October 4th, 2015
"Christ on Marriage and Children"
Dearly beloved, Jesus speaks to us today of marriage. And while our culture has its own ideas about marriage, our Lord, who created and established it, knows and speaks the truth of it.
For the culture, marriage may be a blessed arrangement, a dream within a dream... romanticized and idealized at times, but also ridiculed as a sad end to the freedom and revelry of single life. An agreement between two people (or maybe more), now of any gender, to “love each other” whatever that means to them. It is meant to be permanent, kind-of. It is meant more for self-fulfillment than self-sacrifice. The wedding day becomes a show of self-expression, where super-hero themed outfits, sports idolatry and scuba diving officiants barely raise an eyebrow. But where, in it all, is the Lord who created and blesses marriage?
And so it shouldn't surprise us that divorce quickly becomes an option. So it was for the ancient Jews, so it is for the modern Americans. Jesus' teaching on marriage could not be more timely for us.
Single people – those not yet married – don't tune out here. For by leading a chaste and decent life you honor your future spouse. And to those who are widowed... you, also, are to keep marriage sacred even though death has parted you from your spouse. You, too, can still honor marriage by hearing Jesus' words today, and by upholding and supporting those around you in their marriages and families.
So we come to our text. The Pharisees can't trip up Jesus. He is the one who puts men to the test, not the other way around. So here, as always, their attempts to trap and trick him fail.
But there's more to this than Jesus besting them in a theological debate. There's instruction on marriage and family. There's teaching on sin and blessing. And there's hints of a deeper reality that comes in the kingdom of God through Christ – where the marriage is forever, and the children are eternally blessed.
Their question about divorce reminds me of my 7th grade confirmation students asking, “Is this a sin? Is that a sin?” It is the little legalist in all of us that wants to know what can we get away with? How far can I push the limits of the law, and still be good to go? Behind that is the assumption that if we simply avoid this or that, we can avoid sin and justify ourselves. If divorce is a sin, then just don't get divorced, and you haven't sinned. But if divorce is permitted, and all you need is a certificate, then get the paperwork and you're free and clear, right?
Wrong, according to Jesus. He takes them, and us, back to the source, the foundation of marriage – he takes them back to Eden. There, God created male and female. There, God instituted the one flesh union of marriage, and blessed it. There, and then, he established for us something that holds great blessing and something that should not be put asunder. So the question begins not with do's and don'ts, but with the free blessing of God for us. Sadly, we don't always receive God's gifts as the blessings he intends.
Jesus pulls no punches, so let's not either. Yes, divorce is sinful. It is a painful reality in a sinful world. And it is a sin which Christians too often give a pass. “Oh they were just too different”. “They grew apart.”. “They couldn't make it work”. We treat divorce as something that just happens by chance. We say it's nobody's fault. But sinners do sinful things that lead to divorce. Jesus says it is because of hardened hearts.
And other sinners gloss it over, so as not to make anyone feel bad. But providing cover for a sin by acting like it's not a sin, is just as sinful. There's plenty of guilt to go around, and ample reason for all of us to repent. Even for those of us “happily married”, do we honor God's gift of marriage as we should? Do wives submit to and their husbands as to the Lord? Do they respect their husbands as they should?
Do husbands love their wives as their own bodies, nurturing and caring as we should? Do we lay down our lives for our wives? Paul's instructions for marriage in Ephesians could accuse us all. And if our marriage was compared to the scrutiny of our marriage vows, how many of us love, honor, and cherish as we should?
We all stand condemned. We all dishonor the gifts God gives. We all seek to put God's blessings asunder.
Jesus is not in the business of seeing people divided, separated, torn apart. He is about making whole, making one, reuniting and reconciling. Not only sinner to sinner, but sinner to God.
In Christ, God and man are made one – even in the person of Jesus. True God and true man – being of the substance of the Father, but conceived in the flesh of man in the womb of Mary. God and man are “joined together” in the incarnation, a not so subtle indication of his overall mission to bring God and man, once separated by sin, back together forever.
In Christ, God reconciles the world to himself. At the cross, even as his body is broken, Jesus repairs, restores, revives and renews. Even when we were enemies, outsiders, and wanted nothing to do with him, he sought us and made us his own.
We are united to him, buried with him and raised with him in Baptism. We are united with him and each other in the Holy Communion. There, we are together with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven. There, we are united in a physical but mysterious way with our Lord, with his Body and Blood.
What God has joined together, in Christ, let man not put asunder. Let man not separate. You see, for a Christian, marriage is much more than just two people who vow to be together until death. Christian marriage is a picture of the very union between Christ and his bride, the church. We are, all together, the bride of Christ. He is the ever-faithful bridegroom. We were the damsel in distress – the distress of sin and death. He is the knight in shining armor, our champion, who rescues from the dragon us and wins us a happily ever after.
And is it an accident that our text about marriage is followed by Jesus' regard for the little children? For one of the great blessings of marriage is that through the one flesh union, God brings forth new life. In the bearing of children, the two, quite literally, become one. Even as much as we are part of his bride, the church, so also are we, through Christ, children of God. And Jesus regards even little children.
I remember as a child of about 8 or 10, being given the great responsibility of ordering some lunch-meat while mom shopped for some other groceries. And so I stood at the deli counter, waiting for my turn. But the people behind the counter didn't seem to notice me, and only waited on the adults. Maybe they didn't think that I was old enough to do my own shopping. Or maybe I was just too short to see.
But Jesus regards the little ones. He has a special place in his heart for them. He touches them and blesses them, blesses even us. He gives us all blessings at the font. He brings us to himself, even when some would say the blessing isn't for children. He calls us his own, calls us by name, and commends us to the Father.
Receiving his kingdom like a little child means to receive him, Jesus, with childlike faith and trust in him to make it all right.
Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks teaches us today about marriage and children. He calls a sin a sin, and points us back to basics when it comes to what is right and true.
But he is also the one who brings forgiveness, for all who sin - for the divorcee and those who dishonor marriage in any way, for all those who are separated from God by our sins. He brings life to those whose lives are torn apart and in tatters. He brings salvation, renewal and reconciliation to all who receive him like a child, and look to the blessings of his cross rather than trusting our own devices. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.... in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.