Ephesians 5:22-32, Mark 7:1-13 (Proper 16B)
Marriage, marriage is what brings us together today and love, true love…. For those of you that have not seen the Princess Bride, sorry. But marriage is what brings us together today. We don’t often think of it each Lord’s Day, each Sunday. Yet, that is precisely what brings us together today, the marriage relationship that is Christ and the church.
But it doesn’t take long to see that we have problems within marriage. The Holy Spirit caused St. Paul to write, Wives submit to your 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. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…Is it not true that the commandment of God concerning marriage is readily rejected and replaced by traditions of men?
There are the false traditions concerning marriage that our decaying culture desires to establish – same sex unions. The one who made us – made us male and female, however, and said “for this reason” a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife. True marriage will always be between a man and a woman, between male and female, because that is the gift God the Potter handed over to us clay pots. Yet sinful mankind continually says, “He did not make me”, “He has no understanding”. We’ll establish our own traditions.
Then there is the false tradition that headship in marriage means kingship, that that husband is the dictator of the wife. This false tradition of male chauvinism was extremely prevalent decades ago and it still has life! It views marriage somewhat as a power grab for men. Scripture, however, does not say that the husband is the dictator of the wife anymore than it says that Christ is the dictator of the Church. “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition.”
What Scripture does say is that the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church…Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. In God’s gift of marriage there is to be mutual submission (Eph. 5:21). The God-given submission of the husband to the wife is one of self-giving love. That’s the beating heart of the headship God gives in marriage – love. Husbands love your wives. In the fear of Christ, husbands are to be subject to their wives by loving them as Christ loved the church.
Make no mistake husbands – some of the joy absent from marriage and therefore from life comes from us not loving our wives as God wills. Husbands you are to love your wife like Christ loved the Church – laying His life down for her. This is not the world’s perspective of love as a feeling. This is a vigorous, suffering intensive, putting your wife first, active, doing love. You are to put her needs first in genuine care – in words and deeds – whether you feel like it or not. The first thing that Christ did as head of His Bride, the church, is to lay down His life for her. He shed His blood for her. The truth is that no description of responsibilities could call for more self-sacrifice and submission than this; the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.
This laying down of life for his beloved is not in some imagined, heroic way if the need should ever arise. Rather, he is to lay down his life little by little, day by day, in care and communication. He is to put her needs before his own. He is to order his needs as less important then hers. What a tremendous commitment a man makes in his marriage vows. In the fear of Christ he is promising his bride, “I will love you just as Christ loved the church”. “Just as!?” Husbands, how are we doing? “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”
The false tradition of male chauvinism is rivaled by another false tradition in our age, radical feminism. This false tradition claims that not only are men and women equal before God, which they are, but also identical before God, which they are not. The Potter made his clay pots male and female with different roles to fill. The loving Potter said that in His gift of marriage the husband is the head of the wife. We have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition.
Husbands – if you thought of your wife’s failings just now – repent. Wives – if you thought of your husband’s failings just now – repent. Jesus is speaking to you, in your vocation – in your station – with our tendencies of self-centeredness and self-justification. Here is where both husbands and wives always and daily fall down and constantly need the gifts of God to lift them up. It is only in Christ that we have forgiveness, only living in His loving grace that we can approach anything close to being a loving husband and wife as the Scriptures describe, for it is only by His grace that we enjoy such lives of love together.
Here we see how vital it is to know the love that one’s wife or husband has for Christ and His forgiveness. Here we se how important it is for both to grow together in God’s Word. As with male chauvinism, so with radical feminism, and more everyday with our redefining marriage not as one man and one woman, we sinners have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition.
Dear saints, the real issue in marriage is what comes out of our hearts, our hearts full of sin. We find fault in this institution of marriage established by God, and we also find fault with Christ and His church. We might not even be aware of it, but out sinful hearts easily modify God’s traditions (what He has handed over to us), and design our own. Our hearts are a festering, scheming, reluctant mess. It is good that we pray in the offertory as we anticipate receiving Holy Communion, “Create in me a clean heart, O God…”
As Paul spoke of God’s gift of marriage he ended this way, the way it was at Genesis in the beginning, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” God’s gift of marriage is founded on the unfathomable mystery that Christ has become one flesh with you, His church. He has united Himself with you in a union from which death cannot part you.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for 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.” Now that is a washing that works! That is the washing by which Your Bridegroom presents you to Himself today in splendor, holy and without blemish.
You see, that’s who Jesus is, our bridegroom who comes to us and takes away the sin of the world. That’s the intimate love the bridegroom gives to His bride, the church. 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. That’s how He has brought you into His family, as the church, the bride, takes on His name and receives Him in Holy Baptism.
In speaking with couples on marriage I’ve learned to ask two things: Do you eat together? Do you go to bed at the same time, presumably to the same bed? All to often the answer is usually no. Or hardly ever. No communion. It’s like a Christian who never prays, never sings a hymn to Christ, never shows up at Jesus’ table except for Christmas and Easter. In the military they call it AWOL. Don’t go AWOL on your marriage. Come and rest together in Sabbath rest that Christ provides. Talk, pray, listen as our Lord speaks in His Word. Eat together. Commune.
You’ll notice the words communication and communion have the same root. Dear Christians, He is still one flesh with you! It is not human tradition but the very mandate of God by which He bids you, “Take and eat, this is my body, given for you” as you join the marriage feast of the Lamb.
As a Bridegroom is consumed with love for His Bride on their wedding day so Jesus is consumed with love for you still today. United in one flesh with us unclean ones He bore in His flesh all that our flesh deserved. He honored God with His lips and with His heart. He loved you, His bride, unto bitter death on the cross. He turned things upside down to such a degree that while He was sin itself, you His Bride were made to be holy and without blemish, without spot or wrinkle. Just look at you! You are so beautiful to Him! He has turned things upside down to such an extent that even death cannot separate you from Him. Marriage, it brings us together today, in the true love of Christ. He is present to embrace you with His love holding you close on the way to His eternal wedding feast. This mystery is profound and I am saying that it refers to Christ and to you, His beautiful Bride.