Seward United Methodist Church
Monday, August 20, 2018
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Two Become One

Hosea 2:14-23 and Genesis 1:26-27 and 2:18-25

 Some people say that to get a sermon started off right, you should say something that will get people’s attention.  So we’ll try that today:  The foundation of marriage is NOT love.  I know that our society says that it is, and that’s what we see in the movies and all, but it’s not true.  The foundation of marriage is covenant faithfulness.  I know that doesn’t sound as nice as love.  It probably won’t be on a Hallmark card any time soon.  But I think it’s true, and hopefully you’ll see that as we go along.

 We talked about Genesis 1:26-27 a few weeks ago, but we’ll go back and refresh our memory a bit.  God creates human kind.  Both male and female are made in God’s image.  And we should also notice here that for the first time in Genesis, when God speaks, he speaks in the plural “we,” which is often thought to be the first hint of the Triune God in Scripture.  God speaks in the plural and creates a plural human race, male and female.  These two things are reflections of each other.  Just as the Triune God exists in relationship within himself, so human beings are made for relationship.  We are made for relationship with God, and also with each other.  

 Genesis 2 tells us a more complete story of the creation of humanity.  God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”  In all the goodness of God’s creation, there is one thing that’s not good.  The man is alone.  God brings all the animals and birds to Adam, and Adam shares in the creative process by naming them, but no suitable companion for Adam is found.

 The Hebrew word translated as companion is EZER.  It’s sometimes translated as “helper,” but the problem with that translation is that “helper” implies someone of lower status, and that’s not the meaning of the word.  In the Bible, God is often said to be an EZER to his people, so obviously, the word does not imply lower status if it’s used of God.  Unlike in other creation myths from other ancient Near Eastern cultures, male and female are of equal worth in the Bible’s story of creation.  

 The word translated as “suitable” could also be translated as complementary or corresponding.  The picture that is painted here is of two halves of a whole.  Male and female “complement” each other.  The picture of humanity is incomplete without both.

 Since no suitable companion is found, God makes Eve out of Adam’s own flesh and blood.  Again, this emphasizes that male and female are of the same nature, the same essence.  But also, they are made from “one body.”  One became two.  Their marriage then is, quite literally, the two becoming one again.  We were made for relationship.  Human relationships, and especially marriage, were built into the fabric of creation.  

 We should also notice that Adam is completely passive in this.  He’s asleep while God creates Eve and then God presents her to him.  Marriage is a gift of God.  That’s why we say it is a covenant.  A covenant is more than just an agreement, more than just a contract.  A covenant, by nature, is something that is God-given, God-ordained, and God-centered.  God created marriage, gave it to us, told us to enter into it, and ideally, a marriage is centered not only on devotion to each other but also on devotion to God.  

 For this reason a man leaves his father and mother, leaves his family of origin, and establishes new loyalties with his wife.  

 Let’s notice something about that passage:  It says a man leaves his parents and is joined to a woman and the two become one.  It doesn’t say anything about a man and two or three women.  In just a few pages, we find polygamy in the Bible.  But that’s our idea not God’s.  It’s true that God did tolerate polygamy in the Old Testament, but his ideal is that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman.

 “And they were both naked and felt no shame.”  They had nothing to hide, either from God or from each other.  They knew each other completely, and felt no shame.

 Let’s talk about sex.  And we’ll hope the roof of the church doesn’t fall down on us!  In the Bible, the most frequently used language for sexual intimacy was “to know.”  Genesis 4:1:  “Adam knew Eve, and she became pregnant.”  

 In the Hebrew way of thinking, knowledge was experiential.  It wasn’t enough just to know “about” something.  To know something, you had to experience it.  We know another person by entering into a relationship with them.  If I tell you about someone I know, but you’ve never met them, you don’t know them.  You know information about them, but you don’t know them.  And the most intimate knowledge that we can have of another person is the knowledge we have through an intimate relationship with them.  

 What does the Bible say we are to do in our relationship with God?  We are to know God, the very same word as is used to describe sexual intimacy.  Oh my!  That doesn’t work if we think of human sexuality as something “dirty” or “shameful.”  And it isn’t.  Sex is a gift of God and God gives good gifts.  

 But like many things that are good, what is good can become bad if it is misused, if it is taken out of the role God intended for it.  If we misuse God’s gift of human sexuality, then it becomes a source of guilt and shame and pain and broken relationships.  

 Well if “knowing” is used for sexual intimacy in Scripture, and if we are to know God, then it should come as no surprise that one of the most frequently used pictures of our relationship

to God in Scripture is marriage.  Our relationship to God and our faithfulness to God, and God’s faithfulness to us, is often compared to the covenant of marriage.  We see that over and over in the Bible.  In the New Testament, the Church is called the bride of Christ.  

We heard earlier from Hosea, which is one of many places in the Old Testament that God’s relationship to his people is compared to marriage.  In verse 16, God says, “In that day you will call me ‘husband’ instead of ‘master.’”  Our relationship to God should be one of loving intimacy rather than “slavish” fear.  In verse 20, God says, “I will be faithful to you and make you mine, and you will finally know me as Lord.”  There’s the language again of “knowing” God.

 If our covenant with God is compared to the covenant of marriage, then it should come as no surprise that unfaithfulness to God is compared to adultery.  Just as breaking a marriage vow is physical adultery, so breaking our covenant with God and turning our backs on him is spiritual adultery.  

 So the foundation of marriage is not love.  It is covenant faithfulness.  Marriage is sacred because it is a reflection of our relationship with God.  Does that mean that love doesn’t matter?  No.  Certainly we should love our husband or wife just as we should love God.  But the most basic aspect of marriage is faithfulness.  There may be times when we struggle to love our spouse.  But even if loving our spouse is difficult at a certain time, we should still be faithful to our covenant.  Now we could certainly say that covenant faithfulness is an expression of love, and that’s true.  But my point is that romantic love, the gushy feeling of being in love, is not the foundation of marriage.  There will come a time when we don’t “feel” love for our spouse, but we can still be faithful.

 Well, it goes without saying that marriage has fallen on hard times in our society.  And I think that, to a large extent, it has fallen on hard times in the Church, too, because we are too influenced by our society.    

 I think God gives us some advice about marriage here in Genesis.  He says that “a man leaves his parents and is joined to his wife.”  The old language was that he leaves and cleaves.  And a lot of marriage problems are a failure to leave or to cleave.  

 First, we leave.  We leave our family or origin to establish a new family and to give priority to our new loyalties.  And sometimes the problems in marriage are a “failure to leave,” by which I mean that once you’re married, you make decisions with your spouse, not based on the opinions of your family.  

 But the second problem is far more common:  A failure to cleave, a failure to establish a unity within marriage.  If we’re going to marry, we have to sacrifice some of our “independence” for the sake of our new unity.  We can’t always make decisions based on our wants or desires. 

But we live in a society where many people want what they want and aren’t willing to compromise. Marriage is not two people living separate lives in the same house.  Marriage is two people becoming one. 

 It might explain some of our spiritual problems, too.  I think some people hold back on committing to God because they’re afraid “God will send them to Africa or something like that.”  I think it’s hard to have a culture of faithfulness to God without a culture of faithfulness in marriage.  If we’re not willing to yield ourselves to a spouse in marriage then how can we be willing to yield ourselves to God?  

 And of course today we have the situation where many people simply don’t marry at all.  They live like they’re married, but without bothering to make the commitment.  And I’ve sometimes heard the excuse, “a piece of paper doesn’t change anything.”  

 Marriage is not a piece of paper.  A marriage license is a piece of paper, but that’s a legal matter, not a spiritual or relational matter.  Marriage is a covenant and covenant faithfulness most certainly does change things.

 Last fall I read a story about a couple who found out after forty years of marriage that they “weren’t really married.”  You see, the pastor forgot to file the paperwork with the state.  Does that mean that they “weren’t married?”  Does a lack of paperwork mean that the vows that were taken before God and the community were null and void?  No.  If I found tomorrow that Pennsylvania didn’t consider Sharon and I to be married because our paperwork wasn’t filed, would I be upset that we “weren’t married?”  Not at all.  We’re not married because the state says so but because we stood before God and witnesses and pledged to each other.  We’re married because God says so, regardless of what Pennsylvania thinks.

 A few last thoughts:  I notice that often people “hold off” on getting married because they “can’t afford it.”  A wedding is too expensive.  I just read that the average cost of a wedding is almost $30,000.  I don’t think that’s a smart use of money.  Especially considering how often couples fight about money, it’s probably best not to start your married life with a $30,000 price tag.  Having a big expensive wedding is an expectation of our society, not God.  Better to invest in marriage than a wedding.

 Finally, let’s remember this:  God is gracious and forgiving.  We all sin in many ways, including in our relationships.  Even if we are unfaithful in our marriage, God is still gracious.  There is no sin that God cannot forgive.  And we the Church should also be gracious to those who have fallen short in these ways.  

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