The Miracle Of Marriage
Pentecost 18B Mark 10:2-16, Genesis 2:18-24
Today, standing before you in all their wedding finery, are Michelle and Joshua Siebenaller. Michelle and Joshua are one of the newest married couples in our parish, having been married here at Grace on September 6th.
Michelle and Josh, we want you to have a great marriage and that is what we are going to talk about today. We want you to have a five star marriage, a great marriage, a grand marriage, a marriage made in heaven.
There are hundreds of great marriages around you and here in our church. You have many models of great marriages sitting before you today, and a five star marriage is a real possibility for your two lives. I also live in a great marriage. I personally know what goes into making five star marriage, not simply because I have read about great marriages in books. I have read the books, but more important than that, I live in a fine marriage. And I also have dear friends who live in fine marriages. There are so many in the parish who have great marriages. The sermon for today grows out of this knowledge of these marriages.
A quick caveat. That is, we are keenly aware that Jesus, the source and founder of the Christian religion, was never married and lived a full and fulfilled life. The Apostle Paul, the author of half of the New Testament, never married and lived a full and fulfilled life. That can be true of us today as well. People can live a full and fulfilled life without being married. We need to say that at the outset. But the Biblical text for today focuses on marriage and I will in the sermon for today.
The sermon for today has two halves. The first half of the sermon is learning about marriage by studying the primary Bible passages about marriage. The second half of the sermon is learning about marriage from close Christian friends.
First, the Bible and marriage.
There are three great passages about marriage in the Bible: from Genesis 2, the Old Testament lesson for today. From Mark 10, the Gospel lesson for today. From Ephesians 5, where Paul writes about the mystery of marriage.
Genesis 2:18-24. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul go back to this passage in Genesis for their guide to an understanding of marriage. We need to start with Genesis.
In the Genesis account of marriage in Genesis 2, there are several primary words that you need to circle in your bulletin insert. Please turn to your bulletin insert of Genesis.
The first word to circle is “alone.” Lord God said, ‘It is not good that a man should be alone; I will make him a helper appropriate or fit for him.” The first issue mentioned in the primary Genesis text was loneliness. The purpose of marriage is being a companion, a partner, a friend, a best friend, a soul mate…in order to counter the loneliness of human isolation.
The next word to circle is the word, “helper.” The Hebrew word for “helper” occurs 21 times in the Old Testament, and 17 of those 21 times refers to God. God is our helper. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.” God is our helper at all times, but especially in times of trouble. God is our source of strength, our source of wisdom, our source of find the right path. Similarly, within marriage, our martial partner becomes our source of strength, our source of wisdom, our source of making the right decisions. Our marriage partner is a helper who helps us like no other. Michelle and Josh: that is always true in the great marriages. Your partner is your greatest resource and strength that you have. Also, the Hebrew word for “helper” does not imply subordination. That is, God, our ever-present source for help, is not subordinated to us.
The next word to circle is the phrase “suitable for him.” Write above that phrase the words “soul mate,” “companion” and “partner.” God wanted to find a partner for man that was made of the same stuff, the same fiber, the same qualities. In the text for today, God then created all the animals of the earth, hoping that one or some of these animals would solve the issue of loneliness. It didn’t. Horses, cows, sheep. Elephants, zebras, wildebeests. Dogs, cats, parakeets. None of these animals solved the problem of loneliness. None of the animals became a companion, a partner, a soul mate.
Underline the sentence, “But for Adam, not suitable helper was found.”
So God created a person from Adam’s flesh, from his rib. God put Adam into a deep sleep, and from his own body, his rib, God fashioned woman. Eve was like Adam; they were both made of the same stuff, the same material; and because Adam and Eve were made of the same stuff, they could find intimacy, closeness, a connectedness, friendship and communication. You can’t have a great marriage without that close, intimate, loving, honest friendship. In all the great marriages, you share with your wife and husband things that you just don’t share with anybody else. You can connect with each other like no one else on earth.
Circle the word, “woman” and the word, “man.” Both in the English language and in the Hebrew language, we find a play on words. You, Josh, are man. You, Michelle, are woman. In the Hebrew language, you, Josh, are “ish,” and you, Michelle, are “ish-shak.”
Man, wo-man. Ish, Ish-shak. You are made from each other.
Sometimes and too often, the church gets into arguments about the issues of subordination and equality e.g. wives are to be subordinate to husband; women are to be subordinate to men. In preparation for the sermon to today, I typed the words “Genesis 2:18” into my search engine on my computer and found 60,000 references to this passage on the Internet. Many of those passages use Genesis 2:18-24 to prove the subordination of women to men, of wives to husbands. But we recall that the Hebrew word for “helper” primarily refers to God and God is not subordinate to us human beings. Sometimes, in more conservative denominations, they will often use this Genesis text to prove the subordination of women, that women are to be helpers of men. In the Hebrew Old Testament, the Hebrew word for helper, ezer, is used 21 times and 17 of those 21 times are a reference to God. The Hebrew word for helper primarily refers to God and God as our helper does not mean that God is subordinate to us humans. Nor is a woman subordinate to a man, anymore than God is to humans.
Here in the Lutheran church, we emphasize that Eve was not made out of a bone from Adam’s head so that Eve would be above Adam. Eve was not made out of a bone from Adam’s foot so that she would be below him. But Eve was made out of a rib from Adam’s side, so that she would stand beside him. Likewise in my marriage today and in the marriages of all my friends and in the marriages of my greater family of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and adult children, all of us live in partnerships, with the man and woman being equal. In some situations the man leads; in other situations the woman leads; but our marriages are shared life All of us stand at each other’s side. Not one of my aunts were subordinate to my uncles nor was my mother subordinate to my father, nor is my wife subordinate to me. We are equal partners.
But none of this stuff is important to Jesus in the New Testament. He ignores Genesis 2:18-23 and all the words and philosophical arguments about subordination and equality. Jesus begins quoting with verse 24…for this reason shall a man.
The next word to circle are the words, “man” and “wife” in the sentence, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife.” In the Hebrew language, the word for “man” can be translated “man” or “husband.” In English we have two words, “man”
and “husband” but the Hebrew language has only one word. The same is true for the word “woman” and “wife.” Hebrew has only one word. In the sentence that we are studying right now, “a man” could mean “a husband” shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. Then “husband” and “wife” are parallel in roles.
The next issue in the Genesis text has to do with leaving your father and mother and forming a new, primary relationship of a new marriage. The Old Testament lesson from Genesis says, “A man shall leave his father and mother.” Jesus, in the New Testament, says the same thing. Jesus and Genesis agree. At the heart of all good marriages at the beginning of time and at the heart of all good marriages today in our modern American culture, is leaving your father and mother. That is part of a great marriage. Genesis and Jesus both say that. Your primary loyalty is no longer to your mother and father but to your new marriage. As a man, you don’t play the game of “well, the way my mother did it was…” As a woman, you don’t play the game of “well, my father was a good man and my dad would have done it this way.” In all the great marriages that I know, there is this deeply held value of leaving your mother and father and establishing a new home, a new marriage, a new family.
Another issue in the Genesis text has to do with the man and woman clinging or cleaving to each other. The Old Testament lesson from Genesis says, “and cling to his wife.” Jesus says the same thing. Jesus and Genesis agree. Cling is an important word from the Bible. We are to cleave, cling, connect, hold, embrace, put our arms around each other, united. The two of you will learn that in marriage, we cling to each other physically and cling to each other emotionally and cling to each other personally. Clinging to each other is at the heart of all great marriages. In marriage, you cling to each other more than any other human relationship. One clings to another person so much that….
That they become one. Jesus and Genesis agree. A man and a woman become one flesh, one spirit, one emotion. The man and woman become one. Jesus repeats that statement a second time. That is what you want, Tim and Michelle. It is absolutely beautiful. It is absolutely essential. When a man and woman cling to each other so much that they become one. One physically. One emotionally. One spiritually. Husbands and wives with good marriages know what the other person is thinking and feeling, just by being in the same room. Like a tuning fork, a marriage couple is in tune with each other. They know each other so much it becomes almost scary how they anticipate which each other is feeling.
So…in Genesis, we have circled three important words: leave, united, one. That is the focus of Jesus in the New Testament.
Now, let us briefly look at the second Biblical passage about marriage. It is from Mark, chapter ten. In this passage for today, Jesus discusses divorce and marriage. When Jesus talked about marriage, he brought up the concept of divorce. The first five lines in the text for today about marriage are about divorce. Jesus introduced this new element about divorce into the conversation about marriage.
Three years ago on this Sunday when I preached on this text, I focused the whole sermon on Jesus’ teachings about divorce in Mark and Matthew. If you want to hear that sermon, ask me and I will email you a copy of that sermon which is entitled, A THEOLOGY OF DIVORCE. That sermon is helpful for people facing a potential divorce. 35% of our confirmation students live in home of parents who are remarried after divorces. Many of you have been divorced and happily remarried, some of you remarried for decades.
In the text for today, this is the only place in the gospels where Jesus actually addresses marriage. Look at your Scripture insert on Mark 2, the fifth line down. Jesus repeats the theme from Genesis: for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother. Jesus repeats the theme from Genesis: a man is to cling/cleave/be joined to his wife. Jesus repeats the theme from Genesis: the two shall become one flesh. They are no longer two but one flesh. Jesus adds a second line. “So they are no longer two but one.” Jesus is emphasizing this oneness. We circle three words: leave, united, one.
And then Jesus adds a line to Old Testament, Genesis teaching: “what God has joined together, let no one put asunder.” What God has joined together, let no one destroy. Marriages are sacred to Jesus and they are not to be destroyed by human beings. In the Old Testament, divorces were simple, available, and accessible, especially for men. The new element in the New Testament teaching about marriage and divorce is that Jesus came out strongly against divorce. That was the topic of another sermon. Email me if you want and I will send it to you.
Now, we go to the third passage in the Bible about marriage. In Ephesians 5:31, the Apostle Paul repeats Jesus and Genesis about marriage when he says, “For this reason shall a man and woman leaven his mother and father and cling to his wife and the two shall become one.” Paul then adds a new line: “this is a mystery.” When a man and woman become one, this is a mystery. This is a miracle. The Latin beneath the word, mystery, is a sacrament. That is why the Roman Catholic Church (and me also) believe that marriage is a sacrament; that is, it is a profound mystery, a beautiful mystery, an unfathomable mystery which is someone fathomable. It is true. When marriages more than survive; when marriages blossom; when marriages come into full bloom, it is beautiful and beyond human understanding. Great marriages are grand miracles that are grown in the garden of God’s love and compassion. When plants grow, it is always a mystery. Nobody quite understands it. And when marriages grow and ripe into beautiful loving blossoms, nobody quite understands how this happened.
So that completes our Bible study. We learn about marriage for God’s Word. We learn that the Lord God in the Bible says that you as a married couple are to leave your father and mother and form a new family; that you are to cling, cleave, hold each other; so much so that you become one. When you become one, this is a beautiful mystery. And Jesus is against you getting a divorce to solve your conflicts.
That ends the first half of the sermon. Now, I would like to share some of my wisdom with you, a wisdom based on the Scriptures, a wisdom based on observations from my own marriage and most importantly, the great marriages of my friends.
I would like to share the five Cs with you. You cannot have a great marriage without these five qualities. These five qualities are taught in our confirmation program and in many other places here in our church. Tim and Michelle, you need to understand these qualities in your hearts and practice these virtues in your actions.
The first C stands for chemistry. In all the great marriages among my friends and acquaintances, there is chemistry in that marriage. Electricity. Aliveness. Zippiness. There is a physical electrical energy between the two people, and when it is not there, that marriage is in trouble. Almost all marriages have this chemistry, this physical energy between the man and the woman
The second C stands for communication of inner feelings. In the old days, it seems that men and women could be happily married and not be expected to share their inner feelings and desires. But in today’s American culture, people are wanting more emotional intimacy. In the great marriages today, there is a willingness to share the inner self with each other. Often, I find this is more difficult for men. In the old days, the man was the hunter or farmer. He went out and worked all day to bring in the food. In the old days, the man was not expected to share inner feelings. In my family, my grandfather used to grunt and that was called communication. Then, time passed and my father grumbled in a marbled voice. “Pass the bread,” and that too passed for communication. But in today’s American culture, men are making an adaptation and finding ways to share inner feelings. Some social scholars say that men and women born after 1945 have different expectations of each other than those born before 1945. There are new roles and expectations in modern American marriages. People expect to share inner feelings with each other. I believe that is what the Bible means today when men and women are asked to cling to each other.
The third C stands for character. Character is goodness. Many people have tons of personality but are short on character. Character is emotional backbone. Character is moral integrity. It is expressed in the feeling of a parent who says, “I hope that my son or daughter marries a good person, a person with character, someone who is fundamentally kind, caring and faithful. People with good character do not physically or emotionally abuse another person. Also, a person with character knows what the word, commitment, means. A French psychiatrist, Sidney Jourard, once said, “My friends and I are all on our third marriages. The primary difference is that I am on my third marriage to the same woman. Unlike my friends, I have saved the legal fees and the togetherness of our family unit.” Of course, couples fall out of love. Of course, feelings change. Character is the commitment to make our marriage work and tough out the normal “ups and downs” found in all marriages.
The fourth C stands for Christ. The indwelling of Christ and his gracious, forgiving love is crucial to any marriage. If you will, imagine a glass of water half filled with light blue water. Imagine another glass filled with dark blue water. The glass, half filled with light blue water, represents the natural love that a man and a woman have for each other as they prepare for marriage. It normally lasts about three years and then begins to fade. But if you take the glass of dark blue water, representing the love of Christ, and pour it into the glass of light blue water…if you pour the love of Christ into your love for each other, it is forever changed and transformed. The light blue water becomes dark blue water. Pour the love of Christ into the love between a man and a woman and you change both the quality and the quantity of that love. When Christ’s love is poured into human love, there is more love, more kindness, more tenderness, more forgiveness, more grace and more commitment. You enlarge the quantity of love. That is the way it is when Christ lives in you. … But the quality of love is also changed. Your love is much more expansive and giving to people around you. The love between a married couple is not confined to themselves and their pursuit of pleasure but is transformed so their marital love begins to serve the world. The indwelling of Christ enlarges and enhances your love and service for each other and the world.
The fifth C stands for Christian community. Nowadays, what is the divorce rate of two people who love each other? Fifty percent. What is the divorce rate of two good people who love each other and believe in Christ? Fifty percent. What is the divorce rate of two good people, who believe in Christ and come to church on Christmas and Easter? Fifty percent. What is the divorce rate of two good people who believe in Christ, worship on Christmas and Easter AND are present 75% of the time in church, receiving the Sacrament of the Altar, the Sacrament of Forgiveness, whose couple friends are primarily in the church? Two percent. Fifty percent to two percent. So what is the difference between those who believe and those who believe AND belong? Why does the divorce rate drop from 50% to 2%? It took me a number of years to understand this and work this out in my mind but I think I now understand it by the use of the following observations. The kind of people who talk with God are the same kind of people who talk with each other. The kind of people who experience the forgiveness of God are the same kind of people who forgive each other. The same kind of people who take time for God are the same kind of people who take time for each other. The same kind of people who make little sacrifices for God (such as two hours of worship on a Sunday) are the same kind of people who make little sacrifices for each other. And that is what marriage is all about: it is making a thousand little sacrifices for each other. And that is what love is: the art of giving a million little gifts and sacrifices to each other.
Those five qualities, those five Cs, make for a five star marriage. These are great marriages in which people like and love each other, raise stable children, still fight and argue still have differences of opinions, still have distinct personalities. Of course, we all know that good Christians get divorces. We all know the pain of those divorces, but the facts are these. If a couple roots their marriage in the love of Christ and the love of a Christian community, they strongly increase the probability of having a great marriage.
You never want to cheat on the foundation of anything which is to last a long time. If you want to build a house to endure, you can cheat on the paint, cheat on the windows, cheat on the trim, cheat on the carpeting, but you can’t cheat on the foundation. The taller the building, the stronger and better the foundation needs to be. A fifty story building needs a solid foundation and so does a fifty year marriage. When it comes to marriage, do not cheat on the foundation and that foundation is Jesus Christ, his love and his loving community. Amen.
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