Let us pray: Lord, keep us wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Keep us respectful of all who hunger and thirst after Your righteousness while at the same time keeping us even more respectful of You and Your Words of truth. Yes, amid a world of knee-jerk reactions keep us calm, honest, giving and forgiving. In other words, Lord, teach us anew that Your holy Church and Your holy Christian family must always be governed by both Your truth and Your peace that surpasses all mere human understanding. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD OF YOU, YOUR HOUSEHOLD, AND THE CHURCH!
TEXT: Ephesians 5: 21-31
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
When I was in high school we had to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg address for speech class. I don’t remember all of it, considering it was almost 40 years ago, but I think it was a mere 153 words. Shoveling huge amounts of meaning into very few words is the mark of great writing. Lincoln was a master at it. So was St. Paul. But, of course, Paul had the Holy Spirit guiding him! Our lesson fits the bill for great writing. There are literary allusions and levels of meaning piled unto each other and all wrapped up in a neat, tidy package. Today I want to take that package apart and examine how it applies to us here at Pinewood Lutheran Church.
I still recall about 20 years ago when I preached on this lesson. In that sermon I dealt with some of the parallel points of what submission means in God’s Church and how it manifests itself in our midst. Afterwards one of our sainted members, a formidable business women said to me: “Pastor, you were brave today!” I don’t recall my response, but she was always encouraging and I appreciated it. So, let’s begin.
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” How that word “submit” rankles people in our day. To the modern ear it sounds sexist, it sounds demeaning, it sounds like slavery. Modern humans almost term it “hate speech.” And yet, our Lord Jesus Christ literally became a doulos, a slave, to and for us. In fact in I Cor. 15: 28 this is how God’s beautiful plan for our salvation is described: “When he (Christ) has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” Folks, the same Greek word used there for “made subject” is this word: submit. In other words, humble, loving self-sacrifice was good enough for God’s Son in saving us. So, if we wish to bear His name, shouldn’t the same truth characterize our lives—men and women alike?
The next section uses Christian marriage—in contrast to merely worldly marriage which leaves God out of the equation—it uses Christian marriage as a word picture for our unity with Christ in His Church. “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”
I’ve had people object to having this section read at their weddings. I’ve had people who wanted to change their marriage vows and take out the word “submit.” (I did that once and used this alternative: “reverently honor.” It means the same thing in Biblical usage.) Anyway, just as the entire Church, men, women and children who are redeemed and saved through the blood of Jesus Christ; just as they in reverence honor, respect, and agree to let Christ have the final say in everything—so it should be for wives in a Christian marriage. Obviously, this is done out of love and not coercion. It is done willingly with a happy heart that trusts and respects the other spouse. It is done to build up the marriage and never to tear it down or tear it apart. It is the self-sacrifice of the inner will moved by total love. It is the attitude: “What’s best for my spouse,” that must predominate. Who would not want such unity and togetherness in marriage and in the Church at large?
Obviously such submission is not a one-sided relationship where wives do all the giving and husbands do all the taking. If it were it would be sinful, selfish, hurtful, and an affront to God and Christ. So now St. Paul goes on to lay out the husbands role in all this: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’”
Since Christian submission is commanded for both men and women in the Church and husbands and wives within Christian marriage, why doesn’t St. Paul simply repeat what he says to women and apply it here to men? The answer is: there is uniqueness to both groups. Men and women are hard-wired in different ways. Their emotional wants/needs are distinctive. Women love to know they are cared for and appreciated. Men are fulfilled by meeting the needs of those they love and thrive when responsibilities are laid upon their shoulders. I’ve often said that more is laid here upon the husband than upon the wife. After all, he’s told to literally to be willing to die for his wife, not vice-versa. And of course, the image looming behind it all is of Christ, the head of the Church, willingly dying to save each and every one of us in loving obedience to His Father’s holy will.
When all this plays itself out in both a Christian marriage and in congregational life, all are blest. All are fulfilled. All are honored. Yes, through Christ’s forgiving love we, His Bride, are made clean and radiant by baptism. Likewise, wives retain their youthful glow no matter their age because they reflect the glow of faith within and exude sacrificial love toward their husband. While at the same time, the husband is honored and fulfilled by it all. Indeed, he is responsible for his wife’s happiness, her spiritual growth, and general well-being. When Dr. Luther speaks of husbands being the pastors of their individual households this is what he is referring to.
So here is God’s word picture within which each of us serves as the canvas upon which He is trying to paint an eternal portrait. Modern society with selfish labels about feminism, sexism and male dominance has made a smudged mess of this painting. But, here within God’s Church you and I have the opportunity to create a beautiful, timeless portrait of real happiness. And it all begins with our mutual loving submission to Christ and to each other. In the Church we recognize the obvious: men and women are distinctive and unique. Everyone is under Christ. Everyone has Godly roles to fill and fulfill. Apart from Christ this makes little sense to the human mind. But with Christ the two become one flesh and the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace becomes a living reality for the glory of God. These Godly roles don’t apply to society at large—to the business world, to government, or to general social structure. They apply only to Christian families and to the Christian Church. Living such principles and letting Christ be our head is what makes us different, unique, and ultimately blest. Amen