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. Unfortunately, they often divorce for just as many reasons.

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 suffered from a painful divorce.

My friends, this morning let me share with you two convictions: first, God is calling you through your most fundamental 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, as fathers and mothers, and as siblings and children. The second conviction is closely linked to the first. God’s invitation cannot be taken lightly or for granted, or discarded with a letter.  Like marriage, all human relationships are work which must nurtured and tended to every day or they will fail.

Let me begin by saying that  in this passage, I do not believe that Jesus was condemning everyone who is divorced and branding them as a sinner for ever after. I rather suspect that Jesus would be sympathetic toward parties in a divorce that in soul-searching come to an end. Frankly, I am not even sure that this passage is about divorce at all.   Jesus  was speaking about the hardness of heart.  From the very first line of this passage, we read that the Pharisees were clearly testing Jesus. They may have been trying to trick Jesus into saying something harsh against King Herod Antipas and his new wife Herodias who had divorced partners simply so that they could marry each other.  John the Baptist had spoken out against Herod and Herodias and had been executed because of his criticism for their marriage. Perhaps the Pharisees were asking their questions hoping that they would trick Jesus into speaking against the law of Moses, in particular they thought he might speak out against the clause in which Moses provided for divorce.   Yes, what Jesus was confronting in this testing was the calculated, casual, and selfish way in which the Pharisees assumed the right to send away a spouse without any sense of guilt, with nothing more than a “certificate of dismissal.” For Jesus, divorcing one person simply in order to marry another was immoral and adulterous.   It didn’t fit into God’s plan.

From the beginning of creation, God gave a holy purpose to human relationships. He began with a man and a woman, perfectly suited to one another, joined in an intimate and exclusive, mutual and safe, life-long partnership to tend to creation. Jesus then spoke boldly and passionately to God’s commitment to marriage and of joining a couple together to become a new spiritual being. But God’s commitment didn’t   end there. He was also prepared to hold them together as a new spiritual creation, if they were willing to see his loving purpose and guiding hand.  This is what husbands and wives are intended to aspire to today.

It is what God intends for all our human relationships.  They are to be life giving and life affirming.  The role of a parent never ends.  There may be plenty of dark night of the soul, but a loving father or mother never gives up on a child. Siblings, even when quarreling, remain siblings. They were created to give joy and solace to one another.  Although one little in his prayer wasn’t so sure.  “Dear God, did you really mean, ‘Do unto others as they do unto you?’  Because if you did, then I’m going to fix my brother.”  Children and parents may disappoint and frustrate one another, but God pledges his steadfast love to those who seek him.  For God will not disappoint you  God’s purpose in human relationships cannot end simply with a “certificate of dismissal.”

A Christian life worth living is to be life giving and life affirming, but nowhere does he say that this will be easy.  Healthy relationships are to make life enjoyable.  After all, even if your health isn’t the best, if you have loving relationships, you can enjoy life. You can have a hefty retirement account, but if your relationships are broken or shallow, your life will be empty. A poor man with a loving family and good friends is far richer than a rich man who is poor in relationships.  So let me offer you four suggestions for living out for a happy, healthy, and fulfilling relationships.

All healthy relationship begin with a purpose.  Every couple preparing for marriage should ask, “What does God desire of our marriage?  What is God’s purpose in our life  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  healthy relationships 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.  I’ve often found that what people say they are angry about isn’t the real cause.  We need to learn to share with those we love the inner reasons and causes of our 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 third suggestion for healthy relationships 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 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 unintentionally place themselves in the line of fire.  The issue of time is the single most important element to healthy and meaningful relationships.  It is true of all our human relationship.  Children need their parents’ presence.  It is true as well for your friends.

The last suggestion is commitment to the new creation. Honor what God has joined together to be a blessing.  Our former ties to families and traditions, and work and profession, often prevent us from honoring and nurturing God’s new 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.”  To grow together, you must demonstrate your commitment.  Human relationships, especially in marriage and family, must be tended to lest they be lost.

So my friends, as you journey along life’s way, living in the joy of a life well lived life, with a confident purpose, practicing patience, dedicating time, and committing and honoring God’s new creation in you, you can turn to the challenge of the second portion of today’s scripture. “How is this gift of healthy relationships intended to be a blessing to others- especially to children?”

The challenges today against true meaningful relationships in the world are great.  The purpose of the family today seems to be limited to keeping children active and competitive.  At a very early age, children learn the rules of competition instead relationship. They learn the standard for good and better and best and the world’s cultural partiality to winners.  And with each generation, the question becomes more tentative and delicate, “Will our children have faith?” Who will teach your children to know God?.  Scripture reminds us that you and I cannot write a “letter of dismissal” from our responsibility to raise our children.  We cannot rebuke them and send them on their way to another time when it is more convenient.  For more often the faith is caught in the human family, than taught.

So how will your children know of God’s love if they do not see you talking and wrestling with him?   In the darkened night of the soul, how will they know of a Savior who will throw open his arms to receive them?  In the face of death, when they go their rest, how will they know that God will watch them and wake them?  Yes, how will they know that at the last, that God will grant them his grace?   How will your children know of God’s promise of salvation, unless someone who loves them, tell them and teaches them?

That is why your human relationships are so important.  It is in the sheltering arms of human relationships, that Jesus is blessing your children with strength and courage every day, and he is blessing you.  For it is in your fundamental relationship that they experience the wonder of sacrificial love.  It is in the home that they experience forgiveness and compromise.  It is in the home that they experience protection.  Yes, it is your own home that they experience the truth of the Christian faith.  For God has chosen our human flawed, but forgiving relationship to be his instruments of numberless mercies.   And you are his beloved servants to do this work, if you will accept it.  Amen.

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