Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sermon for 23 August 2009, Proper 16B

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Ephesians 5:21-6:4
Husbands & Wives, Parents & Children
Proper [16] B, Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, 23 August 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
For a Lay Reader

To the saints who are… faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 1:1b-2) Amen.
The creator of heaven and earth
Commanded the human race to increase
That it might worship Him
And sing His praises.
Therefore the Creator of mankind
Established marriage
And united man and woman
In the marital bond,
Not wishing that there be errant lusts among mankind.
Marriage, an honorable estate,
Has the Lord as its founder;
God the Father sanctified it
And Jesus the Son honored it.

Praise and honor be to Thee, O Lord,
Who takest delight in holy weddings.
But restrain Thou the devil,
Who attacks marriage,
So that the Christian man and wife
May sing Thy praises eternally,
Enjoying with their dear children
The joys of heaven. Singing the Gospel, p. 63-64
This 16th Century text sets the stage for a Biblical discussion of the vocations of husband and wife and how Christian parents best care for their children. It is a much better place to start than just complaining about the current state of marriage in America and the world today. Let’s get back to basics. How did God institute Holy Matrimony? With the varied voices of the world calling us to changing definitions of marriage—or even no definition at all, we pick up where we left off last Sunday, with Ephesians 5:21: …submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. [Submit] (submitting) to one another out of reverence for Christ.
In Christ there is no male or female, Paul teaches the Galatian congregations. But we dare not take that teaching out of context. When it comes to salvation, all are truly equal—equally sinners, equally in need of God’s gracious forgiveness in Christ, equally forgiven. And yet, men and women are different. Modern documents and politically correct opinions cannot change the biology of how God has made humanity male and female.
A husband won’t get far if he ignores his wife. Men are not superior to women, and women are not inferior to men. God created men and women differently on purpose. God has given different roles and vocations to women and men. All are given to submit first to God, His will, and His Word. We must be careful to say what the text says and neither read past nor present cultural practices into the text. Instead, we sit at Paul’s feet and listen to God’s design, based in the order of creation.

22Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Women are given to submit to their husbands, but not blindly. Rather, wives submit to their own husbands as to the Lord. Verse 22 must not be taken out of context. Verses 23 and 24 are that important context, as well as verse 21, explaining the whole phrase as to the Lord. All are under authority. As 1 Corinthians 11:3 (ESV) says: But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. Without the phrase as to the Lord, the command to women is easily misunderstood and misused.
Women are given to submit to their husbands, but not blindly. St. Peter taught us in Acts that we must obey God rather than men. If a husband commands his wife to sin, she has a higher authority—God—whose Word she is given to follow.
These verses are the foundation of what we hear in the rite of Holy Matrimony. The pastor asks the bride: Name, will you have this man to be your wedded husband, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you submit to him as the Church submits to Christ? Will you love, honor, and keep him in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, remain united to him alone, so long as you both shall live? Then say: I will. LSB, p. 276
“I will” is different from the “I do” we usually hear in weddings on TV or in the movies. “I do” could give the impression, “Well, I do today, but tomorrow…I’m not so sure.” “I will” speaks of an action that begins and continues as long as both shall live.
The usual word found in the traditional marriage rite is “obey.” This is unfortunate, and has only added to misunderstandings. “Submit” more accurately gives the meaning of the Greek. A yield sign is another good illustration. And while women are given to submit to their husbands as to the Lord, nowhere are men given to make them submit. Wives simply submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Refusing to submit on the one hand and playing king or dictator to one’s wife on the other hand are both sinful and not what the Lord or St. Paul had in mind. Instead men are given to love their wives, be protective, willing to die for them and also willing to live with them.

25Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30because we are members of his body. 31"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." 32This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Pastor Cain usually asks prospective grooms if they are willing to die for their bride. The groom’s answer—and the time it takes for him to think of one and get it out—tells him a lot about the couple’s relationship. And so does the response of the bride! Another question is also important. It’s relatively easy for a Christian to say they would be willing to die for the faith. The hard part is dealing with persecution or ridicule over a long period of time. Death might well be preferable to a long, painful illness. The question, “Are you willing to die for her?” should be followed up with “Are you willing to stay with her ‘til death do you part?”
The Pastor asks the Groom: Name, will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body, the Church, giving Himself up for her? Will you love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, remain united to her alone, so long as you both shall live? Then say: I will. LSB, 276
It would be pointless to debate which vocation is tougher: husband or wife. Both face extreme challenges in our day. And often, we readily use our culture and its wayward practices to attempt to justify our personal sins against God, His Will, and His Word.
The Biblical text before us does not address everything we would like to know about marriage, or the divine ordering of male and female relationships. Scripture has much more. What we are given is the foundation—Holy Matrimony. By itself, this would be more than enough for us to work on, to discover where we individually need to repent, and ultimately receive forgiveness for our past sinful thoughts, words, and deeds.
Lutherans don’t consider Holy Matrimony a sacrament because we define the word sacrament differently than Rome. For Lutherans, a sacrament must also deliver the forgiveness of sins. Marriage doesn’t deliver the forgiveness of sins, but it cannot survive without mutual repentance and forgiveness. No relationship can survive without confession and absolution. Husbands are given to forgive their wives. Wives are given to forgive their husbands. Together they receive God’s forgiveness and sing together psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs each Sunday at Divine Service and daily in family devotions. In this way, they both submit to one another out of reverence to Christ.

The rite of Holy Matrimony summarizes what God has instituted in the following way: In marriage we see a picture of the communion between Christ and His bride, the Church. Our Lord blessed and honored marriage with His presence and first miracle at Cana in Galilee. This estate is also commended by the apostle Paul as good and honorable. Therefore, marriage is not to be entered into inadvisedly or lightly, but reverently, deliberately, and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God.
The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Marriage was also ordained so that man and woman may find delight in one another. Therefore, all persons who marry shall take a spouse in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust, for God has not called us to impurity but in holiness. God also established marriage for the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord so that they may offer Him their praise. LSB, p. 275
This is what St. Paul addresses in the opening four verses of Ephesians 6: 1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2"Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), 3"that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." 4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
The fourth commandment is usually seen from only one side—what children are given to do. St. Paul also teaches us the active role that parents are to take in raising their children as Christians. Parents must carefully avoid our culture’s temptation to be a “buddy” rather than a Biblical parent. When the children decide what the family watches, eats, plays, and whether or not Sunday morning is spent with God, who is really running the household?
In many households today, women are acting spiritual head of household. They may be widowed, single mothers, single people, or married to men with little or no interest in Christianity or congregational life. This is nothing new. In the 16th Century German town where this morning’s opening thoughts on marriage were written, 1/3 of those households were temporarily headed by women. The book went on to explain that after the government banned Lutheran books, preachers, and worship services, women were largely responsible for preserving the Gospel in their homes for another generation.
Some Christians question seeing God as male or as a “Father” because of negative experiences with their earthly father or other men. Instead, our heavenly Father teaches earthly fathers—physical and spiritual—how they are given to care for their families. The introductions to the chief parts of Luther’s Small Catechism, as well as the section on daily prayers say this: “As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.” (LSB, p. 326)
Researchers from Switzerland examined whether parents' religious habits were transmitted to their offspring…Consider these findings: When Mom is a regular churchgoer but Dad attends infrequently, just 3 percent of their kids go on to become regular churchgoers. When Mom is regular but Dad never attends, just 2 percent become regular attenders.
Now, let's flip the chart. What if Dad is faithful? When both Mom and Dad attend church regularly, 33 percent of kids grow up to attend regularly. When Dad is regular but Mom only goes once in a while, the figure jumps to 38 percent. Here's the real bombshell: when Dad is faithful but Mom never attends, 44 percent of the kids end up as regular church attenders!
Bottom line: in spiritual matters, kids take their cues from Dad. If Papa doesn't go to church, chances are very slim that his children will become regular worshippers. If the kids see religion as "Mom's thing" they are more likely to become disenchanted. But if Dad leads by example, children are twenty-two times more likely to become lifelong churchgoers. David Murrow, 2005
Fathers have an important responsibility as spiritual head of household to conduct family devotions, to bring family members to Holy Baptism, and to bring the baptized to Church and other Christian instruction.
Pastor Cain has been called to share with parents this responsibility in catechizing the children of the congregation. Vacation Bible School, regular Sunday School attendance, and Catechism instruction are part of this. But catechesis does not end with Confirmation Day. It’s not graduation. It means, “Now you’re ready to study the Bible as a maturing Christian.” Our Sunday Bible Classes and Sunday School will return to its usual 9:15 time followed Divine Service at 10:30 on September 6th.

Another 16th Century text again reminds us that a Christian does not live on bread alone, but on every word from the mouth of God. This is true for Christian families, where parents bring up their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
A Christian is not satisfied
To see his [pantry] (larder) well supplied;
Instead it is his foremost thought
How his children may be taught
To know aright their God and Lord
And keep before their eyes His Word.
Therefore for them he spares no pains,
But ever teaches and explains.
And on Sunday especially,
When all from daily work are free,
He sits with them, and they repeat
What they have learned at school that week;
He has them say their Catechism
In answer to the questions given,
And listens to them as they tell
What of the sermon they recall,
And then he sings a thankful hymn
To Christ the Lord to honor Him,
And thus he ends the day of rest
Who does likewise, keeps Sunday best. Singing the Gospel, p. 107-108
Peace be to the brothers, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible. (Ephesians 6:23) Amen.