanut butter sandwiches of pain and joy intermixed.  Buddhists will teach of embracing suffering rather than avoiding it – the idea that to pretend life is ok takes more work than accepting it for its flaws.  We don’t embrace gratitude as glossing over the very real suffering of this time.  Instead, gratitude gives us a new story…for despair, even divorce, is never the last word. 

When we embrace the new story that gratitude can teach us, we begin to hear the words of Jesus proclaiming that God’s kingdom belongs to people like these…as he looks to you and I, bearers of God’s kin-dom come, knowing that just over the horizon of this whole covid mess, there will be life abundant again.  But until that time comes, your life. My life. We all share in the ultimate gift—life itself. Together. Right now. And I’m so grateful to be sharing it with you.


[1] https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/12887-peanut-butter-and-pickle-sandwich

[2] Butler Bass, Diana, Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks

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