Friday, October 27, 2006

Trinity 20 - Mark 10

- WMA Audio download here -

We have a difficult topic to face this morning. The topic of divorce, or, more specifically, what the Bible says about the topic of divorce, because, what the Bible says about the topic of divorce is especially hard for human ears to hear. And “what Bible says about the topic of divorce” says that just as much as it says anything else.

It all started when the Pharisees tried to entrap Jesus by asking him a sly question. Jesus, knowing what they were up to, wasn’t about to let them off the hook. Jesus doesn’t really ever let anyone off the hook when they try to pull a fast one on him. He shoots straight. He says it like it is. And, for that reason, today we have his own words on the matter. He said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce for his wife and send her away because of the hardness of the hearts of men.” Then he went on to say that, this is not the way creation is made to be. Divorce is not even a part of what marriage really is. It really doesn’t matter what the circumstances are in this broken world: divorce is always sin.

And we immediately recoil and say, “But…but…but….” Isn’t it amazing how often and how quickly we don’t like what Jesus has to say? And it’s not hard to think up excuses involving extreme circumstances with a completely innocent party who is abandoned and deserted, or abused physically. If we try hard enough, we can find a host of very real, very evident concerns about the difficulties of marriage in this broken world. And, it is certainly true that these should not and cannot be ignored in any discussion of divorce. In fact, the Scriptures do not ignore them either. But, when we take those real, hard realities, and put them up against Jesus’ words as if kind to bury them, to make them just go away, then we are very poor interpreters of Scripture indeed. We can’t say that “Jesus didn’t really mean what he said.” Yes…he…did. Jesus always meant what he said. He not only never committed adultery, he never lied either.

Thus we have it before us: Divorce, every divorce, is there because of one reason alone: sin. If there were no sin in the world, in the relationships between men and women, then there would never ever be divorce. That’s because if marriage is what it should be, then man and woman are, as we saw in Paul’s writing to the Ephesians weeks ago, one and the same flesh, united even as they were that day of creation in the garden of Eden, when Eve was taken from the side of her husband, and he exclaimed, “Yes! This is bone of my bone!”

In the garden of Eden, you can be sure, there was never even the thought of divorce. The word did not exist. It was promised then and there that forever onward, when God’s holy gift of marriage came to be, a man would leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and they would never separate – not even death would separate them, because, when there was no sin in the world, there was no death.

That’s the way it should be. But, unfortunately for us, that’s not the way it is. And Jesus’ words get even harsher on issue: He wasn’t letting anyone off the hook: He said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” Whoever. Whenever. Where ever.

But even this kind of talk is child’s play when it comes to identifying adultery. Long before any of us have had the chance to get into a real, physical divorce, we have all become adulterers, for it is this same Jesus who said, “everyone, everyone, who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” That’s no joke. That’s Jesus calling you on the carpet for your sin, your daily, regular sin. And ladies, don’t think that just because you’re eyes don’t wander quite so frequently as the average man that this command doesn’t apply to you as well: for every dream you have of improving your husband, every attempt to change the way he behaves, to make him more like the ideal that you’d prefer him to be, is no less an infidelity to the promises of your wedding vows than all the times he has cheated on you in his heart.

So, here we all are, standing before Jesus’ words, accused of being adulterers. And not just accused. Convicted. Because Jesus doesn’t lie. Of course, the standard Americanized Lutheran routine at this point would be to say, “But Jesus forgives you, so it’s ok.” Yes, Jesus does forgive sin, but no, forgiveness never makes adultery ok. Sin is never ok. And that is why, truth be told, divorce is not “ok.” It’s just not. It is a blight on our world and our culture and our homes. It tears us apart. It devours not only those involved, but also their children, and their families and their friends and their churches. And once it happens, it never goes away. It’s always there to hurt us, to open back up the wounds of our heart and tear at the loss, and the rejection, and the failure.

Now, divorce can be forgiven. Better, divorce and adultery are forgiven, and in this we have a glorious freedom of conscience in the resurrected Christ. But woe be to us if we should therefore claim that divorce, any divorce, was ok. If it was ok, then it didn’t need to be forgiven. And Christ does not forgive those who think they do not need it. And so any divorce which claims to be ok shall not be forgiven, for in claiming to be ok it has rejected forgiveness.

So then, what are we to do? What happens when sin does occur? What happens when it is clear that it is sin, when we cannot hide behind our excuses and self-justifications? What happens when our eyes wander, when our ideals overrun, when spouses deserts, or abuse? What happens when the perfect goodness of God’s law can only leave us condemned?

Are you following me? Do you see how if we look at the perfect law of God as Jesus taught it, then even a person’s inability to keep the law because of circumstances beyond their control is no excuse? Simply because we cannot keep the law does not free us from our accountability to it. The innocent party in a divorce has still been a party to sin, even if he or she made every effort to avoid it, and nothing they could have done would have fixed or made it turn out differently.

The child born of sinful parents is a sinner condemned to death by God, regardless of what it has or has not yet done. That’s why babies die. Far beyond the topic of divorce, many times and in countless parts of life you and I and all of us are faced with choices we cannot avoid, and more often than not, though we would deceive ourselves otherwise, these choices put upon us the evil of our human condition. And so we must choose the lesser of the two evils.

Do we put 10% in the offering joyfully, or do we put it in grudgingly, or do we not put it in at all? To refrain from the gift you owe the Lord is sin. To give an offering grudgingly is sin. To do it joyfully is great goodness, but watch your step, for how easy it is to think you have done the right thing and therefore do not stand condemned – to make that error is to see your works as the thing which justify your actions and thus is the most heinous crime of all, for it denies your need for the forgiveness of Christ. So we choose between the lesser of two or three evils. And we do the one that is most right. But woe to us on the day that we convince ourselves that the lesser evil is not really after all evil.

So, this is where the Christian rubber meets the road. What do we do with our sins when we see them? Do we hide from them? Do we change the words of Jesus and soften the law of God in an attempt to justify ourselves? Or do we believe the other things our Lord has commanded? Do we believe that it his will that we cease trying to argue him out of the point and instead face the Truth of our sin with courageous faith, repenting, hating even our best actions for the selfish motives that are mixed therein, and crying out to God at all times and in all circumstances, “Yes, I have sinned in deed. I have done what, according to your good creation, O Lord, should never be done. Even though I could do no more, even though I never had a chance to keep this law because it was the actions of another which brought this condemnation upon me, even though from my forefather Adam I have been destined to fall short – even then – I repent. For my inability to have kept the law does not change the law, and the law is good. Therefore, it is I who am evil. And for that Lord, I ask your forgiveness. Where I have failed, I beg your mercy and pardon, not in order that I might justify my actions, but in order that I might know I have been justified by you.”

Oh, how hard it is to say those words. How hard it is to repent of the sins that are beyond our own control. How hard it is to admit that we not only “have not” and “did not,” but that we “could not” keep the law of God and yet still bear the blame.

Yet it is just there, when we look our worst, when it is clear how impossible it is for us to have avoided sin – it is there that being in Christ matters most. It is when we are sinners, who truly have sinned, not just years ago, but moments ago – it is then, in that weakness that we find the source of the power of God which is our salvation. For when we admit that we are all adulterers, that none of us have truly been faithful to God Himself, let alone to our spouse – then, and only then, can we begin to see the grace of the one man who is always full of fidelity. When we see that every human marriage since Adam and Eve has ended in the divorce of death, which as a curse and blight upon us all, tears apart what was meant to be - it is then that even the Scripture reading for today from Genesis 2 becomes a prophecy itself, given, before even the fall itself, in order to point us to the the answer when it came.

For as much as Jesus had to shoot straight with the Pharisees, he didn’t come to give the Law. Jesus came to create a new world. He came to take the world that was broken, and fix it. He came to take all the marriages that end in death and divorce, and to bind them to himself, so that in him, in is marriage to us, we could all live forever. And so even as the bride of the first Adam was created from his flesh and blood, pulled from his very side while he slept, – it was prophecy, words foretelling how – and oh, how beautiful it is – words foretelling how the second Adam, Jesus Christ, would come to give life by re-creating his bride, you and me, from his flesh and blood, poured from his very side while he slept the sleep of death. Pierced by a spear, blood and water flowed, a sacramental mystery that even today continues to make us who we are in Him, to bind us, to cleanse us, bring us and forgive us of all our worst works, and all our best ones too.

Thus, Jesus founded our salvation through his suffering, sanctifying even our very origins in his own flesh, and thus naming us his brothers, for we share in his blood. Through death, he destroyed both death and the one who holds the power of death, the devil. In that truth, you and I are delivered from the fear of death and our lifelong slavery to our own sin. Even as we see it, even as we feel it, even as we still must face it day by day, we need not fear it any longer, for we can name it, and confess it for what it is. And every time we do so,when we kneel at the cross and say, “Yes, Lord, it is I who have sinned again,” then blood and water flow from his side, covering us, cleaning us, healing all of our divorces.

Divorce and adultery are sin, and sin is never ok. But Christ died and rose precisely for the things in life that are not ok.

For the grass withers, and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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