Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost


Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B—Proper 22)

October 7, 2012

Text: Mark 10:2-16

            Divorce.  All of us have been affected by it in some way.  Perhaps you’ve gone through a divorce yourself, or maybe your parents were divorced, or some other family members you were close to, or your friends.  Depending on which statistics you believe, the divorce rate for first marriages is between 45 and 50%, and that rate increases dramatically for second and again for third marriages.  Divorce is a topic we don’t address in the church often enough, probably because of the sensitive nature of the subject.  Divorce hurts.  It hurts those who go through it.  It hurts those who love those who go through it.  It hurts children.  It hurts extended family.  It hurts society.  It hurts the Church of God.  It breaks people, and leaves them broken.  And there’s a lot of guilt when it comes to divorce, because divorce is sinful.  ‘For I hate divorce,’ says the LORD, the God of Israel” through the Prophet Malachi (Mal. 2:16; NASB).  Divorce is the separation of what God has joined together in Holy Matrimony.  God’s Word and sexual intercourse make man and wife one flesh.  That’s God’s plan, as He instituted marriage for our good, for companionship, for the procreation of children, even before the fall into sin, as we read in our Old Testament lesson this morning, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast two his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; ESV).  Jesus quotes this passage in our Gospel, adding “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:9).  Because to separate what God has joined together in this way, husband and wife, is to do an act of violence against the one-flesh union, against God’s sacred institution, against your spouse, against your children, and again, against society and the holy Church.  The biblical definition of marriage is the lifelong and exclusive union of one man and one woman.  Till death do you part.  Only death should end a marriage.  We should not get divorced.  And yet, the reality is that even many Christians get divorced, leaving a trail of hurt and guilt behind them.  How does our Lord address this in His Word?  How should the Church address this as she ministers to broken people in broken relationships and in a culture that is broken and hell-bent on shattering itself to an even greater degree?

            First of all, if you’ve suffered a divorce, whether you’re at fault or not, don’t lose heart.  I know that many of you bear deep hurts when it comes to this subject.  There is a Word from the Lord for you, for your forgiveness and life, to make you whole again.  But first, a bit more of the bitter medicine of God’s Law, because the Christian Church desperately needs instruction on the topic of divorce.  It’s true, as the Pharisees say in our text, that Moses encoded the process for divorce in the civil law of Israel.  As Jesus points out, he didn’t do this because divorce in any way pleases God.  This is not God’s permission to get a divorce.  He did it because of our hardness of heart.  He did it because in terms of the first use of the law, the civil use that sets boundaries for society, there needed to be some protection, especially for women in ancient Israel, so that people couldn’t leave their spouse for just any old reason, like “we’ve fallen out of love,” or “irreconcilable differences,” or any of the other empty and silly excuses we make when we’re simply unwilling to do the hard work of marriage.  Actually, biblically speaking, there are only two reasons a Christian can, without sin, obtain a divorce.  The first is when your spouse is sexually unfaithful to you, adultery, as Jesus indicates in Matthew 19:9 (which is a parallel of our text): “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”  In other words, if your spouse has been sexually immoral, you’re free.  You don’t have to divorce them, but you can do so, without sin.  Otherwise, even divorce does not end your marriage in God’s sight.  The second reason is what we call “malicious desertion,” when your spouse leaves you even though you were not seeking a divorce.  St. Paul refers to this in 1 Corinthians 7, where he is urging believers to stay married to their unbelieving spouses.  But,” he says in v. 15, “if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so.  In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved,” but the person is free to remarry.  The sin of divorce is not theirs, but belongs with the one who left.

            Of course, Christians divorce for all sorts of reasons that are not biblical, but sinful.  There is no excuse for this.  But there is forgiveness.  Repent.  Confess your sin.  And hear and cling to the Absolution.  The blood of Jesus Christ covers all our sins.  What does the Lord say in His Word to those broken by divorce?  To those who bear deep scars and hurts because of broken relationships?  What does the Lord say to any broken sinner?  How should the Church minister to those broken by divorce or by any other sin?  The Gospel.  Full and free forgiveness of all your sins, including the sins of divorce and unfaithfulness and desertion and every other sin, in Christ, your crucified and risen Lord.  When you are unfaithful, and you are, whether you’ve been divorced or not… none of us lives in the faithfulness that God commands… when you are unfaithful, your Lord is faithful to you!  Jesus Christ died for you, and for your spouse, for the ex who sinned against you, or against whom you sinned, for the children left behind in divorce’s wake, for all people.  Jesus Christ died for you, for your forgiveness, to pay sin’s wages on your behalf.  And He’s risen from the dead.  He’s victorious over sin and death.  Your life is in Him.  So repent and be forgiven and start again.  There is new life for you in Christ.  He is your new beginning.  Be faithful now that you’re in Him.  And insofar as you are unfaithful, return again and again to Him, confessing your sins, for forgiveness and another new start. 

            You see, the Gospel frees us, one and all, to be faithful in our family life.  It frees spouses to be faithful to one another, to love and honor and serve one another, to be patient with one another, to forgive one another.  It frees parents to be faithful to children, to bring them to Jesus for His blessing (Mark 10:13-16), which means bringing them to Holy Baptism, bringing them faithfully to the Lord’s house to hear His Word and be forgiven of their sins, bringing them to Sunday School and Catechism class and finally to the Lord’s Supper, teaching them the Bible and prayer in the home by family devotions, bringing them up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  When we don’t do those things, we “hinder them,” which Jesus expressly forbids in our Gospel (Mark 10:14).  Not only should we bring our children to Jesus for His blessing, we should receive Jesus and His Kingdom like a child (v. 15), which means in childlike trust that all Jesus says is true and that He will make good on all His promises.  Finally, the Gospel frees children to be faithful to their parents, to honor father and mother, as is their Fourth Commandment duty, not to despise or anger them, but to serve and obey them, to love and cherish them.  The Gospel frees us for faithfulness in Christian vocation, faithfulness in all the relationships in which God has placed us.  Because all our unfaithfulness is forgiven, having been nailed to the cross.  And in Christ we have new life and strength, as God Himself works in us to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). 

            It is, after all, God who must build our families and hold them together.  We could never do it, because a bunch of sinners living together with a bunch of sinners will always sin against one another, leading to brokenness.  God must put us back together in the forgiveness of sins.  God must build and sustain our families with His Spirit, by His Word, in the forgiveness of sins that we have in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus and the new life that we have in His resurrection.  So we sang in the Introit: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1).  The LORD builds our homes, our families, and He sustains us as we live together under Him.  The LORD leads us to the confession of Joshua, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Josh. 24:15).  The LORD grants children to parents, entrusting the children to their care, with the admonition to bring them to Jesus for His blessing.  He sets the solitary in families.  He provides for the widow and the orphan and the stranger among you.  Your family is God’s gift to you, and you are God’s gift to your family.  Receive one another in faithfulness and thanksgiving.  Beloved, the LORD is with your family, even with all its warts and weaknesses and sins.  He makes His dwelling among you.  And He will never forsake you.  It was, after all, into a family, into a marriage cloaked in scandal and at the breaking point, in which the Lord Jesus Christ was born, becoming one with us in our flesh.  And He is the Bridegroom of the Church.  God put our Lord Jesus into a deep sleep, the sleep of death, and from His riven side formed His holy Bride, His Eve, the Church, by water and blood.  The Lord Jesus gave Himself for His holy Bride, gave Himself into death, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word (Baptism), so that he might present her to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:25-27).  Did you catch that?  Jesus takes away all the stains and wrinkles and blemishes that His bride has inflicted upon herself by her sin.  He takes away all of her guilt, all of her hurt, all of her division.  He takes it into Himself and nails it to His cross.  You live in that reality.  Your family lives in that reality.  In Christ, you are holy and without blemish.  So rejoice in what God has joined together, and live in it joyfully.  God will bless it.  Trust Him.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

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