13th Sunday in Pentecost-B, August 23, 2015
Rev. Brian Henderson, Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church
7210 Lisbon Street, San Diego, CA 92114
“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” (Isaiah 29:13).”
Of course those Words of our text are not directed at you the Baptized, are they? Isn’t it true that in Holy Baptism you have been recreated into the image of Christ; has not God declared you holy, perfect, and righteous on account of Christ? Certainly this is true, but then why oh why do we have so much trouble becoming what God has declared we are, shall become, and always shall be? Because we do not understand!
If ever there was a text that proved just how shallow our understanding is and conversely, how deep and vast our misunderstanding is, our Epistle lesson this morning (Ephesians 5:22-33) must be that text. Right off the bat, half of us who are married have probably been offended, listen: “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, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
Are you offended by this? If you aren’t it is may be because you are soft peddling what this little word “submit” means, so let me give you the dictionary meaning: “To give over or yield to the power or authority of another.” Now to all of you ladies who are married, ever been married, or are contemplating marriage, remember two things if you would, please. First, this is not your pastor declaring these Words, but God the Holy Spirit declaring them through Holy Scripture; so please direct your angst where it belongs. Second, the ability to submit to your Christian husband finds its origin in a kind of love that is completely foreign to you; that is, its origins are from outside of you. So, if you are bothered by these Words, there is a good chance that you really don’t understand what these words mean, but you will soon enough.
Ok, now that I have made half of you married folks uncomfortable and the other half probably feeling a bit smug, lets take a look at the other half of that text: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” [Vs. 25-28] Again dear Christian husbands, like the wives before you, I want to remind you that this kind of love will never find its source from within your own heart. To understand where this love comes from, we must look to Christ. How much does Christ love the church; how much does He love you? Does he just love you like a brother or close friend? Does He love you because He is crazy mad in love with you, your smile, your personality, and well, you see where I’m going, don’t you? No to both of things, but rather, Christ loves you this much (arms stretched out as if hanging on a cross). So husbands here is how you must love your wives; enough to sacrifice yourself, your needs, and desires, so that your wife is always first. You must love your wife enough to insist that even if her physical needs are being met, the most important needs, which are spiritual will be met by Christ through you and the church you dutifully bring her to, which declares and provides all of God’s Word, both His Law and the Gospel. That means you will not only make sure she hears the gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins, but she will also experience the gospel from you!
Now for the rest of you who do not find yourselves within the station of Christian marriage, may I remind you of St. Paul’s Words from last week, which are found just before our assigned Epistle reading this morning? Listen: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” [Ephesians 5:18-21]
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ! Another way to say this is how Paul explained it in his letter to the Church at Philippi: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” [Philippians 2:3, 4]
This Word from God today then demonstrates the conflict that exists between our will and God’s will; it shows us how badly when left on our own we fall short of God’s will, and how easily we justify our false interpretation of the Word to justify our actions or lack of action. Isn’t that true; don’t we create our own rationalizations in an attempt to justify ourselves and our actions before God and the church? Don’t we too, like the Pharisees prefer our tradition, culture, and religion over the expressed will of God? Don’t we want to prove ourselves by these things, and thus demonstrate that others may have strayed from them, but we have not? While others may be in error and strayed from the boundaries of tradition, we love to think that we still possess the truth. While others need to change and get right with God, we love to believe that we are are ok with Him. But to your dear Savior Jesus Christ, this kind of an attitude is simply an effort to honor God with our lips. [Mark 7:1-13]
To Christ this kind of pride is a sin, because it tries to secure God’s pleasure and confirmation of our values and ideas without opening our hearts to His changing, invigorating Spirit. We would rather have God say a hearty “amen” to our attitudes and actions rather than speaking and living out our own “amens” to His will. Why is this? Because we don’t understand…
What we do understand is paying our own way. We do understand earning the right to speak. We do understand making ourselves as presentable as possible, cleaning up our acts before we come to the altar or our prayer closet. We do understand all the pot washing, and hand washing, and utensil washing and all the rites of purification and penance by which we hope to atone for our sins — all those psychological, ritual exercises that we use to make up for our failures and our losses until we feel clean enough to go to God, or feel worthy of the love that he has for us. We do understand nursing the wounds of a troubled conscience with all of our resolutions of amendments and promises to do better the next time. But this only proves that…
We do not understand! What we do understand is our piety, like the Pharisees, which willingly offers everything to God as Corban (Mark 7:9-13), leaving nothing left to care for others. We do not understand that giving to God means giving to others. We do not understand! But I’ll tell you something of…
What we do understand, and that is not wanting to look on the inside to our heart where all of our uncleanliness lies; things like selfishness and all evil thoughts; things like fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, wild living, laziness, envy, slander, jealousy, pride, and foolishness. What we do understand is that these are too painful to look at; too guilt-ridden to deal with; too fearful to admit, because they are so far from God, so what do we do with these evil things that live within us? We put them away in a mental box, out of sight and out of mind.
This morning, what God offers each of us is the key that unlocks the mystery of those things we may not understand, and that key is the truth that we do not yet…
Understand the cross. It is the cross that teaches us to admit that although we have nothing to give to God, it is exactly enough with which we may come to him and be received by him. Like the Syrophoenician woman we are to come only looking for the crumbs and believing that they will be enough. She came, willing to pick up the crumbs, with nothing to offer, with no good reason why Jesus should help her — only believing that He could if he wanted to (Mark 7:24-30). We are to come like those friends of the paralytic who brought him on the stretcher and lowered him through the roof (Mark 2:1-5), we are to bring our desires for our loved ones with no thought of making payment. We, like the paralytic, who had nothing to offer but the belief that Jesus would take care of him, should offer only our need and our trust. Like those who brought the deaf mute (Mark 7:31-37) to Jesus that He might heal him, we have nothing to offer but the hope that he will help.
We have nothing to offer. What we do have here are only a few words, however well thought out. And through those few words God returns to us the Good News of grace and the faith which comes by hearing — we bring together only a hand full of lives, some not even liking the others, lives so often out of control that it seems impossible that they can remain in fellowship, but through the cross, God creates and maintains us as His beautiful bride, the Body of Christ, born of the Spirit and the water.
We do not understand how the cross could have effected all this, but it has; and it does every time we hear the absolution directly after our private and corporate confession of sin; it has every time we hear from this pulpit the proclamation of the Gospel. We do not understand how the cross could have such a profound impact on how we treat our spouse and our brothers and sisters within the church, but it happens when we hear the meager words, and eat and drink the humble bread and wine, which for us by faith has become the very body and blood of Christ.
Although we may not truly understand all of this now, we believe that it is so by faith, and because of faith, we receive a wonderful gift as one who has been abnormally born, cleansed by the washing of the water with the Word, so that Christ might present us with the rest of His church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that we with the church might be holy and without blemish.
Now with the gift of a new kind of love called Agape, we can finally begin to love as Christ loves us; we can and will submit to one another through the power of the Holy Spirit, who moves us to sacrifice our time, talent, and treasure to benefit someone besides ourselves, as Christ through us loves the church, our spouse, and the world through us. May God continue to fill us with this heavenly gift, which unlocks the mystery of marriage, community, and paradise to each of us, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!