Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sermon -- 20th Sunday after Pentecost (October 7, 2018)

MARK 10:2-16

BLESSING COMES ONLY THROUGH HEEDING GOD'S WORD.

In the name + of Jesus.

     The Pharisees came to Jesus, hoping to ensnare him with this question: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2)  If Jesus said, “yes,” they would have condemned him for failing to uphold the 6th Commandment.  But if Jesus had said, “no,” they would have quoted Moses to him, charging him with rejecting the word of God.  Knowing that they were not genuine in their questioning, Jesus threw it right back at them.  “What did Moses command you?”  They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” (Mark 10:3-4)  
     They were not wrong, but they were not right, either.  Moses' instructions about a certificate of divorce had to do with an orderly way for society to recognize when a divorce had officially been finalized.  It did not mean that God encouraged the divorce, or even that he was pleased with it.  God had also directed Israel how to deal with murderers, but that did not mean God tolerated murder.  The Pharisees were looking for an out from their marriages.  God had honored and blessed their marriage vows.  To renounce those vows was also to cast off God's blessing.  But the Pharisees wanted to justify their divorces.  Therefore, they were more interested in what they wanted God's word to be instead of what God actually said.  Blessing comes only through heeding God's word, not from finding ways to circumvent it.  It has not changed.
     Marriage has taken quite a beating in American society.  People love weddings; marriage is not held in high regard.  Marriage has been redefined.  If you ask someone what marriage is, it may simply be defined as two people who love each other.  It isn't necessarily wrong, but it isn't necessarily right, either.  Teenagers will say how they love each other, but we would not say they are ready for marriage.  Couples who live together will say they love each other, but they will cringe at the idea of getting married.  By doing so, they acknowledge that they are not committed to each other.  People who do insist that they are committed to one another find that their commitment is not so binding when life gets hard.  Some people dismiss marriage as nothing but a piece of paper, which insults everyone who has been faithfully married.  Money is just a piece of paper too, but people crave it and work hard to get more and more of it.  If only marriage saw that much effort and commitment!
     When the Pharisees brought up marriage, they alluded to Moses, but they quoted the wrong verses.  Jesus did not speak about good reasons for divorce; he spoke of the blessing of marriage.  Jesus replied: “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.  But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’  ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:5-9)
     Jesus turned their attention to what God actually said about marriage and what God intends marriage to be.  Blessing comes only through heeding God's word.  God had said so, and so it is true.  God declares that a man leaves the home of his parents to establish a new home.  He takes to himself a wife, and he gives himself completely to her.  He gives her his name, his possessions, his provision, his protection, and whatever else is good for her.  He devotes himself to her for her good.  She is joined to him for his good.  Together they are one flesh, one household, and one body.  This is not merely a contract between adults that can be rendered null and void when better offers come along.  It is a union established and blessed by God.  Blessing comes only through heeding God's word.  To renounce the union is to renounce the blessing. 
     Though marriage is a blessing, it is not without struggles.  Both husband and wife are sinners.  Each will sin against the other, and each act of selfishness, laziness, or coveting for something better both wounds the marriage and harms one's spouse.  No one has kept himself pure in regard to the 6th Commandment—whether single, married, or divorced.  Sins against this Commandment have left people damaged, disillusioned, and disappointed; and they have resulted in broken hearts and broken homes.  But if we, like the Pharisees, try to find excuses for our sins, it will not take away the pain or the guilt.  Excuses are not obedience.  Excuses do not love or serve our God or our neighbor.  Excuses are a rejection of God's word, as if to say, “Just because God said so does not make it so for me.”  Repent.  There are no blessings given through excuses.  Blessing comes only through heeding God's word. 
     When God gives his blessing, it is not mere words.  His words are backed up by actions.  The Lord Jesus loves sinners.  He does not concern himself with whose sins caused the most damage, whose lives are the most messed up, or whether you are married, single, or divorced.  Jesus has come to serve all sinners by making himself the atoning sacrifice for all.  He did not stray from the path of the cross when it got hard, but he faithfully endured all things, even the wrath of God, to the end.  God had sent him to receive the curse for sinners, and so he did.  He made no excuses while he suffered for ours.  Rather than try to get out of this punishment, Jesus gave himself into it.  His innocence atones for our guilt.  Therefore, you are pardoned for all your transgressions.  It is not true because you believe it should be true.  It is so because God said so.  And God attached his “I said so” to the waters of baptism which have marked you as children of God, and to the holy meal by which Jesus gives you the body and blood which have atoned for your sins and have overcome death.  This is where you are assured of forgiveness—because God said so.  He put his word on it, and blessing comes only through heeding God's word.
     God established marriage to be a blessing for people.  And it is through the married couple that God intends to bring children into the world.  It is no accident that St. Mark records children being brought to Jesus right after he had discussed God's institution of marriage.  The husband and wife who are united to serve each other and bless each other also serve together to care for the children God gives.  This design of God is best for all.  And though it is true that single mothers are common in our day and age, all you have to do is hear a single mother tell you about the burdens she bears to recognize that a godly father will not look for an out, but for the best way to serve his family.  For this is what God has given him to do in giving him a wife and children.  Heeding that word is a blessing for his family and for himself.
     When the children were brought to Jesus, he was pleased.  For, he has come to be their Savior, too.  And the only way children will learn of Jesus as their Savior is if they are brought to him and his Church.  Parents serve their children best by doing this.  And if parents want to see their children in heaven, they will make sure they do this.  This is what our Lord desires so that he can bless and save them.  This comes only by heeding God's word.  Therefore, he declares to us all, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10:15)  
     When parents are raising children, they lay down rules in their house and teach their children what is good and bad.  They will enforce these rules by saying, “Because I said so.”  Even if the child does not like the rule, he will accept that his parents have authority over him and that their word stands.  This is how we receive God's word, too.  The Pharisees sought a way around it.  But we simply hear it, believe it, and order our lives according to it.  Through obedience to these Commandments, God blesses us and spares us of many griefs.  God gave us his Commandments to show us what a good and godly life is to be.  If God's word shows us that we have not been good, then we admit it, confess it, and repent of it.  For, there are no blessings to be found in excuses, only in heeding God's word.
     Our Lord has given us his word for our good.  They show us what a good life is supposed to be.  More importantly, they show us that God is good, and that his goodness is revealed in Jesus who has saved us.  Jesus supplies us with his good and has swept away all our bad.  He assures you that you are children in God's kingdom.  He has said so.  And by heeding that word of promise, you are blessed forevermore.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.