What therefore God hath joined, let not man put asunder

(This article appeared in The Call in 2009)

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.
John 2:1-10

At their recent annual convention the larger, liberal body which also takes the name ‘Friends’ gave its support to marriages between people of the same gender. At our Yearly Meeting, which happened a handful of weeks later, the subject did not even come up. You may ask why that was.

There is no doubt that the matter is a ‘hot’ social topic, one about which there is much pressure, and about which there is much public debate, with views for and against expressed forcefully by their proponents. How can something which is so much to the forefront of the public consciousness not be on the agenda of a church that reaches out to the world?

In the Apostle’s letter to the Romans we read: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2). The implication – no, the clear meaning – of this is that the Church, of which Jesus Christ is the living Head, is not conformed to the world, does not dance to the world’s tune, does not necessarily give priority to things which are high on the world’s agenda; on the contrary, the Church listens, with an open heart and mind, to the voice of the Shepherd, and lets him be its Guide, it’s Teacher, it’s King – the setter of it’s agenda, one could say.

The Lord may speak to the Church at the time the world calls ‘Christmas’, for example, and say: ‘Remember my death on the cross, and my resurrection’. Or he may speak to the Church at the time the world calls ‘Easter’ and say: ‘Remember my birth in the stable’. He may come amongst the assembled Church at times when the world mourns, and say: ‘Rejoice!’; or when the world rejoices he may say: ‘Mourn!’ At a time when the world agitates itself with such-and-such a matter, he may come amongst the assembled Church and calm them; and when the world is calm, he may stir up his Church.

Everything which the Church does in response to the Lord – even its expectant waiting upon his presence – preaches the gospel. Every last thing, small or large! This includes witnessing the marriage of two people, whom he has brought together. The witnessing is to be part of the preaching of the gospel, and the marriage itself is to be part of the preaching of the gospel.

An important message to the world on the subject of sexuality, marriage, and indeed of anything, is that no one – gay or straight – has any right to foist an agenda onto the Lord. No one, gay or straight, has a right to try shake God by the throat and say “I demand that you sanctify and justify me exactly as I am!” It doesn’t work like that. Someone who comes in pure fear of the Lord says, like the publican in the temple, “God be merciful to me a sinner”, giving his or her all to God – right down to those cherished socio-political agendas – willing to give up all, to die if necessary, to be crucified and risen with Christ. Nothing in any person, gay or straight, is to be hugged close and held back; God will have us totally, and anything held back becomes an idol!

There is a well-known text in scripture, at the head of this article: “What therefore God hath joined, let not man put asunder.” Friends, the facility with which ‘man’ puts asunder marriages, even those in which the couples have had solemn words spoken over them by a priest or by a civil functionary, is testimony to the fact that in the world God frequently does not join these people; equally, the loveless marriages which are endured on a point of ‘religious’ principle are a testimony to the same. Whilst we believe that ones word, once given, should be kept, we can see that humankind is a weak vessel, and human strength alone is not to be relied upon in such cases. Far from widening the ‘right’ for two people to come together by choice, it is the lot of the Church – perhaps – to narrow it, to bear witness that only a man and a woman truly joined by God are not to be put asunder; and by doing this, by bearing this witness faithfully, even if we do so at the expense of our own inclinations, opinions, and agendas, the Church preaches the Gospel.

Let this be added as a footnote and as a caveat. Friends in Christ, by our coming before the Lord in worship and in our daily lives, endeavour to give up all and become the Church. This is not ours by right, nor by desert, but by Grace alone. Do we fail? Of course we do, time and time again; but we are willing to throw ourselves on the Lord’s mercy time and time again. Once we felt led to witness the marriage of a couple, in hope and in trust. That marriage eventually failed. Did that failure preach the Gospel? Or was it perhaps a lesson given to us, so that we would learn first hand the feeling of our own weakness? Who can say?

What can be said is that such a circumstance has made us more willing to bow our heads and to accept humbly the agenda of our Ruler, the ever-present Lord Jesus Christ. It is him whom we preach – we are nothing, Christ is all.

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