Sermon - Mark 10:2-16

Mark 10:2-16  

So today we’ve heard how the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking if it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife?  As he often did Jesus answers their question with another question.   What did Moses command?  They reply that Moses allowed the man to write his own divorce certificate.  Jesus then explains that Moses only allowed this because of the hardness of heart - but that this was never God’s intention for marriage, He quotes from Genesis to substantiate this:  ‘What God has joined together, let no one separate.’  He’s confirming that marriage is a covenant, not a casual relationship that can be discarded easily.  Marriage creates a strong new unity that may only be broken under very serious conditions. 

Yet Jesus acknowledges that such serious conditions do exist, because of hard hearts.  Sometimes sin makes human hearts so hard that a spouse severely violates the marriage covenant; without the prospects of repentance and healing divorce is permitted.  The only such violation that Jesus names in this passage is adultery.  St Paul adds another ground – wilful desertion.  These actions break the covenant vow so thoroughly, that the wronged spouse ‘is not bound.’… (1 Cor. 7:15)

So Jesus rejected the concept of easy divorce as this destroys the concept of covenant and vow.  Yet Jesus also knows the depth of human sin and holds out hope for those who find themselves married to someone with an intractably hard heart who has broken his or her vows in these ways.  Divorce is terribly difficult, and it should be, but the wronged party shouldn’t live in shame.  Surprisingly, even God claims to have gone through a divorce so he understands what it’s like.  In Jeremiah it says this:

She also saw that I gave wayward Israel her divorce papers and sent her away because of her adulterous worship of other gods. Even after her unfaithful sister Judah had seen this, she still was not afraid, and she too went and gave herself like a prostitute to other gods. (NET Bible Jeremiah 3:8)

The Church has been very good at saying we shouldn’t divorce – but we’ve been less good at preparing people for the reality of marriage which is hard!  Being in such intense proximity to another human being allows us to see things about them that we couldn’t know beforehand.

Someone described it like this:  ‘We never know whom we marry; we just think we do…For marriage, being the enormous thing it is means we are not the same person after we have entered it.  The primary problem is ….learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.’   (Stanley Haerwas)

If a marriage is to survive both parties will have to make changes that they don’t want to and this is so difficult  for us as our culture puts a high value on freedom and autonomy – yet any truly loving relationship will mean a loss of these.   

In the past people looked to God for meaning, purpose and a sense of identity – now these hopes are often mistakenly pinned on marriage.  If we’re under the illusion that once we find our true soul mate everything wrong with us will be healed we’re trying to make our lover into God – and no human being can ever live up to that.  It’s more helpful to view marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love and consolation; of spiritual friends helping each other to become the person that God intends them to be.

The main enemy of marriage is selfishness or self-centredness – thankfully  we have the supernatural help of the Holy Spirit to help us with this.   

I was thinking about this Sermon whilst I’ve been walking over the last two weeks.  As you know it’s a long time since I’ve been married – however I started to think how walking with someone was like a bit like mini-marriage.  It’s a  commitment to walk alongside each other and support them on the journey come what may.  I certainly came face to face with my own self-centredness as we did this. My walking partner Judith hates walking on the road whereas at the end of the day I’d rather opt for 2 miles on tarmac than 4 miles through the woods.   However with this sermon buzzing around my head I managed to concede to Judith’s preference! 

Love – whether in friendship or marriage -  is the opposite of ‘self-seeking’ which is pursuing ones’ own welfare before others.

Tragically self-centredness makes us blind to our own self-centredness whilst making us hypersensitive to the self-centredness of others.  This fact can easily push any relationship into a downward spiral of self-pity, anger and despair.

Our best hope is for us all to acknowledge that we are selfish and self-centred – then at least we can deal with it.  Whereas if we allow this to become the ‘elephant in the room’ – it’s likely to create an emotional chasm that will widen over the years, even if all looks well on the surface.  Whereas if each party in a relationship chooses instead to say – the problem here is my self-centredness – there is the potential for a really great marriage!

Both parties need to work at spirit-generated selflessness – not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.  It requires each to realise that its God who will ultimately meet our needs – so we need to stop thinking of our spouses as our saviours!  If God doesn’t have the proper place in our lives we will always be complaining that our spouses are not loving us enough, not respecting us enough, nor supporting us enough.

But how can we be so filled with the Spirit so that we’re controlled by the fear of the Lord rather than all our other fears?  This won’t happen overnight it’s a process whereby we eventually become so immersed in Jesus’ promises that  eventually we’ll find our security there.  

Jesus gave up his glory, took on human nature, went to the cross and paid the penalty for our sins thereby removing our guilt and condemnation so that we could be united with him.  He became a servant, dying to his own interests and He looked to our needs and interests instead.  

Jesus’ sacrificial service to us has brought us into a deep union with him and he with us – and this – says St Paul is the key to understanding marriage and living it. Marriage is a vehicle which allows the remaking of our hearts from inside out, from the ground up – we learn gospel truths by living it.

The Bible begins with a marriage - God brings a woman and a man together as the climax of the creation story and it ends with a marriage in the book of Revelation – that of Christ and the Church.  Marriage was designed to be a reflection of the saving love of God for us in Jesus Christ – may it be so for all those we know who are married today.  Amen

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