Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Trinity 13

(Audio Link)

Ephesians 5:22-33

I’m going to do something kind of crazy this morning. I’m going to preach on Ephesians, chapter five, verses 22-33. And I have got to tell you, if there is any one passage of Scripture that is more maligned and disparaged in our day and age than this little section, then I’m not sure what it is. Maybe Jonah and the whale or the texts about Jesus miracles have come under a lot of historical critical fire, that is, people have questioned whether or not they are really true. But I’m not sure even they are rejected with such outright, egocentric certainty as these few words from the Apostle Paul. And the only thing that might be more outrightly rejected than these words, is those who dare to believe that these words are true.

Yet, it is only fair to tell you this: it is in many ways the loss of this practical, all too obvious truth that is at the core of the havoc that has been wreaked in our country upon the institution of marriage, from divorce, to abortion, to the fact that the majority of our kids are growing up as angst-driven, punk-gothic reprobates. Now, that’s saying quite a lot. But rather then try to prove all those connections, today it is better simply that we look at the text of Holy Scripture closely.

So let’s start. Ephesians chapter 5, vs. 22. “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

Woah. Just wait right there. What’s that doing in the Bible? In a sense, that’s not an unreasonable a question to ask, though it is an Biblically ignorant question to ask. But before I answer it – in fact, before I go on one bit further - it is imperative that I make something else clear first.

Even though Ephesians chapter five most certainly has a few commands for us Christians to believe and obey, we must understand from the outset that Ephesians chapter five is not first and foremost about our obedience to certain commands. Now certainly, our obedience is a part of it. But we can’t much believe or obey these words unless we first realize that Ephesians chapter five is not primarily about commands or obedience, but about Jesus Christ. Paul says it himself in vs 32. This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Ephesians chapter five is about our Savior, Jesus Christ. The Jesus who is risen from the dead and ruling over all creation even as I speak. This Christ alone has triumphed over sin and the devil, not as a pious myth or religious ideal, but as cold, hard fact. This Christ triumphed alone, but he did not triumph in order to stand alone. Rather, he triumphed on behalf of someone else. He triumphed on behalf of his bride. And who is his bride? The Church, none other than you and me, as the Scriptures testify.

Now, Paul said it, there is a great mystery involved here, for we who are many are the bride of He Who is one. And we who are both male and female are the bride of He Who is certainly male, and perhaps even something even more than male, or should I say, something more male than the average, run of the mill human man. But this is where we need to start rethinking everything they taught to us in school about gender not being anything beyond a physical reality.

Far from the being just about ph balance and the way your jeans fit, masculine and feminine are much bigger words than the male and female of sexuality that we have generally limited them to. Sex is not in itself gender, but something which has gender. Think of a mountain and then think of a tree. Or imagine a neuter figure holding a spear, and then imagine a neuter figure holding a child. There is a difference, and that difference is the true meaning of what it is to be masculine…or feminine. Our sex is only a physical reflection of our gender, and it is gender first which our God has given to each and every one of us.

What is masculine is like a rock, enduring, stubborn and strong. What is the feminine is like the flower which lives in the rock’s shade, fertile, fragile and tender even to its roots. And this is a cosmic reality which goes far beyond being human male or female. This is about the creation as God our Father has created it and called it good. Now granted, today the devil’s world has utterly condemned this created wonder. Little boys are told to stop rough housing to the point where their only outlets are video games where they steal cars and pick up prostitutes. And little girls are given C.E.O. Barbies instead of baby dolls, to the point where our young women are so driven by the need to succeed in a career that many of them don’t even realize that working for the rest of their lives in a dead end job is really the last thing they actually want.

We live in world that wants to have all rhythm and no melody, but which then tries to make melody sing without any rhythm. And, you need to know, the media, the government and the higher educational system is completely geared toward promoting this genderless, sterilized world. In fact, in their minds, it is the great saving “progress” and heritage of the age of Enlightenment.

But I ask you, how many marriages must end in divorce, or, at best, empty nights of watching television without ever really talking to each other, before at least a few Christians will start believing that the Bible’s assertion of gender has so much more to offer us than a brute description of our anatomy? There is something beautiful about smooth, cold marble. And there is another beauty altogether about the soft light in a garden in the morning. Personally, I would loathe to live in a world that was missing either one.

Of course, there is always the reasonable protest that a woman can appreciate fine marble and a man can tend to a garden. Duh. But, such a protest really is missing the main point. It is not that the human male has nothing about him which is feminine, nor that the human female has no masculine traits. In fact, as I have said, there is a masculine center beyond our universe who is our God, and compared to Him every single one of us is feminine. But that doesn’t stop us from being who we were created to be.

I mean, who wants a hamburger with more ketchup than bun? What use is a mother who has so purged herself of soft warmth in order to succeed in her career that she can no longer nurture her infant child, nor even maintain the desire to, but instead pawns the three week old off to be cared for by another? And, for that matter, what good is a father who has become so in touch with his feminine side that he no longer has the backbone to discipline or protect, much less to teach his children the value of honor and integrity? In these ways, masculine and feminine are infinitely complementary, and exceedingly valuable realities in our world, realities which our world his hell bent on losing. Our world is hell bent on stealing from you the identity given you by God inherent in your gender.

You have an identity engendered in you, which God has created you to be. If the relationships in the world around you don’t seem to be functioning properly, which is what happens when we reject the way we were created to be, then maybe this tidbit from Ephesians five has something to offer you, especially if your first thought towards it is that it can’t be right.

But, as we dive into that reality a bit deeper this morning, we must keep in mind that this reality of masculine and feminine, of authority and submission, is first and foremost not about us in our marriages at all, but about us in our marriage to our Lord Jesus Christ. That is what Paul is driving at in Ephesians five. The language of Headship there is not some remnant of a less informed, more barbarian culture. It is the language of chivalry. It is the language our King’s and his Kingdom.

Jesus Christ is a fearsome and powerful monarch and the very essence of eternal, protective, love. He is a warrior, a champion, and a martyr. Meanwhile, the Church is His Bride, is gloriously feminine in all the quiet splendor that femininity was created to be. She is a haven, a refuge, a care-giving mother to the oppressed, an exquisite lady arrayed in the white bridal garment of holiness which was purchased for her by the blood of her own triumphant Husband.

What a mystery. Such talk is all but foreign language to we who are trapped in a world that rejects gender, that has sought to destroy altogether the image of the bride and groom, which seeks to replace that image with the image of a man and a man desecrating each other in the name of mutual love, or, just as bad, the image of a business committee, signing prenuptials and looking at the marriage bed as a place of physical prostitution coupled with financial planning for domestic efficiency.

How horridly the movements of the twentieth century have ruined the image of gender and sex. Do you dare to doubt it? Have you not noticed that the average style of clothing being sold to teenage girls is the same clothing that was worn by hookers as recently as the 1980’s? And this is to say nothing of the way this genderless world has torn limb from limb the way we view Christ and the Church. It is that most intimate of all relationships, the relationship that our Savior has with sinners like you and me, which has become the most outdated and irrelevant version of man and wife. For just as man and wife have become irrelevant and outdated, so also outdated and irrelevant has become the cross and empty tomb of Jesus Christ.

Now, if all this was not enough to persuade you to look with an open heart upon the text of Ephesians 5, then I’m afraid you’ll have to walk away from Church today as an unbeliever.

For the rest of us who want to come before the Word to learn, even if it means we learn first of our own failures and sins, we will now briefly engage Ephesians chapter five, and simply hear what it has to say.

First, “Wives, submits to your own husbands as to the Lord.” Wives, submit to your husband even as you would submit to Christ himself. This is no loosy goosy “spiritual” submission. This is no “whenever I feel like it” submission. This isn’t even a “when he deserves it” submission. Even as Christ always deserves and demands our submission, so your submission to your husband is not because of your husband in and of himself, but because Christ Jesus your Lord has put this man over you to be your head. By submitting to him, you submit to Christ. Thus, Paul says, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church.”

Wives, you are the image of the Church, the image of submission to God. Does the Church sass back to Christ? Does the Church tell Christ how he should rule the world? Then wives, because you are the image of the Church, you must take a similar view of your husbands, for this is the purpose for which God crafted you. God designed you and raised you up to be the right hand of the man who stands beside you. Even as his own finger obeys his every command, so too you must respond in kind to the one who is your head.

Now, you are held to a hard account this, and no doubt right now this law is accusing you mightily of failure. I hold no ignorant presumptions that everyone in this room likes what I am saying or is willing to accept it. Frankly, when I first met this passage of Scripture, I hated it too. But though the grass withers and the flowers fade, the Word of the Lord stands. And, yes, as it stands it often accuses us of our failure to be the perfect people we were created to be.

But being imperfect is no reason to reject the image of perfection. Have you ever burned dinner? Did it stop you from cooking? Have you ever lost a game? Did you never play again? Then remember this - remember that no matter how often you have failed in this role which God’s good creation has proscribed for you, you are still the image of the Church, and your true husband, Jesus Christ, has never once failed in his role, in spite of all your worst offenses. I’m going to come back to that in a minute, because it is the main point. So please hold on with me till then, because, we must remember, it is that reality, the reality of who Jesus Christ is, that this text and this sermon are really all about.

But before we come to that Gospel, we must face with good courage this true, irrevocable ordering of the universe. Wives, submit to your husbands. It is the feminine thing to do. It will not be easy. Often, it will not be fun. But those things don’t change the reality that disobedience to your husband is disobedience to God. For, the Scriptures testify, “As the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

Phew. Now that we got that out of the way, we men can go home and finally have things our way, right? Well, not exactly. Paul has something more to say to us.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

Now, if you miss this point, you will miss the entire point. And, ladies, if from what’s been said so far, you think you have gotten the short end of this text, think again. Men, it is you to whom the burden of true pain and suffering in marriage has been given. It is you on whom a crown of thorns has been placed. You have not been created man and put over your wife in order to dominate her, nor to have her run at your every beck and call, nor to establish your desires as the one rule and law in your home. No. Like a true King, like Jesus Christ himself, you have been given power only in order to be a servant with it. You have received the staff of authority only in order to wield it, not for your own good, but for the good of others. The ultimate priority of your reign as king is the good of your subject, the good of your wife.

This means that even as Jesus Christ himself laid down his life, was beaten, scourged, spit upon, dragged through the mud, pierced with a spear, and nailed hand and foot to a rugged, killing cross, so too must you, at every chance and moment, sacrifice yourself, your desires, you preferences and your will, for the good of your wife and her children. And, notice, I have not said sacrifice in order to meet all your wife’s and children’s desires, but sacrifice for their good.

This is no easy task. The text goes on. In loving your wife, you must sanctify her. You must…must present [her] to [Christ] in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any blemish in his sight. On the last day, when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ, he will hold you personally responsible for the use of this authority that he has given to you for the sake of your wife’s faith and life. And, should it be found that your wife has lost her faith in Christ through any neglect of your own, not to mention suffered in bodily need, her blood will be upon your head.

This is no joke. And ladies, you’ve got it easy.

Men, I hope I’m making myself clear. When I say love your wife, I am in no way referring to that liberal jargon of ambiguous, gushy, self-centered “feeling” that is so often passed off as love. That our God could care less about. Your task is to give yourself wholly to your wife in order to save her from everything. This is not bad at all. Just insanely hard. At every turn of the road you must protect your wife (and, I might add, daughters,) from all harm, both physical and spiritual. You must cleanse them of sin, calling them to account and keeping them focused on their true Husband of whom you are but only a steward. You must wash them with the Word of God daily, pointing them to their baptisms so that when Christ comes to claim them He shall find them holy and blameless as he has made them.

And this is, actually, for your own good as much as for theirs, for, as Paul says, He who loves his wife loves himself. No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.
So, you must love your wife more than your own body, for you together are one flesh. As your finger is under your dominion, even so what harm would you ever let come to it? Much less, what harm would you do it yourself? The man who cuts off his own hand is a fool, and a fool you will be if ever you forget to cherish and nourish this beautifully fragile creature who is given into your possession as your bride.

Now, should you choose to put these words from Paul into practice, I cannot promise you perfection in this life. In fact, I can only promise that you will see just what a failure you really are. But I can also promise you that, gradually, you will discover the diverse beauty of masculine and feminine, which, far from being the coarse evolution of nature, is the miraculous handiwork of God Himself, made by Him in order to point us back to Him, to point us to the humble and quiet submissive goodness of being the Church, and to point to the enduring and selfless love of Christ, who is our Husband and God over all, the cornerstone of all authority and protection in which all the universe lives and moves and has its being.

And, just as I am certain that the women of the congregation could not help but feel accused by Paul’s words, there is little doubt that you men too accused of your own shortcomings. We have all failed to keep this image of God’s love for us, both in our individual marriages and, even more so, as the Church. We have, as the Scriptures say, played the harlot.

But remember, this mystery is profound, and it is not primarily about us and our failures. No matter what the dismal circumstances our present day, earthly marriages may currently find themselves in, no matter the state of the Church visible on earth, we each who are baptized are nonetheless in the one true marriage which is and will be eternally a success. No matter how much we wander or fail, our husband is faithful. He has even given himself up, dying upon the cross in order to wash us, purify us and sanctify us in his sight. Even though all too often we wear the red dress of the harlot, ripped and ragged and revealing too much of our immodesty, we also each wear a white gown, made of water and the Word. And soon, we will see that gift in clarity, when our long awaited Bridegroom comes calling for us.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I leave you this mystery that is Christ and His Church, with the same exortation we receive from Paul at the end of his words: Husbands, love your wives. Wives, submit to your husbands. Wives, respect your husbands. Husbands, cherish, sacrifice, die for, and redeem your wives. For God has made you two that are one, intended for balance, like rhythm and melody, like speech and language, like thought and action. This mystery is profound! I am and ever have been speaking about Christ and His Church, about which it is written that we are his bride, purchased and redeemed from sin, and He is our Head, husband and King of all glory and dominion.

Though progress and enlightenment claim all knowledge, though marriages fail for the fault of both husbands and wives, though the grass withers and the flowers fade, the Word of the Lord endures forever. Amen.


Anonymous said...

"that liberal jargon of ambiguous, gushy, self-centered “feeling” that is so often passed off as love"

I like the Rolling Stones' characterization of that "feeling". They called it "Sympathy for the Devil".

RevFisk said...

Wow. Now that sermon brings back memories. What a time.....

Yeah...Mick Jagger gets a thing right now and then. I mean, do you know what the meaning of the word "propitiation" is?


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