Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 7, Year of Our + Lord 2012
St. John and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Fairview and Sidney, Montana
On Marriage, Family, and Jesus, Genesis 2:18-25 and Mark 10:2-16
I’m sorry. I want to begin this morning by saying, “I’m sorry.” Now, I’m not apologizing for the words I’m about to say, nor for the Word of God you’ve already heard. Rather, I feel sorrow for any pain that these words may cause you. The words the Lord has already spoken to us are good and right and necessary. But I am sorry for the pain that many, if not all of you, are feeling. Before us today we have words about the potential of a man and a woman together, perfect mutual helpers, one flesh, naked and without shame. These words remind us of our nakedness and great shame, as do the words about marriage, divorce, adultery and little children. Hearing these words can cause pain for many people. Because God has made me your pastor, I feel sorrow whenever you feel pain; part of my calling is to hurt when you hurt. I also feel the sorrow of my own pain, the sad reality that I fall far short of fulfilling God’s plan for marriage and family, all too often choosing against the good that God wants for me and my family. We all feel pain and rightly sorrowful when we meditate on these things, because of the sins we suffer, and inflict on our loved ones, especially the pain our failures cause for the little ones.
Not that it’s all bad. Thank God, it’s not all bad, or we wouldn’t be able to go on. There is still tremendous joy in marriage, joy in the love between a man and a woman, joy in conceiving and bearing and raising children. Just as I am certain today’s words about marriage and divorce and the potential of human love at times cause you pain, I am also sure your family, your children, your beloved are also your greatest joys. This only makes sense, because desires for a good marriage, a joyful family, true love, these desires are God-given, remnants in us sinners of the image of God, the image and likeness of God originally created in Adam and Eve. The image of God in us is broken by our sinfulness, cracked and unclear like a shattered mirror, but a remnant of His image still remains. And the remnant of God’s image makes a very great difference in our lives. God mercifully sustains in us a desire to love and be loved, to have it all in our relationships, in our families. And so most people, regardless of their faith, maintain some hope for the future. Even in our very broken world, even in the mess we call human existence, we still treasure the promise of lovers, the beauty of babies, the joy of family. Thanks be to God for these mercies.
Whenever we speak of the love between a man and a woman, of marriage, of babies, we will have reason for great joy, and we will also face our greatest sorrows, our worst failures. God is behind the true joys. Satan is behind the sorrows, and the false thrills. Satan’s attacks have always been against the family, telling lies to put a wedge between man and wife, working on insecurity to turn brother against brother, eventually succeeding in turning parents against children, even in turning society against life. Satan uses our great desire for fulfillment in marriage and family against us, turning love into lust, beauty into pornography, the joy of bearing and raising children into a burden to be avoided. Now, instead of seeing every child as a gift and blessing from the Lord, we rejoice in those children who are wanted, but dispose of those who upset our plans. Instead of treasuring the elderly, we fret over how much they cost, and wonder when they will hurry up and pass on. Instead of caring for the young and old, we spend millions to continue looking sexy, or build fantasy worlds where we can at least pretend we’ve still got it.
At the vicarage supervisors conference I recently attended in Fort Wayne, along with talking about how to help our vicars grow in their ability to preach and teach, we received a presentation entitled: Responding to Sexual Temptation in a High Tech Society. I’m not sure that I would have chosen to attend such a class, but I am glad, after the fact, that it was included in our conference. I was reminded, and my understanding deepened of just how bad it is in our world. And I’m sorry.
Anyone who owns a smart phone carries around in their pocket easy access to a vast world of pornography. Anyone who has a computer with internet access is constantly facing temptations to lose themselves in smut and perversion. And of course, anyone who turns on their television or even just walks down the street on a summer day is exposed to people, male and female, dressed in very revealing clothing, clothing that certainly 20 or 30 years ago would have only been worn in a bedroom or by a prostitute. Surveys show that 70% of men age 18-34 visit pornographic websites on at least a monthly basis. And even more surprising, at least for me, 30 -35% of all the visits to explicit websites are by women. Perhaps most frightening of all, 90% of children aged 11 – 16 have viewed pornography on the internet. Pornography carries the risk of imprinting our brains with images that can plague us for years, creating unrealistic expectations and crippling our ability to find joy in a spouse. And sadly, pornography is only one sexual problem among many. From pornography to sex as recreation, sex before marriage to adultery by married people, from homosexual acts to prostitution, from divorce for convenience to abortion, Satan has managed to poison God’s gifts of sexuality, marriage, and family to a shocking degree. The human heart is hard indeed.
Our first reaction is probably to try and turn back the clock, to somehow control the internet and re-establish decency in the way we dress, to just try to stop this behavior. Such desires are fine and good. But the reality is internet pornography takes in 97 billion dollars annually around the world, 13 billion in the U.S. With such profit potential, producers will find a way to sell their poison. The reality is no one can control the internet. And even if we could, the reality is the problem of sexual sin, while certainly heightened by the internet and television, has always been with us, ever since Adam and Eve first felt shame at their suddenly sinful nakedness. I’m not against parents trying to limit access. I’m not against the government putting some curbs and limits on what is allowed when and where.
But we will not overcome Satan’s assaults against God’s good gifts of sexuality, marriage and family with regulations and restrictions against all that stuff “out there.” Because the sad truth is that for each one of us, the heart of the problem isn’t “out there.” It’s in here. You and I may have avoided the grosser temptations of the internet, or maybe not, but either way we haven’t loved, honored and cherished our spouses like we promised. We haven’t lived chaste and decent lives in thought, word and deed. You and I may be pro-life, but the temptation to think that ‘this difficult pregnancy’ or ‘that disabled child’ is just ‘too big a burden,’ has crossed all our minds. High tech age or not, Satan’s attacks have injured and ensnared us all, exposing our sin and our shame. We cannot cure our broken families, our lusts, our shame. So Jesus has come to be the perfect husband to us all.
Sometimes a marriage makes it through a rough patch because one spouse decides to bear the burden and do what it takes to hold things together, despite the neglect and habitual sin of the other. One spouse works extra jobs to make up for the spendthrift ways of the other. One spouse shoulders all the burden of the others’ failures, raising the children, doing it all. One spouse bears the shame, patiently waiting for the day when the beloved but unfaithful husband or wife comes to his or her senses, and back to the relationship. It is an amazing thing to observe, a work of selfless devotion.
Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. There is no guarantee that complete self-giving to the other will generate the desired response in a lousy husband or wife. But the selfless service of a husband or wife doing everything possible to hold a marriage and a family together does give us a picture, an icon, of what Christ does for His Church. And He is the one selfless spouse who does offer a guarantee.
In the most one-sided marriage ever, God’s Son came down to earth, to win back His faithless Bride, which is collectively every man, woman and child in the Church. Even though His Bride was chronically unfaithful, Jesus was perfectly faithful, not only upholding His half of the marriage, but also taking care of everything that His Bride should have been contributing to the relationship. Where the people of God, indeed, where every other person who ever lived, sought after every type of sin imaginable, Jesus Christ lived the perfect life of chastity and purity, faith and service. And since His Bride could never pay her debt, Jesus took that on as well, paying in full the debt of every sinner, allowing Satan to exact his full demands, even suffering from the Father for all that our sins deserve.
The hope for you, living in a high tech world full of sexual temptation, the hope for your marriage, whether today you are married, or single and looking forward to a marriage, indeed the only guaranteed hope that exists, is found in the love of Christ for His Bride the Church, which is also the love of Christ for you, individually, the forgiveness and complete acceptance that God has for every sinner who, through the Word of Christ, comes to understand the tragedy and horror of sin, and then through that same Word sees and trusts the love of God, poured out for sinners in the blood of Jesus Christ, crucified, and resurrected.
We should all be guarding our eyes, ears, minds and hearts against the constant barrage of sexual temptation that surrounds us all. There are practical steps we all should take for ourselves and others. But the answer for your struggle is not in your works of self-defense. Rather the answer is found in Christ’s work of self-sacrifice. Christ is your victory, because the blood of Jesus, God’s eternal Son, covers all sin, even sins of pornography, adultery, abortion, abandonment. Whether you are guilty of inflicting these sins on yourself and others, or whether you are a victim, (and you are probably both), Jesus has died and risen again in order to wash you clean, in order to present you spotless and white before His heavenly throne, forgiven and made righteous.
In Christ, your perfect husband, you are free to dream big, free to seek a good mate, free to pray for the blessings of a joy-filled family. You can hope and work for these things, because in Christ, all of these things and more are already yours. You are free to rejoice at the sound of babies crying, even babies crying in the house of the Lord, free to rejoice as people, young and old, are brought to Christ, embraced in His arms of blessing through the living waters of Baptism. In Christ, you are free to rejoice with all the faithful as they come forward for a foretaste of the heavenly wedding feast to come, free to sing the praises of our Savior, our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, for He is present with us, and He is eager to take us home to meet His Father.
Christians, leaning daily on the grace of the Bridegroom have the freedom and privilege to live out their lives by the power of daily forgiveness, forgiveness from the Father to you, which then overflows in forgiveness from you to your spouse, your children, your parents, indeed to anyone and everyone you meet whose struggles with the brokenness of human love make them doubt the love of God. Nothing can change Christ’s love for His Bride, the Church, and so we live in hope, celebrating marriages and babies and families and life together, not because we live these things perfectly, but because Jesus has lived perfectly, and gives us His life and His love and His joy, for today, and forever and ever, Amen.