I use a lectionary to select scripture texts for the sermon. A lectionary is a series of scriptures for each week on a three-year cycle. I like using the lectionary, because it stops me from preaching on a few favorite (and easy) texts all the time. It forces me to confront texts that I would prefer to ignore.
Whenever I find a scripture text that I don’t want to accept, I know that I have discovered a part of my own idolatry. I have discovered a place at which I think my opinion is better than God’s opinion. I have discovered a place at which I really need to open up and to let God speak to me. Furthermore, when I deal seriously with a text that I don’t like—when I burrow to its depths, I often find that I discover unexpected blessings.
The texts today are two of those texts. The text on divorce is obviously difficult in a world in which divorce has become the norm. The text from Genesis is only a bit easier, because it gives some beautiful images of marriage that many people have found it difficult to duplicate.
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I lead a Bible study on Sundays, and we study the text for next Sunday’s scripture. Last Sunday, I took this text from Genesis to my class and said, “Help me with this problem. This text presents a beautiful, idyllic image of marriage. But we have lots of people in the congregation who do not have beautiful, idyllic marriages. We have lots of people for whom the subject of marriage or divorce has to be painful:
• We have a number of single persons or single parents, most of whom would probably love to meet Mr. Right or Miss Right.
• We have a number of divorced people, many of whom have gone through terrible pain in the process of their divorces—many of whom feel terribly guilty.
• We have people who are in difficult marriages, and don’t know what to do.
• We have widows or widowers who have lost their husband or wife, and are grieving.
• We have lots of people who are lonely, and would like not to be lonely.
I haven’t experienced all these things, but I certainly know the pain of loneliness. I was 38 years old when Dale and I were married, and I was lonely. I had been looking for someone who was beautiful and rich, and it took me a long time to settle for someone who was simply beautiful. In the meantime, I was lonely, and I can feel for people who are lonely.
My Sunday school class and I wrestled with these issues. They gave me a couple of suggestions. First, they thought that it was important to give people the benefit of the Biblical truth, regardless of how the chips fell. Second, they thought it was important to be caring and pastoral. Third, they said, “Good luck!”
So I will give it my best.
As we look at this passage from Genesis, we see that God created man and woman as a way to meet real human needs. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). He might have added, “It is not good for the woman to be alone either.”
When my mother died twenty years ago, this passage came to my mind. Mother had been a stabilizing influence on my father, and without her beside him, he was a bit erratic. Fortunately, my father met another good woman, and they were married a year later. Dad was very careful how he presented the idea to me. He was careful to explain that this woman was a friend of mother’s. He was afraid that I would be angry that he was interested in another woman. I wasn’t angry, because I knew that he needed to be married. My concern was for the woman—that she knew what she was getting into.
God created us to need other people. Just think of all the ways that people go about meeting their needs for other people. We have friends at church, in clubs, in political activities, and at work. In fact, for many people, work has replaced the neighborhood as the primary place to meet people. I have often found that I know people at work very well, but know my neighbors almost not at all. A friend who worked on Wall Street told me that she often hated to go home. People at her office often stayed quite late, because the people at work had become their primary social relationship.
Recognizing that “It is not good that the man should be alone,” God created woman and man together as a beautiful way to meet human needs. He created the marriage relationship as a lifelong relationship with one person.
However, many marriages fail to capture that kind of beauty today. Many people find it difficult to find a suitable mate. Others find themselves married to people who are abusive or who are not sexually faithful. Others find themselves in a marriage in which communication is difficult and the thrill is gone.
Divorce has become commonplace. There are lots of reasons for this. For one thing, many women today can support themselves financially, so they have more freedom. For another thing, Hollywood and romantic novels have created unrealistic expectations. Sometimes we lose track of the fact that marriage has its mundane side. Joyce Brothers puts it this way:
“Marriage is not just spiritual communion and passionate embraces;
marriage is also three meals a day,
sharing the workload
and remembering to carry out the trash.”
I think that a part of the problem is that we have come to accept divorce as a natural part of life. A few years ago, our son came home from school and asked my wife (Dale Kathleen), “When are you and dad going to get a divorce?” Dale reassured him that we weren’t going to get a divorce, and asked why he had raised the question. He had raised the question because so many of his friends’ parents were divorced. Why weren’t we? With divorce being such a common occurrence, it is sometimes difficult to remember that lifelong marriage is the goal.
When we look at the beautiful story in Genesis 2, with the woman created as the only suitable mate for the man, we wonder how things got from there to here. The answer is found in Genesis 3, which is the story of The Fall—the story of the serpent and the fruit of the forbidden tree. As they say, “The apple had a worm in it,” and now everything—work, childbirth and marriage—has a worm in it.
But we need to recover the beautiful image of Genesis 2. We need to recover the image of the man and woman created in the image of God—created specifically as suitable mates for each other—created as lifelong partners. That is what God intended for us, and he gives special blessings to those who strive to make that their experience. If you have the right picture in mind, you have the potential to create it—to make it happen. To have any hope of achieving a Godly marriage, we must know what a Godly marriage looks like.
What does that say to the married among us? First of all, it says that our marriages were defaced, just like the rest of life, by The Fall—by the introduction of sin into our world. Is your marriage less than idyllic? So are the rest of our marriages. The cold finger of sin has touched all our lives. My wife may be the only person I know who has an idyllic marriage.
What does our text have to say to those who are divorced among us? First of all, it tells us that divorce is serious in God’s eyes—but most of you already know that. Most of you are your own worst accuser, and feel bad enough about your divorce without anyone else pointing the finger at you.
Second, everything that the Bible says about God’s forgiveness applies as surely to divorce as to anything else. We need to ask God to forgive us for all our sins, including divorce, and then to guide us rightly in the future.
Thirdly, it says that we need be include Christ in our lives and to seek out friends who include Christ in their lives. If we want happy relationships in the future, make them Christian relationships.
What does this text say for those who are not married and for whom marriage is not likely. God has created us with a need for relationships, and has provided different ways to meet those needs. I am always impressed with the importance of this church in the lives of so many of our people. Worship, Sunday school, Lunch Bunch, cleanup days, board meetings, bazaars and other activities all bind us together into relationships that sustain us. There are many other ways that God meets our needs for people. That isn’t the same as marriage, but thank God for the ways that he does meet our needs.
We will never recover fully the beauty of Eden this side of Heaven. But we can seek Christ’s help in restoring ourselves to the image of God in which we were created. We can seek the company of Christ-like people. And we can thank God that, even though we have allowed his image to be defaced in our lives, he forgives and loves us—and opens new possibilities to us every day.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.