Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Pleasant Dale, Nebraska
IN NOMINE JESU
The words from the Old Testament Reading and Holy Gospel appointed for today most certainly have a very familiar ring to me—perhaps better said, a double ring—as, on Saturday, July 25, 2009, our great and gracious God gifted me with His goodness, gifting with a bride, Tanya. On that day, in the presence of God, we listened to Him speaking to us as His Holy Spirit gave Moses to write in Genesis 2 and as He inspired St. Matthew to pen his account of our text. These Readings, together with a passage from Ephesians 5, are the standard readings from Holy Scripture used at weddings conducted in the Evangelical-Lutheran Church. Why? In the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings for the wedding, we hear God's design for marriage: A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. In addition, we hear this command of our Lord in the Gospel appointed for today (and for weddings): "What therefore God has joined together let not man separate" (v. 9). When Tanya and I had our premarital sessions with Pastor Poppe, we learned of his love of this verse from the timeless King James Version, with his own emphasis: What therefore God hath joined together, let not man RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRIP asunder—that the blessed union God has given husband and wife is to not be broken, split, cut, torn, or ripped apart, for the union of husband and wife God has commanded to be for life. Think of the temple curtain at the time when our Lord died. It was torn, ripped asunder, from top to bottom. When that curtain was torn apart, it brought us closer to our heavenly Father through His Son. To keep the wedding bonds together and not be ripped, for "a threefold cord is not quickly broken" (Eccl. 4:12b), is God-pleasing, and He bases this holy union on the perfect union of Christ and His bride, the Church. Many of you were likely married in a church building, perhaps even this one. It is truly good, right, and salutary that weddings of God's people take place in His house, that we would see our heavenly Bridegroom, Christ, take care of and give good gifts to His bride, the Church, and that the Church, through her confession and practice—her vow—remain faithful to her Husband.
The life of the Christian cannot help but be intimately woven into the life of the Church, and the life of the Church cannot help but be intimately woven into the life of the Christian. A Christian is baptized, confirmed, married, and buried in and from the Church. One becomes baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit so that the Spirit may bring this person to saving faith in Jesus Christ unto life everlasting. Following a time of catechesis, which is to begin in the home, the catechumen makes public confirmation of the faith into which he became baptized, publicly professing that, by the Holy Spirit, he will remain faithful to God and in continual worship of Him, faithfully and eagerly receiving Word and Sacrament unto life everlasting. After a few years, the Christian will express a desire to get married and to have the marriage rite celebrated in the church, as a man and a woman pledge their love and faithfulness to each other in the sight of God for live everlasting. To wit, we hear these words in the marriage rite:
We are gathered here in the sight of God and before His Church to witness the union of this man and this woman in holy matrimony. This is an honorable estate, instituted and blessed by God in Paradise, before humanity's fall into sin.
In marriage we see a picture of the communion between Christ and His bride, the Church. Our Lord blessed and honored marriage with His presence and first miracle at Cana in Galilee. This estate is also commended to us by the apostle Paul as good and honorable. Therefore marriage is not to be entered into inadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity.
Marriage was also ordained so that man and woman may find delight in one another. Therefore, all persons who marry shall take a spouse in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust, for God has not called us to impurity but in holiness. God also established marriage for the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord so that they may offer Him their praise.
For these reasons God has established the holy estate that [the bride] and [groom] wish to enter. They desire our prayers as they begin their marriage in the Lord's Name and with His blessing. [LSB, p. 275]
We then hear what our Lord has purposed for marriage as we hear the Word of the Lord. In the marriage rite, the Old Testament reading is the reading we heard this morning, from Genesis 2, where the Lord says, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a helper fit for him" (Gen. 2:18). Moses records at the end of this reading, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24), words repeated by St. Paul in the Epistle reading in the marriage rite, words repeated by the Lord in the Holy Gospel for the marriage rite, in our text for today.
But our Lord adds to what Moses wrote, saying, "What therefore God has joined together, let man not separate" (v. 9). Jesus added these words in response to a question put to Him by the Pharisees. They did not ask Him because they were confused; they sought to trap Him, asking Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" (v. 2b). There were two rabbinic schools of thought that prevailed, one in accord with God's Word and the other not. The more liberal school of thought held that a man could divorce his wife for any reason whatsoever, even if she failed to do as little as one thing to her husband's satisfaction. The Lord asked them, "What did Moses command you?" (v. 3). They did not tell Him what Moses commanded, but rather what he allowed: "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away" (v. 4). "And Jesus said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, "God created them male and female." "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" (vv. 5-9), or rip asunder. The Lord quoted from Genesis to show these hard-hearted, so-called religious leaders that God Himself instituted marriage, a holy bond that sinful man is not to break. But at that time divorce decrees were being issued left and right, for any reason whatsoever, and even for no reason at all. The people of God were sinning against him by divorcing at will. The Lord Himself says, "I hate divorce." He grudgingly allows rare instances in which a divorce may be granted: adultery and desertion. But we are not looking for loopholes. We are here to hear what the Lord says about what He has instituted.
Holy Scripture clearly speaks to marriage and how God has intended it, and there is no better passage than in Ephesians 5, where Paul compares the marriage of husband and wife to the marriage of Christ to His Bride, the Church. In the marriage rite, the groom and the bride each vow in the presence of God to live with each other in holy marriage according to the Word of God, to love, comfort, and honor each other, to keep each other in sickness and in health and forsaking all others, be wedded to each other as long as they both shall live, to love and to cherish, until death parts them, and they pledge each other their faithfulness.
Again, marriage is not to be entered into inadvisedly or lightly. But it is increasingly more common that this is the case. Words are to mean things, but when one has no regard for what is being said, even by oneself, vows become nothing more than empty words. We live in a time of pre-nuptial arrangements, a contract which states who gets what and how much in the event the couple divorces. Such a contract does little more than to tell the world that this couple does not truly love each other as they are already anticipating divorcing. Look at how many times celebrities marry and divorce, only to remarry and re-divorce, and further repeating this empty, loveless cycle. These people may profess their love for each other, but it is often little more than an erotic, a sexual love. Once someone better looking or more popular, or even younger, comes along, the past relationship is just that—in the past. Many do not even wait to become married before engaging in sexual relations with each other, an intimacy which God has commanded to be reserved for a husband and his wife alone. But we need not look to blame the Hollywood culture (or lack thereof).
Such adultery is prevalent in our society and can even be found in various branches of our family trees. We can look to our family trees and see which of our relatives is living with someone in a manner God has forbidden and who has sired, conceived and borne children out of wedlock, out of the holy bounds that God has established. And yet we need not look any farther than our own hearts to know that we have not honored our marriage vows. Maybe there was an affair, maybe not. The issue goes much deeper than that. Think of the times that the eyes have wandered and gazed lustfully upon someone not your spouse. Go deeper. Remember the times you and your spouse have argued with each other, saying hurtful and spiteful things to each other, looking to cut each other down verbally. We have not honored each other as we have promised. We do not honor each other as we ought because we do not love each other as we ought. We do not love each other as we ought because we do not love God as we ought. We do not fear, love, and trust in God above all things because we are poor, miserable sinners. And, since we do not love God as we ought, we do not love others as we ought: spouses, neighbors, children, and grandchildren, friends and strangers alike. We do not say the things we ought to say, approaching one another in the love of the Lord and seeking to bring an erring brother or sister to repentance. Yet we say things that we should not say to each other or about each other. The tongue loves to wag; it is the devil's favorite instrument of war. He loves to use our wicked tongues to cut down each other, and we are all too willing to help him. So we then say, "Peace, peace," where there is no peace, for the peace of Christ does not rule our hearts. And as the cause and effect of this we do not defend each other, speak well of each other, nor do we put the best construction on anything; we do not encourage our wayward children to return to the Lord's house to receive the gifts He so dearly wants to give to them, as long as they repent. We do not love our spouses, children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors, and strangers as we should. We love ourselves, and we are guilty not merely adultery but idolatry. We, in our supposedly adult wisdom, do not receive the kingdom of God like a little child. That is to say, we do not eagerly cling to each word that comes from the mouth of the Lord as He speaks to us in readings, catechesis, and sermon. We despise preaching and God's Word and do not gladly hear and learn it. We are not being childlike in our faith, but childish and risk eternity outside the kingdom of God.
Our Lord still calls us children, not only because we are childish spiritually, but because we continually need to be fed. Our Lord feeds us on His Word, that we may know and firmly believe, teach, confess, and practice the faith He has given us through Holy Baptism, preaching, and lifelong catechesis, through liturgy, psalms, and hymnody. He comes to us, calling us to repentance, calling us to be children of the heavenly Father. He calls us to be fed on His Word and on His body and blood. Through these Means of Grace our Lord takes us in His arms, just as a mother takes a baby in her arms and feeds him. The relationship our Lord desires with us is more personal and intimate than a mother has with her infant child, than a husband and wife have with each other, for God has joined us together with His Son through Jesus' death and resurrection. Martin Luther said in a wedding sermon back in 1531:
"God's word is actually inscribed on one's spouse. When a man looks at his wife as if she were the only woman on earth, and when a woman looks at her husband if he were the only man on earth; yes, if no king or queen, not even the sun itself sparkles any more brightly and lights up your eyes more than your own husband or wife, then right there you are face to face with God speaking. God promises to you your wife or husband, actually gives your spouse to you saying, 'The man shall be yours. I am pleased beyond measure! Creatures earthly and heavenly are jumping for joy.' For there is no jewelry more precious than God's Word; through it you come to regard your spouse as a gift of God and, as long as you do that, you have no regrets."
We are joined together, for Christ, the Bridegroom, has loved His bride, the Church and "gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25-27), for "we see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering and death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone" (Heb. 2:9). The Lord has tasted death for you, and you will soon taste and see that the Lord is good. As our Lord has joined you together with your heavenly Father through Jesus' death and resurrection, He draws you closer to Himself at His Table. He draws you closer in His Holy Absolution, where He announces that you are forgiven for His sake. He draws you closer by speaking to you as He is now in the sermon, as He did moments ago in the public reading of His Word, and as He does through ongoing catechesis.
It is our Lord's desire that all children—children of all ages and at all times and in all places—be counted as children of God, for God loves us. This is what God is all about: love. God is love. He loves children. He desires that we receive the kingdom of God like a little child, that we eagerly cling to the words and promises of God, for it is in these words that our Lord grants forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation to us. Through His Means of Grace our Lord establishes His perfect relationship with us. Our relationship with Him is not perfect, for we are not perfect. But our Lord continues to draw us closer to this perfect relationship as the Holy Spirit calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the one true faith. He makes us perfect, perfect in heaven, where we, through faith, will join the saints into all eternity, enjoying the perfect relationship our Lord has wanted for us from all eternity and into all eternity.
Our Lord has established for us the perfect relationship. He has given us the model for our relationships with one another: with our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, our neighbors and friends, and even total strangers. Our Lord has moved us to act out of love for one another, out the love He has first shown us. We love because He loves us and gave His life for us. Will our relationships with each other be perfect? Absolutely not, because our relationship with God is not perfect. But we are able to forgive each other since God has first forgiven us. Forgiveness: that is the key to any relationship, forgiving those who trespass against us even as God has forgiven us our trespasses. We are able, by the love of Christ, to forgive one another, for the Lord has forgiven you. He forgave you in Holy Baptism. He forgave you this morning in Holy Absolution. He forgives you in the preaching of His Word this day. He will in a moment forgive you once again in the Lord's Supper. He takes you in His arms. He blesses you and keeps you. He makes His face shine upon you and is gracious to you. He lifts up His countenance upon you and gives you peace. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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