Sermon Notes – October 7, 2018

God Joins Together and We Separate

   It was part of God’s design for paradise: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24) In our fallen world marriage can be a remnant of paradise enjoyed by a man and a woman when God joins them together in “heart, body, and mind…for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”[1]

   In our Gospel for today, Jesus defends His Father’s intentions for human beings. He says in our text, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9) Jesus acknowledges that divorce was only allowed by Moses “because of [man’s] hardness of heart…But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (10:5-7) Western culture is not doing well living up to Jesus’ principle or the Father’s original intention.

   What God has joined together in marriage has a higher than fifty-fifty chance man will separate. [Belgium divorce rate is 71%! U.S.A. divorce rate is at 53%, the 10th highest in the western world. This rate is not lower among U.S.A. Christians.] This is a tragedy for the couples and families that go through a divorce—but it is also a reflection of the growing acceptance of human beings not keeping commitments, not keeping promises, not keeping their vows in general. [Sologomy]

Man’s devastating quest to rend asunder relationships is not limited to marriage. In the creed we state we believe in “one holy Christian and apostolic Church.” It is God the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.”[2] That is what God does, joining us together. Yet see how man, with hardness of heart, strives to separate, to divide, to get one’s way, to backbite and ridicule and complain. With a growing sense of entitlement we forget our commitments made at baptism and confirmation before God and His Church. [The big joke?]

   We embrace the selfish ambitions of a warped world while God and His Church take second place, third place, fourth place, last place in our lives. We have moved far away from Paul’s admonition of “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) Instead of being joined together by God as a community centered in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Word and Sacraments, we keep morphing and contorting and separating ourselves from Christ’s vision of His Church. There is a word for it: heresy.

   We have come to think of heresy as “false teaching.” False teaching is heresy, but it is not the only way to be heretical. Titus 3:10-11 – “As for a person who stirs up division [αιρετικός, “heretic”] after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” A heretic is someone who stirs up division for selfish interests, due to restlessness and the desire to make a different choice that is not in keeping with what God has prescribed, what God has taught, what God has joined together. [Titus 3:1-7]

   Paul told the Corinthians, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:18-20)

   As members of the “one holy Christian and apostolic Church” we have been joined together with God and each other through Jesus’ Gospel proclaimed in Word, Baptism and the Holy Communion of the Altar. The Scriptures liken this to a marriage. Ephesians 5:31-32 – “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” [Eph. 5:25-27] We are the Bride of Christ! He forgives our sins, including our sinful separations, and reconciles us to God. He gives us a sweet remnant of paradise here and now and guarantees an absolute joining together in paradise forever.

[1] Lutheran Service Book, Rite of Holy Matrimony, page 275.

[2] Small Catechism, Third Article of the Creed, Lutheran Service Book, page 323.



1 Corinthians 10:13


   Our text is frequently misused to tell us that God will never give us more burdens than we can handle.  With God’s help it is certainly amazing what we are sometimes able to handle, given all of the difficulties life in a fallen world throws our ways.  If we are talking sheer physical endurance, however, there will be that one final burden, that one final assault, that one final breath signaling our mortality. 

   I don’t want to spend too much time on what this text is not about, but you remember in last month’s news the story of Anne Swaney, a local ABC news executive producer who was found murdered in Belize?  When ABC7 asked her father about his strength through this most recent family tragedy (Anne’s older brother died of a heart attack at age 39 two years ago) he answered honestly, “I don’t have it.  I’m not strong.  I’m a mess.”  The poor man died of a broken heart last Tuesday.  He had met his final burden in extraordinarily tragic circumstances.

   What Paul is talking about in our text, however, is something that is “common to man.”  Paul is talking about temptation to sin, and, as one commentator puts it, “It is the kind of temptation that humanity is commonly called on to endure.” (Gregory Lockwood, Concordia Commentary – First Corinthians, ©2000, page 331)  Paul provides examples from Old Testament events, letting us know the Israelites had received the same grace from God that we have received, “but if [we] succumb to the same sins, [we] will be punished just as Israel was punished.” (Ibid)

   Example # 1 – Simple idolatry (“desire evil”) when some people spurned the manna God had miraculously provided and coveted the meat and vegetables of Egypt (leading to the “Graves of Craving” in Numbers 11); and gross idolatry with the golden calf before which “the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” (Exodus 32)

   Example # 2 – Sexual immorality as Moabite women invited Israelite men to participate in their fertility rites in honor of the false god Baal of Peor.  God struck more than 23,000 of those sinners down in a single day (Numbers 25). 

   Example # 3 – Some of the people put God to the test with their unceasing complaining and grumbling, occasionally leading to acts of divine judgment: the poisonous serpents (Numbers 21), the faithlessness of the ten spies (Numbers 14), and the rebellion of Korah and company (Number 16)

   God was always faithful (as Paul announces to us in our text), but some of the people were unfaithful.  They probably said, as people say today, “I couldn’t help myself;” “the devil made me do it;” “if God wanted me to resist the temptations He should have made me stronger.” The temptations then and the temptations now are not irresistible as the Apostle testifies that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 

   Sally Hogshead is a brand consultant who helps companies increase appeal for their products or services.  In 2010 she wrote a book called Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation.  In the book she asserts there are seven universal triggers, the first of which is “lust.”  She writes, “Lust conquers the rational evaluation process, freeing us to stop thinking, and start feeling.” (page 73)  This is, in my opinion, a very true statement.  It is also among the top reasons this world of ours is sinking deeper and deeper into the cesspool of selfish sinfulness.  [NID mission director] 

   The original fascinating triggers are the seven deadly sins (pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth).  Today, far from trying to escape the temptations they bring, we just use more and more tools to enhance their availability and their acceptance.  We had better start looking for the way of escape before we end up “overthrown in the wilderness.” (1 Cor 10:5)  Paul wrote in our Epistle, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (v. 12)  Jesus warned in our Gospel (Luke 13:1-9), “Do you think [those who died tragically] were worse offenders than all others…?  No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”  God taught through the prophet Ezekiel in our Old Testament reading (33:7-20), “Your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.’”  The way of the Lord is the way of escape! 

   The way of escape is to stand firm on the overwhelming faithfulness of God, to stand firm on the redeeming power of Christ’s death and resurrection, to stand firm on the endless work of the Holy Spirit who empowers us through the Gospel.  God does not lead us into temptation; He is in the delivering from evil business.  Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ we are led to the way of escape.  That way may not be sexy but it is quite effective. 

   What, however, about the times that we fail and the fascinating seven deadly sins take momentary control of our lives?  There is still the way of escape.  As John wrote in his First Epistle, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.  But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” (2:1)  “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  With that sinless life He rescues us—He is the way of escape.

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