Text: Mark 10:2-16††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† †††††††††††††††††††††††† ††††††††††W 20th Sunday after Pentecost
The Faith of a Child
††††††††††† In the name of him who was made a little lower than the angels so that by the grace of God he might taste death for us all, dear friends in Christ:† In this morningís Gospel reading, we hear how our Lord Jesus takes on the sticky issue of divorce and remarriage.† The answer he gives would have been quite a surprise to the Pharisees who asked him the question Ė maybe almost as much of a surprise as it is to a lot of people living in our day and age who consider the bond formed in marriage to be anything but sacred.† Today many people treat marriage as if it were about as disposable as a Styrofoam coffee cup.† In any case, the big question in Jesusí day (like it often is today) was not, ďIs it okay to divorce your spouse?Ē† That was taken for granted.† If the Law of God given through Moses allowed it, they reasoned, it must be okay.† The only question they had was ďWhat constituted proper grounds for a divorce?Ē† Some said basically anything.† If your wife burns the lamb chops some evening, if you just get tired of her, or if you find someone younger and prettier, well, then by all means, send her packing.† Just make sure you write a certificate of divorce.† If you do the paperwork like Moses commanded, then everythingís just fine and dandy.† That was one view.† There were others whose understanding of the matter was a bit more stringent.† They said that there were certain conditions that had to be met first; but if they could be established, then again, by all means, divorce was fine and a man could pursue the dissolution of his marriage confident that God was pleased by the whole thing.
Now, by asking Jesus about it, these Pharisees were hoping that he would pick one side of the argument or the other.† They had been arguing about these issues forever, and they knew that scriptural passages could be mustered on both sides in defense of their views.† So either way he went, they felt that the other side could shoot his choice full of holes.† They figured they had him.† When he answered the question, theyíd be able to make Jesus look like a fool Ė and thatís what they were really after.
But as he always did, Jesus turned the tables on them and showed how neither side really grasped the mind of God in the matter.† ďYou misunderstand the difference between Godís will concerning marriage and a concession he made on account of peopleís sin.Ē† Divorce never pleases God.† He hates it. His intent for marriage is that people hold it sacred and live in it according to his design.† He wants them to cherish their spouses and keep the promises they make to love, honor, and care for one another.† Thatís the Lordís will for every marriage.† The problem is that in this fallen world people do not always live according to Godís will.† It often happens that they break their promises and do not keep their commitments. They fail to love and cherish their spouses like they said they would, and instead they act in ways that are resentful, angry, selfish, and unforgiving.† Sometimes they are unfaithful and do not keep their vows to give their bodies sexually only to their spouses.† And such behaviors undermine the foundation of trust and destroy the climate of mutual respect that are necessary for a marriage to endure.† Recognizing that this would sometimes be the case, the Lord made allowances in the law he gave his people to deal with it Ė but the point Jesus is making is that itís never a good thing.† If a marriage ends through divorce it is always because thereís at least one person and in most cases two people who are breaking the most sacred promise that can be made to another person before God.† And from the Lordís point of view, thatís very serious indeed.† What makes it even worse is the damage it does beyond the couple who are breaking up.† Divorce hurts children and other family members.† It opens wounds that continue bleed for a long time, or that become infected and spread poison to places unforeseen when the divorce takes place. And since the family unit built on the marriage bond is the basic building block of society, the entire community grows weaker and more disordered with every divorce that takes place. No one should ever seek a divorce. If one becomes necessary, itís to be seen by all as the tragedy it is.
But again, the Lord knew that sometimes it would be necessary Ė in the same way that wars sometimes are necessary to protect nations from aggression, or that jails are necessary to keep criminals from hurting people.† Divorce falls into the general category of necessary evils for dealing with evil Ė and specifically the evil that Jesus calls ďhardheartednessĒ. Itís an interesting word in the original Greek.† Itís ďsklaero Ė cardianĒ. Thatís sklaero as in arteriosclerosis, which is hardening of the arteries; and cardian as in cardiac:† that which pertains to the heart.† So hardheartedness is pretty much an exact translation.† And it captures the idea exactly:† itís as if the heart is covered by a hard shell that resists the penetration of Godís Word.† Itís like the hard soil in the Parable of the Sower.† The seed of Godís Word canít get through the surface and take root, so the soil remains lifeless and unproductive.† Thatís the way it is with hardheartedness.† Itís, ďI hear what youíre saying, Lord; but I refuse to believe it.† Iím not going to let that Word of yours in and let it grow in me and change me.Ē
This is what happens when Christian people divorce.† And please donít misunderstand me.† I know that there are cases in which thereís physical abuse or abandonment or gross infidelity.† Itís precisely for such cases that the Lord permitted divorce, even though itís still a tragedy when it happens.† Unfortunately, these days most divorces happen simply because, ďWe argue all the timeĒ, ďWe just donít seem to get alongĒ, ďWe arenít in love anymoreĒ, ďyada yada yada.Ē† Itís at such times that pastors are likely to hear, ďI just canít see how even God can help save this marriageĒ as if there were a problem too big for him to handle. Somehow, I just canít see the Lord saying, ďYouíre right.† This is so broke that even I canít fix it.† There are sins here too big for me to forgive, and hurts too deep for me to heal. The misery has gone on for too long now. Iím powerless.† Go ahead and get your divorce.† Itís the only way.Ē† No, I canít envision him saying that.† Of course, what a person who says God canít save a marriage really means is, ďIíve made up my mind and Iím not going let him to try.Ē† Thatís the stubborn, willful, hardhearted refusal to believe that the Lord can and will bring his peace and healing to the situation.† Itís amazing isnít it?† ďGod can save my wretched soul from hell by sending his Son to die for my sins, he can give me new life through his Spirit, he can fill me with his love, he will raise me up on the last day and give me eternal life; but donít ask me to believe that he can help me love my spouse, or help my spouse love me.† Thatís not possible.Ē
And look, it isnít just divorces that are caused by hardheartedness.† Pretty much all the conflicts we have with other people Ė especially with other Christian people Ė are the result of it as well.† Our long standing grudges and feuds with family members, neighbors, and other members of the church, the people we are supposed to be loving and getting along with, well, ďDo you really expect me to believe that the Lord can make it right between us?Ē† You see, we often think we know better than God when it comes to such things Ė usually because weíd rather maintain the conflict and brood over our hurts than be reconciled to each other through the blood of Jesus.† Thatís hardheartedness.
††††††††††† And it causes the tragedies weíve been talking about.† But these are tragedies that can be avoided; and even when these tragedies have happened in the past, the wounds theyíve left behind can be healed.† The problem is our hardness of heart; but in his Holy Word God has said, ďI will remove your hard hearts of stone and I will give you hearts of living flesh.Ē† And a little bit later in this same Gospel text, Jesus tells us what kind of heart that is.† Itís the soft and supple heart of a child that is capable of holding a childís faith.† He holds up little children as examples for all of us, and tells us that unless we receive him and believe in him like little children, we have no part of his Kingdom.† And letís be clear about this:† the heart of a child is just as sinful as yours.† At the same time, there are certain characteristics of a childís faith that make it something we should all seek for ourselves.
††††††††††† The first is credulity, which is the willingness and capacity to accept that what someone says is true.† Thatís the way little children are.† Thereís an innocence there and an expectation that if mom or dad or some other adult in authority says something, itís right.† They believe what theyíre told without doubting.† We lose this as we get older because weíre so often disappointed.† People tell us things that turn out not to be true, so we learn to be less gullible.† The trouble is that we take this jaundiced view of what we hear and we apply it to what God says.† But that makes no sense because God is inherently truthful.† He cannot tell a lie.† Quick survey here:† raise your hand if God has ever lied to you.† You see?† It doesnít happen.† And yet when we doubt his Word and assume that he cannot heal our conflicts with others, we are effectively calling him a liar.
††††††††††† Now, unfortunately, there are people
out there who should know better who are saying that God is a liar.† I spoke just this last week with a local
pastor who does not believe the biblical accounts of manís creation or the fall
into sin.† He believes that we inherited
the predisposition to sin through the process of evolution and natural
selection, not because our first parents fell from their state of innocence.† He thinks that Darwinís theory explains so
much better mankindís origin and present behavior, so it trumps what Godís Word
has to say.† Rather than that childlike
faith that simply receives and believes what God says, he wants to sit in
judgment of God and determine which parts of his testimony are true and which
are false.† But then where do you
stop?† If those stories arenít true, what
about the Flood?† Did that happen?† What about the stories of the Exodus?† Did God really part the
††††††††††† A second characteristic of a childís faith is its complete trust and expectation of what is yet to come.† Even an infant in its motherís arms knows who takes care of it.† The child knows when I need something, Mom will get it or do it for me.† In fact, the infant is relying on Mom for needs it doesnít even know it has:† clean clothing, bedding, medicine, shelter, transportation Ė the child understands none of these things; but it knows who its mother is and it knows that thatís the person who takes care of me so I donít need to worry about anything.† Thatís how our childlike faith toward God is to be.† We are to trust him for everything Ė even the needs we donít know we have.† And something else:† as a child gets older it learns that Dad can fix anything.† One Christmas I was celebrating with family that had several kids. They were all opening presents and doing general Christmassy stuff.† It was sort of an organized chaos in the house.† Anyway, one of the kids was a boy two or three years old.† The little guy opened a gift and almost immediately broke a part of whatever it was.† He sat there and cried for a few minutes Ė pretty much ignored by everyone because there was so much going on Ė but then this look of sudden insight came upon him. He went to the kitchen, opened a drawer, and pulled out a roll of scotch tape.† Then he went to the living room and set the broken piece and the tape in his fatherís lap.† The father, who was engaged in a conversation and hadnít noticed any of this, looked down at his son with this, ďWhatís this all about?í look on his face.† But the kid just stared up at his father smiling. ďDad will fix it.† I know he can.Ē† That same childlike faith is how we are to approach our Father in heaven.† We bring him whatís broken with the expectation that he can and will fix it.† Though it needs to be said that sometimes the fixing is painful. When the child comes to the parent with an infected finger caused by a splinter, thereíre going to be some tears shed before itís all over.† So it is also with us.† When we come to God with our souls infected with sin, itís going to hurt to get it out Ė but we still come to him, knowing that he knows best and that in the end weíll be better off for it.
††††††††††† A third aspect of a childís faith is its inquisitiveness.† Sooner or later every kid goes through the ďwhy?Ē phase.† Some never come out of it.† But you know what I talking about:† itís that seemingly endless series of questions that eventually leads every parent to finally answer in frustration, ďWhy?† Itís just the way it is, thatís why!† Stop asking so many questions!Ē† But you see what a child going through this stage is doing:† heís saying, ďI donít know much; but I know that you do.† And I believe what youíre saying, so tell me more.Ē† This needs to be stressed.† A childlike faith does not mean an ignorant faith.† Itís not blind in the sense that it doesnít seek to learn and know more.† Truth be told, Iíve heard young children give very insightful and sophisticated expressions to their faith.† Iíll bet some of you have too.† And part of it also, as anyone whoís been peppered with whyís knows, is that sometimes it has less to do with the childís wanting to know answers than it does with the desire simply to keep the conversation going. The child is happy just listening to the parent respond to the questions Ė itís a way to share time and deepen the bond, even when the child is asking questions far beyond his or her ability to understand the answers to.† So it is with our childlike faith towards God.† Asking the questions and seeking the answers in his Word is a way to spend time with him.† And unlike human parents, he never gets tired of answering all those questions.† He is delighted to spend the time with you Ė especially since itís through hearing him speak that he gives you the faith of a child and changes you to be more like him.
††††††††††† And that leads to the fourth and final aspect of a childís faith that Iíd like to mention today.† Itís imitation.† Children naturally and unabashedly try to imitate the people they look up to.† This is why you find little boys modeling their fatherís hat and work boots in front of the mirror, and little girls doing the same thing with their motherís makeup and purse.† They want to be like their parents.† They want to act like them.† Of course, sometimes we are horrified with the behaviors and language that our children learn from us because they tend to pick it all up without discretion.† We arenít always the best role models; but Christ our Lord is.† We cannot go wrong seeking to imitate him.† And with the faith of a child, thatís exactly what we will want to do.
††††††††††† All the more reason for us to seek to have a childís pure and holy faith.† How do we get it?† Well, Iíve already indicated that it comes of listening to the Lord speak.† As Paul says in Romans, ďFaith comes by hearing the Word of God.Ē† But I think the people in this morningís Gospel reading had the right idea.† They were carrying their little children to Jesus so that he would touch them.† They had heard how Jesus healed lepers and the lame, and how he gave sight to the blind and made the deaf to hear, and how he even raised the dead Ė always with a touch. They realized that there was a powerful blessing in the touch of Jesus, a blessing that they wanted to rest on their children.† The hardhearted disciples tried to stop them.† Jesus, they thought, didnít have time for such nonsense.† The Lord had to set them straight.† He told them thatís exactly why heíd come:† to touch little children, to take away our hard hearts of stone and our sins that are sealed up inside, and to give us soft hearts of flesh that with a childís faith cling to him and his promises.† Itís the touch of Jesus that does it, in water, in Word, in bread and wine Ė through these he takes us into his arms and blesses us, and he makes and keeps us the children of God.† To him be our praise now and forever.† Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!