In Nomine Iesu
St. Mark 10:2-16
October 7, 2012
Pentecost 19-Proper 22B
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~
Dear husbands and wives, congratulations on your marriage! It’s no small accomplishment—getting married, and staying married. You deserve a pat on the back and a whole lot more. But I’m afraid we can’t give you all the credit. Even those of you who have been married for upwards of fifty or sixty years—even you need to realize this wonderful truth about your marriage. You may have done the wooing and the wowing. You decided on the dating. You did the proposing and the accepting. You purchased the rings. You reserved the church. You rented the hall. You sent the invitations. You ordered the cake, bought the dress, rented the tux, hired the photographer, and planned the honeymoon. You did all that and more. But it was God who joined you together.
It was God who joined you to your spouse—for better for worse, for richer for poorer, until death parts you. In, with and under the courtship and dating, the engagement and wedding—God Himself was at work, drawing you and your spouse together. Behind your promises and your pledges to one another, stand God’s promises and pledges to you and your spouse. God’s fingerprints are all over your marriage. Yours is truly a match made in heaven. And even if you don’t believe that or feel that to be the case, then at least take Jesus at His Word. For today Jesus describes your marriage and every marriage as, “What God has joined together.”
If you are married, then know that God Himself has joined you to your spouse. Your marriage is a work of God—maybe even a miracle of God. At the very least, we ought to recognize that marriage—your marriage—is holy. It matters to God. God is using your marriage to change the world. He wants your marriage to proper and flourish. When the marital waters get rough, your God wants to still the storm and bring you peace. Couples facing conflict often feel isolated and alone. But those couples are not isolated or alone! The God who joined them will never leave them or forsake them.
That’s part of the good news from God’s Word today about marriage; and I thought it important to start there, since other parts of today’s text are perhaps a bit more troubling. God’s Word about marriage is challenging, first of all, because a good portion of you here today are not married. There’s nothing wrong with that. Marriage isn’t for everyone. But marriage is God’s gift to the whole world. In many ways, marriage is the God-given glue that holds the world together. It’s challenging to preach about marriage and adultery—about divorce and the “one flesh” relationship between husbands and wives. After all, I don’t want to increase the guilt of the guilty or make the complacent more comfortable. But I do want to give you God’s truth about His gift of marriage. And if you don’t get that truth here, then I don’t know where you’ll get it. So I’m going to trust that God’s Word about marriage will accomplish what God desires—and in whom God desires to accomplish it.
It’s important to remember why Jesus said what He said about marriage and divorce in today’s Holy Gospel. He was responding to a question tossed out by some Pharisees. And they weren’t asking out of a desire to build better marriages; no, they were trying to trip Jesus up with a gotcha question. “Is it lawful,” they asked, “for a man to divorce his wife?” However Jesus answered, He was sure to offend someone. Back in those days, the conservative rabbis taught that a man could only divorce his wife if she had been unfaithful. But the liberal rabbis taught that a man could divorce his wife for practically any reason at all. Even the slightest shortcoming—just burning the roast beef—was grounds for divorce.
Jesus responded by leading the Pharisees back to the beginning—back to Genesis chapter 2. There we see that God is the Giver of marriage—how it was not good for the man to be alone, how God made a woman out of the man’s side and then brought her to the man as a gift, and how the man rejoiced over the woman, declaring, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” God’s giving and man’s receiving is the basis for marriage. Jesus sums it up by quoting directly from Genesis: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” And then Jesus adds, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.”
But ever since the fall into sin one chapter later, human beings have been busy working to separate what God has joined, rejecting what God has given, and revising and re-defining God’s gift of marriage to suit our sinful desires. And nowhere have human beings sought to change things up more, than when it comes to the phrase, “one flesh.”
“[Husbands and wives] are no longer two but one flesh,” said Jesus. That phrase “one flesh” is more than just a figure of speech. It describes how marriage is the closest communion that can possibly exist between two people. It is the union of a man and woman—physically, emotionally, spiritually. And this communion between husband and wife is a closed communion. No one is permitted to drive a wedge between a husband and wife. Anyone who dares to do so—anyone who dares adultery—who subtly seeks to separate what God has joined together—that person will be answerable to God.
That phrase, “one flesh” also tells us another truth about marriage: Marriage is the only proper and God-pleasing place for sexual love to be expressed. Only within marriage can two people, like Adam and Eve, stand before one another naked and without shame. Any sexual relationship between people who are not married is destructive, harmful, and sinful. It separates sex from marriage—separates what God has joined together for our good. Couples who live together without the benefits and blessings of marriage are dishonoring marriage—and dishonoring the God who gives marriage (not to mention setting themselves up for all sorts of marital troubles in the future). And by the way, God’s truth about living together and sex and adultery—it’s just as true for teenagers as it is for senior citizens. No one gets a pass. God gives us His truth about marriage because He loves us and wants the best for us. And His truth about marriage contains no loopholes, no exceptions or exclusions.
In fact, God’s truth about marriage condemns us all. For we’ve all dishonored marriage in our thoughts, words or deeds. And in every marriage, every day, husbands and wives sin against one another and against the God who joined them together. We can go on excusing our sin or hiding our sin, or blaming someone else for our sin, or claiming that everybody else is doing it. Or, we can confess our sin to God, receive His full and free forgiveness, and then make the changes we need to make. God’s forgiveness is always total and complete. But God’s forgiveness is never the permission to go on living in our sins.
In the Scriptures, God gives us a perfect picture of marriage. In this picture, Jesus is the groom and the church is His bride. We are the bride of Christ. But it could have been otherwise. For Jesus could have divorced us. God could have put us all away for our countless spiritual adulteries and infidelities. He could have sent us away for good, and with just cause. Instead, Jesus Christ bore our adulteries on the cross. Our sin was joined to His body. His body was joined to the cross. All of our sin was laid with Him in His tomb. Whatever your personal adulteries and infidelities—whatever the ways you have sought to separate what God has joined together—see that shameful load buried forever in the tomb of Jesus. See it all washed away in the cleansing splash of your baptism.
Husbands and wives, God has joined you to your marriage partner; and God doesn’t make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that your spouse will always be your best friend, or that your spouse will always make you happy. No one can be that spouse. Men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. We’re just struggling sinners, cleansed and redeemed by the blood of Jesus. But as we confess our sins to God and one another, we have an ever-present help. For the God who joins husbands and wives together is surely willing, ready and able to provide your marriage with help and healing and hope and joy. Are you willing to look for that help and receive that help?
Beloved in the Lord, it’s not just a matter of “marriage is good” and “divorce is bad.” It’s a matter of “marriage is holy, and we must all keep it holy with the help of God.” Apart from His help, there’s not much we can do. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” But with the Lord—with His mercy, help, and forgiveness—all things are possible. Amen.