Pentecost 20b

Preached: October 11, 2009

God's Defense of Marriage Act
Mark 10:2-16

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which Jesus speaks to us is Mark 10

When the Pharisees came, they were asking him [Jesus] whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife, testing him.

He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?”

They said, “Moses allowed us to write a certificate of separation and so divorce.”

Jesus said to them, “He wrote this command for you due to your hardheartedness. But from the beginning of creation he made them male and female. Because of this a man will leave behind his father and mother and be glued to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has yoked together let no one separate.”

Back in the house, the disciples were asking him about it. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her. And if she, divorcing her husband, marries another, she commits adultery.”

They were bringing little children for him to touch. But the disciples rebuked them. Seeing this Jesus was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me. Stop forbidding them. For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will certainly not enter it.” When he had taken them in his arms, he was blessing them, placing his hands on them. (Mark 10:2-16)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

1. In what ways is marriage under attack?

Marriage is under attack in our country. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont all perform and recognize same-sex marriages. Other states are considering it. More and more churches are blessing such unions, even though they may not call it marriage. Marriage is under attack.

Jesus' words take us back to God's own design for marriage from the very beginning of creation. He “made them male and female” (Mark 10:6 NIV), Jesus says, putting his stamp of truth Genesis 1. Then he quotes from Genesis 2 speaking of man and wife, not man-and-man nor woman-and-woman, or as a comic has quipped, “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” So whether called marriage or civil unions, whether officially recognized or just an informal relationship, whether intended for life or just a one-night stand, same-sex sexual relations pervert God's design. They attack marriage and family

But marriage was under attack in our country long before same-sex unions became a political issue. Starting in California in 1969 and spreading across the country, no-fault divorce laws made a divorce easier to get. That seems similar to the situation among the Pharisees in Jesus' day. Many of them followed Rabbi Hillel's interpretation of Moses. He taught that when Moses prescribed a certificate of divorce in Deuteronomy 24, the husband could write this up for just about any reason, including that his wife burnt supper.

To be honest, even before the no-fault divorce laws were passed, people maneuvered around the stricter laws. They might have manufactured a case of adultery or perjured themselves in court to obtain a divorce. Although the no-fault divorce laws are sometimes blamed for the increase in the divorce rate, they arguably made the system more honest and fair. Whichever is true, the real culprit isn't the law on the books. Rather as Jesus points out, the real culprit is: “because your hearts were hard” (Mark 10:5 NIV). Divorce was legally allowed to prevent hardhearted sinners from doing even worse, like neglect, abuse, even murder.

2. Describe God's attitude: a) toward divorce, b) toward sexual relations outside of marriage, and c) toward lust in the heart.

Just because the law allows it, though, did not mean that God condones it. God's plan never included divorce as Jesus makes clear by taking us back to creation: “And the two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:8 NIV), Jesus quotes from Genesis 2. Then he applies God's truth: “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together let man not separate” (Mark 10:8, 9 NIV). Through the prophet Malachi God said it plainly, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16 NIV).

Divorce was never part of God's plan for any marriage. Getting a divorce because you want to marry someone else is just like having an affair. Getting a divorce first may be more honest in the world's eyes, but in reality it's still adultery. “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her” (Mark 2:11 NIV). Maybe our modern mindset says, “It's adultery, so what's the big deal?” We've grown so lax in our morals. But don't forget the Sixth Commandment. “You shall not commit adultery.” In fact, in ancient Israel adultery was punishable by death, just as murder was.

“But, Pastor, what about the legitimate reasons for divorce? What about when the other spouse commits adultery or maliciously deserts?” We'll talk about them in a moment, but first we need to change our mindset here. The legalistic lawyer in us asks that question searching for some sort of loophole, trying to justify ourselves before God. But can we argue ourselves right in his sight? I don't think so.

When a spouse commits adultery or abandons the other, willfully living as if they were not a married couple, that spouse has broken the marriage. The divorce that God so hates has already taken place in fact, even if the law has not recognized it yet. Maybe that broken marriage can be repaired. Maybe it cannot be. The other spouse may ask for the courts to grant legal recognition to the divorce already caused by the adultery or abandonment. But he or she does not do so thinking, “I've found my loophole to get out of this marriage.” And we don't look to the other person's breaking of the marriage as the solution to do away with guilt in our own conscience. True comfort and peace for you -- whether single, married, or divorced -- true comfort and peace comes elsewhere. Keep listening to find it.

Maybe at this point your thinking, “If divorce is so bad, maybe it's better to just live together rather than getting married. Or maybe not even live together, but just have sex when we want to. Then we won't have to get a divorce later.” But that's never God's plan either. Jesus talks about the sexual union as the two becoming one flesh. He says, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife [not his girl-friend or live-in, but his wife], and the two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:7, 8 NIV). Note the order. Marriage first; then sexual intimacy. Just as divorces or same-sex unions trample on God's gift of marriage, sexual relations when you're not married do the same. God graciously gave us the wonderful gift of marriage. Sex outside of marriage throws that gift back in his face, saying, “We don't want it! Take it back. We know better than you do.”

Now if you're still there thinking, “I'm glad I'm not like those divorced people, those live-ins, or those same-sex couples. I'm better than that,” then crush your sinful boasting and hard heart with Jesus' words from Matthew 5: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NIV). Sex is so powerful. Even if you keep yourself outwardly pure, your lustful thoughts, your longings, your cravings condemn you, just as mine condemn me.

3. Where alone does true comfort and peace come from?

Only one person can truly comfort your heart. Only one thing can truly cleanse your conscience from guilt. Only one word can truly bring you peace. Only Jesus Christ. Only his blood from the cross. Only his promise: “Forgiven.” Don't comfort your heart by relishing how bad others sin sexually. Rather rejoice in what Jesus has done for you. Don't try to wash your conscience clean with legal arguments attempting to lessen your guilt. Rather remember your Baptism that washed you clean with the blood of Christ. For in Baptism you died with him. His death counts for you. And you rose with him. You have new life, cleansed from guilt. Don't listen to the excuses of the world that try to lessen the seriousness of sexual sins and lusts. Don't listen to that friend who tries to bring you peace by minimizing your sin. Rather listen to your Savior's word of promise: “You are forgiven. Here is my body. Here is my blood. Believe! I gave my body on the cross as the sacrifice for your sin, every single one of them. My blood was shed for you for the forgiveness of sins, all of them. Eat and drink and believe. You are forgiven.” Only Jesus and his blood. Only his word of forgiveness.

Take this all in like a little child. The people brought little children to Jesus. The disciples rebuked them. “Jesus, doesn't have time for them. Take them away.” How indignant Jesus was! How justly angry with his disciple's actions! “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:14, NIV).

4. Describe the child-like faith that receives Jesus' promise.

How humble a little child is! He doesn't think he knows better. How trusting a little child is! She accepts whatever Dad or Mom says. In fact, she trusts them even before she can understand what they say. Leave behind those attempts to justify yourself, arguing that you're not that bad. Humbly lay your sins before Jesus. Listen to his tender forgiveness, fully trusting his promise with child-like faith.

And just as a little child, confident of her parent's love, wants to please Dad and Mom, so also our child-like faith doesn't see Jesus' forgiveness as an excuse to sin. Rather his forgiveness and love spur us on all the more to refuse the wrong and persevere in doing right. That means working hard at your marriage, devoting time and energy for your spouse, putting his or her well-being before your own. When Jesus talked about two being joined together in a marriage, the word he used has the same root as the word yoke, like to oxen yoked together. Marriage yokes you together with your spouse. Pull in the same direction. Work together with the Lord leading you. The world's solutions and promises of happiness can be so deceptive. Don't give in to them. Your wife or your husband is God's gift to you. He's united you two in marriage. He will give you the strength to make it work as you both trust in him, as you both imitate his love, as you both seek to do his will. Remember Jesus is your groom. He took you and me while we were still prostitutes selling ourselves to sin. He washed you clean with the water and word of Baptism. He dressed you in his wedding gown of his righteousness to present you as holy and blameless. Always remember your bridegroom, your Lord, Jesus Christ. Divorce happens when husband or wife or both follow their own path rather than their Lord's.

And our Lord gives us pastors and good Christian friends to admonish and encourage us in the Lord if we are struggling in our marriage. But what about if you're that Christian friend they are coming to? What advice should you give? What attitude and actions should we all take toward those caught up in divorce?

5. What attitude and actions should we take toward those caught up in divorce or any other sin?

Our Savior's love and forgiveness fill our attitude and actions toward them. If we're looking in from the outside, we need to be careful. Are we dealing with people who have hardened themselves towards God's will for marriage? Are they like the Pharisees looking for a way to get out that keeps themselves looking good? Are they trying to use God's forgiveness as a license to do their own thing? Have one or the other or both of them fallen into this hardness? Then Christian love must speak God's holy law. He hates divorce. “What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:9 NIV).

But are one or the other or both struggling with guilt, wanting to do God's will but not knowing how to find the strength to do it? Was there a past adultery that now fills him or her with shame? What about the anger and fights, the blaming and vengeful words from both that tore apart the marriage bit by bit? What about the unspoken resentment, the selfishness, the grudges, the bitter feelings stored away? Even happily married couples can find plenty of sins they've committed against each other. How much more so struggling couples! Or how about after the fact, when the divorce is long past and guilt then attacks the conscience again and again? What does Christian love do for those struggling with guilt under these kinds of circumstances?

Bring them to Jesus. Bring them his blood, his forgiveness. Only Christ's cross conquers guilt. That's God's defense of marriage act. He acted. He gave his Son. He gave his Son as the Sacrifice for sin and as the Bridegroom for you. With his forgiveness comes the strength to carry our crosses, to follow God's will, to work at your marriage, to trust his promises instead of the so-called easy-way-outs the world offers. Yes, bring them, like little children, into the Savior's arms.

So also if we're looking at live-in situations, same-sex marriages, sexual relations outside of marriage or any other sins whether they deal with sex or not, we take the same approach. When people are hardening their hearts trying to excuse sin or claiming it isn't all that bad, Christian love confronts them with God's law to crush their hard hearts. When guilt troubles their conscience and they long for the strength to do what God wants, then bring them to the Savior's arms, just as those parents brought their children. Bring them to his arms. For he stretched his arms wide, and nails pierced his hands for you. He stretched his arms wide to take sinners into his embrace. He stretched his arms wide and “took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them” (Mark 10:16 NIV). His arms are wide for all who come to him with child-like faith, opened wide for you, dear friend, for you. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313

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