A Sermon on Marriage: Becoming Nothing for God to Make Something of Us
Shepherd by the Sea –
October 7, 2012- The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Gen 2:18-24 Psalm 8 Hebrews 1:1-4, 2: 5-12 Mark 10:2-16
Becoming Nothing for God to Make Something of Us.
It is so good to be preaching God’s Word for you again this morning. Let me begin by making some observations about our lessons. They are obviously about marriage, and the beautiful Psalm 8 is also one of them. Out of the mouths of babes and children come the praises that build a bulwark, to use an old translation, for the heavenly kingdom that we can only enter as children. When I took a course on the Psalms with Prof. Norman Gottwald, he translated “the fish and creatures that swim in the paths of the sea, as those that migrate through the sea, because we know that like the birds, whales and other fish migrate through the oceans. That course on the Psalms inspired me to write a paper on the way a Psalm can open up for a distressed person and become a healing experience. Many Psalms shift from lamentation to praise, when the Psalmist feels heard by God, which makes all the difference and then like the Psalmist, the reader of the Psalm starts out on a new life thereafter. Thus I believe Psalms are very therapeutic. The paper is called Psalm Therapy.
What everyone hears in these lessons is of course the big “no” to divorce. We have to try to deal with that. Let me quote an online commentary by Brian Stoffregen:
When we ask, “What does the Bible say about divorce?” we come up with a number of different answers. (he writes)
- Moses says that you can divorce a wife (Dt 24:1)
- Paul says that divorce is permitted in some instances — when an unbelieving partner requests it (1 Cor 7:15).
- Jesus says that you can’t separate what has become one (Mk 10:8-9)
- In Ezra, it is the sign of a good husband to divorce his foreign (unbelieving) wife (Ezra 10:2-3, 44).
- Paul says that it is the sign of a good spouse not to divorce his or her unbelieving mate (1 Cor 7:12-13).
- Joseph, a “righteous man,” felt that it was his duty to divorce Mary (because he thought she had been unfaithful to him) (Matt 1:19).
Divorce is not God’s intentions for marriage; but, because of human sinfulness it happens, and we need divorce laws for protection. (Divorce is probably better than murder <g>). Divorced (and remarried) people are sinners, but so are all of us. Jesus refused to condemn and punish the one who had been caught in adultery. I believe that that same grace and mercy is extended to all of us sinners — even those who have been through divorce and remarriage. How much more does someone whose life has publicly been torn apart need the comfort and love and acceptance from a community?
We have come a long way, since divorced people had to deal with rejection from the community. A pastor going through a divorce used to have to demit the ministry. Today, even some bishops of our church are divorced. I have always used Luther’s observation that Jesus was not a law-giver like Moses. So what he says here about marriage and divorce should not be considered law but gospel. He invites us into the wonderful arrangement of marriage and alludes to Adam and Eve and the paradise marriage can represent, when God is walking through the garden with us.
But God made us a little lower than the angels. Psalm 8 really says that we were made just a little lower than God. But then in the last days, God has spoken to us through a Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who knows how to fill us with grace, a grace that softens our hard-hearts and makes us into human beings. A pastor in Berlin used to say, “In marriage a husband and wife can push and pull each other into heaven.”
But we have to always consider our expectations, which can be way too high. God did everything for us and no husband or wife can do that, not a wife for the husband nor a husband for a wife. We have to let God be God, so we cannot expect our partners to be the world for us and we should not expect that of ourselves. We are limited creatures. We are sinners standing in the need of prayer, standing in the need of mercy. And we have to cling to God like children and be faithful to God’s Christ, Jesus, and trust him like children. Then we will discover “what eye has not seen nor ear heard nor our hearts been able to conceive the wonderful marriage that God can give those who believe, who are called to his purpose.” This marriage exceeds our greatest expectations and does not come by our own efforts and strength, but out of the mercy and grace of God that is new every morning.
People trying to be God, usually turn into devils. Pascal said, “Qui veut fair l’ange fait la Bête.” That means “those who try to be angels become beasts.” If we try to be more than human we become less than human. And sexuality is very much part of being a human being. Although some have to keep it dormant and other have little trouble doing so, marriage is really a God-given way for us to find delight in another person – from their very spiritual nature, like a marriage of minds, to the most physical and sexual intimacy and love that we share. In the text that we had in our pastors’ Bible study, there was one more verse that is not included in this Celebrate: And Adam and Eve, that is, “the man and his wife were both naked and [they] were not ashamed.” That’s paradise! Of course, we recognize the patriarchal and sexist language, because it should say the man and woman or husband and wife, not the person of the man but only the role of the woman. We pastors used to always pronounce married couples “man and wife,” but we should say “husband and wife” for the sake of equality.
But Adam delights in Eve as a gift of God and exclaims, “At last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called “woman” for out of the man this one was taken.” She was taken out of man’s side, so she does not belong to the man, but the man and woman belong with each other, side by side.
It says that Eve was taken out of Adam, the woman out of the man. Of course it is really the other way around: physically the man was taken out of the womb of the woman when he was born. I wonder what happened spiritually? How did a human being first become reborn as a real self, a person? Men provide abstraction while women by nature, even spiritually tend to be more practical and concrete. The mother endured the physical birth and spiritual birth came after. In our patriarchal past, men have prevented women from coming to themselves in their full spiritual stature, as if they were the source of rebirth, but God is. Rebirth takes place by the grace and love of God.
In our Gospel lesson we can see how Jesus is stepping in for the women and children, because basically men treated women like children, who were without status, or worse, they treated women like their property, like slaves. That is why Jesus steps in for them. Being baptized, by the grace of God, we drown and die to our old selves and are raised up in new selves, who walk and live by the Spirit of God. We who follow Jesus become like nothing, so that by the grace of God, God can make something out of us. God takes you and me, who are nobody and makes us somebody. Christ has always been making women somebodies, too in spite of their oppression by men.
According to Luther,
A Christian person is a free sovereign over all things, subject to no one [because of faith].
A Christian person is a dutiful servant, subject to everyone [because of love].
But that has to be mutual and apply to both men and women and not be a one way street!
But the men, who have not undergone living out of the strength and grace of God, live by what they have. They live out of power and wealth and want women to be their slaves. These Pharisees were like that. Always wary of those who threatened their control over power and wealth, they put Jesus to the test and even the disciples wanted to prevent the sick and vulnerable children from approaching Jesus, because greatness meant that a man had nothing to do with children.
First of all, the Pharisees were probably not even interested in the Biblical teaching about divorce. Herod had just divorced his wife, a Nabatian princess, in order to marry his brother’s wife, Herodias. John came right out against this divorce and Herod handed his new wife John’s head on a platter. The Pharisees probably wanted Jesus to hang himself the same way by coming out against Herod.
But in his response, Jesus steps out of the legalities of marriage, and alludes to the creation and the marvelous goodness of a man and a woman becoming one; or two persons in a same sex marriage becoming one flesh and one body. It is not good for us to be alone, and marriage is a wonderful gift that even a life time is all too short to fully receive.
That is because it is filled with the joy and fulfillment of Holy Communion, the way the Church has become the Bride of Christ. This Holy Communion makes such a divine love possible, that from this marriage children are born into this world. In our spiritual communion, the children of God are born out of the love of God, through the body and blood of Jesus. Sexual love in marriage brings physical children. The new birth of the children of God takes place in the virginal and celibate dimension of Holy Communion.
The trouble throughout history has been, that just like these Pharisees trying to get Jesus killed, men have wanted to be like Gods and control all the power and wealth or otherwise, they used the little of it they had, to grind women into the ground. How do you control a woman? Keep her barefoot and pregnant. That was their strategy. And a real man kept himself aloof from children. You’ll lose your manhood, they said, if you relate to children and have too much to do with them. That’s why the disciples tried to keep the children away from Jesus. We’ve come a long way, but ask yourself, how many Kindergarten teachers are men? [A woman in the congregation knew about two men, who taught kindergarten. But they still remain exceptions.]
Like the children women also had no rights. They were merely considered the property of men and handing a woman a certificate of divorce, was considered an insult to her father; she did not even count. If a man found his wife – again only considered a role and not a person, objectionable, he could divorce her, but she did not have the right to divorce him. The school of Rabbi Shammai restricted the objection to unchastity, but theirs was a minority position. The school of Rabbi Hillel held that the offense could be a spoiled meal, or if they did not accept their husband’s control, or even if he found another wife fairer than she!
You can see how Jesus is stepping in for the women and children in his response. He lifts the woman up and gives her the same rights as the man, and the man, whose wife did not count, so he could live by a double standard, had to hear that he was committing adultery against his wife, not against her father, but against her. And meanwhile Jesus says that we all have to become like these children in order for us to get into the kingdom of heaven. That is not over there, over yonder, but a paradise right here in the quality of our relationships in our marriage on earth, that Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve, and the wonderful love, faith, hope, and fulfillment, that we already receive glimpse of here and now. We can get a foretaste of heaven. We can’t get the full feature presentation, of course, but God gives us a preview of coming attractions.
It is so sad how our hard-hearts prevent us from going through dying to ourselves and coming alive in God and for our wife, husband, child, neighbor, or even our enemy. In order to enter the kingdom, we need to give up power, status, and our sense of self importance. We die to ourselves so that our power, status, importance, and life can come from God. We live, not by our own strength and effort, but out of the strength, grace, and love of God.
So we cannot expect our wife to die for us, if we can’t die for her. A woman cannot expect her husband to die for her, if she won’t die for him. Love is to die for! and it brings about a relationship made in heaven that brings Holy Communion to a couple, who have become children of God. The marriage, however, should not be predominantly need-based, but based on mutual love and Christian freedom. When a marriage is filled with abuse, being faithful might be a cowardly self-deception that makes a spouse an accomplice in the crime being committed against her – or him, there are rare times when a wife is abusive, too.
In emphasizing dying and being raised back up, I’m talking about a spiritual reality. The oneness in marriage requires that rebirth that makes us into the children who are ready to learn and grow and be that life-long lover of the other.
For example, my wife has laid down the law. Now I have to cook on Wednesdays and my son Josh has to cook on Tuesdays. Fridays are Burrito night. She has become the director of her clinic and she has a private practice, and she had to come home and clean and do all the cooking. She just said she was tired and stopped. Well, I have to lay my studies aside and fret and moan, “What can I cook?” But now I’ve already made macaroni and cheese, shepherd’s pie, and Josh and I cooked a wonderful salmon dinner for her just before she left for Florida – there to help her aging parents. For cooking I need the coaching of my son Joshua. But there you go, we have to be ready to change for the other. Everybody is different, of course. Some men love to cook. But me, it makes me feel like I’ll have to die.
As old as we are, God continues to give us grace filled with love and strength. We can become like children learning to do something for the love of the other that we thought was completely impossible.
Nora has been completely practical. Now having become a director, that is a short-coming and she has to read books about leadership and policy making and I really love discussing them with her. It’s so wonderful that we are sharing ideas together like never before. Me, I’m practically completely theoretical. But we are children of God and so are you and God is not finished with us yet. By God’s grace, we can always start learning and growing for each other again.
So Jesus was not a law-giver and sometimes because of our hard-heartedness we do have to get divorced and often that makes children have to suffer a great deal. The Gospel of Jesus Christ invites us into a marriage that becomes filled with grace and grows and grows from one level of mutual maturity to another. I could tell you about wonderful marriages that I have observed, marriages that were really made in heaven and blessed so many people. There are also marriages made in hell. But Jesus has died for us and a marriage, like a Psalm lifted up by the love of God can shift from fighting and lamentation into promises filled by praise. Amen.
 This sentence paraphrases Brian Stoffregen’s exegetical notes in his online commentary in CrossMarks.