Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Rulebook rightesouness and marriage under the cross.

Sermon for Pentecost 19, Proper 22B, preached on Sunday, October 4, 2015.

    In 1969 then Gov. Ronald Reagan signed into law the first no fault divorce.  Prior to this legal grounds of guilt had to be laid to set aside a marriage. Within 15 years every state US had followed California’s lead.  It seemed the perfect solution, nobody was wrong and everyone got what they wanted.  We knew it was legal and we thought it was moral.  Now a court has redefined marriage so that it includes at least same sex couples and maybe more.  From this point on, I am sure to upset some folks by what is said in this sermon but all of us are vulnerable here.  And so it was when some folks asked Jesus a question about divorce so long ago.
    We want to know also.  Is divorce okay?  Is homosexuality okay?  Is living together okay?  Jesus refused to frame the answer about who is okay and who is not. Instead, Jesus reminds us what is God’s will and purpose in creation.  Jesus turns us not to the broken pieces we see after the fall but to the intention in God’s design.  God created male and female and ordered their life in such way that they were not consulted but discovered the joy of His purpose and design.
    The Pharisees approached Jesus not from the perspective of what God willed but what rules permitted.  Though He was asked about rules Jesus answered with another question about design: WHY did Moses command and why?  It was not what they asked but it is the key to understanding Jesus’ words.  Moses did not permit divorce but Moses did regulate it.  There is a difference.  Moses regulated what had been done for the sake of protecting both the people and the very idea of marriage itself.  The concern of the Pharisees was simple.  What rules do we have to follow to get what we want.  They confused their own happiness with God’s will and forgot that their will had not resulted in the happiness they desired.  They did not want righteousness; they wanted to justify whatever they thought was good or right.
    If they followed the rules to do what they wanted, they assumed God was happy.  In other words, as long as the letter of the law was kept, you could keep your hard heart and God put His stamp of approval on you and what you did.  Jesus refused to frame righteousness or a clear conscience on rules or best efforts or good intentions.
    Jesus’ concern is not justifying the rule keepers but calling sinners to repentance.  Jesus directs us not to take comfort in the fact that we followed all the rules, dotted all the i’s, crossed all the t's or did our best, but rather that we repented of our sins, we trusted in the mercy of God, and we are forgiven.
    So what is marriage --before sin screwed it up?  God created man for woman and woman for man.  Adam found this out when he named all creatures but found no one like him and Eve found this out when Adam exclaimed that this at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.  This marriage was not merely given to us but we were created for it. It framed our very identity; it mirrored God’s own creative love in providing children. Be fruitful and multiply was not a choice but a command, the first Great Commission.  Love always bears fruit.  This fruit for husband and wife is the flesh and blood of children. 
    When sin entered the world, it corrupted marriage.  Adam looked at Eve and felt guilty and Eve looked at Adam and felt the same guilt.  Desire distorted God’s gift and left us captive to our selfish desires.  Yet God did not walk away from us nor did He relieve us of His purpose and plan in marriage.  He did, however warn us, that the very things we desired would come at great cost to us and love would require us to sacrifice the very desires that made marriage pleasing to us.  And He taught us the love that repents and forgives.
    As we approach the Gospel for today, we ask ourselves what is God’s purpose and plan?  Has it changed?  In the end, God must now protect us not only from others who wish to harm us but from our desires soiled with sin.  And He must challenge our vain attempts to cover our sin with His approval by appealing to rules or best intentions.
    The trouble is that we look at marriage much like the Pharisees of old.  Follow the rules, do your best and you can have a clear conscience and be happy.  What we seek from God is His approval of our desires and not instruction in love or marriage.  So now it does not matter if you just tire of your spouse or your marriage is broken by adultery, we rush to find refuge in the rules or our intentions  Jesus speaks harsh words to us.  Rules do not create clear consciences.  Repentance and forgiveness do.  The answer to the question is always the same.  Confession and absolution.  This is where new marriages begin and where old marriages end.  Not with rule book righteousness but with Christ’s righteousness, purchased upon the cross and given freely to sinners.
    If you are married, Jesus is to be the middle between husband and wife, leading you to repentance and teaching you forgiveness.  If you are divorced, your comfort is not that you gave it your best shot but that God forgives sinners who repent.  Sin has left us with no innocent parties and no appeal to desire can create a clear conscience.  We are all called to confess our sins and trust in the mercy of God in Christ.
    As a nation and people we have tainted marriage by separating sex from love and commitment, we have laid upon our spouses the impossible burden of making us happy, we have made children an unessential option to marriage, and have decided that marriage is just definition and desire -- and nothing more.
    So our Lord calls us to set aside the desires that rule our hearts and to give up a righteousness of works and, like a child, trust in God’s Word and in His ways.  We are called to repent and be absolved, and promised here the clear conscience we seek.  Marriages cannot long survive unless a husband and wife learn to confess and forgive each other.  When marriages fail, our consolation lies not in the rules we followed or did our best but in confession and forgiveness.  This is not new but old, what has always been, from the conversation Jesus had so long ago to us today.  And the miracle of it all is that where repentance and forgiveness rule the home, God repairs our broken marriages.  Where this cannot be done, He repairs us as broken people through the same absolution to the penitent. 
    Too long we have hidden behind best efforts, best intentions or following the rules.  There is no righteousness there, no clear conscience, and no contentment or peace.  These are found only through repentance and forgiveness.  None of us are righteous; all of us are sinners.  For the sinner there is grace to absolve, heal, and restore but if you are not a sinner, there is nothing for you here.  When we learn this, then we will be wise unto salvation.  Amen


Kirk Skeptic said...

Marriages never fail; rather, people fail at marrriage. Law doesn't only condemn, but also instructs, and sanctified wisdom is needed to heed the teaching of Scripture as well as ministers proclaiming that counsel clearly and unequivocally. The church has winked at divorce and fornication for far too long, and must accept some responsibility for the status quo.

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