Sunday, October 3, 2021

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 22B)

October 3, 2021

Text: Mark 10:2-16; Gen. 2:18-25

            It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18; ESV).  Man was created to live in relationship, in communion.  First of all with God.  Man is, after all, the fruit of the love and communion within the Persons of the Trinity, our one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But so also, to live in communion with other people.  And the highest expression of this is Holy Marriage, God’s own institution, given to man even before the fall into sin.  Even then, in the perfection of the Garden Paradise, where God saw all that He had made, and declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31), there was one thing that was “not good”… Adam had no one to share all this with.  Adam had no other person to care for, to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, for whom to be the very image of Christ, to receive as the very image of the Church. 

            Adam didn’t know this, of course.  He was unaware of the deficiency.  Thus the parade of animals.  As Adam was naming each creature, which is to say, doing scientific observation and classification, he noticed that God had created each of the beasts male and female, that every male had his mate.  And he also noticed that there was no mate among the beasts for him, no helper fit for him, or better, corresponding to him, to be his physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual counterpart.  God introduced a longing in Adam, the realization that it is “not good” for him to be without such a complement, to live in isolation, to be alone.  So God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and from Adam’s side, from Adam’s own flesh and blood, God formed for him the woman, Eve.  And God Himself, our heavenly Father, marched her down the aisle, brought her to the man, gave her hand into his, and blessed the marriage by His Word.  He united the two as one flesh.  Adam confesses it, in a beautiful love poem: This, at last, is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh (2:23).  And this will be the pattern from now on.  A man shall leave his father and mother and cleave unto his wife.  They shall be one flesh, joined by God, by His Word, and in conjugal union.  One man, one woman, for life.  That is marriage.  That is God’s design.  And because He is the Designer, He gets to say what it is.  And He is the very best Designer, giving us this gift for our good, for companionship, for procreation, for enjoyment of His good gift of sexuality.  What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (Mark 10:9). 

            But… the Fall.  Adam and Eve sinned.  And we, the fruit of their union, fell in their sin.  And we’ve been sinners, and we sin, ever since.  And by our hardness of heart, we are continually separating, breaking asunder, what God has joined together.  You know all the ways we do this.  It is all the ways we bend and abuse God’s good gifts that He designed exclusively for Holy Marriage, by grasping them outside of Holy Marriage.  This is especially true with regard to holy sexuality.  We profane that holy gift when we fornicate, which is when we engage in sexual activity with another person before marriage.  And I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but when you fornicate, you sin not only against God, but also against your own body, as St. Paul says (1 Cor. 6:18), and the body of the other person, and also, if you don’t marry that person, you sin against your future spouse, and his or her future spouse.  You rob them of the exclusive enjoyment of their future spouse’s body and intimacy.  The world would have us believe that fornication is no big deal, but it is a big deal, and it goes to the very heart of our most intimate relationships.  It breaks the union before there is a union, and it creates a union where a union is not intended.  And, of course, there is always the possibility that such a union will result in procreation.  Babies, which are always a blessing, no matter the circumstances of conception.  Nevertheless, God has designed Holy Marriage for procreation, so that a baby can grow up in the safety and providing care of a mother and a father who are united to one another by God as one flesh, committed to each other and to their children.  That is the ideal.  That is God’s design. 

            We also profane God’s holy gift when boyfriends and girlfriends move in together before marriage.  Even if they plan to get married eventually.  This is not God’s design.  Vows first.  Commitment first.  The joining together by God’s Word, the sanctification of the marriage by Word and prayer, first.  And yes, in deference to the Fourth Commandment, the marriage license first.  Those living together outside of marriage should either separate, or get married right now to make the situation right. 

            And, of course, adultery profanes God’s holy gift.  To adulterate is to mix a foreign substance into a thing.  And to commit adultery in the most technical sense of the word, is to bring a third party into the marriage, into the one flesh union between husband and wife.  Again, when you do this, you not only sin against God, but your own body, and your spouse’s body, and the other person’s body, and their spouse (or future spouse), and your children if you have them, and their children if they have them.  And so you see, sexual sins are not victimless, contrary to the cultural narrative.  They leave a vast trail of catastrophe and destruction in their wake. 

            We’ve barely scratched the surface of the ways we profane God’s gift of Holy Marriage, and we can’t address them all right now.  Needless to say, homosexuality, pornography, abuse, spousal neglect or resentment, vindictiveness, nagging, the withholding of conjugal rights from a spouse, not to mention our unholy words, our lust-filled eyes, and our impure minds and hearts, are also violations of God’s design for marriage and sexuality.  These are all ways in which we are broken.  But this morning, Jesus highlights one particular way we profane His gift.  And I know this is painful for some of you, but we have to talk about it, because we must preach the whole counsel of God.  And that is divorce. 

            We should not get a divorce.  That is to separate what God has joined together.  Moses permitted divorce in Israel because of their hardness of heart.  But that does not mean God approved of it.  He still doesn’t.  It is sin.  Among the Jews, there was a school of thought that it is permissible for a man to divorce his wife for any reason.  If she argues too much.  If he no longer finds her attractive.  If she burns supper.  Or if he’d simply prefer to marry someone else.  Needless to say, this was very one sided and didn’t offer the woman much protection.  Hardness of heart, indeed, on the part of such a husband.  But today men and women divorce for any reason.  And this is separating what God has joined together, profaning His gift, and rejecting His design for marriage, rejecting His very Word.  There are two biblical reasons one may seek a divorce.  One is when your spouse commits adultery.  Jesus speaks of this in Matthew 19.  The other is what we call malicious desertion.  St. Paul writes about this in 1 Corinthians 7 where he says, if an unbelieving spouse separates from the believer, the believer is free.  Otherwise they are to remain married.  But even in these cases, divorce is tragic.  It is “not good.”  We should always pray for, and work towards, the maintenance of marriage, and the reconciliation of hurting and broken marriages.

            Now, I know some of you have experienced divorce, and I don’t necessarily know all the circumstances.  But this is very important.  For whatever reason you divorced, if you didn’t receive pastoral care, Confession and Absolution, the counsel of God’s holy Word, by all means, talk to me.  And some of you have experience with the other ways I’ve mentioned that we profane God’s gift of Holy Matrimony, or with ways that I haven’t mentioned, and let me say again, if you haven’t already worked through that with pastoral care, my door is open.  None of these are the unforgiveable sin.  There is forgiveness and healing.  Let’s talk.  And some of you may be saying to yourself, “I haven’t sinned in any of those ways.”  And if you are saying that, I urge you to take a closer look.  Because I know that if you are a flesh and blood human being, and your name is not “Jesus Christ,” you have at least looked lustfully upon another, and you bear impurities within yourself.  So we are all indicted.  Repent, all of you.  Repent, all of us.

            Thanks be to God, we have a faithful Bridegroom, Jesus.  He does not profane God’s holy gift.  He redeems it.  Did you ever wonder why Jesus never married in His earthly life and ministry?  Because He was already pledged in faithfulness to His Bride, the Church.  And what does He do for her?  For you?  For me? …  For all of our hardness of heart, our lust, our unchastity; for every way we profane his holy gift of marriage, whether as husbands and wives or as single people; for fornication, for adultery, for divorce… Jesus gives Himself into death, the death of the cross.  Like Hosea, who pursued his unfaithful wife Gomer, to redeem her from a life of prostitution and immorality, to take her back into his covenant faithfulness, so our Lord Jesus pursues us, to redeem us from marital infidelities and sexual sins, from sins against God and against our own bodies, sins against our spouse and the bodies of others, sins against our own children.  He pursues us, and redeems us, buying us back, not just with fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and lethech of barley (Hos. 3:2), but with His holy, precious blood, and by His innocent suffering and death.  God put Jesus into a deep sleep, and from His side, by blood and water, He formed for Him, the Church.  Our New Adam is risen from the dead, and God our heavenly Father marches us down the aisle, brings us to Him, and He lives for us in faithfulness, and gives His very life to us.  He covers over our transgressions with His blood, and clothes us in His own righteousness, as Paul says, that He may present us to Himself as a splendid Bride, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, holy and without blemish (Eph. 5:27).  United to Him in Holy Marriage at the well of the baptismal font, He will never abandon us.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  What God has joined together, He will not separate. 

            And now He calls us to live faithfully in Him.  Husband and wife, one man and one woman, united until death parts them, one flesh, giving themselves to each other, in love and fidelity.  Husbands sacrificing themselves as the icon of Christ for their wives.  Wives submitting as the icon of the Church to the providence, protection, and headship of their husbands.  Spouses being fruitful and multiplying, as God has blessed.  Singles living in chastity, looking to the Lord for fulfillment and joy, and if they desire a spouse, waiting upon the Lord in prayer and faith, that He will provide, or give them the strength to endure, asking that His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Fathers and mothers, tending and caring for the fruit of their union, bringing their children to Jesus that He might touch them and make them His own in Holy Baptism, and bless them with His Word in His Church as their parents raise them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).  This is “very good,” communion with God, communion with one another, that we not be alone.

            All leading toward the great Marriage Feast to end all marriage feasts, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb and His Bride, the Church, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:10).  Holy Marriage is for this life.  In heaven, we will neither marry, nor be given in marriage (Mark 12:25).  But God gives marriage here for companionship, for procreation and rearing of children, and for our enjoyment of holy sexuality.  And to point to something greater.  To be the living picture of what is to come.  The consummation of Christ’s marriage to His Bride for all eternity.  You are radiant in His sight.  You are holy.  You are righteous.  Your sins are forgiven.  All of them.  And He is coming to take you to Himself, into His Kingdom, and His Home, forever.  All that is His is yours.  And you are His.  Rejoice.  There is no deficiency in this Paradise.  It is not only “very good.”  It is perfect.  You will see.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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