Monday, August 27, 2018

“A Marriage Made in Heaven…” Ephesians 5.22-33, Pentecost 14B, Aug. ‘18

1.       Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word this morning the 14th Sunday after Pentecost comes from Ephesians 5:22-33.  It’s entitled, “A Marriage Made in Heaven,” dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.       In a visit to an art studio in Charleston, South Carolina, a woman saw the lady who owned the studio receive an anniversary gift. The visitor asked, “Which anniversary?” She replied, “Our 53d.” “That’s impressive,” the woman said. “I hope you’re planning some special celebration.” The owner smiled and softly said, “When you have a nice man, it really doesn’t matter.” That’s the kind of love that characterizes a Spirit-filled marriage. With the crisis in relationships today, Paul gives us a practical approach to a Spirit-filled Christian marriage.
3.       Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re gathered here today in the presence of God to consider his Word. Today he speaks to us about marriage.  There’s maybe no set of verses in the Scriptures on the topic of marriage as informative and instructive as this set. There’s also maybe no set of verses on the topic of marriage as dismissed and as countercultural to our times as this set. Almost immediately, we’re brought back to last Sunday’s Gospel, wherein many said, “ ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, ‘Do you take offense at this?’ ” (Jn 6:60–61).
4.       With open ears and open hearts, hear clearly and hold firmly to what God the Holy Spirit teaches us about a special union.  Marriage as it has been instituted by God.  God is the author and designer of marriage (Gen 2:20–24).  Despite what human courts may decide, the Lord God says that marriage:  (a) Is . . . a lifelong union between a man and a woman.  (b) Is not . . . simply the functional arrangement between two persons—who may or may not love each other. 
5.       Men and women are but office-holders who have no authority to refashion marriage into any other shape or form.  God gives marriage for these reasons (LSB, p 275):  (1) For “the mutual companionship, help, and support” of the husband and wife.  (2) So that husband and wife may “find delight in one another.” (3) For “the procreation of children.
6.       Since God is the author and designer of marriage, it can’t be redefined by humans.  Anyone who would attempt to redefine, amend, abbreviate, or adulterate marriage as the Maker has given it fits Isaiah’s description.  Our Old Testament Reading from Is 29:13 says, 13And the Lord said:  “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.”  For the Church to teach otherwise would be to reject “the commandment of God in order to establish [our] tradition!” (Gospel, Mk 7:9).
7.       We come now more directly to our text, which you may think is chiefly about the topic of marriage.  It’s not; at least not in the way one might suppose.  It’s about Christ and his Bride, the Church. And only if one understands that foundation can he rightly understand what compels Paul to direct wives and husbands to live toward each other as he does.   Most of us are familiar with the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. The story is of French origin, written by novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve and first published in 1740. The tale has gone through several revisions and has been adapted for literature, movie, television, and theater several dozen times. You’ll remember that it’s the story of a girl named Belle whose life and family circumstances brought her to cross paths with a beastly figure who dwelt in a distant castle. By his own fault, he had been cursed with a hideous appearance. As the tale goes, Belle came to dwell for a time in the castle of the Beast. As she did, she grew to know him and at length to love him. In the Beast’s most desperate dying hour, the kiss of Belle’s love fell on him, and he was suddenly and gloriously transformed. The curse was lifted, and the Beast appeared in a restored, beautiful, and noble nature.
8.       There can be a bit of truth in fairy tales. And, there’s a bit of truth here when we think of our relationship with Jesus Christ. But reverse the roles! Jesus Christ is the beauty; we’re the beast (Eph 5:25–27).  While there’s much similarity to Christ and the Church, the roles are reversed!  He’s the noble, glorious, compassionate one.  We. The Church, are the ones stained by sin, blemished by defect and blame, wrinkled, not at all lovely.
9.       There’s clearly nothing to be attracted to, and yet Jesus . . . loved . . . us! He called us his beloved.  This is how Paul describes it. This is how Christ loved us!  “He handed himself over on her behalf” to suffer her shame, and to save her life.  This he did “in order that”:  He could set her—us—apart as special, and wash her clean (v 26)!  He could present her—us—to himself a glorious Church. That’s how he sees us (v 27)! Picture him standing beside her proudly: “I’m not ashamed to call her mine!” Picture Jesus standing beside her as her advocate.  We the church would be holy and without spot of sin, blemish of unfaithfulness, or any such thing. That’s how he sees us!  That’s “Love to the loveless shown That they [too] might lovely be” (LSB 430:1)!
10.   Our Lord Jesus’ Great Love for Us Generates and Animates Our Love for Him and for One Another.  The Gospel: Christ for you! It’s why . . . !  It’s why husbands ought so to love their wives; it’s how you’ve been loved.  It’s why they ought not be harsh with them. Has Christ been harsh with you?  He nourishes you, not belittling you, but building you up.  He cherishes you, caring for you, his own Body.  It’s why husbands ought never embarrass their wives, make a spectacle of their flaws; for Christ gave all of himself to present you to himself as glorious.  It’s why husbands ought to be entirely self-sacrificing, even to the point of death, if love requires it (V. S. Grieger); for Christ was for you.  It’s why wives ought to surrender themselves in all things to their husbands (V. S. Grieger); do so out of reverence for Christ, who desires it.  You don’t do it because your husband deserves it, for he deserves it no more than you deserve his entire self-sacrifice.  You do it, as he does, because it’s living out the Gospel and honoring Christ.
11.   Years ago a husband and wife were celebrating 70 years of marriage. Throughout their marriage they had had some battles on a regular basis. The pastor asked the husband, Lawrence, how they stayed together for 70 years. He, told the pastor that every night, no matter how mad they might be at each other, they would hold hands in bed and pray the Lord’s Prayer. He said that each time they got to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” their anger melted into forgiving love.
12.   Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, married or not, this text is all about you. It tells us of our Lord Jesus Christ, and how he loves!—us. Therefore, moved by his love and in deepest gratitude to him, we all can honor his institution of marriage, wives and husbands, by living the Gospel toward one another as we ought, and all, married or not, by encouraging husbands and wives to live as our Lord desires, and by honoring marriage in what we say, think, and do. Amen.  And now the peace that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus until life everlasting.  Amen.

“For What Lasts,” John 6.22–35 Pentecost 11B, Aug. ’18

1.       Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Heavenly Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The message from God’s Word comes from the Gospel reading for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, from John 6:22-35, it’s entitled, “For What Lasts.”  Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.
2.       Jesus exhorts his hearers in today’s sermon text: “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you” (v 27). Jesus uses a picture of food because he had fed over five thousand people a short while earlier, and now he was being approached by men who wanted him to provide them with more meals. These men were focused on the result of Jesus’ miracle: their bellies were full. Sadly, they missed the real point of Jesus’ sign. They stood before one who was eager to provide them with things far more valuable than a Happy Meal from McDonalds. Their attention was fixed on consumables of the moment instead of on that which would bless them eternally.
3.       So, in our text today, Jesus tells them and us to Labor for What Lasts.  Perishable things won’t satisfy our deepest needs and longings (vv 25–27).  We, of course, have upped the ante considerably on things that don’t last.  Simple bread won’t do for us.  We need not a meal out but an upscale meal out, not Mac and Cheese but Ruth’s Chris Steak House.  We’re not satisfied with a roof over our heads; we need a house in the wealthy part of town.  We need Waupaca High to win state this fall and our favorite to be a starter.  We need all A’s, a date with the cutest girl and the cutest guy, a greener lawn, a luxurious retirement home, a retirement that provides a big chair, NFL Network, and vacations to Europe, Hawaii, and Australia.  These things that don’t last can satisfy a need and many a want for a brief time, but they wear off, wear out, go out of style, get lost, get stale, break, or otherwise fail to maintain satisfaction.
4.       St. Augustine said to God, “You have created us for yourself; our heart knows no rest except that it finds its rest in You” (Confessions, book 1, ch 1).  Remember Jesus’ parable of the rich fool (Lk 12:16–21)? The man’s fields had brought forth enough crops to set him up for many years, and they did give him pleasure for a while. Actually, for one day. And then God came to him and said, “Fool, this night your soul is required of you!” 
5.       You can’t take any such perishable things with you when you die.  Have you ever seen a hearse pull a U-Haul?  1 Tim 6:7: “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.”  Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.”
6.       What’s more, what you see is not all there is to get.  One must not pursue only the things of this world.  Lk 12:15: “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ ”  Mt 4:4: [Jesus said,] “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ”  One must, instead, pursue earnestly the things God sets before us.
7.       In the classic 1947 movie Miracle on 34th Street, Doris Walker and Lawyer Fred Gailey have an intense discussion after Gailey quits his job at a law firm to pursue the legal defense of old Santa Claus. Doris is upset that Fred would throw away his career over a sentimental whim. Gailey feels compelled to defend Santa Claus, who represents kindness, joy, love, and all the other intangibles. Doris tells Fred, “You’re talking like a child. . . . Those lovely intangibles aren’t worth much. You don’t get ahead that way.” Fred’s final contribution to the discussion is this: “Don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover they’re the only things that are worthwhile.” For once, the lawyer got it right!  Rom 14:17: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  Mt 6:19–20: “Jesus says, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” 
8.       So let us look instead to the things that last forever, knowing God will provide the things of this world that we really need.  God promises to supply our earthly needs.  Mt 6:25–26, 33: [Jesus said,] “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? . . . But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
9.       Our pursuit, then, should be of the things that do not perish (vv 27–29, 35) To labor for the food that endures is nothing more or less than believing that the Living Bread, Jesus, came down from heaven and has secured life and all its necessities for us.  That he did by laying down his life on the cross for us.  That, you see, has secured both heaven and all that’s truly good for us in this life, because Jesus’ death has reconciled us to God, the giver of all good gifts.  Rom 8:32: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
10.   Finally, there will be a great reward for delaying our gratification.  We are now in the days of the Church Militant, not yet those of the Church Triumphant.  In the Church Militant, we must understand the theology of the cross and await the appropriate time to deal with the theology of glory.  Mt 16:24–25: “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’
11.   Bernard of Cluny (twelfth century), in The Celestial Country, summarizes this in a poem that has for us become a hymn:  Brief life is here our portion; Brief sorrow, short-lived care.  The life that knows no ending, The tearless life, is there. (TLH 448:1)  Rom 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
12.   Let us hold fast to Jesus, who is the one thing needful now and forever, the one thing that lasts. Jesus suffered and died to atone for our sins. He rose from the dead and has assured us that because he lives, we shall live also (Jn 14:19). He has gone to prepare a place for us. Eye has not seen nor ear heard nor the heart of man imagined what God has prepared for those who love him (cf.1 Cor 2:9). There, we will feast forever on the Bread of Life he gives us.  Amen.