Sometimes we get to feeling that everything we used to think was nailed down has come loose; changes are coming head-on at a record pace. And it’s true that if you are a retiree, you’ve seen a multitude of changes. For instance, if you are a “golden ager”—where did that term come from?—you probably went to church at least sporadically when you were growing up. You have religion in your bones, if not in your mouth and mind. You probably are familiar with the King James Version of the Bible, and the way the language has changed. The word let for instance, used to mean hinder, like when Paul said he wanted to visit his churches but was let. Now that word means the exact opposite! Or take the word cleave. Clearly it means to cut apart, to split something like wood. But in Genesis and in Jesus’ teaching about marriage, we hear the quote that a man should leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. The word means not only to split, but also to laminate, to be stuck together. I’ve often thought I should inform the bride and groom at the end of the wedding ceremony that they are stuck with and to one another!
And that thought leads me to the first wedding ceremony I ever performed. I was a ripe old age of 23, and in seminary here in North Carolina. I was preaching for several Sundays at a little church outside of Raleigh when the chairman of the deacon body asked me to marry a young couple. The church was without a pastor, and the deacon said the couple had grown up in the church, he had counseled with them, and they would like for me to marry them.
Well, ignorance is bliss; I figured this wouldn’t be to hard to do, and it would result in my wife getting the traditional wedding honorarium, and after all, the wedding was to be held after the morning service. Clearly the congregation would be leaving after the service, and the wedding party composed of no more than the bride and groom and their parents, would enter the church and I could handle the ceremony. Piece of cake.
So, the next Sunday as the worship service ended I expected the congregation to leave after the benediction as usual, but nobody moved. A few more folks even came in and crowded in the already full pews. I’m standing down front wondering what’s going on, when the organist cranks up the wedding march and the beaming couple start marching down the aisle. Truth be told, I did get through the ceremony without a major mishap—unless you call my stumbling over the traditional phrase what God hath put together, let no man put asunder. Unfortunately, what I said was what God hath put asunder, let no man put together. Fortunately, apparently only my wife realized my blunder!
But I’ve often thought about that little mishap, and the homiletical bell rang the other day when I picked up a book by Dr. Halford Luccock, professor at Yale Divinity School a generation ago, and read Halford musing on the phrase what God hath put asunder, let no man put together. Obviously most folks don’t speak of putting things asunder these days; it means to put things apart. And Dr. Luccock and I both explored the idea of how we put together things God has put asunder.
For instance, Jesus clearly said we cannot join God and money. We cannot serve both. But our society sure thinks they can be joined, with money being the most useful. God has said we cannot separate love and sex, but we sure have. The Bible says we should seek the kingdom of God above all else, but our society urges us to “eat, drink, and be merry.” Indulgence never has lasting satisfaction. God has said we should put greed aside and cleave to brotherly love. But our society says greed is fine, and the devil take the hindmost as far as our neighbor is concerned.
Maybe it’s time to dust off the Bible and ponder such statements as what God hath put asunder, let no man put together. There is, however, one of those things God has put asunder that all of us can rejoice and embrace: God has said that he will put our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west. All we have to do is let him.