Saying no to marrying people doesn’t make you popular as a pastor. But I have done so a couple times in the course of my ministry. There was one time that was particularly memorable, and somewhat funny. A couple once asked me to marry them on Star Wars day. For those of you who are not familiar with this rather geeky holiday it falls on May the 4th . It falls on this day so Star Wars fans can make the pun, “May the 4th be with you”, which is a play on the traditional Star Wars fairwell, “May the force be with you.” I got to say I was pretty tempted to do the ceremony. Most of you don’t know this about me but I do a pretty fabulous Yoda impression. Being sort of a geek myself doing a wedding on Star Wars day and working in my Yoda impression into the sermon would have been pretty amazing. There are not many situations where a good Yoda impression is useful. But this would have been one those rare occasions.
However, there was a major problem with the situation. The woman asking to be married was the granddaughter of one of my members and the couple wanted to have a secret wedding that the grandmother nor anyone else would know about. They assured me that said member wouldn’t be hurt if she found out about the secret wedding. Knowing this particular member I knew better. Not only would this member have been deeply hurt I am pretty sure she would have killed me, if not literally, then metaphorically with a talking too that would have made an eternity in hell feel like a day on the beach. Also, doing a secret wedding, defeats the entire point of a wedding which is to affirm before people that we believe that God has bound a man and a woman together.
“What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” There is perhaps no harder teaching in scripture, that has caused more hurt, more pain, and more misunderstanding, than Jesus’ teachings marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Even the disciples didn’t think it was good news. They took Jesus aside and told him that this was not good news. From the beginning of its inception the church struggled with this teaching. Other Gospel writers mention the exception of sexual immorality as grounds for divorce. The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians mentions exception of an unbelieving spouse leaving a believing spouse, something Jesus never mentioned. Paul even says I am saying this, this is Paul’s opinion, not the Lord Jesus. He seems to be applying whatever principle Jesus was getting at and applying it to a situation that Jesus never talked about. While the Bible is the Word of God it doesn’t talk about a lot of particular situations that we go through. And a lot of sermons on this passage deals with these exceptions because we want to know those exceptions. And the exceptions are important. But our focus on the exceptions reveals the hardness of our hearts. It reveals that like the disciples we believe that this teaching is not good news. We believe it to be bad news. And thus we look for the exceptions. And of course their are exceptions. Jesus’ heart was not to turn people into lepers, it was to cleanse the leper and take away their shame. But he promises us that he came to bring us good news. So what good news is there in this passage today
The Good news today is this: When God binds us together the world will have a lot of trouble tearing us apart.
And it is not a magic trick. I can’t just wave my hands and bind a man and woman together. The Government just can’t make a certificate and bind people together. But God has a plan to bind us together, in our friendships, in our marriages, in our churches, in our nation. Will we hear his plan on how he binds us together?
- Through Divine Love
- Through giving up control of others.
First, God binds us together through Divine Love. Anyone who has been to a Christian wedding, or even a secular wedding, has probably heard the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient, love is kind, love does not envy or boast, etc.” Those of you who have been around Calvin for a while know that I preached a 12 week series on love based off of themes found in 1 Corinthians 13. And I am sure none of you thought you could tired of love. But I am sure after preaching 12 weeks on love I am sure many of you got tired of hearing about love. But I did that as much to teach myself as to teach you. And one thing I learned about 1 Corinthians 13 really surprised me.
There is a debate about relationships about whether love is a verb or a feeling. Is love something you do whether you feel like it or not? And I am married but I am pretty sure that if you act in a loving way but hate your spouse’s guts on the inside, I am pretty sure they can tell. But as the same time if love is a feeling, feelings are a very bad way of maintaining a relationship.
As I looked at 1 Corinthians 13 l realized that Paul isn’t describing a feeling nor is he describing an action. He doesn’t say love does what does. Nor does he say Love feels what love feels. Instead he says love is what love is. He is describing a person, the person being God who is Love. He is describing God’s character. He is describing God’s values. Actions flow from character but character is deeper than our actions. Paul doesn’t say love does what love does. . And he is challenging us to adapt the character of God.
Paul tells us God’s plan to grow our character in Romans chapter 5 where he says, “ and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5). He doesn’t free us from suffering, but he is with us in our suffering, he teaches us in our suffering, and he pours his love out in our sufferings. If today you feel an emptiness at the center of your being that no friend or romantic partner has been able to fill, if today you feel like every criticism, whether on base or off base, feels like a giant knife in your chest because you are not sure if you are worthy of love, I have good news for you today. God’s love can be poured out into your heart. I know because it happened to me. And it is like a pearl of great price. I can’t make it happen for you but I know our God is faithful to fulfill his promises. As the scriptures teach us if we hope in what we do not see we wait for it with patience. So wait for him to work in your suffering. For he is always working. He doesn’t take a day off.
Second, God binds us together when we give up control of others and give others to him. Seeking the good of others doesn’t mean trying to control others. I was reminded of this coming back from my cousin’s wedding last weekend.
Returning from the wedding last weekend, my connecting flight from St. Louis to Atlanta left at 11am, which would be 12 East Coast time. So when you were finishing up worship I was about 20-30,000 feet in the air. And about half way through the flight, we were having a good flight, when suddenly the plane shook pretty violently, hard enough that the woman sitting at the end of the three seat row near the window, cried out “oh God” spilled her hot coffee on her lap, and the plane veered a little to the right. But the plane settled down. The pilot came over the intercom to tell us that the plane had crossed into another plane’s jet stream. Air traffic control hadn’t told them the plane was ahead of us so we ran into a good amount of turbulence. The woman asked her husband who was next to me, how close we had come to the other plane. I replied, that I didn’t think we really wanted to know the answer to that question.
Being a pretty inquisitive person you know I looked up the answer to that question when I got home. Apparently, planes create vortexes off their wing tips that go downwards. And you can be 20 miles away from the plane and have that happen to you. Infact, in June 2018 that happened to a plane over the pacific. And it fell for 10 seconds. Which makes my experience of turbulence look like child’s play. And that makes people afraid of flying.
When we landed I thanked the pilot for keeping us safe. Sure, he had a lot of training and checklists for how to run his aircraft in case of turbulence. But the best pilots have taken the rules of flying and made them part of their character. Their love for flying compels them to protect those in their care. It doesn’t guarantee that turbulence won’t crash a plane. But statistically I was far safer in that pilot’s hands then I was in my own hands driving back from the airport in my own car. Even though I feel far more secure being at the steering wheel of my car actually I am far more likely to die on the road than in the air. Statistically flying is the safest form of travel though we may feel out of control.
Trusting God to bind us together in our relationships is similar. It doesn’t guarantee that we won’t be torn apart or that if we are we will be able to put things back together. But his power to bind us together is far greater than our own will, effort, or skill to do so. Though we may feel better trying to control others to get our own way, we are actually in far more danger of crashing than if we would give to God those we love. When we try to control others in our relationships those relationships tend to spiral out of control like a plane caught in turbulence. But God tells us he can develop in us the character or fruit of self control through the power of the Holy Spirit. When two people in control of themselves enter into a relationship the journey tends to go more smoothly. When we seek the good of the other without controlling the other God binds us together in amazing ways.
The word that Jesus uses for God joining or binding two people together is the word for yoke. A yoke is what farmers would use to join to animals together, that they may work together, so that they would be more powerful together than apart. Jesus also uses the term in Matthew 11 where he says, “ Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” The image that these two passages put together created in my mind is a yoke that has three slots. In the center is Jesus. To one side is us and on the other side of Jesus are those we love to the other side of Jesus. And when we give him control over our lives and the way it should go he binds us together.
I don’t how exactly how Jesus would comment on all the crazy things that happen in our relationships. Paul commented on something that Jesus never talked about. So I am going to say what I think, I not the Lord. I think that divorce could be a way of acknowledging that we no longer have control, and we can’t control others. Or it could be a way of trying to taking control ,and not letting God have control. And only God knows our hearts. And only God knows our hearts. I can’t tell you what your heart it. God knows our hearts. We can’t hide from him.
For Jesus knew what it was to give up control. He knew what it was to be betrayed. For Jesus knew what it was to be hurt, he knew what it was to be betrayed by a friend, to be betrayed by the world that did not receive him. Yet, despite all that he gave up control on a cross. Yet, he shed his blood for us, he broke his body for his bride the church, that we may be spotless and blameless before him at the wedding feast that is to come. And whether we are single or married we will be invited to that feast, and we will be washed clean, and thank God for that. Let us seek the good of the other and let us give up control. For what God binds together, what God binds together, let no man separate.