19 Pentecost proper B22
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 10:2-16 Sermon
October 7, 2012
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
351 "Love Divine, All Loves Excelling"
518 "If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee"
511 "Jesus Shall Reign Where E'er The Sun"
50 "Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing"
TEXT (vs. 6-9): “6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
Dr. Jay Adams, who is a Christian counselor, tells a true story that I have retold on various occasions. Even though some of you might have heard it before, I'm going to use it again today because it is most appropriate for the subject of our Gospel lesson for this morning.
The story is about a couple that had been married for quite a number of years. They were long-time members of the church, and had raised a family together. For all intents and purposes, they appeared to be the typical Christian family with a good solid marriage.
One day, they went to see their pastor. As they sat together in his office, the husband and wife told him: "Pastor, we're getting a divorce."
This was a total shock to the pastor. So he asked them, "What's wrong? Why do you want to get a divorce?"
The answer came back, "We just don't love each other any more. The spark has gone from our relationship, and we decided that it is time to just move on."
The pastor replied, "You say that don't love each other? You know the Bible says that husbands and wives should love each other."
Their reply to that was, "That's what we mean. We just can't love each other like that any more."
The pastor then stated, "Okay then, let's back this up a step. The Bible says that we are to love our neighbors. As a husband and wife, your spouse is your closest neighbor. How about loving each other as neighbors?"
The couple responded, "I don't think we can do that either. That's just not possible for us."
Finally the pastor said, "Well, if you can't love each other as husband and wife, and if you can't love each other as neighbors, we'll back this up one more step. The Bible says that we are to love even our enemies."
The thing that I appreciate the most about this little story is that there is no excuse for a Christian not to love somebody else. So for a husband and wife to use this as grounds for divorce, it just doesn't work.
This particular couple didn't come to the pastor to have him help fix their broken marriage, or to seek his advice in their lives. They didn't come wanting to hear what God had to say to them in their particular situation. They had their minds all made up, and wanted to somehow get their pastor's blessing on their decision. They wanted to end their marriage with a clear conscience. But what God said in the Bible didn't agree with their ideas.
As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is in a situation where he has to directly address the topic of marriage and divorce. And when we consider God's institution of marriage, we need to be looking for love, and not for loopholes.
I know that divorce has touched virtually everybody's life in one way or another. We've all had family members and friends who have gotten a divorce. You may have even gotten a divorce yourself. And when you consider the odds, that roughly 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, it would almost be a miracle if your life hasn't been touched in some way by divorce. The reasons for these divorces are many; some have been for justifiable reasons, and some have not.
If divorce has happened in your life, I don't want to single you out or beat you up over it. Being a divorced person doesn't automatically put you on God's "black list," or make you a bad person. Sometimes we're victims of bad situations, and we have to pick ourselves up and go on from there. Certainly divorce has hurt a lot of innocent people, and the Christian who experiences this will turn to God for healing and hope.
As we look at our Gospel lesson for today, we have to first consider the situation Jesus was in. He was amongst a group of Pharisees, who were concocting a wicked scheme to trap Jesus with his words. They wanted to discredit him, and make him look like a fool.
The Pharisees didn't care about the issue of divorce. It wasn't really an issue for them. Like today, it was thought of as an unfortunate, but all too common part of life. People married and people got divorced, and they did so for any number of different reasons and irreconcilable differences, just like today. The issue back then, like today, wasn't necessarily on whether or not it was right to get divorced, but rather on how one can rightly divorce. People were asking themselves, "How can we divorce in the cleanest, most respectable, dignified, righteous way? How can we separate amicably, no longer remain husband and wife, and yet perhaps still keep our stuff and remain friends and good, God-pleasing individuals?" Sound familiar?
Okay, so let's try to track the line of thought the Pharisees had. If Jesus says divorce is wrong, then he disagrees with Moses. If Jesus says divorce is perfectly acceptable, then he doesn't care about the sanctity of marriage, and contradicts God and the union God first established with Adam and Eve. God commands that no one should separate that which he has joined together. Whose side is Jesus on?
It doesn't take too much for us to see what these Pharisees were up to. So Jesus cuts right to the chase. "What did Moses say?" he asked. They respond by saying that Moses allowed a man to write the woman a certificate of divorce and send her away.
So what's with this "certificate of divorce" Moses allowed? The Pharisees had their own spin on this subject. They contended that the certificate could be given for two reasons: 1) Adultery, or 2) Any other reason that causes a man to find disfavor with his spouse.
We need to understand that Moses allowed for a certificate of divorce on the grounds of indecency, which is a direct reference to adultery. That's exactly what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson for today. However, the Pharisees went around looking for loopholes. So they re-translated and broadened the word "indecency," so that it meant, "adultery or some other indecency, whatever that indecency may be." Of course, any other indecency was entirely subjective; so it could mean whatever a person wanted it to mean. With a loophole that big, a man could divorce his wife because she burnt the roast they had for supper last night, or some other trivial matter. That's how ridiculous things had become.
Jesus points out that Moses allowed certificates of divorce because of the "hardness of heart." People who were hard-hearted sought only their own good, and not the good of others. They had selfish and sinful motives. We can only imagine what other more serious sins would have happened if Moses hadn't granted divorces. And we should also note that Jesus makes this comment directly at the Pharisees, who were about as hard-hearted as anybody could ever be.
The one thing we need to note is that divorce is not God's will. There are many things that happen in our world that are not God's will. Murder, rape, terrorism, robbery, abortion, euthanasia, and many other sinful acts are not God's will, and divorce is right at the top of the list. God did not institute marriage as something trivial that could be broken at a whim.
God never commands divorce, but he does allow for it in certain circumstances. The sin of adultery is the big one, and that's what Jesus addresses today. We can certainly see how that could ruin a marriage.
The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 gives the other reason. There are a number of verses dealing with the subject; however verse 15 gives us the bottom line: "But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances..."This is what we would call "malicious desertion."
So if a person's spouse leaves the marriage for whatever the reason, then the other party is not bound by the marriage vow. In situations like this, the unbelieving party has no knowledge or appreciation of God's will for marriage. The innocent party cannot be under bondage because of another person's sin.
We live in a society where loopholes and double-talk seem to be the order of the day. Divorces are sometimes regarded no differently than changing a cell phone carrier or an Internet provider. When somebody looks better or offers a better deal, then people will go for it. Just look at the multiple marriages and divorces amongst the celebrities.
And now, we have many elements of society attempting (and sometimes succeeding) in changing the entire concept of marriage to include two people of the same gender. But Jesus very clearly states what God's will is for marriage in verses 6-8 of our Gospel lesson for today: "6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’"
God also promises a special blessing to many husbands and wives. Genesis chapter 9, verse 7 is where God first makes this promise: "As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it." God also says in Psalm 127, verses 3-5: "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. 4 Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them."
Of course we know that God doesn't bless every marriage between a man and a woman with children because of a variety of different reasons. Sometimes marriages are blessed in other ways. That's why we regard "be fruitful and multiply" as one of the blessings of marriage, and not a command of God. Even so, it always takes one man and one woman to produce a child. Same gender couples cannot procreate in any way, shape, or form.
When we as Christians look at God's model for marriage, we need to pay special attention to what Paul writes in Ephesians chapter 5. Verses 25-27 give us some special insight: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish."
God's model of love is shown by the relationship of Jesus Christ with his Church, his fellowship of believers. Jesus came to this earth with a love that we cannot even imagine. His love for humanity resulted in his giving his life to redeem a world steeped in sin. His love transcends all sin, regardless of the size or nature of that sin. His divine love that excels all other love took Jesus to the cross to redeem people the likes of you and me. Jesus gives us true love. Jesus did not try to find loopholes so he could avoid the cross that purchased our salvation.
The Holy Spirit has brought us to faith in Jesus; therefore we are no longer sinful in the eyes of God, but holy, without a spot, wrinkle, or even a blemish. Even as infants, through the waters of Holy Baptism, God gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, which created a saving faith in our hearts. This saving faith he gave us out of love, and we came to know Christ as our Saviour even though we could not form the words to express it.
Jesus has closed every loophole that Satan could create, and saved us through faith alone. Regardless of our past, we have a glorious future because of our faith relationship with him. That's why we can rejoice in the marriage feast of the Lamb, which we will enjoy for all eternity.
When Paul expressed God's will for marriage in Ephesians chapter 5, this was a concept that was not well known in society. Before this time, men regarded their wives as property, to be bartered and dealt with as indentured slaves, at times in less than human fashion.
But Paul points out that husbands are to love their wives in the same way as Christ loves the Church, and that's a pretty tall order. Husbands are to love their wives to such a degree that he would even trade his life for hers. This is a love that doesn't look for loopholes, but lives out in a sacrificial sense that places his wife's welfare above his own.
In my opening illustration today, I talked about the couple who came to the pastor looking for a loophole. They wanted to end their marriage simply because they didn't love each other any more. They were looking to dissolve their marriage on some pretty flimsy grounds.
I don't know how divorce has affected your life, but I know it has to a certain degree. We know that divorce is never God's will, but there are circumstances where he permits it. Even in those circumstances, divorce isn't easy and it's often painful too.
However it has affected you, it is one of those things that you can take to the Lord. You can come to Jesus and know his forgiving and restoring love. Through Jesus, you know that there is a bright future ahead, regardless of what burden you bring to him. You know without a doubt that God isn't looking for loopholes and a way out of his relationship with you, but he seeks you out and will bring you safely home in the arms of your loving Saviour.