(Genesis 2:18-24, Psalm 8, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/vMDzyw78sKk)
2Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Oh, the timing of this difficult passage on divorce! Not only was I blessed to officiate at a wedding yesterday but I’m flying back to Chicago on Friday to participate in a wedding for my best friend. Of all the Sundays to preach on the difficult subject of divorce! You can’t tell me that God doesn’t have a sense of humor…
Not that I’m a stranger to the effects of divorce though. My parents have each gone through three marriages including the one they shared together. In my relatively short life, I’ve experienced 4 different stepparents and 9 stepsiblings. I’ve built 2 separate lives: one under my father’s leadership and one under my mother’s leadership. Both lives instilled values that, when combined, helped form the identity of the man I am today. Divorce has had a profound effect on my life as I imagine it has on many of your lives. I offer this testimony not as a way of establishing any type of authority on the subject either. I am not an expert on divorce. Nor am I an expert on marriage…just ask my wife! I am, however, a devoted follower of Jesus and want to learn from his teachings, especially his teachings on personally applicable subjects like divorce.
To help us reflect on Jesus’ teaching, let us begin with a story. Once upon a time there were two brothers who lived on adjoining farms and they fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in 40 years of farming side by side, sharing machinery, and trading labor and goods as needed without a hitch. Then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence.
One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days work” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?” “Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor, in fact, it’s my younger brother. Last week there was a meadow between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us. Well, he may have done this to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. See that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence — an 8-foot fence — so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.” The carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”
The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day. The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing. About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped. There was no fence there at all. It was a bridge — a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all — and the neighbor, his younger brother, was coming across, his hand outstretched. “You are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done.”
The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met in the middle, taking each other’s hand. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother. “I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”
Though the story involves two brothers, it can easily apply to a married couple. People enter into the covenant of marriage in harmony with each other. They want to please each other and stay true to the oath they make before God. Very few people these days walk into the covenant of marriage in discord with each other. No, they walk into the covenant in harmony, hoping to both maintain the harmony and build on it. People want to live in harmony with each other, especially people whose very livelihoods are dependent on each other. The brothers in the story depended on each other. Husbands and wives depend on each other. When we depend on someone, we naturally want to live in harmony with that person.
But relationships, even covenanted, dependent relationships, do not exist in a vacuum. They exist in the real world where there are great forces of disharmony…they exist in a world of sin. Relationships are not impervious to the powers of sin. This is because people are not impervious to the powers of sin. People want to live in harmony with themselves and each other but our sinful natures often keep us from achieving harmony. Sin destroys harmony. Sin creates conflict. Sin breaks down relationships; even covenanted, dependent relationships.
People sometimes enter into the covenant of marriage believing the relationship is impervious to sin. This only allows sin to enter unnoticed and unchecked. The disharmony caused by sin can be a great struggle in a relationship. No one wants to live in disharmony. But rather than work to rebuild harmony, our sinful natures are quick to jump in and create further disharmony. Sin loves disharmony…sin thrives in disharmony! Before long, creeks and fences are built and sin destroys yet another covenanted relationship. So people enter into marriages in harmony with each other…or at least with a desire to build harmony with each other. At some point sin enters into the relationship and goes to work at breaking down the marriage. If left unchecked and unrestrained, sin will eventually dissolve a marriage. It is sin and our sinful natures that encourage divorces to happen. Sin is the cause of disharmony, not God. God wants us to live in harmony, with each other and with Him. God wants us to resist the temptations of sin, the temptations of living in disharmony.
Ever since the beginning of creation, God wanted us to live in harmony. We heard in our 1st lesson that God created a helper for man with the purpose of creating harmony. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” It is not good that man should be in disharmony. It is not good for man to be out of relationship with himself, those around him, and especially with God. Man is in harmony when he is in relationship. And not just in master/servant relationship but in co-equal, dependent relationships. Man, genderless man, needs relationship to live in harmony.
Marriage is the ideal relationship. Marriage produces the greatest fruit and satisfaction. Marriage creates oneness unlike any other relationship. As Jesus states, in marriage “the two shall become one flesh…what God has joined together, let no one separate.” But marriage is just as vulnerable to sin as any other relationship. We can’t expect marriages to be impervious to sin. We can, however, prepare couples for when sin attacks the marriage. We can, however, emphasize the importance of forgiveness and grace in a marriage. Sin has only as much power as we allow it to have. Forgiveness and grace render sin powerless.
Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question on the lawfulness of divorce might appear to be divertive. Rather than justify and sanctify divorce, he instead reminds them of the sanctity of marriage. Is he avoiding the question, choosing to look at the positive rather than the negative? No, by referencing the creation story Jesus is emphasizing the importance of man’s need for relationship. He’s reminding the Pharisees, and us, the importance of forgiveness and grace in maintaining our own relationships, especially relationships with people who have gone through divorce. We can’t dismiss divorcees. We can’t minimize the struggles of divorcees. We certainly can’t condemn divorcees for the dissolution of their marriages. Divorcees who entered into marriage hopeful and harmonious. Sin consumed their marriages but not their need for relationship. Divorcees need relationship just as much, if not more, than non-divorcees. We, both the divorced and non-divorced among us, have an obligation as followers of Christ to stay in relationship with divorcees. We have an obligation to speak words of forgiveness and grace to them. They need relationship perhaps now more than ever.
Like the carpenter in the earlier story (coincidence?!), Jesus is all about building bridges rather than walls. Jesus is all about building relationships both amongst ourselves and with God. Jesus stays true to the words of God, “It is not good that the man should be along.” Jesus teaches us that maintaining relationships is of the utmost importance and a good, healthy dose of forgiveness and grace is sometimes needed to accomplish this. Divorces are complex…marriages are complex…relationships are complex! Forgiveness and grace can be complex but God sees them as simple gifts. Let us share these gifts of truth and reconciliation with each other and proclaim…“oh, these simple truths.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.