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A Tricky Question

Jesus is asked a tricky question and his answer suggests another look at marriage.

Marriage is messy. Well, life is messy, so no surprise there. But -- let's be clear -- marriage is also beautiful and fun and a deeply fulfilling gift from God. Still, let's be honest. A great marriage takes work, compromise, patience and forgiveness -- and a whole lot more. It's a playground for mistakes to be made that create lasting wounds, betrayals that bruise the soul and for levels of intimacy that bring great blessings but also great burdens. And why shouldn't it be? Think about it. Marriage is an institution handcrafted by God for broken people. It connects two individuals and fuses them together as one within an equally crazy world. The goal, of course, is to create a union that, despite its baggage, is better together than apart. And a vast majority of the time it is; these two people meet deep needs, share great joy and create much beauty. But along the way, our individualistic natures unavoidably collide, and often, while trying to sanctify one another, we end up sinning against each other, and so it gets, well, messy. Or at least interesting. Sometimes the end result is not just messiness, but straight up disaster. For example, The Atlantic magazine recently asked the question, "What was the world's worst marriage?" A slate of authors, a television producer and some well-known lawyers joined together to compile a list of the messiest marriages in history. Among them were Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, whose intense personalities made for a volatile combination, one which drove them to the altar in marriage and then to the courtroom in divorce, not once but twice. What such list would be complete without Henry VIII? He wound his way through six different wives, using his power to abuse and oppress each one, and to execute two (Boleyn and Howard). Perhaps darkest of all is the marriage of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka, known as the Canadian serial-killing spouses. They proved that marriage can serve as the greatest of enablers, bringing out the worst -- or, in their case, the evil -- in each other. Missing from the list were pop singer Britney Spears and Jason Alexander. They famously showed the world that marriage can get messy in a matter of moments. The two filed for divorce just 55 hours after getting hitched in Vegas. Did someone mention Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries? But despite the chaos that's inevitable and the craziness that can occur, marriage is still an essential and beautiful part of God's created order. At its most basic level, marriage, with all of its complications, exists to carry us through, to help us survive and thrive as a people in a world of even greater chaos and complications. Marriage exists to meet certain needs today through spouse and family -- needs that will be unknown in God's future and coming reign. But until that day, it remains essential. This is precisely the point that Jesus makes in today's text: He's asked a question about marriage in the resurrection, and his reply pretty much says, "Hey, no marriage in heaven; better to work on your marriage in this life than to worry about a marriage in the next one." And this is why we're going to focus on marriage in the here and now in our approach today as we work with this text. That said, let's remember that not all are called to marriage. Some people may not be in a marriage for a number of different reasons. Even the apostle Paul suggested that it might be better, if possible, to remain in a state of singleness. But since Jesus is asked to comment about marriage, today we're talking about marriage. Background: Jesus is approached by the Sadducees with a theological riddle. In an attempt to see where he stood on the idea of a literal resurrection from the dead -- which they did not buy -- the Sadducees presented Jesus with a truly complicated scenario: seven dead brothers and one wife inherited between them. Since all would be raised to life in the kingdom to come to whom would this extremely unlucky widow be married? The Sadducees were hoping that the conundrum they posed would demonstrate that the idea of a resurrection was sort of ludicrous. Jesus responds by saying, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage" (Luke 20:34-35) In other words Jesus says, "Look, don't use marriage in this world to disprove God's promises about the next one. Marriage is a gift for today, meeting needs that will be filled in different ways tomorrow." In his response, Jesus not only affirms and gives us a glimpse of a future life, but he upholds the importance of marriage as an eschatological placeholder, which helps us navigate our current struggles and appreciate the coming glory. Let's take a look at just a few examples. First, marriage was made for life and death. In this world life is fragile. It begins with babies that are breakable, beautiful and absolutely dependent. They need mom to feed them, dad to burp them, and two committed, complementary adults creating a playground of growth and safety and joy for them. Likewise, as we get older, moms and dads become like their children once were. They become breakable, dependent and desperately in need of the nurture and the comfort that a spouse can provide. It comes in the form of trips to the doctor's office with hands held, sitting by each other's side when one enters an assisted-living facility and making sure their best friend maintains their dignity even as their body begins to bend toward the grave. Marriage provides a cradle for the beautiful fragility of human life. However, in the age to come, the burden of death and the fragility of life will be gone. Jesus promises in our future life, we "cannot die anymore" (v. 36). You'll no longer need to be reminded to take your meds, helped up the stairs or encouraged through cancer treatments. The cradle that marriage provides for our fragile human lives will be retired by bodies that are raised imperishable to enjoy an eternal existence. Second, in this life, marriage is made for oneness and companionship. Sure, we can experience this in our relationships with friends and extended family. But when a husband and wife play together, work together, argue together, parent together, study Scripture together, share a bed together and forgive together -- well, over the course of decades, that's what you call intimacy. Our need to be deeply known, to have our weaknesses balanced and shored up by another's complementary strengths -- it's all there. The record for the longest marriage in history belongs to Daniel and Susan Bakeman. Until Susan's death in 1863, the couple enjoyed 91 years and 12 days of married life. Think about it: almost a century of sharing, connecting and being vulnerable with one person! Sure they must have experienced hundreds of messy marriage moments, but one could bet that after year 75 or 80 years of marriage, Susan and Daniel could read one another's minds and finish each other's sentences. And yet even that level of oneness pales in comparison to what we'll experience in the kingdom to come. In this age, marriage helps fill the gap that separates us from our Creator, whom now we see, feel and know in part. As Paul said, "For now we see in a mirror dimly," but someday we will see, experience and be satisfied by God, "face to face" (1 Corinthians 13:12 ESV). It's difficult for us to grasp what that sense of wholeness in God's presence will be like. But again, marriage gives us the best glimpse. Do you know that moment when you're cuddling on the couch, with the one you love and all seems right in the world? A sense of satisfaction fills your heart, a smile creeps across your face and you think to yourself, "If I could just press record on this feeling, this moment, then I would replay it over and over. I'd live in it forever." Have you been there? Perhaps that is a faint fragrance of the fulfillment we'll know in Christ. Here's one more. In this life, marriage exists for promise-making and promise-keeping. In this broken world, instability and uncertainty rule the day. Sin drives us all to love ourselves more than our neighbor, and the world is a caldron of boiling unpredictability. Marriage offers something radically different. It offers the possibility of two selfish people making promises of selflessness, stability, fidelity and endurance. It begins at the altar with grand promises to "love and cherish" until death, but gets lived out in a million little promises to "take out the trash," to "call me when you get there" and to "pick up milk." Sure, marriage partners don't always succeed, but their constant pursuit of the ideal and their willingness to be accountable creates a safe haven of relative security in a world where there's no such thing as a sure thing. But even this is a glimpse of a greater reality that God will one day usher into being. In our future life, promises themselves will be obsolete. It's hard to grasp, but someday there will be a new creation. Imagine a world where there's an unshakeable love with no hint of an underlying worship of self; a world where, as "sons [and daughters] of God," we enjoy unquestionable protection, providence and care (Luke 20:36 ESV). Indeed, faith and hope -- the substance of promises -- will pass away and only love will remain (1 Corinthians 13:13 ESV). But until this world exists, marriage offers an opportunity for us to practice the habits and experience the benefits of promise-making and promise-keeping. Yes, marriage can be complicated. Yes, marriage can be messy. Yes, marriage is not perfect. Given the people who enter it and the world that requires it, how could it not be? And sure, sometimes we make a mockery of it. Take Glynn "Scotty" Wolfe for example. He holds the record as the world's most married man. In his 89 years, he was married to 29 different women. But for all those who abuse it, there are billions more who are blessed by it and desperately need it. Because until marriage is, as Jesus predicted, made wonderfully obsolete, it is a wonderful opportunity for blessing and happiness, offering to us today the greatest glimpse of the satisfaction, the wholeness and the stability we will experience in full, through Christ, in the future. Amen.

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