Posted by: Johnold Strey | October 18, 2009

Sermon on Mark 10:2-9


Text: Mark 10:2-9

This month, Kelly Hildebrandt is getting married to Kelly Hildebrandt.  Yes, you heard that correctly.  No, it’s not some narcissistic joke; she’s not marrying herself.  Kelly Katrina Hildebrandt, age 20, will be getting married to Kelly Carl Hildebrandt, age 24.  Kelly, a young woman from Florida, was bored one night, decided to go online, and searched on Facebook to see if there was anyone else who had her same name.  Lo and behold, she found Kelly, a young man from Texas who was the sole identical name that popped up.  She sent him a one-sentence message on Facebook.  He replied.  They exchanged emails.  Emails turned to phone calls, then Kelly the man traveled to Florida to meet Kelly the woman, they hit it off, he arranged to transfer his job and move to Florida, and now they’re getting married.  And no, after checking their family histories, they are not related.  Kelly the woman said that the whole scenario was God’s timing.  News reports have called them a match made in heaven.

Kelly Hildebrandt and Kelly Hildebrandt sound like a storybook romance.  Their story sounds like the scenario that people would describe as a match made in heaven.  But the Gospel for today tells us that there are far more marriages that were made in heaven.  In fact, the Gospel for today tells us that every marriage is a match made in heaven, because God, the author of marriage, is also the one who brings marriages together.

The discussion about marriage in today’s Gospel starts out in a strange way.  Some Pharisees asked Jesus a question about divorce.  Like other questions the Pharisees asked him, this one was intended to trap Jesus.  They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”  The Pharisees didn’t agree among themselves as to the correct answer.  Some thought that moral indecency was the only grounds for divorce; others thought that any way a wife displeased her husband was grounds for divorce.  Either way Jesus answered the question, someone would have reason to criticize him, and that’s all the Pharisees really wanted.

While Jesus’ answer must have taken the Pharisees by surprise, I’m sure you will not be surprised to hear how Jesus navigated through their deception.  “What did Moses command you?” he asks them.  And their answer was accurate when they said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”  What they failed to understand is that permission to do something was not divine approval to do something.  Because marriages and families are such key building blocks in society, Israel had civil laws that regulated marriage, including the unfortunate break-up of marriages.  But laws regulating an activity are not statements approving an activity—and that was the first major point Jesus needed to express.  “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law.”

Then Jesus turns their question upside down.  They came with a question about divorce, and he gave them a lesson about marriage.  The main point of this lesson is that every marriage is a match made in heaven.  “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Jesus basically lays out God’s blueprint for marriage.  God created people male and female, and his intention for marriage is a union of one man and one woman, despite what any opinion polls have to say.  God created marriage to be the beginning of a new family unit.  God created the marriage relationship to be a totally unique and special bond that brings two people together as one—physically, emotionally, psychologically, and hopefully also spiritually.  And through all of this, the One who makes the two become one is God.  “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”  Not only did that answer the Pharisees question, but it revealed the divine truth that every marriage is literally a match made in heaven.

I have preached on these words of Jesus for a number of wedding sermons.  In some of those sermons, I began by asking the couple why they are in the church to get married.  Was it their choice to get married, or did God direct their lives and join them together?  The correct answer is both.  That’s hard for our minds to comprehend, but it is entirely true.  On a couple’s wedding day, you can say that they chose to be married, but you can also say that God brought them together.  You can say that they are a match made in heaven.

That’s easy to believe on the wedding day.  Everybody is happy and cheerful.  Family and friends come together to celebrate the occasion.  Everyone is wearing their Sunday best on Saturday afternoon.  The bride looks stunning, the couple stands before the altar beaming with smiles from ear to ear, and everybody thinks to themselves that this is a match made in heaven.

Then reality strikes.  There is the adjustment of living together.  Communication skills need to be developed, but they aren’t always developed.  The stress from work creeps its way into the home.  There are bills to pay and problems to face.  Then there are diapers to change and runny noses to wipe and sick children that keep you up at night.  Then someone loses a job, or the IRS comes knocking at your door, or a serious sickness affects one spouse, or some other all too vivid reminder that we live in a world affected by sin comes crashing into your life.  On your wedding day, you were convinced this was a match made in heaven.  But now you stare at that body that’s taking up three quarters of the space in your bed and wonder to yourself, “What have I done?”  And then your sinful flesh begins to wonder what life would be like if someone else were occupying that side of the bed.  And that’s when your sinful flesh fails to believe that God has joined you together.

I will not be so dogmatic as to say that there aren’t some troubled marriages that have problems caused largely by one spouse.  The Bible speaks about instances when an innocent spouse may seek a divorce because of adultery or abandonment on the part of the other spouse.  But I will not be so naïve as to say that most troubled marriages have problems caused only by one spouse.  Jesus’ warning to take the plank out of your own eye before taking the speck out of someone else’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5) applies perfectly to marriage.  How easily we find fault with our spouse but refuse to look in the mirror to see our own sin staring back at us.  That is certainly true in any relationship—whether friends, coworkers, acquaintances, classmates, parents, children, or anyone else.  But it is especially easy to do in marriage.  As soon as sin came into this world, trouble came into marriage.  Remember Adam’s pathetic rebuttal to God?  “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12).  Is it any different with us?  “I can’t believe he is so insensitive!  I can’t understand why she is so cold!  Why would God have wanted us together?”  We simultaneously deny that God brought us together even as we subtly blame him for our troubles.  But the fig leaves of our excuses cannot hide the naked shame of our hell-bent sinful attitudes.

The moment that we are tempted to doubt God’s plans for us is the moment we should look carefully at God’s greatest plans for us.  Yes, marriages are matches made in heaven, but God also planned from eternity to bring us into an even more important relationship.  God planned from eternity to send his Son Jesus to remove the barrier of sin that exists between us and him.  Jesus is often described as the bridegroom of the church.  And what did Jesus do for his bride?  He loved us perfectly, even to the point of death on the cross.  He sacrificed his very life to atone for our sins.  He died our death and endured our hell so that death could not keep its permanent grip on us.  He rose on the third day to open heaven to his bride, the Church.

This was God’s plan for you from eternity.  This was God’s plan to return you to himself in peace and joy.  This was God’s plan to adopt you at the font and to demonstrate his love for you audibly in his word and tangibly in his Supper.  If this was God’s greatest plan for you, and if this greatest plan of God has brought you forgiveness and peace and the promise of heaven, then won’t God’s other plans for you also be a blessing?  If God’s greatest plan for you is truly so great, then isn’t his plan for marriage also a wonderful blessing and a match made in heaven?

There will never be a problem-free marriage or a pain-free existence on this side of heaven.  But think about how God’s promise in marriage changes your perspective when you do face problems.  You don’t have to doubt that you’re in the wrong place in life.  The God who planned your salvation also planned your marriage.  The God who forgives you enables you to forgive each other.  The God who loves you perfectly enables you to love each other despite your imperfections.  The God who gave you his Son as his gift to you gives you and your spouse as gifts to each other.

There is a bit of awkwardness any time we deal with marriage from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.  Discussing marriage inevitably leaves children, singles, widows and widowers out of the discussion.  But there is still much that we all can take home from Jesus’ words.  We can all remember to defend God’s design for marriage.  We can all show respect for God’s gift of marriage by our words and actions.  We can all encourage each other to live contently in whatever station in life God has placed us in at this particular moment.  And we can all rejoice that the God who makes marriage matches in heaven has also prepared a spot for each one of you, his believing sons and daughters, at the eternal marriage feast in heaven.  Amen.



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