“A division is always a division, and it would never come about unless love has been driven out and hatred and indifference have taken its place.” Thus writes the Russian theologian Nicolas Zernov. Like many Christians who mourn the fractured state of the Church, he was lamenting the painful humiliation we experience as a divided body of Christ. Zernov’s words about division came to mind when I read the gospel reading from Mark 10. The topic of divorce is obviously a problem caused by (and itself causing) division. But the divide runs deeper, both in the appointed text and in our lives today. A sermon on this text, therefore, might help your hearers deal with the trouble of division we all experience.
The issue of division in this reading does not begin with the Pharisee’s question about divorce. Division first arose much earlier in Mark’s Gospel. The cracks began in Mark 2 when Jesus claimed to forgive the sins of the paralytic. Rather than accepting His words (and works) as a gift from God, the Pharisees separated themselves from their own Messiah. This separation quickly morphed into outright opposition. In Mark 3, they are already seeking ways to destroy Him (3:1-6). The test in this week’s text was not the first attempt to trap Him (Mark 8:11), and it would not be the last (Mark 12:15).
In this divisive context, the Pharisees asked Jesus a question about a specific type of division, namely, divorce. They wanted Him to take a stand on whether or not divorce was permissible. It is not obvious exactly how they hoped to trap Jesus. Commentaries offer multiple possibilities, but none seem conclusive. That is okay. The specifics of their plan is not as helpful for your sermon as Jesus’ response.
In His response, Jesus was clear and direct. The permission Moses gave was never the way it was supposed to be. From the beginning, God had established marriage as a permanent union. Jesus’ conclusion in verse 9 was unambiguous: “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (χωριζέτω).”
The permission Moses gave was never the way it was supposed to be. From the beginning, God had established marriage as a permanent union.
Which leads to my suggestion for your sermon. Rather than limiting your sermon to a message against divorce (which will not be directly applicable to many of your hearers), and rather than using this text to defend heterosexual marriage (which may be necessary for our culture but is probably not a personal source of temptation for many of your hearers), I suggest addressing God’s displeasure at any type of division caused by sin. You might even use Jesus’ concluding statement as a refrain: “What God has joined together, let not man separate.”
What has God joined together? There are many correct answers. You could begin with the issue from the text: Marriage. In marriage, God joins two people into one. It is not easy. There is a reason traditional vows include sickness AND in health, for richer AND for poorer, in good times AND in bad. We are all tempted to bail when it gets rough. Divorce statistics among Christians reveal a disturbing willingness to put asunder what God has joined together. A gentle, but firm call to faithfulness among married people is appropriate here. But do not linger too long on divorce.
What else has God joined together? Families. Without our consent or permission, God brought us into existence through parents. For many of us, He also provided siblings and children. The sad fact, however, is our greatest sources of heartache often stem from trouble with members of our immediate family. We are tempted to walk away, cold-shoulder, or edge out members of our family who are hard to love, forgive, or enjoy. But God has joined us to them, so we should not separate.
God is even responsible for bringing together the members of your congregation at this time and place.
What else has God joined together? Individual believers to others (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). He has united Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women. He has made them members of one another as members of a body. God is even responsible for bringing together the members of your congregation at this time and place. Perhaps your congregation is suffering from internal division. If not, prepare them for what might be coming. Help them imagine what it might look like to contribute to greater harmony. Invite them to consider what it might take for them, personally, to help prevent or heal division in this specific congregation.
What else has God joined together? Individual believers to Himself. Here you can speak in the first-to-second person. Through baptism, God has united YOU to Jesus in His death and resurrection (Romans 6:3-4). He has buried YOU and your divisive tendencies in the grave. He has raised YOU to a new and resurrected life. He has promised to remain faithful to YOU no matter what trial and tribulation may come your way. Romans 8:38-39 applies here: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate (χωρίσαι) us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This promise changes the real and potential divisions caused by sin in our lives. It emboldens us to live together as members of His body with humility and selflessness (see Philippians 2:1-4). It empowers us to forgive and reengage estranged siblings, parents, and children. It enables those who are married to remain faithful to their vows, and to seek help when needed (you might invite those who are struggling to stay married to contact you for help or a referral). Above all, God’s promise never to separate us from the love of Jesus means that our security, and our confidence, and our forgiveness—even for our part in past divisions—depends entirely on His faithfulness and not ours.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 10:2-16.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 10:2-16.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 10:2-16.