This morning, Jesus offers us stern words about divorce.
And so as we get to that, I’d like to reflect a little bit about marriage.
I like marriage.
I like it so much I’ve done it twice now.
Now, yesterday morning on Facebook, I saw a post from a friend of mine who got engaged this summer.
“I’m away for my first business trip since COVID,” he wrote, “and my boo found my suitcase and snuck in some chamomile tea, my favorite ginger candies, a sleep mask, aspirin – everything I could possibly need.”
That’s sweet, right?
As it happens, I went away overnight last week, myself, to do a wedding in Madison. It was the first time in a while I’ve been away from the family. I didn’t get that kind of send-off.
“Good luck with the wedding,” said Liz. “This time, don’t bring the car back smelling like a Happy Meal.”
Doesn’t take long for the honey to dry up on that moon, does it?
What they never tell you about marriage is how profoundly it will come to shape you.
Its realities are powerful.
There is the constant example of the other person whom we see in such close proximity—the expressions they use that we find ourselves using, or the things they like that we end up liking, too.
I read somewhere once that our personalities are significantly shaped by the five people with whom we spend the most time.
I don’t know that it’s always true, but it often is, and particularly so when it comes to marriage.
There is a kind of osmosis that goes on.
I think we’re also shaped by the ways in which we see ourselves reflected back in their eyes.
Marriage is a mirror unlike almost any other.
Reflected in their eyes, something that didn’t seem selfish when you decided to ask for it seems to land differently than you expected.
You think you’re making a joke, but what they hear loud and clear is the barb underneath it—and suddenly, you see it, too.
There is also the grace of those moments when you feel just awful about something, and they shrug or laugh, seeing it as no big deal.
Or those times when you tell them about something that happened, and they actually get more mad than you were and commend you on your Job like patience and forbearance.
Those moments show us ourselves in a new, revealing light.
But in a good marriage, they become familiar.
If we are well-matched, marriage quickly shatters our fantasies of being irresistible or perfect just as we are.
Instead, it offers us something far better: the possibility that for all the ways in which we are profoundly imperfect, we are still loveable.
I’m not saying that all marriages are like that – and I’ve been in one of those.
And I’m not saying marriage is the only way to encounter that truth; it’s not.
But it is one place where that truth may be encountered.
Imperfect as we are, we are still loveable.
It’s very theological if you think about it.
When we step off the stage of performing our public selves, the person waiting in the wings who knows our vulnerabilities is glad to be there.
…As long as the car doesn’t smell like a Happy Meal….
So with all that in mind, what are we supposed to make of this morning’s Scripture, with its stern words about divorce?
To be honest, most sermons on this passage are god-awful.
Sad to say, through the years, the church has been more on the side of Marriage with a capital M than on the side of good marriages, which are Spirit-filled and deeply holy, but they’re also their own little ecosystems and kind of elude big pronouncements about what shall be and what shall not.
Most sermons don’t want to get into that.
In fairness, maybe they can’t.
The question in a marriage is almost always how.
How are we going to do this?
How are we going to make it through this next season of our lives?
How are we supposed to afford braces?
Jesus talks about how in marriage, we become one flesh, but with my bad hip and your bad eyes, who is going to drive to the grocery store?
At every stage: how do we know we still see each other when there are so many days when, for all the reasons, we’re like ships passing in the night?
It doesn’t take much to see that Jesus thinks divorce is bad.
The deeper point is what he sees in marriage that is good.
So much in our lives seems to strain against the bonds that hold us safe and sure.
To use Mark’s words, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
Whether it’s man or whether it’s just life, what puts us asunder – what pulls us apart – is not what God hopes for us.
God’s hope…God’s purpose is in the things that make us strong and better equipped to face those other things…those sundering things.
God’s hope is in the promise that sin and sadness cannot have the final word, that the work of love is slow but sure, that what we see now as through a glass darkly, one day we shall behold face to face.
At the end of our Scripture for today, we see the disciples trying to shoo away children who seem to have crept into the living room while Jesus has been speaking, and Jesus chastises them.
He won’t have them sent away – relegated to the kiddie table or what have you.
He’s been talking about marriage, but now again, here’s someone else he won’t have put asunder.
There is no separate but equal in the Kingdom of God. Not for kids or anyone else.
I think that’s very important.
God’s vision is union.
Communion between spouses, between friends, between enemies, between the living and the dead, and between all Creation and its Creator.
In the face of all that would pull us asunder, the Spirit of God hovers over the waters of chaos, whispering God’s reminder that one day, partnered or unpartnered, we shall all be one.