One Bride, Seven Husbands, and Us

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN
CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by
Joseph Welker, Jr.

 One Bride, Seven Husbands, and Us

 

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk
of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is made to give credit for work
done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not
given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the
emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from
proper grammar and punctuation.

 

Today’s text reveals an interesting understanding of marriage don’t
you think?

Some
Sadducees are trying to trap Jesus about his foolish message about resurrection.
Sadducees didn’t believe in resurrection. So they set up a "hypothetical" for
Jesus about a woman, married several times with the gotcha question being this: "In
the resurrection (if there is such a thing)—whose wife will she be? For
seven had married her?"

Though
hypothetical, the question may have had real life implications in Jesus’ day.
For the premise to the question had a ring of truth within it.

It was true, according to the religious law — it was possible
for a woman to be married several times… to members of the same family.
One of the worst things that could happen to a man back then was to die before
children were born. Children were your future… your legacy… your
blessing. Carried on your name. No children meant that it was the end of the
line (figuratively and literally) for you. So the law made provisions. If you
died childless, your wife would marry a brother. They would beget (that’s
a nice way to say it in a sermon) children and the children would be considered
as those who came from the first husband.

Marriage,
at least in that instance had little to do with love. Still the question remained, "In
heaven, who is married to who?"

I’ve
heard this question asked in a different way today. If you have been married
more than once—perhaps a spouse died and you remarried—in heaven—who
will you be married to? It’s an interesting question. It gets sort of
complicated.

Growing
up of course, marriage didn’t seem that complicated to me. I grew up
in a family where Mom and Dad stayed married their whole lives. I remember
watching Lucy and Ricky Ricardo…. Rob and Laura Petri—work through
their marriages with humor. They slept in two twin beds. I never did get that. There
was an exception of course- Andy who was a widower and raising Opie on his
own with the help of Aunt Bea in Mayberry… but most of the images were
fairly traditional.

Of
course through the years the images of relationships changed… There
was "That Girl"—a single young woman living in the city. There
was "Three’s company"… and of course "Friends"—where
marriage was hardly mentioned. Over the years marriage seemed to lose it’s
luster for people. Of course there are exceptions like "Tool Time" with
Tim and Jill having a relatively healthy marriage.

Growing
up marriage seemed so simple, so black and white. Divorce?
Well, we hardly talked about divorce—because divorced people were shunned.
Some in the church didn’t help. I heard some people say that divorced
people were going to hell. Some divorced people felt unwelcomed in church because
they were sinners. (Like the rest of us weren’t sinners!) They had broken
their marriage vows after all.

That seemed to fade away as divorce affected
every family. My sister divorced and it sort of gives you a new perspective.
It looks different up close and personal. Even Charles Stanley, the very conservative
Baptist TV preacher from
Atlanta had a marriage end in divorce—I’m thinking his pre-divorce
sermons on marriage and his post-divorce sermons on marriage may sound different.

Sometimes I wish marriage were as simple as my childhood memories. But it
was never that simple was it? I
found in my childhood home a book about Marriage by Dr. Louis Evans—"Your
Marriage—duel or duet"—bought by my Mom in 1962. The introduction
says, "No
civilized country has a greater breakage of marriage as does the
United States. In some circles "serial polygamy" has become an accepted pattern." That’s
45 years ago when I was 6 years old. Apparently real marriages weren’t
all like Rob and Laura or Ricky and Lucy.

Even
the Bible is less than clear on the subject. I like to think of Abraham and
Sarah being in love—but then there is Hagar—a concubine in a sort
of quasi- marriage relationship. There is Solomon with 700 hundred wives. Hundreds
of concubines. There
is this story of Jesus where Jesus does not reject the view of marriage offered
by the Sadducees. Marry seven brothers? Not an issue?

Then
behind many of the statements of marriage in the New Testament must have been
difficult questions that sound too familiar? Is it okay to divorce? If so,
under what circumstances? There was divorce in the OT—so how do you apply
that to the Christian life. Is it okay to be single? Is it better to be married?
Is marriage the end all and be all of life? Paul actually seems to say no.
And think about it. Paul was single. Most of the Disciples were single. The
only one we know for sure who was married was Peter. Jesus was single. Are
we saying that they all had less than full and meaningful lives just because
they weren’t called to be married? Was Jesus or the others less than complete
because they lived out a life of singleness? I think not.

So
what can we say about marriage in the midst of the confusion. We may not be
able to answer all the questions in a single sermon, but maybe we can begin
the conversation. The
text today will teach us some assumptions Jesus had about marriage. The
first one that sounds odd at first to me is this. Marriage isn’t always
or only about love. That woman wasn’t married to seven brothers
because she loved seven brothers. Marriage
was, as we say in the marriage ceremony, for the well being of human society,
for the ordering of family life and for the birth and nurture of children.
Marriage was a gift to society to help provide order and protection to people.
Marriage was the context to provide a secure setting for the birth and nurture
of children. It wasn’t just about love.

This
principle may hold wisdom even for couples who are in love. One
of my favorite books on Marriage is by Walter Wangerin (As for Me and My House).
Wangerin asks a question: When does the marriage begin? And he says it is not
when two people fall in love with one another. Love does not make a marriage.
At that point each person may feel an intense commitment to each other, but
that commitment is not independent of feelings. Rather, it’s founded
on nothing BUT feelings—and feelings are unstable as water, while marriage
is the establishment of stability itself in the relationship. Feelings come
and go. Marriage is meant to endure IN SPITE OF them.

Neither does marriage
begin when two people first "make love" to one another. It blesses,
but it does not make a marriage. Then, he says, "When does marriage begin?
Surely not the engagement… nor when people move in together. He says
moving in is different from marriage in this way. Living together is like starting
a job without a contract: there are no secure assurances and one might be fired
on a whim, at a change in the economy, for spite, or for expedience.

So
when does marriage begin? In heaven? Before we even met. That sounds
romantic, he said, but it also ignores the couple’s responsibility- for
the present relationship and for their future lives… When does marriage
begin?

He says there is an actual point where it begins. It begins with the
vow: when two people make the clear, unqualified promise to be faithful, each
to the other, until the end of their days."

He’s
right. I tell couples that the place in the service where you actually get
married is when they repeat their vows: I take you to be my wife/husband… and
I promise to be your loving and faithful husband/wife… in plenty and
in want… joy and sorrow… til death do us part." The
vow doesn’t say anything about being married while you feel like it.
It is a commitment that may start when two people fall in love… but
the vow is a commitment that is beyond love… that may actually lead
to a deeper love in my experience.

A
story I like to tell couples is about two people in my previous congregation.
Charlie and Evelyn. I was invited to their 50th wedding anniversary.
Charlie was a retired construction worker who owned rental homes in
New Jersey. They lived there most of their lives before moving to NC to be
close to children. At those events I often ask the couple what is their
secret to making it 50 years. That’s quite an accomplishment in my mind.
So I asked Charlie and Evelyn that question and Evelyn told me an interesting
story.

She said Jody, earlier in our marriage I remember Charlie and I fighting
all the time. Just fighting. I ran a delicatessen. One day we were fighting
and I told Charlie that when he got home, I wouldn’t be there. He said, "fine!"
So they go to work… she comes home and prepares dinner. He comes home
and says, "Evelyn… I thought you said you wouldn’t be here." She
said, "I realized I had no where to go." And
they worked through their issues… and I’m here to tell you that
at their 50th wedding anniversary, this was one of the most loving
couples I’ve ever known. I
thought to myself, perhaps sometimes the secret to a 50 year marriage is as
simple as when the going gets tough… we have no where to go.

Over
the years their marriage grew and what a blessing they became. They were
a generous couple. They had a grandson who had gone to prison – was getting
out and needed a home—Charlie built an apartment for him in their basement.
Their marriage was one that started with love… survived a very difficult
time… commitment saw them through and it resulted in a deeper love and
more mature marriage that became certainly worked for the welfare of their
grandson.

One
thing that seems clear is that marriage is about love… but it is not
only about love. There is much more involved. Another
thing that is clear, if I hear Jesus right– and I hope I’ve heard in
the right way—is that marriage is not meant to last forever. In the vow
we say, "till death us do part" or "for as long as we both
shall live." Jesus said, in the resurrection life people neither marry
nor are given in marriage. And
if I hear Jesus right, I hear Jesus telling us that marriage is a gift… an
institution that some are called to participate in that can be a great blessing
in our earthly journey.

But Sharon and I will not be married in heaven. This
may be very sad news to some and perhaps good news to others. It
may be good news for those who are wondering how they will sort out multiple
marriages in heaven—especially if you were married to two people you
loved. One died and then you married another. You wouldn’t want to choose
one spouse in heaven.

For
many it is sad news. I know that at funerals one of the things I hear that
speaks of a profound love to me is when a grieving widow or widower tell me
that they really miss their loved one and will look forward to being with them
in heaven. I’m
thinking my Dad is like that. My Mom died 11 years ago… but his love
did not. He misses her. He looks forward to a glad reunion with her. It speaks
volumes to me of their marriage on earth.

It may come as sad news to Dad that
he and Mom will not be married in heaven according to Jesus. This marriage
meant so much to him on earth, he’d like to see it exist forever. I understand
those feelings well. I feel the same way toward Sharon. But
this is how I’ve worked it out as I’ve listened to Jesus paint
a bigger picture of heaven. Heaven is the place where we reach the destiny
of our complete joy, peace and love that God intends for us. It is a place
of complete bliss because we are completely overwhelmed with the love of God.
Revelation says there are no more tears or crying—for the former things
have passed away.

In heaven, I imagine that one day, after our earthly life
is over, I imagine Sharon and I meeting. But we are not married. Marriage is
not a part of heaven. But we are not sad either. For both of us are so full
of the joy of heaven there is no room for sadness. Part of the joy of heaven
may be our memories of marriage on earth. And I imagine saying to
Sharon something like—you know
Sharon… I am so glad…so very glad we were married when we were
alive on earth. What a great blessing God gave us to be married to each other.
To share that journey together. Our marriage helped me understand what love
is about in it’s depths. God revealed his love for me through my marriage
to you. I am so glad… and it will be a part of the joy to be shared
in heaven.

I
hope it will look something like that in heaven. For now, on this side of heaven,
I am grateful for the gift of marriage. I know that not everyone is called
to be married and I need you to know that you are no less a person for being
single. In the Christian faith our ultimate meaning and purpose come from God.
But if you are married or have been blessed to be in a healthy marriage—give
thanks. For it is God’s gift to you.

Amen.


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