Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sermon on Ephesians 5:22-33 for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, "Marriage and True North"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon is based on our reading from Ephesians 5:22-33, which describes God’s holy design for marriage and family. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

An illustration really caught my attention in the informational video we showed Thursday, for this Financial Peace University program that we’re starting. Dave Ramsey, the speaker, had the audience stand up and close their eyes, and then point in the direction they thought was North. Then they opened their eyes and started laughing as everyone was pointing different directions. He held a compass and pointed to True North. His point was that your feelings aren’t a trustworthy guide to finding truth, nor do they change what the truth is, no matter how strongly we feel. Each person thought that North was in a different direction, but he said that no matter what people thought, and whether they liked it or not, he was going to keep pointing North and telling people where true North was. He was applying it to financial wisdom, but we can apply this to a similar situation today concerning marriage and family.

When it comes to understanding marriage today, we’ve got the same scenario. Everyone is pointing in a different direction, or sometimes we’re like leaves in the wind, being carried in whatever direction the winds of times blow. But whether we like it or not, there is only one direction that is true North. As Dave Ramsey also said, 98% truth is still a lie. Truth is truth, and anything less is a lie and deception. And as I’ve often said, the devil’s deceptions are always most convincing when they’re mixed with a degree of truth. When it comes to the institution of marriage, the situation today is really nothing new—there is nothing new under the sun. Though we’re coming from a period of recent history in America of relatively strong family values and a clear understanding of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman—this isn’t the first time in history and the life of the church where marriage has been under attack.

I don’t need to recount statistics for you all to realize that we’re living in a time when divorce rates are around 50%, cohabitation is widely accepted and approved—many choosing not to marry at all, singles aren’t encouraged to remain celibate, fatherhood and motherhood are under attack in different ways, and strong movements toward the acceptance of homosexual marriage or civil unions are happening all across the country. Several states have already legalized same-sex marriage. Ask what marriage is, whether in the world or in the church, and you’ll often find people pointing in all different directions. But there’s only one True North. Halfway through my sermon preparations, some very discouraging news came to me, that ties into this point directly.

The largest Lutheran church body in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which is not our own church body, has been meeting in national assembly this week. The ELCA just voted by about a 70% margin to approve a new statement on human sexuality. In that statement, they acknowledged and endorsed as valid “conscience-bound belief,” all of the variety of directions people are pointing in their own church concerning the meaning of sexuality and marriage. They endorsed same-gender, lifelong, monogamous relationships as an acceptable way for Christians to faithfully live their lives. While they acknowledged that many disagree about this, they gave their approval to homosexual marriage. The same document also affirms committed cohabitation as an acceptable lifestyle choice. They also passed a resolution allowing the ordination of openly homosexual pastors who are in committed, monogamous relationships. All of these are sins, in clear contradiction to Scripture, and it’s deeply distressing to see this church body make such a blatant departure from the teachings of the Bible.

We in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, along with the Lutheran Church of Canada and many other Lutherans deeply disagree with this action, and affirm that the Bible teaches clearly that marriage is between one man and one woman, and that there is only one truth. So how do we as Christians respond to such an action? I call upon you all to be in fervent prayer for the Christians still within that church body, as this is only going to drive deeper divisions into an already deeply divided church, just as it has in other major denominations that reversed their stance on God’s Word. Pray that they would turn from their error and return to God’s Truth, and pray for those who’re mislead through false teaching. Pray that those who’re caught in sin’s web would turn to God and find deliverance through Jesus Christ. We must speak the truth in love, and seek to be charitable and gentle in calling all to the truth. We also must affirm that sinners of all sorts and stripes, gays included, are called and invited to our church to seek repentance for their sin and turn to God for forgiveness. We’re sinners too, and no more righteous than others, and we seek God’s mercy for our own sin also. We have the clear compass of God’s Word, and can boldly yet humbly call all those in confusion to the True North.

This is our calling, this is my calling as a pastor—to point to the Truth, whether people want to hear it or not. But this shouldn’t be a reluctant or grudging truth. In fact we have an amazing and beautiful opportunity to show forth the blessing of God’s design for marriage and family! In a world where relationships are so broken and disordered, we’ve been given the treasure of Jesus’ good news! God points us to a way out of the failed and sinful patterns that we choose when we go our own way. Let’s explore and walk on that better way!

The pattern we’re given for marriage is modeled after Christ and His church. The world scoffs too at this description of marriage, but it’s the purest example of divine love, reflected in how Christ’s loves the church as His Bride. God is the author of love, not us, and we’re wise to be instructed by His Word on the meaning and design of love and marriage. The first sentence usually strikes the greatest controversy. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.” This verse has been decried as teaching sexism, chauvinism, or the inferiority of women. A relic of the patriarchal past with no relevance for today. But can this verse be correctly used to defend sexism? Definitely not! To think this passage endorses the image we conjure up of an inconsiderate and abusive husband bossing his slave-wife around the house while he sits on the couch doing nothing, is to turn things completely upside down. It is to impose a broken human example of relationships over God’s divine and holy human example.

But instead we need to learn from the diving example of Christ and His church, what this means. First, does submission equal inequality? No, submission recognizes an order in relationships. Jesus submits in love to His Father’s will, but He remains fully equal to the Father. When a wife submits to her own husband, she may sacrifice her own will, but it’s out of trust and love for her husband, to preserve peace in the relationship and family. If there was no order in relationships and each did whatever they pleased, the home would be constant chaos. Does this mean a wife should have no say in decisions, or that she should be a doormat and put up with abuse from her husband? Certainly not! The wife is to be highly honored and valued as the unique and complementary counterpart to her husband. She is to be loved by her husband just as he loves and cares for his own body. And not taking care of your body is no excuse, husbands, for doing the same to your wife!

The husband has a major responsibility to create the safe context of love and trust in which the wife can willingly submit to her husband. His calling to love his wife is to model Christ’s love, who gave Himself up for the church. Just as Christ died on the cross to stand between us and God’s judgment against sin, so also the husband is to be willing to even lay down his life for the protection and safety of his wife. He would never desire to do something harmful or demeaning to his wife, but loves her as himself. That is to say that the husband’s love for his wife is to be so strong that he puts her best interest and wellbeing before his own.

Having such a holy view of marriage, and seeing it as a reflection of how Christ loved the church, shows the world a better way. It can have an inspiring effect. But it also can have a despairing effect when we’ve failed or struggled to follow this example and fallen far short of the mark. But when one has acknowledged their sin to God, He’s faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. When we become despairing of our success or lack thereof, then we’re ready to see ourselves just as the church is described in this passage. Christ loved us and cleansed us from every fault, blemish, wrinkle, and stain. Christ sees our sin as no one else does and He doesn’t just let us remain in sin. His love takes action to cleanse us.

It’s like a parent who finds their baby child covered in filth and dirt. They don’t just pick up the child and start smothering them with hugs and kisses without washing them off; “loving them as they are” so to say. Neither do they take the child and leave them with the trash to be taken away because now they’re dirty. Rather the parent lovingly washes the child clean, takes away all the filth and dirt that covers them, and then embraces them with love and hugs and kisses. Christ sees us covered by the blemish and stain of sin and He actually removes it! Only God can remove sin. And what a remarkably freeing experience! To no longer be covered in our sin, to no longer see reflected in the mirror our failures, our mistakes, our faults. To no longer see the reflection of the hurt and pain that we have caused others. But instead, Christ removes the sin, He cleanses us so that we are spotless, and He dresses us in the clean robe of His innocence to cover all our sin. So when we stand and look in the mirror, it is no longer our sin that we see, but our new identity in Christ is revealed. We stand in splendor, dressed for holy service and members of the body of Christ. We stand forgiven of all guilt, shame, and failures, able to approach God through the righteousness that is not our own, but Christ’s.

It’s only through our new identity as forgiven and sanctified believers in Christ, that we can begin to embody that love of Christ in our marriages, our families, and even as singles who honor God with their bodies. In Christ we can love ourselves as members of His body the church, and we can love our spouses and show respect and honor to them. With Christ’s love living and moving in us, we will all point boldly and humbly to True North, as we bear witness to God’s beautiful definition and design for marriage. And God will bless our relationships with greater peace and harmony and love, as His love moves us to follow His plan. Living with His forgiveness each day, walking together with our spouses and children, bearing with them in difficulties and forgiving them when they do wrong, we will be blessed. For though we’re all sinners, we’ll one day stand before Christ in heaven in splendor, without any spot or wrinkle or any such thing…holy and without blemish. His righteousness covers us, and we’ve been incorporated into His body, so that we’ll be perfected in His love. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
Read past sermons at:
Listen to audio at:

1. Why are our feelings not a reliable indicator of truth? What is, and why can we be certain? John 17:14-19; John 18:37-38.

2. What are examples of how God’s design for sexuality and marriage are being eroded around us? How have we sinned in this way, in words, actions, or in our heart?

3. A friend who isn’t aware of the differences between the ELCA or the LCMS asks you, “Hey, didn’t you Lutherans just issue a statement accepting homosexuality and gay marriage?” How would you respond? Mark 10:6-9; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rom. 1:26-27

4. How can we gently but firmly use the compass of God’s Word to guide people back to the truth? Be in prayer!! Eph. 4:14-15

5. Why could God’s pattern and design for sexuality and marriage be appealing to our broken world? 1 Cor. 13; Eph. 5:22-33, etc

6. How does God describe the interaction between husbands and wives? How does this contrast to the way of our sinful nature?

7. How does Christ show His love for the church? How does He present her to God? How does this help us in our failures?
Side note: Mark 7:4 is very interesting, because the word used for “washing” in the Greek original is “baptismos,” the same as the word for baptism. But here it refers to the washing of cups, pots, copper vessels, and (in some ancient manuscripts) dining couches. Why is this significant? Some have argued that the word baptism must refer to a full-body immersion, not dipping, pouring, or sprinkling. But the kind of washing described using the word “baptismos” in this verse includes large items that couldn’t be immersed or would be impractical to wash in that way. Conclusion? Baptism simply means to wash with water, and doesn’t specify how much water or the method that is used.

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