Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B – Proper 22)
October 4, 2009
Text: Mark 10:2-16

“God settles the solitary in a home,” sings King David in Psalm 68 (v. 6; ESV). God created us for fellowship. Even in Paradise, in the Garden of Eden, in the creation that God had pronounced “very good” (Gen. 1:31), God declares, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (2:18). Thus He forms Eve from Adam’s rib. She is now bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (v. 24). God’s first institution in His now completed creation is marriage and family. From the very beginning, God created us for fellowship: fellowship with one another, fellowship with God. For God made man in His image, and there is within our one God the perfect fellowship, communion, of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And this gracious God deigns also to have fellowship, communion, with His special creation, with man, and He desires that men have fellowship, communion, with one another.

But ever since the fall into sin, man has done his best to break fellowship, communion, with God, with his fellow man. In the fall, Adam and Eve break fellowship with God. Cain, the firstborn son of Adam and Eve, breaks fellowship with his brother Abel by killing him (Gen. 4). Everything has gone awry. This is not how God planned it. This is not how God designed us. God does not design human beings to sin, to be sinners. God designed us to be perfect, holy, in fellowship with Him and with one another. Sin is a power that comes from the outside. It originates in Satan and the evil angels who rebelled against God. That sly tempter, the deceiver, the devil, led Adam and Eve break fellowship with God, reject God’s loving purpose, rebel, and so sin entered the world as a disease that infects every one of us as their descendents. It is a lethal disease. It kills fellowship with God and with one another. It kills us. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).

Of course, God is bigger than our sin, and He is bigger than us sinners. What we have broken by our own most grievous fault, God has restored in Christ Jesus. We have been reconciled to God in the sin atoning work of Christ. In fact, when Adam and Eve had first broken the relationship they had with God, God already promised them reconciliation and a Savior when He said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heal” (Gen. 3:15). That is to say, in dying on the cross, submitting Himself to death for our sakes and for our forgiveness, Jesus has crushed the devil under foot. The victory is won! Our enemy is defeated. But in many ways the battle rages on, because we live in the time that Luther called the “already/not yet.” The war is already won, but that fact is not yet manifest. God has already been reconciled to us in Christ Jesus, thus paving the way for our reconciliation with one another, yet we still suffer broken relationships.

It is in the context of this fallen world, full of brokenness, a broken relationship with God, and broken relationships with one another, that the Pharisees come to Jesus. Because of their broken relationship with God, they are trying to trap His Son, our Savior. They ask Him about a particular kind of brokenness that plagues our world right up to the present day. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2). It is a brilliant question, albeit sinister, for you see, Moses did in fact allow for divorce in the Old Testament. If Jesus says divorce is unlawful, the Pharisees could accuse Him of denying the Law of Moses. On the other hand, if Jesus affirmed the lawfulness of divorce, the Pharisees could accuse Him of contributing to what was apparently a grave societal problem among the Jews at that time: rampant divorce and a failure to hold marriage as God’s sacred institution (sound familiar?). But as brilliant as the Pharisees are, Jesus, in His usual manner, cuts right to the heart of the problem… that is to say, right to the sinful, fallen, broken, human heart. “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote this commandment” (v. 5). Divorce has never been God’s plan. In fact, God says to the wicked priests and people of the prophet Malachi’s day: “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” (Mal. 2:16). God hates divorce. It is a total contradiction of that for which He created us: fellowship with Himself and with one another. It is a total contradiction of the purpose for which He instituted marriage: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:7-9).

It is true that Moses allowed for divorce. But not because divorce is part of God’s plan. Moses allows for divorce because of sin. Moses allows for divorce as part of the civil law of Israel, even though it contradicts the moral Law of God written in man’s heart. There are only two biblically allowable reasons for divorce: First, in cases of marital unfaithfulness, the innocent party is free (Matt. 5:31-32), and second, in cases of malicious desertion, again, the innocent party is free (1 Cor. 7:15). Otherwise, marriage is meant to be the lifelong union of one man and one woman. Only death ends the marriage vow. Because our God is a God that brings us into fellowship. He is a God who unites us to Himself and to one another. Marriage and family are His gifts to be held in reverence by all, “not to be entered into inadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.”[1]

Marriage is the basic building block of society. How gracious is our God that He has established marriage for the good of mankind, for companionship, for the enjoyment of one another in body, mind, and spirit, and for the procreation of children. And that leads us to the second part of the Gospel lesson. The mothers were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed. It’s not unlike our mothers and fathers in this congregation who bring their children to the communion rail to receive a blessing. These are children of all ages that are being brought to Jesus, including infants. The mothers are absolutely right to bring them to Jesus. But you know, this brokenness of relationships infiltrates even the Church, because again, we’re living in the time of the “already/not yet.” We already are restored, forgiven, and made holy, but our old sinful flesh keeps popping up out of those baptismal waters where it was drowned. It keeps trying to ruin what has been restored. Here the disciples’ sinful flesh gets the best of them. They begin to rebuke the mothers. “Don’t waist Jesus’ time here! Can’t you see he’s a busy man?!” But one thing we dare never do is come between Jesus and the children. We dare never deny our children the blessing of Holy Baptism. We dare never, by our own laziness, deny our children the benefits of coming to church and Sunday school each week. We dare never, by our own bad example, mislead our children into some grave sin or error by which they break their relationship to God in unbelief. Jesus was indignant when the disciples turned the children away. Indignant. That’s a strong word. He was incensed. “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). In fact, if you want to receive the Kingdom of God, you need to be like the children. You need to have the kind of absolute trust in Jesus and in His Word that children have. A kind of helpless, infant trust that looks to Jesus alone for salvation and every good, like a newborn babe who doesn’t even know Mom’s and Dad’s names, but trusts them absolutely. Jesus takes these helpless little children in His arms and blesses them. And believe me, there’s no place you’d rather be than in the arms of Jesus, in His blessed embrace. We all want to be God’s little children, and as families, as husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, we want to make sure we bring those little children with whom God has entrusted us to His house, that He might be in relationship with them, in communion, and that they might learn to be in relationship, communion, with one another here in His Church.

This is not to say that you have to be married or have children to enjoy the fellowship God has given. Some have the gift of celibacy, though it is rare. Some are single by choice. Some bear the cross of being single. Some bear the cross of not having children. Spouses and children are among God’s greatest gifts. But they do not complete us. Not in the all encompassing way all for which all of us yearn. Only God can do that. And it is that reality to which Jesus points us this morning. Earthly marriage, as wonderful as it is, is but a picture of the marriage between Jesus and His Church. Jesus is our divine Bridegroom, and we are the Bride He has made holy in Baptism. As in any marriage, what is His is ours, and what is ours is His. His righteousness becomes ours, our debt of sin becomes His. He pays for our sin on the cross. He gives us His righteousness in exchange. In the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, all our sins have been paid in full, even our sins of divorce and marital unfaithfulness, our sins against our spouses and our sins against our children, our broken relationship with God and our broken relationships with one another, even our inability to trust Jesus with childlike faith. And in exchange we’ve been given Christ’s perfect faithfulness, His perfect love. We’ve been reconciled to God, and we can reconcile with one another. Christ Jesus is our Beloved, and He loves us with an everlasting love. And the union of Christ and His Church is fruitful. It bears the little children of faith. God-willing, you will see it happen again next Sunday at the Baptism of little Mackenzie Elizabeth. You will see her reconciled to God. You will see her joined in the fellowship of the holy Church in this very gathering. God settles the solitary in a home. God settles us in families. God settles us in the family of the Church. For fifteen years now He has settled us in this family, Epiphany congregation, a reality of His grace that we will celebrate with great rejoicing this afternoon. God will never divorce us! Instead, He will ever take us, as little children, into His arms and bless us. The pledge of His faithfulness is the body and blood of our Savior, given and shed for us, for the forgiveness of sins, here distributed at the Christian family table. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Lutheran Service Book Agenda (St. Louis: Concordia, 2006) p. 65.


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