Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A pastor was called urgently to a local nursing home to perform a wedding. An anxious old man met him at the door. The pastor sat down to counsel the man and ask him several questions. “Do you love her?” The old man replied, “Nope.” The pastor persisted, “Is she a good Christian woman?” “I don’t know for sure,” the old man answered. “Does she have lots of money?” asked the pastor. “I doubt it,” the old man said directly. “Then why are you marrying her?” the preacher asked. “Cause she can drive at night,” the old man answered. Yes, men and women do marry for a host of reasons- love, excitement, joy and fulfillment, to be sure. Unfortunately, they often divorce for as many reasons: apathy, dullness, sorrow and emptiness.

One of the joys of serving as a pastor, especially here at Lake of the Isles, is performing weddings. It is almost a fairytale moment with beautiful dresses, tuxedos, stirring music and flowers. Family and friends have gathered to witness the vows, and for that moment, all seems right with the world. As I often say in my wedding homily. Every wedding day is happy: it’s the living together afterwards that causes all the problems. I am convinced that of the hundreds of couples whose weddings whose I have officiated, that none of them has approached the altar thinking that that their marriage will never last. At that moment, on that day, they are all convinced that for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, that only death will separate them from each other. But we know that for some, that unseen pain and struggle will lead to divorce.

Now as a preacher, I know it would be easy to skip over the first portion of today’s gospel on divorce, and to focus instead on Jesus’ blessing of children. After all, it is a challenge to preach on such an uncomfortable theme when almost everyone listening has either known or experienced a loved one who has experienced a painful divorce. For many people, Jesus’ words come as personal judgment and condemnation. So why not avoid it? Truthfully, I think it is impossible to separate these two stories. The stories are woven together to teach us that God’s mercies are numberless and creatively flow out of the love by which God brought couples and families together.

My friends, this morning let me share with you two convictions: first, God is calling you through your family relationships to be a blessing. That is what is at stake in this lesson. He is calling you to be an instrument of blessing as husbands and wives, mothers, fathers and children. The second conviction is closely linked to the first. God’s invitation cannot be taken lightly or for granted. Like marriage, it is work. All human relationships must be nurtured and tended to every day or they will fail.

Let me begin with the gift of marriage. From the very beginning, some marriages seem to be the battle of opposites. I am reminded of the little girl attending a wedding who asked her grandmother, “Why is the bride always dressed in white?” To which her grandmother answered, “Because white represents happiness, and for the bride, today is the happiest day of her life.” And to this, the girl then asked, “Then why is the groom dressed in black?” Yes, from the very beginning, some marriages seem to be a battle of opposites. Divorce, however, is not new. In the ancient world, divorce was easy and common. Unfortunately, it was also a business transaction since wives were considered to be men’s property. The Law of Moses in the book of Deuteronomy allowed for a man to divorce his wife, stating that “if the woman finds no favor in the man’s eyes because he has found some indecency in her,” he may hand her a letter of divorce. From there, the scripture was open to all kinds of interpretation. And so the Pharisee came to Jesus, to test him.

My friends, Jesus’ harsh answer was not meant as a judgment on all struggling and failed marriages. Rather Jesus was incensed by the Pharisees who came to test him, and stated forcefully, that divorce should never be treated lightly or for the sake of expediency. The context of Jesus’s words to the Pharisees and later to his disciples, should not be confused with the practice and pain of divorce today

Jesus then spoke boldly and passionately to God’s commitment to marriage. Jesus added God’s intent for marriage of joining a couple together into a new spiritual being is clear in scripture. In marriage, God has chosen to make the couple into something new. He has created the husband and wife for each other, and has joined the two to become one. But God’s commitment doesn’t end there. He is also prepared to hold them together as a new spiritual creation, if they are willing to see his loving purpose and guiding hand and to apply a little discipline along the way.

Whether you are preparing for your wedding, for the first, or a second time, or merely renewing your promises to each other as husband and wife after a stormy row, let me offer four suggestions for a happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationship. They can be summed up in the words, purpose, patience, time and commitment.

Healthy marriages begin with purpose. Every couple should ask, “What does God desire of our marriage? What is God’s purpose in our life?” And perhaps more personally, “What is it really like to be married to me?” If God has brought you together, and has promised to be faithful to you and support you, what purpose does he have in store for you? Do not be surprised, if you are asked to abandon certain habits and embrace some that are new. Marriage is not simply about attentiveness to your spouse, it is also about attentiveness to God. Rather like the slip of the pen of the young man to his pastor. “Dear Pastor: I want to thank you for performing our marriage ceremony. It was beautiful the way you brought my happiness to an end.” Marriage is always about compromise and accommodation to God’s purpose, so that he may use you and your gifts to their greatest advantage.

The second suggestion for a healthy relationship is to practice patience and to be aware of your anger. Anger is a fact of life, like death and taxes. God himself expects tension and anger in marriage. You simply can’t draw two people together into a new life without expecting sparks to fly. But your anger can either lead to a breakdown or a breakthrough. The difference lies in how you handle your anger. As a spouse dealing with anger, admit it. Don’t deny your anger. In pastoral counseling I’ve often found that what people say they are angry about isn’t the real cause. You need to learn to share with your spouse the inner reasons and causes of your anger, anxiety and fear. Scripture reminds us that you should never let the sun go down on your anger. Doing so opens the door to resentment and bitterness. Be patient and be aware of your anger.

The next suggestion for a healthy relationship is time. No doubt, the majority of us hear the words, “What God has joined together, let no one separate,” imagine the dashing rogue or young vixen who enters into the relationship and tries to lure one spouse away from the other. But my friends, for most marriages and relationship that is not the enemy. The famous American comic character Pogo said it best, “We saw the enemy- and it is us.” Husbands and wives simply do not take the issue of time with their families seriously. Men and women are not lured away, but they foolishly and often unintentionally place themselves in the line of fire. The issue of time in marriage is the single most important element to a healthy and meaningful relationship.

The last suggestion is to be committed to the marriage, and honor the new creation. Honor what God has joined together. When the famous American politician and orator William Jennings Bryan was a young man, he went to the home of the father of his prospective wife to ask him for her hand in marriage. Bryan was determined to impress the father by quoting from the Bible, and he chose from Solomon’s Book of Proverbs: “Whoever findeth a wife findeth a good thing and obtaineth favor with the LORD.” Bryan was unnerved when the father replied by quoting Paul: “He that marrieth doeth well, but he that marrieth not doeth better.” Bryan, never at a loss for words, said: “Paul had no wife and Solomon had 700. Therefore, I believe Solomon ought to be the better judge as to marriage.” Bryan’s father-in-law, refused to honor marriage- what God had joined together, and I dare say, neither do many in our human family. Our ties to mothers and fathers, families and traditions, prevent us from honoring and nurturing God’s handiwork. We never learn the importance of the words, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” For to grow together, you must find your place together.

So my friends, as you journey along the path of marriage, with a confident purpose, practicing patience, dedicating time, and committing and honoring of the new creation, you can turn to our chief question and concern, “How is this gift of a healthy marriage a blessing for children?”

Now, I hope you can see why have I placed such great emphasis on love and marriage Within the sheltering arms of your home, within the cradling arms of loving mothers and father, within the safety of a healthy marriage, Jesus is blessing your children every day, and he is blessing you. There is no more important place for the spiritual development of your children, than in your home. For it is in your home that they experience the wonder of sacrificial love. It is in your home that they experience forgiveness and compromise. It is in your home that they experience protection. Yes, it is your own home that they experience the truth of the Christian faith. For God has chosen love, marriage and the family to be his instruments of numberless gifts. You are his beloved servants. It is your privilege, and your calling, if you will have it. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.