Mark 10-2-16

October 4, 2015


A young woman named Sally was driving home from a business trip in Northern Arizona. She saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road. As the trip was a long and quiet one, she stopped the car and asked the Navajo woman if she would like a ride. With a silent nod of thanks, the woman got into the car.

Resuming the journey, Sally tried in vain to make a bit of small talk with the Navajo woman. The old woman just sat silently, looking intently at everything she saw, studying every little detail. Then the old woman noticed a brown bag on the seat next to Sally.

“What’s in bag?” asked the old woman.

Sally looked down at the brown bag and said, “It’s a leather coat. I got it for my husband.”

The Navajo woman was silent for another moment or two. Then speaking with the quiet wisdom of an elder, she said: “Good trade.”

One of the favorite themes of people who write jokes is marriage. No surprise there. Relationships are difficult, particularly between men and women. After all, as the author said, one is from Mars and the other is from Venus. And, at times, you have to laugh to keep from crying. Then, to keep things interesting, there are our extended families …

Back in their vaudeville days comedians George Burns and Gracie Allen had a great routine about weddings.

Gracie is reminiscing about their wedding day. She remarks, “Seems like only yesterday that my mother tripped George as we walked down the aisle.”

George says, “I guess your family didn’t approve.”

“Oh, sure they did,” Gracie replies, “In fact, they applauded her when she did it.”

I hope your mother-in-law didn’t trip you on the way down the aisle. But sometimes families can be a challenge. For most people, marriage is a challenge.

Some Pharisees came to Jesus and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

Why is the Bible so relevant to our world today? It is because people were asking the same questions that people ask today. “Can a Christian man or woman divorce his or her spouse?” In a day when most young marriages–and even many mature marriages— are coming apart at the seams, it is indeed a relevant question to ask.

“What did Moses command you?” Jesus replied. In other words, “what is the Old Testament view of this question?” Jesus is asking. People assume that the Bible is consistent on such matters. It is not. Women in the Old Testament, before the coming of Jesus, were property, like cattle or a piece of land. A girl was considered to be owned by her father. At marriage, her ownership was transferred to her new husband. Fathers would sell their daughters into slavery. Men could divorce their wives for various reasons, but wives had no such freedom. As one source commented, the only course that a woman had was to become so mean and intolerable that the husband divorced her. That’s the Old Testament. If the Old Testament were a perfect document, we would not have needed the New. “What did Moses command you?” Jesus asked.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they were no longer two, but one,” said Jesus. “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

A strong affirmation of the marriage, wouldn’t you say? Marriage is serious business. Christians need to do everything within their power to help marriage survive. But not only survive, but be a source of blessing for both partners and to all others who are affected by the marriage relationship.     Today, I want to give those of you who are married a brief test, a quiz. Those who are not married will profit from this quiz, because what we’re talking about are relationships and the same principles apply to all important relationships–for example parent and child, and siblings.

First of all, are you attentive to one another’s needs? If I asked you details about your spouse’s likes and dislikes, how would you do?

While attending a Marriage Seminar dealing with communication, Tom and his wife Grace listened to the instructor.

“It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other.”

He addressed Tom, “Can you describe your wife’s favorite flower?”

Tom leaned over, touched his wife’s arm gently and whispered, “It’s Pillsbury, isn’t it?”

The rest of the story gets rather ugly, so I’ll stop right here. There are many couples who, if they were honest about it, would confess that they are living with a stranger.

There was an interesting article in a women’s magazine recently. After 16 years of marriage, Suzanne and Jim Shemwell of Boise, Idaho, were ready to call it quits. They argued constantly. Divorce seemed like their only option.

But then, on March 5, 2003, while on a snowmobile trip in the Boise National Forest, Suzanne and Jim became stranded in a blizzard. For the next five days, they had to rely on one another for their very survival. Trapped in the forest, fighting frostbite, hunger, and various injuries, Jim and Suzanne stopped arguing and began cooperating. Back home, their conversations were filled with insults and discouraging comments. But out in the woods, they focused on encouraging and comforting one another.

By the time they were rescued on March 10, 2003, the Shemwells were wondering why they had ever wanted to separate in the first place. They made plans to renew their wedding vows and a March 10, 2004, they did so in the Boise National Forest.

It would probably help many couples to get lost in a forest for a while so that they could really get to know each other. How well do you know your spouse? Are you sensitive to one another’s needs? That’s question number one of our test. Here’s question number two:

Is your marriage marked by positive comments and words of encouragement? Now, here things get a little stickier. How easy it is for marriage partners to aim barbs toward one another. A little poem on the Internet says it best:

He didn’t like the casserole/he didn’t like my cake.

My biscuits were too hard …/Not like his mother used to make.

I didn’t perk the coffee right/he didn’t like the stew,

I didn’t mend his socks …/The way his mother use to do.

I pondered for an answer …/I was looking for a clue.

Then I turned around and smacked him …/Like his mother use to do.

I hope nobody recognizes themselves in that little poem.

I have come to believe that some homes ought to be categorized as toxic waste sites. Not physically toxic, perhaps, but verbally. It is so easy to criticize, to belittle, to put down a mate. This often happens when a married person has very low self-esteem. They try to compensate by belittling their mate, seeking, I suppose, to bring the other person down to their level. It can be a very cruel form of spouse abuse. It’s very sad.

Dr. James Dobson and his wife, Shirley, tell about a husband named Jim who was tragically killed in an accident while driving home from work. It was his wife Carol’s 50th birthday. Rescue teams found two plane tickets to Hawaii in Jim’s pocket; he had planned to surprise Carol with them.

Months later, Carol was asked how she was coping. She answered that on their wedding day, she and Jim had promised to say “I love you” before noon each day of their marriage. Over the years it had become a fun–and often difficult–challenge. She recalled running down the driveway saying, “I love you,” even though she was angry at Jim. On another occasion she drove to his office to drop a note in his car before the noon deadline. The effort it took to keep this promise led to many positive memories of their years together.

The morning Jim died, he left a birthday card in the kitchen, then slipped out to the car. Carol heard the engine starting and raced outside. She banged on the car window until he rolled it down, then yelled over the roar of the engine, “Here on my 50th birthday, Mr. James E. Garrett, I, Carol Garrett want to go on record as saying I love you!”

“That’s how I’ve survived,” Carol said later. “Knowing the last words I said to Jim were I love you!”

Wouldn’t it be tragic if the last word you spoke to your husband or wife was a word of criticism, a word that belittled them? Is your marriage marked by positive comments and words of encouragement?

Question three: are you able to overlook one another’s faults and forgive one another’s mistakes? This is getting more and more difficult, isn’t it?

John Gottman, of the University of Washington, is a world renowned psychologist. Gottman contends that he can predict whether a marriage will last, or whether it will end in divorce based on whether the couple engages in what he calls, “positive sentiment override.” That’s a mouthful. What is positive sentiment override? Positive sentiment override, according to John Gottman, is “where positive emotion overrides irritability.” For example, a husband snaps at his wife after a long day. How does she respond? If she is in positive sentiment override, she overlooks the irritability. Her overall positive feelings about him override the isolated negative action.

In other words, do your positive feelings toward your spouse allow you to accept and forgive their mistakes, shortcomings and occasional thoughtless behavior? Or do you respond with negative sentiment override? In other words, do you strike back?

A British couple who once held the Guinness world record for the longest marriage, Percy and Florence Arrowsmith married on June 1, 1925 and celebrated their 80th anniversary on June 1, 2005. “I think we’re very blessed,” Florence, 100, told the BBC. “We still love one another, that’s the most important part.”

Asked for the secret of their long marriage, Florence said you must never be afraid to say “sorry.” “You must never go to sleep bad friends,” she said.

Of course, she’s right. There are times in every marriage for forgiving and forgetting and saying “I’m sorry” and going to sleep good friends. That’s positive sentiment override. By the way, Florence’s husband Percy, 105, said his secret to marital bliss was just two words: “Yes, dear.” Are you able to overlook one another’s faults and forgive one another’s mistakes?

All of this leads us to the final question in our brief quiz: Are you and your spouse thoroughly committed to making your marriage work? Here is why most Christian marriages work in the long run, commitment. Both partners are determined to make the relationship work, and generally they find a way.

Michael Hargrove tells about a scene at an airport that literally changed his life. He was picking up a friend. He noticed a man coming toward him carrying two light bags. The man stopped right next to Hargrove to greet his family. The man motioned to his youngest son (maybe six years old) as he lay down his bags they hugged and Hargrove heard the father say, “it’s so good to see you, son. I missed you so much!” “Me, too, Dad!” said the son. The oldest son (maybe nine or 10) was next. “You’re already quite the young man. I love you very much, Zach!” Then he turned to their little girl (perhaps 1 or 1½). He kissed her and held her close. He handed his daughter to his oldest son and declared, “I’ve saved the best for last!” and proceeded to give his wife a long, passionate kiss. “I love you so much!” he said to his wife softly.

Hargrove interrupted this idyllic scene to ask, “Wow! How long have you two been married?”

“Been together 14 years total, married 12 of those,” the man replied, as he gazed into his wife’s face.

“Well then, how long have you been away?”

The man turned around and said, “Two whole days!” Hargrove was stunned.

“I hope my marriage is still that passionate after 12 years!”

The man stopped smiling and said, “Don’t hope, friend … decide!”

And that’s it, isn’t it? For most of us it comes down to a decision. “Till death us do part.” It doesn’t happen in every relationship, but that is still the ideal that Jesus gives us. “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one,” said Jesus. “‘Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate.’” Amen.