Down and Dirty Discipleship #3
When my youngest son, Josh, was about 3 ½ or 4, Mary was working as a teaching assistant in the community in which we lived and served. It was my job to drop him off at daycare and her job to pick him up. During that time, the Annual Conference decided to have a major capital campaign to raise money for the Camp, for our newly commissioned Church Growth and Development and to cover the unfunded liability for retired pastors. They proposed doing it by having a pulpit swap. The thought was that it would be easier for us to make a big push in for money in another congregation than our own.
John Dirk preached at my churches and I preached at his. Our son Josh never liked change very much when he was little. So, on the Saturday night before the swap, I brought him in a sat him down and said, “Now I want to be extra good for Daddy tomorrow. I’m going to be preaching at a different church. And somebody else is going to be preaching here.” He immediately burst into tears, uncontrollable tears.
It took us 25 minutes to calm him down and find out what was going on. To be honest, at that point in his life, Josh was to smart for his own good. He has always had a very deductive mind. But not having the experience or life skills to go with all that ability made him jump to some erroneous conclusions.
You see, the reason he burst into tears when I told him I was going to preach at another church was he thought I was leaving, that Mary and I were getting a divorce. It turns out that over half of his daycare class came from families of divorce. Several of which had taken place recently. All Josh had heard, all he knew, was that these kids told him there moms or dads had left and gone someplace else. In his own way, Josh added two and two and came up with seven.
Divorce is one of those topics most people never talk about. For years it had a stigma for both the parents and the children. I know, my mother divorced when I was about a year old. She married a divorced man and I remember hearing neighbors talking about them.
Back then most denominations, most churches disfellowshipped you excommunicated you and your ex-spouse. The children were cast into the same category as those born out of wedlock or worse. At the time, there seemed to be no social or spiritual grace available for anyone. But is that what God intended? What does the Bible say about marriage and the big D, divorce? What did Jesus teach about divorce? And why DID He say what He said? That’s what we’re going to explore today.
I. INTENT OF MARRIAGE:
A. In the reading from Genesis we heard earlier, we discovered that God looked at Adam one day and said, “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” God created marriage so we wouldn’t be alone, so we would have a helper, a partner, a companion in this journey we call life. God created all the animals and brought them one by one for Adam to name.
The story almost makes you think of a shopping trip. Well, “what about his one Adam,” as God runs the Giraffe by. “No, neck’s too long.” Each one got closer and closer to the right type of partner for Adam. There is such an affinity between men and dogs that I’m pretty sure dog was created next to last. Adam almost stopped there. But it’s good that he didn’t. We also heard the famous story of how God created Woman from Adam’s rib.
The moment Adam’s eyes looked at Eve, he was smitten. “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Which is the Biblical equivalent of the wolf whistle and, “Hubba, hubba.” Following this we read, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”
What God pronounced about being alone, what Adam says, and the Scriptural comment which follows, gives us an very clear indication as to what God’s idea about marriage is all about. It’s about companionship but a deeper level of companionship than you can have with a pet. My understanding is that marriage is a union of hearts and minds; of strengths and weaknesses; of spirit and flesh; of Spiritual gifts and intellectual gifts for the purpose of building one another up. For Christians, that means building one another up in both the spirit and the image of Christ in order to glorify God.
The purpose is not to bind or hinder anyone, but through the sacrificial efforts of both, both are built up into that true freedom which Christ offers. No freedom to do as we please but freed to do what pleases and glorifies God.
B. That purpose is reflected in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I think this text has been misused and consequently misunderstood for years. We like to pull a portion of the Scripture out of its context in order to keep women in their place. Listen to it in it’s full context.
Ephesians 5:21-33 (NRSV)
 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.
 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior.
 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,
 so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish.
 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church,
 because we are members of his body.
 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.
 Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.
Did you get that? The Biblical intent, God’s intent for marriage is mutual submission. Guys want to quote the part about wives being subject to their husbands but forget that the only way a woman has to be subject to her husband is if he Man’s up and is subject to Christ and treats her with the same sacrificial love and reverence Christ has for the Church. That’s hard. But that’s I think, is the intent of Marriage, mutual companionship and support. (What that means in the midst of parenthood is another subject altogether.)
II. WHAT JESUS SAID:
A. I know that so far, we haven’t addressed divorce but unless we know what God expects we can’t address the other can we. So, let’s look at what Jesus said about divorce. This is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew 5:31-32 (NRSV)
 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’
 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
I’ve got friends who say, “Well, that’s pretty clear isn’t it? Divorce is wrong except for that whle adultery thing.” My reply might be, “Hold on there, Sparky.” Because just like Ephesians is pulled out of context often times this one is, too.
If you look at what Mark has to say, you find that the Pharisees came to Jesus, “and to test him they asked, Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”
They didn’t come to find out what he really thought, they came to test him and trap him. They already had their minds made up. Divorce was a hotly debated subject of the time, just as it has been for years. There were basically two schools of thought. Rabbi Shammai, took the conservative approach. He taught that the only acceptable reason for divorce was adultery.
Rabbi Hillel was much more liberal. He and his following sort of took the Henry VIII approach. If it sounded halfway reasonable, it was OK. During first century Judaism a man could divorce his wife:
If she spoiled his dinner by adding too much salt
If she were seen in public with her head uncovered
If she talked with other men on the street
If she spoke disrespectfully to her husband’s parents
If she became plain-looking compared with another woman who seemed more beautiful in her husband’s opinion.
Totally unbelievable! What makes it worse is that women had NO recourse for divorce, only the husband. A woman just had to stick it out. A man was generally thought to be righteous or good if he gave his wife a written statement of divorce. This allowed her to defend herself and prove she was unmarried she marriage to another man. You were a good guy if you gave your wife a “pink slip” as you shoved her out the door.
Their cavalier attitude reminded me of this clip.
I believe it was that sort of attitude is why Jesus seemed to come down so hard on divorce. He even says so essentially when he told them, “It was because of your hardness of heart that Moses wrote this command for you.” And then Jesus quotes what we read in Genesis and ends with the words “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
III. BUT THEN THERE’S GRACE:
A. So, what are we to think and do about divorce? Are we supposed treat one another the way I saw people treated when I was a kid and in my early years of ministry? I grew up in a predominantly Roman Catholic neighborhood. I overheard the comments some of our neighbors made about Mom and Dad. I overheard what they said about me and my brothers. A couple of our neighbors were pretty sure we were all going straight to the hot place. I mean, Mom and Dad had both been divorced and remarried and you heard what Jesus said.
What they failed to hear was who Jesus said it to and why. Jesus never offered easy answers to the people who were trying to trap him. Instead His words always seemed to ensnare them in their own judgmental nature. And He never offered them a way out. But that’s not true for us.
Somebody asked one time and you’ve probably thought it or been asked it or wanted to ask it, “Is divorce a sin.” No. Divorce itself is not a sin, it is a product of our fallen nature. It is a byproduct of the fall and the sinful nature of humankind after the fall. It is one of the repercussions of our brokenness.
Then folks will ask, “Well, is divorce wrong?” I’m not a situational ethicist but in this case I would have to answer, “It depends on the situation.” I believe that there are some situations when Divorce is the only answer or the only solution.
As Christians trying to live a life that is both pleasing to God and models the love of God for others to see, I think we should see divorce as the last alternative and never our first choice. Only after we have done everything we can to reconcile and repair the brokenness in our relationship, and after much prayer, should we consider divorce. That’s pretty much what our Social Principles in the United Methodist Book of Discipline says too.
B. Let me read what ¶ 161.C in the section titled THE NURTURING COMMUNITYsays:
Divorce-God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital, marital, and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved, understanding that women and especially children are disproportionately impacted by such burdens. As the church we are concerned about high divorce rates. It is recommended that methods of mediation be used to minimize the adversarial nature and fault-finding that are often part of our current judicial processes.
Although divorce publicly declares that a marriage no longer exists, other covenantal relationships resulting from the marriage remain, such as the nurture and support of children and extended family ties. We urge respectful negotiations in deciding the custody of minor children and support the consideration of either or both parents for this responsibility in that custody not be reduced to financial support, control, or manipulation and retaliation. The welfare of each child is the most important consideration.
Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God’s grace is shared by all.”
C. The great thing about being a United Methodist is that we talk about the Grace of God a lot. And we need to because the world needs the Grace which God offers through Christ. We need to know that God loves us no matter what we do. We need to know that our God is a God of second chances.
We need to know that “Yes, we are sinners.” But then there’s Grace. We need to know that “Yes, we are a fallen people” who try hard and still blow it. But then there’s Grace. We need to know and we need to tell others that the United Methodist Church is a place filled with the Grace of God.
And God understands the struggles that have lead people to choose divorce. God understands the feelings of betrayal; of being an outcast; of no longer belonging; of wondering what others are thinking. God understands. And then there’s Grace.
You see, God is in the redemption business. He doesn’t want to lose any of us. And He’s not going to let us go, if He can help it. That’s why He sent Jesus. God offers mercy, redemption and forgiveness, not Judgment. And that’s what God wants us to reflect.
In Mark Jesus said, Mark 10:6-9 “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
If anyone brings up the subject of divorce, we should always talk about two other subjects first. Those are Marriage and Reconciliation. It is only in the context of God’s purpose for marriage and His reconciling love for us that we can even discuss Divorce, let alone consider it.
And should they make that choice, don’t sit in judgment; don’t gossip about it, instead reach out. Remind them, God still loves them, maybe even more than before, because now is when they need Him the most. Remind them they still have a place here in God’s house. They still have a place at God’s table. And if you’ve been divorced and wonder if God can or ever will forgive you, the answer is “Yes.”
Hear the Good News, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ died for us while were we yet sinners. That proves God’s love toward us. In the name of Jesus Christ, You ARE forgiven.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
Other References Consulted
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Preaching Magazine (Preaching Resources, Jackson, TN)
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