First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Week 2 — The “Back To The Drawing Board” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message …

  • Talked about Jack & Rose on the Titanic, Johnny & Maria in West Side Story, and me and Brooke Shields in college. Really.
  • Gave this bit of free advice: some people ask questions not because they want answers but because they want an advantage.
  • Stated that gender is a) binary; b) God’s decision; c) inherently good; AND that marriage for a man and a woman. Assertions that were both biblical and common sensical a half-generation ago and yesterday were applauded by folks for their boldness.
  • Let people know that when Jesus could have redefined marriage in Matthew 19, he reinforced it instead.
  • Landed at this bottom line: A good marriage has a little to do with chemistry and a lot to do with history.


So we are talking about love and marriage and romance in this series and when it comes to that general subject few things are more alluring and more enticing than LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. Whether it happens at a party, in a class, at a bar (!), on an elevator (!!) … we just sort of long for this moment where the chemistry is so thick, the attraction so overwhelming that neither of you can help what happens next. Isn’t that what happened with Jack & Rose on Titanic? (AV) Or, in an earlier generation, with Johnny & Maria in West Side Story? (AV) Such chemistry!
There was that time I was sure it was gonna happen to me. Some of you know that Brooke Shields (AV) & I went to the same college. She was a freshman & I was a senior. There was this big garden in the center of our campus, and one day I was walking in this direction, all alone. Who is walking all alone in the opposite direction? The Brookster herself! And she is eating an APPLE! Me, her, garden, apple … hello! … all we needed was the snake! It was meant to be! Well, she DID marry a tennis player (AV, Agassi) for awhile. Love at first sight. Better living through chemistry. Some of you married that person, some of you heard about it in your parents’ marriage, some of you were married to someone and then HE OR SHE saw someone ELSE and the chemical attraction was irresistible and now you’re single and they’re … what? … seeing if chemistry sustains blending. There’s chemistry, there are pheromones & Hollywood spends a fortune convincing us it’s true & makes a bigger fortune when we lap it up.
And it’s been going on a long, long while, this assumption that a good marriage requires great chemistry. It’s behind a question that the Pharisees – a group of religious leaders & legal experts – as Jesus as he is headed towards the culmination of his ministry in Mt. 19. Check 19:3a:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him.

Ah! DING! DING! DING! Some people ask questions NOT because they want answers but because they want an advantage! Then more in 19:3b:

They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

Oh Jesus! If chemistry changes, if emotions move, if she disappoints me in any way, can I …. ? This is referring to a time, as you may know, when women had neither rights nor standing and so a man could quite literally write a quick certificate of divorce and DONE. Way faster than either Las Vegas OR Costa Rica! Chemistry gone, pheromones dead, love at first sight becomes death at daylight and … we’re done here. You’ve lost that loving feeling. And remember: they don’t really want an answer from Jesus; they want an advantage over him.
Yet look where Jesus goes with his answer:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’[a]5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’[b]?

Ah! See what he does! He goes back to the beginning, to the origins, he appeals to history! Why does he do that? Is it because Adam and Eve had the perfect marriage because he never had to listen to her talk about all the other men she COULD HAVE married and she never had to put up with his mother? Maybe. Oh, and by the way, please note that when Jesus COULD HAVE redefined marriage with his answer here, he reinforces it instead. Hmmmmm …. And notice something else fabulous and fascinating and oh so current: Jesus makes it clear that gender is God’s design and God’s decision, not ours. Gender is beautiful and planned and apparently it takes BOTH genders to reflect accurately what it means to be made in the image of God. We think we’re so brilliant today AND we think Jesus was silent on all kinds of things that it turns out he addresses directly. We just don’t like what he says.
Anyway, then there is this incredible thing in 19:6:

So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ah, marriage makes something. In marriage 1 + 1 = 1. Marriage makes something that did not exist before, and I don’t mean just babies. In the marriage union, embodied in the sexual union, marriage creates a reflection of its creator. Jesus wants it to endure because he was there when it was invented (duh!) and he knows it is a unique display of the love between F, S, and HS!! But notice something else: in this interaction, Jesus didn’t really answer their question. The Pharisees are looking for a way OUT and Jesus points a way BACK. And UP. They wanna know what do when they’ve lost that loving feeling and Jesus’ NON-ANSWER informs them that it is the wrong question to begin with. He points to the beginning.
Look next at 19:7-8a:

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.

Ah, ah, ah! No, no, no! Check it out, because one detail means EVERYTHING. They say Moses “demanded.” Jesus replies – correcting them – with Moses “permitted.” Huge difference. They’re twisting the words of Scripture to suit themselves and Jesus straightens them and the words out to remind them of God’s design. It’s so interesting. At every step in this interaction, the Pharisees DIMINISH marriage and in reply Jesus always ELEVATES it. They tear it down and he lifts it up. They minimize and he magnifies. So interesting and so unmistakable.
Speaking of unmistakable, look now at 19:8b:

But it was not this way from the beginning.

NOT FROM THE BEGINNING! Ah! Twice in one section. Reminders of history. The heart of the interaction here. They diminish, Jesus elevates, and the ultimate elevation is the appeal to marriage’s origination. We always get sidetracked by the next verse – READ 19:9 – and parse what is allowed and what is not allowed. But that’s a classic case of zeroing in on the trees and missing the forest. Because the Pharisees were all about chemistry and convenience – and shoot, most of us are, too, since that’s what we dwell in this fascinating dialog – while Jesus is about reminding. Taking back to the beginning.
See, if you are married or were married or grew up in a marriage, the reason God is invested in YOUR marriage in particular is because he invented ALL marriage in general. He delights in a good marriage today because he designed marriage AS GOOD yesterday. So here’s the takeaway from a Q & A where men minimize the very institution that the Lord magnifies: A good marriage has a little to do with chemistry and a lot to do with history. When you realize it has much less to do with sparks, with fireworks, and with burning fires and much more to do with joyfully reflecting God’s sacrificial enduring love to a broken world … whew! You realize marriage is no ball and chain! It’s a platform and a pedestal! And it’s been that way from its inception! A good marriage has a little to do with chemistry and a lot to do with history.
We want it about our happiness and God reminds us it’s about his character. We light the spark, tend the spark, and then all too often look for another spark and God says, Nope, I lit the fuse. I have a plan. I have a design. It may not always be easy but it is always sacred. Dig into history & that’s the key to the future.
Whenever I preside at a wedding – something I do 8-10 times a year, I guess – I have a little spiel at the beginning that goes like this. …. For two reasons. To celebrate the wedding of _ and _ and to have a service of worship. Because anytime two of God’s children gather with God’s people we remember that marriage is God’s idea, not ours. Now: that doesn’t mean that every wedding I’ve ever led has resulted in marriages til death do them part. But it DOES mean that people hear, at least briefly, that marriage is ultimately and joyfully more about God than about us. This reminder frees us from the arrogance that newer is better and younger is smarter. A good marriage has a little to do with chemistry and a lot to do with history.
See, at Good Shepherd we are 100% passionate about marriage, building beautiful marriages, and, get this, specializing in the ministry of CRISIS PREVENTION rather than CRISIS MANAGEMENT. Get that? Instead of getting really good at helping to rescue struggling marriage – which is hard and necessary work – we are really leaning in to the idea of becoming excellent at resourcing and strengthening surviving and thriving marriages. That work is hard, necessary, and ultimately much more productive. Because guess what, Good Shepherd? The best time to work on your marriage is when you don’t need to. Hello! And the best work you can do on your marriage and I can do on my marriage is to get so deeply in touch with God’s original, beautiful design: an enduring union of two UN-ALIKE creatures (gender is good and biology is not bigotry!) who together reflect the image of God. Who by displaying God can win people to Christ. Do you realize how much better that is than “I just wanna be happy”?!?! A good marriage has a little to do with chemistry and a lot to do with history.
We’re all about the HOW of a good marriage and Jesus answers the Pharisees and us with a WHY: it my invention, my design, monogamy is not monotony, and all of it points to my steadfast, unstoppable love. REFRAIN.
Because here’s what’s true. The stakes are so high. Maybe you’ve heard of the second grade girl who was at a class party without any adults. And a mom at the party noticed the girl looking a bit lonely and so wandered over & started talking. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?” “Yes, I have one sister but she lives in Louisiana with my dad.” And then little girl said something else: “We are a divorce.” Heart breaking to say and to hear and some of you have felt it, lived it, know it. We are a divorce. And as painful as that is for that second grade girl, it’s hard on the display of God as well. It goes against the divine design and no one knows that better than those who’ve taken the traumatic walk through it.
Because I’m so motivated by that other young woman who was at an overnight camp. She wasn’t raised in church & skeptical of religion. And yet over the course of the week, she noticed how one couple in particular treated each other. With kindness. With consideration. With honor. And, get this: with good manners even when they didn’t know anyone was looking. But she was. And at the end of the week, she said to a friend: “If following Jesus makes people treat each other like that, then I’m in.” And so she was. Think of it! That couple tapped into God’s history and in so doing, they made some of their own. A good marriage has a little to do with chemistry and a lot to do with history.
And you know what I truly, truly believe? You stay rooted in history and you’ll never have to worry about chemistry. When you’re grounded in God’s design, hello!, you get all that other stuff thrown in. In fact, we are so believing in this, that we have a take away for you. Three questions. If you’re married, answer them on the way home. If you’re dating, do the same. If you’re unattached, hold on to them and use them when you’re feeling … chemical! … with someone new. And if you’re widowed, reflect back on how the two of you would have answered. Ready?

I am so impressed with how much you _____________

One of the nicest things you’ve ever done is _________________ 

Something special about you that not many people know is _______________.  

I suspect those answers will be way, way better than LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT any day.