Sermon: 20th Sunday after Pentecost
Oct. 7th, 2018
Pastor Martin has been illustrating for us the last couple weeks how the apostles really have “a way” with things like demons, basic sentence structure, and so on. If you haven’t been here for a while or are joining us for the first time…*they actually don’t*. Similarly, I think Adam really has “a way” with Eve. The Old Testament reading recounts the meeting of our first parents. It’s like a snapshot of the “first look” before the wedding, but significantly less romantic.
God has seen that the man is no good by himself and needs someone who is like him to be a co-overseer of creation. So, God takes all the animals he already made and brings them to Adam so that he can give them names. But, after, no doubt, a very long day of naming the entire extant species of earth, not one of the animals was even close to what Adam needed in a helper. So God causes a deep sleep to fall on him, and he removes a rib and fashions an entire woman out of it.
Here’s where it gets good. God sets Eve before Adam, and Adam definitely sees that she is unique, but it’s been a long day, and he’s still in “naming mode.” He takes one look at her and says, “Ooof. Alright God, one more animal, then I gotta go to bed. Wait…….Ohhh….now this….God, this is great…………this thing looks just like me! Same bones….yep, same flesh….huh…a couple….significant differences….but all in all God? A fine job.”
Then he says, “Now, what shall I name it?” Yes….It. The Hebrew says that Adam called his wife “it” at their first meeting. Good job, Adam. Even my first date wasn’t that bad. I’m sure you can imagine how that went down. “Um, excuse you…It??” “Wait, it talks!??…..” ”Yes, she does. And if this meeting is any indication of your future relationship…you’d better get used to it.”
Who knows how much Adam understood of what he was getting in a wife? At this point he was still a wise and perfect being, but how could he have known what this woman really meant for him? For the world? Why she was created for him in the first place? What it meant to be man and wife?
Fast forward a few thousand years to a ragtag group of middle-eastern men in Judea, near the Jordan River. Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem, the Pharisees have been mingling with the crowds and finally, they come right up to Jesus and ask him: “Hey…is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” This is a test to which there are only wrong answers. They’re trying to throw him off. The laws about marriage were numerous, so a simple “yes” or “no” would have placed Jesus under the legal authority of the Pharisees and they could have easily nailed him as a heretic (pun intended). But Jesus gets out of it as only Jesus can: he shoots their question right out of the air and makes his own right answer.
He asks, “well, what did Moses say?” They answer, “Moses said we could hand her the papers and send her away.” Jesus says, “*sigh*, Listen boys, use your brains for a minute. You people are the problem. Because of your stiff, dried-up hearts, you don’t know anything about marriage, and you certainly don’t know anything about me. Since when is a piece of legal paperwork able to separate the same flesh and blood? What gives you the authority to tear apart the one-flesh-union God has ordained from the beginning of time? What came first, the Law of Moses….or the creation of male and female? Think about that one for a bit.” Marriage? Good. Divorce? Bad. Easy answer.
Later, after they go into the house, the disciples again show that they have “a way” with basic information. You can just imagine Peter going, “So Jesus…when you said, ‘what God has joined together, let not man separate,’ did you mean, like…never? Cuz my wife, she’s a little…ya know…she’s a bit much…” Jesus has clearly had a long day, so he simply says, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another is an adulterer. Whoever divorces her husband and marries another is an adulterer. Got it? Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?”
They don’t. The Pharisees and the Apostles don’t understand because they don’t see the big picture. They think prescriptively, not descriptively. Now, the difference between prescriptive and descriptive is simple: Prescriptive means: do these things. (Like a prescription.) Descriptive means: this is how things are. (Like a description.) The Pharisees looked at the divorce laws and, through their depraved human reason, determined that divorce was a-okay. They didn’t understand that those laws were created for damage control, not to give approval to the practice. Many of those laws were created to protect evicted women and to hold husbands accountable. They totally missed the point. Divorce breaks the 6th commandment. Marriage between a man and a woman is how things are meant to be, not a complex set of laws to hide behind and fool around with. This is the essence of creation we’re talking about, not personal preference or desire. We see this sinful attitude playing out vividly in our own culture, not only with the definition of marriage under attack but with the abysmal divorce rates even among Missouri-Synod Christians.
Marriage is one of the very first offices God established. If you think about it, the institution of marriage goes back even before creation. The apostle Paul says that marriage refers to Christ and the Church. Marriage has its substance in Christ’s relationship with his saints, not the other way around. It is not good that man should be alone. In the same way, it is not good that the Son of Man should not have his Church. Male and female he made them; Christ and Church he made them. Adam was made first, Eve was made second. The Church was made for Christ the bridegroom, not the other way around. This is the entire reason for Eve’s creation—to be an image of the One Holy Church. To be showered with the unconditional love of her husband, and to love him back. In this way, a faithful marriage is a faithful confession of what we believe and how we live in the grace of God.
It is for this reason that no helper for Adam could be found among the birds and the beasts. Even though God is able to make the very stones into his children, his desire is only for you. Our Lord desires the bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh. This is what it means for Christ to be the New Adam. He is the one who left his Father to be born of a woman; he is the one who joins himself to his bride in one flesh. At Baptism we become one with our bridegroom in body and soul, in his death and resurrection, and at the Lord’s Supper we receive him physically and are filled with sustenance. His body and his blood, a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom which has no end.
And, much like Eve, Christ, gives us a name. Not a derivative of his own name, like “woman,” but we receive his own actual name. How, you ask? As fully God, he possesses the name YHWH, the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the only name under heaven by which we are saved. It is his, and that very name was placed on you at Baptism and is declared to you in the Absolution. He also gives us names like “children, redeemed, righteous, sanctified, Church.”
Even after Adam, men have never had a great way with women (and often vice versa). But when Christ has his way with us, through Word and Sacrament, the damage done by sin is on its way to real repair. We bring nothing into this world and we take nothing out. Before God we are as naked as our first parents. Everything we are and everything we’ve done are on display. Our Old Adam, full of sin, quivers and hides in fear in the face of judgment, but there is nowhere left for him to hide. Every sin is brought to light and for that reason our shame is palpable. But Jesus, the New Adam, took our place—the place of death—and bore our nakedness and shame on the cross. It is finished. He has already clothed us in white righteousness as a bride for her bridegroom, and we are not ashamed. Amen.