Mark 10:2-16 When we still lived in Ft. Worth, Caroline taught at Trinity Lutheran School. I remember one year after the school’s Christmas program all of the parents and children in her class gathered in her room for pictures. Everyone was dressed in their Christmas finery and Caroline was taking their pictures around the class Christmas tree.
But one little girl sat off to the side with this pitiful look on her face. Caroline and I had talked about her at home. Her parents were getting a divorce and it was a bitter, ugly mess. After everyone else had taken their picture Caroline asked this little girl’s parents (who were standing on opposite sides of the classroom) if they wouldn’t like to stand together by the tree with their daughter and have their picture taken too.
I was watching that little girl’s face the whole time and for one brief moment, thinking about that picture around the tree, there was a spark of light in her eyes, but at Caroline’s question, both of the parents answered the same way “We most certainly DO NOT want to stand together for a picture”! I wish you could have seen that little girl’s face—because that is the face of divorce. That is why God says: I hate divorce.
In our sermon today we are going to hear what Jesus has to say about divorce. But before we do that I want to warn you about two different attitudes that people have when they hear sermons on divorce.
The first is self-righteousness on the part of those who have never suffered through a divorce, believing that somehow, someway this puts them a little bit higher in God’s sight than those who have.
And the second attitude is despair on the part of those who have been divorced, believing that somehow, some way they are marked with a scarlet letter in permanent ink that no amount of repentance will ever take away.
Neither attitude is right. Both of them cast the grace of God underfoot. Every one of us—whether divorced or still married-- has a life with God only because Jesus opens wide his arms of grace and says: Come to me. The Bible says:
The Pharisees came up and in order to test Jesus asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.”
Among the religious leaders of Israel there were two main schools of thought when it came to divorce. The first one said that a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever. The second one said no, a man could only divorce his wife for some sexual sin.
Despite being poles apart when it came to acceptable reasons for divorce, there was no question in their mind that divorce itself was fine in God’s sight—after all Moses himself had regulated divorce in the law. But divorce isn’t fine in God’s sight—it is the sad result of sin. Jesus said to them, “It was because of your hardness of heart Moses wrote you this commandment.
At the center of every divorce is the sin that Jesus called “hardness of heart.” He’s talking about the hardness of heart that leads a man to abandon the wife of his youth for a newer model. He’s talking about the hardness of heart of a woman who is never satisfied with her husband, makes sure everyone knows it, and destroys his spirit. He’s talking about the hardness of heart of a couple where neither one is willing to put the other first or serve the other in love.
Harness of heart is why we (who have never been divorced) ought not sprain our arm patting ourselves on the back! Hard-heartedness in marriage doesn’t just exist between those who get divorced—it exists in every marriage to one degree or another.
It’s there when a husband doesn’t love his wife like Christ loves the Church-- and it is there when a wife doesn’t respect and submit to her husband as to the Lord.
These failings are not new to us or unique to our time and place—it’s as old as sin—and Moses tried to limit the damage of divorce on everyone concerned (especially women) by regulating it in the law. But divorce was never part of God’s will for marriage. Jesus said that:
From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.
When you attend a Lutheran wedding service you will hear these words three different times: the first time from Moses in the Old Testament reading, the second time from Jesus in the Gospel, and the third from the Apostle Paul in the epistle lesson.
These words are God’s institution of marriage and his holy will has never changed despite what our culture and the courts of the land have to say: one man, one woman united in a lifetime marriage. This is God’s design, God’s order, and God’s will.
Marriage is not a social construct that can change with the times. Marriage is not a private arrangement between two people. Marriage is not a legal contract that can be dismissed if the terms of agreement are breached. Instead…
Marriage is the work of God where he takes one man and joins him to one woman for a lifetime. Marriage is the union between one man and one women made one flesh by God himself. Marriage is a relationship that takes precedence over every other earthly loyalty and love. Marriage is a gift of God that must not be destroyed by man. The Bible says: What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
In this one verse is both encouragement and warning for those who are married. There is going to be conflict in our marriage—how can there not be when two sinners live together under one roof?! There is going to be disappointment. How can there not be when God has designed us to find our ultimate fulfillment in him alone—not our spouse?!
And so then, when there is conflict and when there is disappointment, what a blessing it is to know that it is God himself who joined us together! What an encouragement to know that this is the one who God has given me! How it changes things for the better in our marriage to see our spouse that way, as God’s gift to us!
But there is also a warning here. We are not permitted to separate what God has joined together or abandon the one whom God has given us. And Jesus is not just talking about the final act of divorce-- but every sinful act that undermines God’s good gift of marriage and drives a wedge between husband and wife. The Bible says that:
In the house the disciples asked Jesus again about this matter. And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
When Martin Luther explained the sixth commandment (Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery) in the Small Catechism, he explained it this way: “We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and each love and honor his spouse.” He was exactly right.
Divorce is a sixth commandment sin because it destroys God’s gift of marriage and that destruction doesn’t just affect the husband and wife—it affects their children-- and it undermines every new marriage they enter into. That is why God says: I hate divorce.
When we began our meditation on God’s Word I warned you about two different attitudes that people often have when they hear sermons on divorce—the first being self-righteousness that says “Lord, look at me, I’ve never been divorced. Surely I’m better than my friend or fellow church member who has.”
But there is another attitude to guard against and that is a kind of despair in those who have been divorced that says, “Lord, I know I’ve done wrong and there is nothing I can do to fix it, no way to go back. Will I have to bear this burden forever?!” The cure for our self-righteousness and the cure for our despair is found in what happens next. The Bible says that:
They were bringing children to Jesus that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.
These words of Jesus serve us today as a beautiful reminder about the breadth of God’s kingdom and the love of Christ that welcomes every person and embraces them in love and forgiveness.
Those who were wanting to keep the children away from Jesus had a mistaken view of life in God’s kingdom. They thought that it was necessary to bring something to the Lord so that he would make a place for you. Children couldn’t do that and so they were excluded.
But that’s not how the Kingdom of God works! There is a place for us with God because Jesus has made a place for us by his death and resurrection. There is a place for rich and poor—for men and women—for young and old. There is a place for the divorced and a place for those of us still plugging along with the same guy or gal thirty, forty, fifty years later.
There is a place for us in God’s kingdom for all of us because Jesus’ shed blood has paid for all of our sins—including divorce and the self-righteousness that looks down on the divorced. There is a place in God’s kingdom for all of us because Jesus’ resurrection is the promise of a fresh start and a new life for us-- even when divorce has been part of our past.
When husbands and wives respect and love one another they become living, breathing examples of Christ’s redeeming work and the love that he has for all of us and so I pray that God would strengthen the marriages of his people in this place so that our enduring love for another would be a sign to those around us of God’s enduring love for all people! Amen.