“First Comes Love…”
19th S. after Pentecost
7 October 2012
St. John’s, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" What a loaded question. I am reminded of a placard I once saw in a photo of a priest at a march for life. It said: “What is legal is not always moral.”
The Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus – to get Him to “slip up” and say something against the Scriptures. They know that the Scriptures included permission in the Old Testament for divorce, even though it is not part of God’s perfect plan. They also know that Jesus is teaching love and mercy and might accidentally contradict the Scriptures. No such luck.
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." Jesus goes on to explain that it is because of the hardness of fallen human hearts that God made this allowance. But He is quick to remind them of God’s grand design at creation: one man, one woman, for life.
Funny, preaching this passage in some countries—even in Canada, by insisting that marriage is only for one man and one woman, can be considered “hate speech.” But the Lord plainly lays out His design for marriage and family here, and He speaks the truth in love.
But 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. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."
So where does that leave us? We live in a nation where for some time there has been a “success rate” for marriages hovering around 50% -- even in Christian homes. Statistically speaking, every single one of us either has had a divorce, or knows someone who has been through divorce. And what about those cases where the spouse has been unfaithful and there actually is a biblical permission for divorce?
The devil, the world, and our sinful selves are hard at work, trying to convince people that they have “fallen out of love,” or encouraging constant fighting that leads to shattering marriages. Some give in to violent urges. Others yell. Still others plot financial revenge.
Does this describe your relationship? Then God says to you: “Repent! And get help!” Or is this being done to you? Then God offers His love and compassion, picking up the pieces of your life and offering His healing.
Far too quickly, though, we are wont to believe the devil’s lies and slide down that slippery slope of fear, mistrust, and brokenness. If we stop and admit it, we often enjoy television shows and movies that present situations that encourage breaking marriages. So our minds and sub-consciences get filled with seduction, excitement, and the so-called “growing apart” that becomes acceptable in society. After failing to defend the Lord’s order of marriage and family for so long, we end up agreeing with immorality by virtue of our silence.
Dear friends in Christ, the perfect family that God designed in Eden is under attack. What hope can we have?
Our hope comes from a perfect marriage. No, not one that you could ever have as a couple. I mean the perfect marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Yes! Our Lord Jesus is the perfect Bridegroom. And the Church is His Bride. At the cross, Jesus takes leave of His mother and is joined to His Bride. As He gives His Body up for her, He is acting out of His perfect, holy, self-sacrificing love. The Church receives that love in humble thanks and joy. At the cross, as He takes His bride, Jesus removes any spot or wrinkle or blemish. He cleanses her from any trespass or sin, and claims her as His own.
Now, even in the midst of our broken relationships and failed families, we have hope. Jesus has come and removes the pain and guilt. He hears our confession and absolves us for breaking our promises, for breaking others’ hearts, and for failing to be the saints we are called to be. Jesus tells you today that yes, even divorce can be repented of, and He renews us to continue in this life. The loving forgiveness of the Perfect Bridegroom restores our relationship with Him, and breathes new life into our relationships with one another.
The children’s playground chant says: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in a baby carriage.”
A holy marriage is always open to God’s gift of life and procreation. Here again, our culture bombards us with ideas contrary to God’s Word. Television, films and printed media degrade the value of family and children. Emphasis is on the individual and his or her career. Much is made over friends and activities outside the home and away from spouse and children. In our culture and media, you only hear about large families in a context of “what a burden!” or “How environmentally irresponsible!” And even then, it seems that more than two children qualifies a family as “large” in the 21st century.
And here we are, hearing the Scriptures, where every mention of children is always in the context of blessing, and never as burden. We hear God tell Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. We hear God repeat that blessing after the Flood. King Solomon writes in Psalm 127, “Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!” And today we hear Jesus treat children with great love and respect.
Society says: “Limit your families on purpose.” Jesus says: “Be fruitful and multiply.” The world says: “Don’t have too many children or we will use up all the resources.” Scripture says: “The Lord will provide.” The world would have the Church worry about statistics and how we are shrinking. Our Lord would encourage more of the Church growing the old fashioned way, by having more children.
Today we hear Jesus welcoming and blessing little children – a text which has been closely connected to Holy Baptism since ancient times.
So does this mean you are a terrible Christian if you don’t have children, or have only one? No. For some, God has not allowed our bodies or health to create more children. For others, serious stewardship concerns led them to refrain from a larger family. Still others may be serving God in other varied ways.
On the other hand, some limit their families with purely selfish motives. If it is “all about me,” then this is a sin to face and confess. Then it is akin to the sin of the disciples in today’s Gospel, thinking Jesus is too important to be bothered with children. But we know that our Lord reaches out to everyone, regardless of age. He wants the little children to come to Him.
As His Church, we bring the little children to Him. We bring them to Holy Baptism, where He gifts them with forgiveness and faith. We bring them to the Divine Service so they can hear Him and be nourished by Him – even before they understand what is going on. His Word is living and active, and works even before they are cognizant of its meaning. That means even while still in the womb! Like St. John the Baptizer, our babies hear His Word preached and are brought into God’s presence, where faith is given and strengthened.
First comes love – the eternal, almighty love of God from the foundation of the world, showered on His Bride, the Church.
Then comes marriage – Christ, united with His Bride as He suffers and dies on the cross. The Savior-Bridegroom now constantly gives Himself to His Bride as He speaks His constant “I love you” through His Word, and shares His sacred Body in the Supper.
Then comes the baby in the baby carriage – OK, so there is no carriage. But there is a tub! A large and wondrous font for the saving Baptism that gives new birth to the millions of children born to this union. Here the Lord is constantly growing His Church, as He bestows new life on the countless children who are brought to Baptism every year!
So here we are, the family of God. Christ and His Bride are united, and children are brought forth in the womb of the Baptismal Font. Thanks be to God, who calls us as His family! Amen.