us vs. them
Focus: God has claimed the victory
Function: that the hearers would struggle well in the fight.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
+ God has no (grandchildren) – Billy Graham was supposed to have said this on more than one occasion. The church has no grandchildren because it’s never a given that each generation will be raised in the Christian faith, and, even if they are, there’s no guarantee that they will continue on with it through all their days. Billy Graham echoes what our Deuteronomy text tells us: each generation must be won, must be taught, and must be confident to share with the next. Faith and instruction are handed down from generation to generation but each generation must grasp it for their own. You aren’t saved through your parents’ faith; you’re saved when you have faith. You see, this thing we call life, that we call the walk of discipleship, it’s a fight – it’s us versus them - and it’s a fight in every generation.
That’s why Paul uses battle metaphors in our text for today. Among the many metaphors for the Christian life – producing fruit like a well-cared plant, walking with your Savior, being filled by your God, maturing into adulthood… here he uses military language – a battle metaphor – because it brings out some particular truths of the spiritual life that coincide with the truth we find about war. And sure, the battle metaphor does leave some things hidden – like how we are to love the world and be kind to our enemies and all that, but it highlights at least three points we would make for today.
Three points and three lessons from these points. First that it’s a battle to the death. Second, evil comes from within. Third, that the battle’s been won.
First, it’s a battle to the (death). That is something our parish members know well these days. After six months without any funerals here at Trinity, it seems as though many who have battled well over these months are facing mortality. At the bedside of Karen Westphal, her family holds her hand as they wonder when the Lord will let her rest. At the bedside of Deb Brandmire, of Beatrice Gekeler, of Larry Hogetvedt, of Jeff Ewert, of Dale Keyes, of Russell Miller, families wrestle with the twin truths that they are glad their loved one has finished their struggle, and yet they are sad, overwhelmingly sad, that they are gone.
There are seasons of life where life and vitality abound, where the very concept that life will end in death you only grasp as an intellectual idea somewhere out there. It’s hard even to conceive of your own end. And then there are seasons when it seems as though death is around every corner, when you feel like everyone you’ve ever loved is battling a battle they know they will lose. This life is a battle and it’s a battle to the death.
One young man, writing a letter after years of wrestling an inoperable brain tumor reflected on the battle he had fought. He said, there are many times that I wanted to give up, many times I wanted to step back, but I saw how this terrible tragedy in my life had in fact unlocked a love in the hearts of my family that they wouldn’t have known otherwise.
But there’s another truth to that phrase. You see, it isn’t just a battle from the point of conception until the sleep of physical death. Paul here also tells us that it is a battle of life and death, a battle with eternal significance. We do not wrestle against flesh and blood alone – he’s saying flesh and blood aren’t our most powerful opponents – but we are against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces of evil. These are all in Paul’s vocabulary for the fallen angels. We battle against an intelligent and willful evil that would knock down every good brick we’d build up.
So, I’ll leave you with a few questions. Have you thought of the Christian life this way recently? Have you looked at your neighbors and thought about them as if they are eternal beings that have one of two stories and your words could have significance to change that? That they, as CS Lewis would remind us, are turning into the glory of heaven or into the horrors that inhabit hell? When you think of your neighbors, do you think of their eternal destiny and how your words that day would affect them?
Second, evil comes from (within). Jesus says as much in our Gospel reading. Jesus declares all foods clean by saying “It isn’t what comes from outside into a man that defiles him. No, evil comes from within.” As Luther says, the enemies of the Gospel are the Devil, the World, and our Sinful Nature, and by the inheritance of Adam each and every soul born is first claimed by the devil as his rightful and broken property.
And, I’ll tell you, as Lutherans, we regularly acknowledge the same. This weekend, five times in fact, we will baptize Bentely, Coltyn Jr., Sara, Zachary, and Elliot. And every time, we will renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways. Renounce - That’s the same language that a Christian pastor would use in an exorcism. That’s the word that means, in the name of Jesus, I kick you out. Christ claims you as his own, he cleanses you to your core, and he kicks the devil out.
But even after baptism, wickedness still comes. John Calvin recognizes this – he calls man’s heart a perpetual factory of idols. And I quote: “We may gather that man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols. . . . So it goes. Man's mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; … it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” Man’s mind almost automatically raises up good things to be ultimate things. Man’s mind almost automatically will continue to produce idols that need to be constantly dashed down.
So to that Paul says, “Stand firm. Take up the sword of the Spirit, and let that double-edged blade of law and Gospel first kill and then make alive your own heart.” “Stand firm and keep giving over with feverish prayer and supplication, every single new idol in your heart to your God who will dash it down.” “Stand firm because we don’t have to be strong with the strength of our puny legs or our chicken wing arms. We are strong in the strength of his might.”
So, from this, Lesson number two is, put on the whole armor of God. Don’t leave any piece off. That is to say, take every opportunity to hear the words of God and let the law cut you to the bone, so that the Gospel can heal you deeply. Fit your feet with the Gospel of peace, so that you are good to go whenever God would call you away from this world, because you know who holds your hand and where your journey ends. Keep up the shield of faith because faith finds its power not on what you’ve done but on the one who is faithful to you. Be truthful and honest in your prayers and in your life. Pour out your supplications, because he is eager, cupping his ear to hear your shouts and whispers.
Third, The battle's already been (won). Some days it feels like you’ve lost. Perhaps in these days, you feel like Christianity has lost in the public sphere. Perhaps you feel your faith diminishes because of the loss you feel today. Perhaps you feel lost because things are falling apart. But remember this: These words in
Ephesians were penned by a man in chains for the Gospel, going to where he was certain he would die and yet he would use every opportunity to preach the Gospel boldly
As Christians, we know that the battle is already won. Christ has won by dying on the cross. The devil is defeated. Death has lost its sting. Sin is on its way out. It means that the pain of marital problems and divorce will one day be covered with the calm of new life. That the blinding and bewildering loneliness of grief will one day be cloaked with the fellowship of the church of God. That the idol factory of sin in your heart going out of business.
In lesson number three I’ll first tell you what that doesn’t mean by sharing a story about Laura and her family, and it’s probably one of the more controversial stories I’ll tell. It’s about cribbage. One of the first times I came to her parents’ house, they suggested, among the twelve people there, that we would split off into teams of two to play a best-of-three game series. So I’m with Laura and in the first game, we skunk the other team. That means, we beat them by over 30 points, which traditionally scored as a two-game victory, and that means we’ve already taken the series. Now, since we had done that so quickly, we had time enough to play two more games, both of which we lost, because we had figured to have fun – I mean we were already advancing – so I could just (as my Uncle Tim says) took’re easy and fool around. It turns out that that rule was not an accepted house rule where I was playing and Laura and I in fact lost that round. And I tell you that to tell you this. Our Lord has won the victory for us, but that doesn’t mean we’re supposed to took’re easy.
I’ve said this twice this weekend at weddings, and I’ll say it again now. Just like a wife’s constant love doesn’t mean that the husband can slack off in his husbanding. No! It means that husbands, you should work all the harder for your wife. In the same way, the victory of Christ doesn’t mean that you can lollygag through this world; it instead means that you should look to act all the more like the one who won the victory for you.
In conclusion, we are (Freed) from curse, because God has chained himself to (promise). We are freed from the curse because God is chained to promise. The delightfully Lutheran take on the Gospel sets us free because God does what God says he’s going to do. It is God’s effort that frees these baptized babies to be children of God. It is God’s work to strengthen you in the Lord’s Supper. It is God’s work when others find encouragement from words you had long forgotten to have spoken.
In our little baptismal class, we get to the end of our Theology of baptism and there’s a little summary section: Is baptism for infants or for adults. We remember that we believe that baptism is a miracle that imparts faith, forgiveness, and salvation. We remember that baptism is not something we do but something God does. And then the question at the end of life or in the middle of doubt is not “Do we believe enough? It is instead, Does God do what God says he’s going to do? Well, yeah, he’s God."
Funeral Sermon for Dale Keyes
“A Temporary Assignment”
Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
Perhaps you have heard about the Christian woman who was approaching death, and she knew it. As she met with her pastor to clarify her own funeral arrangements, she asked if he would be so kind as to make sure that a dinner fork was put in her casket as people came to see her. The pastor was puzzled about that, and so she explained that in all her years of going to church and family meals, it had been a custom to eat the main course, and then if dessert was to be served, she would be told to keep her fork. She knew that was told to keep her fork that the best was yet to come. That is to say, dessert was on the way. She wanted her friends and family to know that as good as life was here on earth, that heaven was going to be even better. That the best was on the way.
So also for Dale Keyes – he certainly had his days full of joy and good times and good memories. And the temptation is to think that the good old days were in the past and that after a certain age, it’s all downhill. Some have described life here on earth in this way, Bad stuff happens, and then you die!” For St. Paul and for Christians throughout the ages, that’s not how we see it. As Paul approached death, he declared, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.” And in our text for today, he finds himself torn between the desire to live here on earth or to be with his Savior in heaven – and finally he cries out this summary statement, “for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” In other words, the best is yet to come for the baptized and believing children of our Father in heaven. With that in mind, our sermon theme today is “A Temporary Assignment.”
Two lessons we want to learn again today. The first is to always remember that all our assignments here and now are temporary, and the second is to remember that the main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.
First things first. Life on earth is a temporary assignment. David says it this way in Psalm 39, “O Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeing away.” James says it this way, “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” David talked about himself as a foreigner here on earth, and Peter urged early Christians to live their time as sojourners and exiles.
Realizing that life on earth is just a temporary assignment has a way of radically changing our values. It helps us to fix our eyes not so much on what is seen, but on what is unseen. It helps us to give thanks this morning for every sunrise and sunset Dale was given. To understand that every one of his assignments here and now was temporary. No doubt some assignments he carried out well, and in others he fell short, far short. Which is true for all of us. The Bible teaches that all of us sin in daily fashion, and that we fall short in the way that we think, in the words we speak, in the bad that we do, and in the good that we fail to do. If we try to live according to what we can see, if we try to be right in the sight of God by balancing our sins with good works, life will be a disaster. On the other hand, as often as we throw ourselves on the mercy of God, as often as we remember that we are strangers here and heaven is our real home, life will be ok. And many days will be even better than ok, by the grace of God. Lesson #1 today that we never ever want to learn again as we stare sudden death in the face - our assignments in life are important, but temporary.
Lesson #2 – we want to learn from our sermon text today that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to be baptized into the Name of the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost and to remain in that Christian faith until we breathe our last breath. The main thing is to cry out for forgiveness in each one of our days and to know that as often as we cry out, forgiveness has already come our way. The main thing is to pay attention to what God is trying to say to us and to receive what He is trying to give us, and in this way to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, even and especially on those days when it seems as though God is far away.
As we pay our last respects to Dale Keyes today, we give thanks to the God Who created Him in the first place, redeemed His soul in the second place, and followed him around with goodness and mercy all the days of life. Earlier we spoke the Apostles’ Creed – the same creed into which Dale was baptized, the same creed he confessed in his confirmation vow.
We say goodbye to him with hearts that are grateful and spirits that are humbled. Grateful that God gave Ralph 78 years plus and humbled that He took away that life without warning or a chance to really say goodbye. Grateful that we live in a land flowing with milk and honey, and humbled by the fact that naked come we into this world and naked we depart. Humbled by the truth that the wages of sin is death and grateful that the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Humbled that we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment, and grateful that God daily and richly forgives all our sins.
I’d like to tell you today about one of my favorite people in life. The garbage collector. I don’t really know his name, but I can tell you when he comes by. Wednesdays. Every Wednesday, without fail, a garbage man comes along and takes away my garbage – and he never brings it back to me. Always he hauls it away, and never has he pulled up the next day and thrown it back in my face because of unpaid bills. We all know that garbage can get to be a filthy and stinking and even embarrassing collection of that which we want to never see again. And what a beautiful sound the garbage truck is, as long as you have remembered to put it out to the curb.
It seems to me that every funeral is in fact, a great opportunity to take our garbage out to the curb not just once a week, but every single day. By that, I mean to say that every day we would admit to God and to each other that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. That every day we would cast our failures and faults to the foot of the cross and remember that Jesus Christ took all of our sinful thoughts and all of our sinful words and all of our sinful deeds and all of our sinful habits and all of the bad we have done and the good that we have left undone and He hoisted all of that on His shoulders and He paid the price that we could never begin to pay, and when He said on the cross that It is finished, He meant what He said and He said what He meant.
We listen to God’s Word this afternoon with the assurance that Dale’s garbage has been hauled away and his failures and faults have been forgotten in the courtroom of God, the courtroom that matters. His debt has been paid for, not with gold nor silver but with holy precious blood. Not with the repeated sacrifices of mere mortals but with the once and for all sacrifice offered by Jesus at Calvary.
In the near future, you will lay Dale Keyes to rest in the Name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. As you do so, go ahead and cry your rivers of tears, but do not cry as those who have no hope. Go ahead and tell your favorite Dale Keyes stories, but do make sure that the story of our Triune God remains front and center. Go ahead and live the next chapters of your own lives with free spirits and with great joy, but be sure to do so with the realization that every one of our assignments here and now is temporary and that the best is yet to come. It’s tempting today to think and talk as if the good old days have passed us by and as if at a certain age, it’s all down- hill. But for the people of God, to live here and now is to live in Christ, and to die is gain. Now we live by grace, and soon the day will come, and pray God that it come soon, when we will live in glory. May God bless and keep all of you strong in your Christian faith, may God permit whatever He needs to permit in your lives to keep you close to Him, may you always keep it clear what is temporary and what matters into eternity, may God help you to keep the main thing the main thing in life, and may Dale Keyes rest in peace. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Funeral Sermon for Jeff Ewert
Say This to My People
Numbers 6: 22-272 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,
24 The LORD bless you and keep you;
25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26 the LORD lift up his countenance[c] upon you and give you peace.
27 “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
There’s an old saying in the Midwest that there only two seasons of the year – winter and road construction. Sort of a negative way of looking at life, I suppose, but there is a measure of truth in it, to be sure. There’s an old saying in Lutheran circles that there are at least two seasons in life, as well. Times we feel as though God is near and times when He seems distant or worse yet, absent. One author Graham Cooke calls them seasons of manifestation and hiddenness. On the one hand, God reveals Himself to us in the preaching and teaching of His Word, but on the other hand, in the lonely and dark days of cancer attacking one organ after another, it feels as if God is nowhere to be found. There are days when it seems as if we are already in the Promised Land and other days when it seems as though we are stuck in the wilderness with no water or relief in sight.
In Numbers 6, the people of God were camped out at Mt. Sinai, less than a year after they had been delivered out of Egyptian slavery and through the Red Sea. They were about to spend 40 years wandering in the wilderness where the sun would be striking them by day and the moon by night. If heat stroke didn’t get them during daylight, they just might go looney in the night time. In fact, God was going to be leading the way, but more often than not it would feel as though He had abandoned them. And so God said to Moses to say to Aaron and his sons,” This is how you are to bless the Israelites. I want you to put my name on these people and in every one of your times of worship, I want you to give them a threefold Benediction.
Glenn and Sharon, when Jeffrey was just a sweet and precious and innocent little guy, you brought him into this sanctuary, and in the company of fellow travelers, you put the Name of the Triune God on him, both upon his forehead and upon his heart. Praise be to God that you made sure that happened. And then as the years went on, you saw to it that he had the resources he needed to make it through just a little over 40 years of wandering in this wilderness we call earth. You made sure he knew not only the Ten Commandments, but also the Apostles Creed. And you made sure he knew how to pray the Lord’s Prayer, how to confess his sins, where to take his burdens, and what mattered most in life. You made sure he knew that God the Father was with him blessing and keeping, that God the Son had found a way to be gracious to him, and that no matter how dry and dusty and desolate was the desert, it was possible to have the peace of God on the inside.
Three parts to our message today, as we focus on what it means to have the Name of the Triune God put on us in Holy Baptism and what it is that God wants His pastors and priests to say to His people in every one of their days.
First, God wants his priests and pastors to say to His people, the Lord bless you and keep you. In other words, when life feels as though your enemies are getting the best of you, use your ears. Use your ears to hear and to hold onto the really good and strong and undeniable news that God, the Father Almighty is cupping his ears towards you for the purpose of blessing and keeping you. The enemies of the Christian faith are fierce and more often than not, they seem to be winning the day. St. Paul urged the Ephesian Christians to put on the full armor of God in a daily sort of a way because, he warned, we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against spiritual rulers and authorities and demons of darkness. Our enemies include our own sinful nature, a nasty and messed up world, and the devil himself. Praise God we don’t have to deal with them on own. The last enemy we will have to face is death itself, and praise be to God that Jeff did not have to face that one alone.
In all the seasons of life, God the Father was blessing and keeping him, especially on those days when he didn’t feel particularly blessed and kept. He blessed Jeff with body and soul, eyes, ears, all of his members, his reason and all of his senses. Through the laws of nature and a beautiful creation and a good measure of honest labor, God gave Jeff clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and child, and all that he had. In his last days, through family and faithful friends and co-workers, God defended him and protected him from all kinds of danger and evil. A word about Salvation Army – I don’t know of an organization more focused on defending and protecting and blessing hurting people than this one. Lesson #1 today, when life feels as though your enemies are getting the best of you, be still and know by faith that God is God. Go to your quiet places and appreciate the beauty of creation. Remember what you have learned from your mother’s knees. Know by faith that what you see is not all that you are getting.
Second, God wants his pastors to say to His people, the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. When life feels as though God is angry with you, this is what God wants your pastors and teachers in the faith want to help you to see. We want you to see Jesus Christ who in fact had His eyes fixed on you as He suffered and then He was dying and then He was dead. We want you to see Jesus Christ risen and looking you in the eyes today, saying, because I live, Jeff Ewert shall live. We want you to see Christ ascending into heaven, raising his hands and looking his disciples in the eyes on the way up giving a benediction. We want you to see Jesus sitting on the right hand of his Father ruling heaven and earth for the benefit of His people. We want you to see a Father who is in no way angry with you family because in fact He has taken all of His righteous anger out on His only Son. The price has been paid in full.
God may seem to be hiding from you, but He is not angry with you. Believe that and hold onto that simple and yet powerful truth that God is love and that in Christ He was reconciling the world, bringing the world into right relationship with Himself. When life is smooth and easy, we can call those seasons of, and praise God it’s time to laugh and to dance and sing like we’ve never sung before. When life is rough and as hard as it can be, we can call those seasons of hiddenness, and with tears in our eyes we know it’s time to be still, to trust, and to learn lessons like we’ve never quite learned them before. Lesson #2 today, especially when days are dark and depressing, fix your eyes on Jesus Christ, and do not forget that if His eye is on the sparrow, how much more so has it always been on you.
Finally, lesson #3, the Lord wants your pastors and priests to say to you, the Lord look with favor upon you and give you peace. By that I mean to say that when it feels as though your faith is fading, draw near to your Savior. As you do so, you will notice He has already drawn near to you. As often as you feel like your knees are going weak, put one foot in front of the other and get yourself to that place where the Spirit of God has promised to work. Get yourself to your Lord’s Supper, where the forgiveness of sins will sweep over your soul as a fresh snow covers up a muddy and messed up farmyard. Get yourself to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, where the Spirit of God will be able to reassure you and give you just enough strength to make it through another day. Get yourself to your memory bank where you can recall all that your parents and your grandparents and your Sunday School teachers and your Day School teachers and your Pastors have said to you over the years.
The last time I saw Jeff was Sunday in the late morning, the day before he breathed his last. I asked him if he was up to receiving Holy Communion. He hesitated and said, “Give me a little time.” After a bit of silence and with a fair amount of effort, he swung his feet off the bed and onto the floor. We said the Lord’s Prayer together. When I asked Glen and Sharon and Jeff if he was sorry for his sins, and if he believed in Jesus Christ, he said yes. He ate and he drank and in so doing, his sins were forgiven. The Lord looked with favor upon him, and the Spirit of God gave him peace. His last words to me were a little bit later, and they were a question. It was just the two of us, and once again he swung his feet over the bed and onto the floor and asked, “What is your vision?” As preachers do, I pontificated a bit and stumbled out a few words about the Garden of Eden and land and animals that wound need to be taken care of and a word about mansions and gold streets. Then it occurred to me to be quiet and I was. For a bit, and then I asked, “What is your vision?” To which he was quiet, and then he said, “I don’t know.” What he did know is that he wanted to be done with these days of suffering and step into glory. And that is how he prayed.
It seemed as though he was content in that moment to know that God was blessing and keeping him, that God had already shined on him and had been gracious to him, that the Lord was looking with favor upon him, and that the peace that goes beyond human circumstances was his. Stella and Glen and Sharon and Mike and Tom and Jenny and all who loved and were loved by Jeff, on the one hand, this may very well be the worst day of your lives up to this point. On the other hand, know that your God is cupping His ears in your direction for the purpose of blessing and keeping you. Know that your Savior’s eyes are fixed on you with a great desire to be gracious to you. Know that the Spirit of God is all about guiding and leading you into that season of life where you will once again soar as on the wings of an eagle. In Jesus. Amen.
This Momentary Marriage
Ephesians 5: 22-33
Dear Friends in Christ,
In heaven there is no (marriage). I knew you were going to say beer. I’m not going to say “thus says the Lord” on this one, but my personal opinion is that there will be really good beer in heaven. And maybe for Doug Berndt’s sake, a good supply of cheap beer like Schmittys.
What the Bible does say about heaven is that there will be no more hunger in the presence of Christ and there will be no more thirst in the presence of Christ and there won’t be any tears because God will have wiped every one of them away. We were privileged to tell the family of Larry Hogtvedt this week that there will be no more COPD and no more lung disease in heaven. And we can tell the family of Dale Keyes that there will be no more heart attacks in heaven. And this very day we can tell Jeff Ewert and Karen Westphal and Dan Hoehn and Terry Hinze and Mike Goltz and the family of Angie Milbrett and a million other families that there will be no more cancer in heaven. All kinds of reasons we have today to actually look forward to heaven and to quit being so blasted afraid of dying. In heaven there will be no more trouble and no more trials and no more tiredness and no more tribulations!
But the point I really wanted to make is that in heaven there will be no good reason to be married. This is what Jesus says, in answer to the Sadducees who were mocking the idea of the resurrection of the body. They asked Jesus a long drawn out question about a man who married a woman and then he died without any children. And so a brother married her and no children and he died and so on down the line until the same woman had been married to seven brother. In heaven, they asked, whose wife will she be?
Jesus answers by telling them how wrong they are. How they as highly educated people don’t really know what they are talking about. How they know neither Scriptures nor the power of God. How in the resurrection people will not be married, and how we will be like the angels in heaven. We will be like the angels in that our number will be fixed and in that our bodies will not die and in that we will not need to be fruitful and multiply.
So if marriage will be unnecessary in heaven, what are we to think about marriage on earth? In today’s sermon, we want to learn two truths about the nature and the purposes of marriage. First, the Holy Spirit would enlarge our vision of earthly marriage, and secondly, we would understand that all vocations, including those of husband and wife, are ultimately to be all about Jesus Christ. I want to give credit to two authors for much of the language I am using today – John Piper, who wrote This Momentary Marriage, and Gene Edward Veith Jr., who wrote Family Vocation / God’s Calling in Marriage, Parenting, and Childhood.
First, Enlarging the vision of earthly marriage. One can easily make a case that every generation in every culture has fallen short of God’s standards of marriage. Some cultures have respected the importance and permanence of marriage more than others. Our own culture has been sinking lower and lower into what Piper calls a “low, casual, take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards marriage.” So much so that the view that one man should leave his parents and be joined together with one woman for has become a laughable idea in many circles. And if you really want to see eyes roll with disdain in certain corners of our society, just go ahead and reaffirm the traditional and old fashioned idea that any sex before or outside of marriage is wrong.
Before we get too high and mighty and on our high horses, however, we want to admit that every one of us in every one of our days have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory in our thoughts and words and deeds with regard to marriage and a host of other truths. Before we try to get the specks out of our neighbor’s eyes, we want to deal with the logs that are clouding our own vision.
The first truth we want make about enlarging our vision is that Earthly marriages are God’s (doing) It was God who knew that the man needed help. It was God who designed the woman in specific fashion to be for the man exactly what he needed her to be. It was God who took a rib out of the man, made it into a woman, and brought her to the man. It was God who as Father gave away the first bride. It was God who spoke marriage into existence and it was God who joined them together, and to this very day in churches which are holding to the old fashioned Biblical view of marriage, right after man and woman are pronounced husband and wife, the pastor will thunder, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” In the Roman Catholic and other churches, marriage is a Sacrament, and in the Lutheran Church, it has occurred to me that we use words that comes real close to being sacramental kind of language.
A second truth we learn today that would enlarge our vision is that Earthly marriages are for God’s (glory). Listen closely to what the author Piper says, and let his words soak into your soul. He says that staying married isn’t mainly about staying in love, it’s first of all about a man and his wife keeping their promises to each other. The beautiful thing about spouses keeping their promises to each other is that it will more often than not create the kind of climate in that home where folks hold onto a good measure of romance, pleasure, and light.
Christ was and is and ever shall be that bridegroom coming for his bride, the chosen and the precious people of God. He is One who knew he would have to pay for his bride with his own blood, and that’s exactly what He did. Christ is the husband who promises never to leave His wife. In comparison to the eternal marriage of Christ and His bride, our marriages are momentary. I repeat, our marriages are not mainly about being or staying in love. They are mainly about telling the truth with our lives about Jesus Christ and the way He relates to His people. Jesus died for sinners. He died so that a blemished bride could be presented to His Father as unblemished. So that stained lives could be presented as unstained. So that wrinkled garments could be presented as unwrinkled. Which brings us to our second and broader lesson for the day,
Secondly, we want to be Understanding that all vocations are ultimately (Christological). Luther wrote that all Christians are liberated from the bondage of sin through the gospel, whereupon they are called to be “little Christs” to their neighbors. That we are to be Jesus with skin on in every one of our conversations and connections. That we are to be spending our days letting our Gospel lights shine so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.
Husbands, in particular, are put into the position of Christ in the clearest possible terms. Husbands are to be little (Christs) to their wives. (Veith) “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…As Christ pursued His bride by setting his face towards Jerusalem and not resting until He arrived in time to be beaten bloody and have his body broken, so also are husbands called to spend their days chasing after their wives. Chasing them not to get something from them, but to give them everything.
I don’t know about the other men her, but when I was in high school and into college, girls terrified me. Especially pretty ones like my wife. At junior and senior high dances, if I did get up the nerve to ask a girl to dance, I would be sweating up a storm and I could only think of two things to say, “it’s hot in here!” and “the music is loud.” I never asked a girl out on a date unless I was pretty sure she would say yes. I often wondered if any one person would want to spend the rest of her life with me. And if the cute little feisty Green Bay Packer loving Milwaukee girl had not indicated her interest in me, my life may well have taken on a whole different direction.
As Pastor Muther would say, I tell you that to tell you this, it doesn’t come all that natural for a lot of us men to pursue a woman into marriage and to keep on pursuing her until the day that death separates us. But if we are to be little Christs to our wives, we will be setting our face towards the cross and we will not be resting in any one of our days until we have listened attentively to every story they want to tell us, until we have done everything we could do to provide for them, until we have laid down our lives in every possible way to protect them, until we have said every word we need to say that will help them to be happy, until we have forgiven every one of their sins as we have been forgiven and until we have beared with every bit of strangeness or unpredictable behavior they may throw our way. I often say to newly married grooms, if you ever come to me and say “how much do I have to put up with this woman,” I will look at your hands to see if you have been crucified unto death yet or not. If not, I will say, go home and love your wife as Christ loved His Church. Life isn’t about you, it’s about her in a temporary sort of a way, and ultimately about Christ.
Both wives and churches are first of all to be (recipients) of love, sacrifice, and commitment. The first assignment of a Christian wife isn’t just to put up with her man, it is to receive what the love he is trying to give her and to live in the safety of that love. Her first assignment isn’t to take care of him, it is to be taken care of by him. Her first assignment isn’t to sacrifice on his behalf, it is to receive and respond to his sacrifice. Her first assignment is not to be committed to him, it is to see in him the ways he is trying hard to please her and accept that and be grateful in the deepest recesses of her heart and mind.
I can hear some of you saying, “that all sounds fine and good, but that’s not reality.” I can wives saying, “my husband is more often than not a selfish knucklehead who isn’t coming close to taking care of me, how can I receive when he isn’t giving?” And I can hear husbands saying, “I tell you there is no pleasing my wife, your head would spin around as on a swivel if you could hear her ever changing demands and constantly repeated expectations.” Which brings us to our final point of the day. Christian vocation is where we bear our crosses.
The Crosses of Marriage – We ought never be surprised or disillusioned to find ourselves bearing crosses in marriage. If any would come after me, Jesus says, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow. The kingdom of God is like a mature Christian couple who in their early years fought like a cat and a dog once or twice a month. In the midst of that fighting, they felt empty, alone. Some days their disappointment festered into resentment, and there were days when they wondered if their unhappiness meant they had made a big mistake. They survived by doing what their parents had taught them to do. They stuck it out, as Jesus Christ stuck it out all the way to death and burial. In the darkest of nights, they went to their quiet places and remembered how patient their God had been with them. In the busiest of days, they messed up and they fell into one bad habit after another, but week after week, they went to the house of God and threw themselves on the mercy of Almighty God. They found a way to forgive as they had been forgiven, to love as they had been loved, to serve as they had been served, to bear with as they had been beared with, again and again to be raised up from the dead as Christ had been raised. Still they have days that they just sort of survive. But more and more they find that their days are better than ever before. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
For the wedding of Kelsey Hering and Austin Barchenger...
Multi-faceted, Interconnected Dependency
Focus: Christ is love incarnate.
Function: that the hearers fill their lives following after love incarnate.
Grace, Mercy, and Peace from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At this, the marriage of Austin and Kelsey, we have two texts we reflect upon: 1 Corinthians 13 and Ecclesiastes chapter 3.
Two stories to begin our meditation today, one from my life and another from the lives of Kelsey and Austin. I remember when I was just about to get marriage, I was working at a fancy-dancy apartment complex as a doorman, and I had built up a relationship with a man and his wife as they started their family. And so, a week before my wedding, on my last shift, I asked this man if he had any advice for me as he came in from a walk, and I remember him answering me, as he had a big 100lb dog on a leash in one hand pulling him one way, as he had a two-month-old baby starting to cry in the stroller, as the elevator door was trying to close, all these things happening, he looks back to me and says, “Paul, marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s the best.”
Our second story is from Kelsey’s Facebook page: She wrote, way, way back, “We made it through our first pre-marital session with our pastor! We were both asked what love means to us” and I remember this. I had asked, and usually I turn to the gentleman first, and I did this time, and I look over at Austin’s face, and I remember – it was indescribable. He just had this look, it’s a farmer kind of look, like “What kind of a question is that? Love is love. That’s why you call it love.” So I turn to Kelsey, and she had some time to think, and in the end she gave me this definition: love is multi-faceted, interconnected dependency.” I’ve already learned that love is much simpler than that. Love is Jesus Christ and love is Austin Barchenger. They are the love that fills my heart with life every single day.”
Today we celebrate more than the marriage of a charming man to a cute blonde – those are their words, not mine. Let me, as Paul writes in the last verse of 1 Corinthians chapter 12, show you a more excellent way.
Love is patient when doesn’t want to be and love is kind when it’s easier to be to be cruel. Love does not envy nor does it boast of what it’s done. It doesn’t get arrogant or rude. It endures all bad. It bears with strangeness. It takes one look at you and knows you, knows you for what you are, no matter if you’re covered in mud or in the finest clothes you own.
And if Paul tells us what love does, then Solomon tells us when love does it. Love is kind in times of mourning and of dancing. Love is patient in times of weeping and times of laughing. Love endures in tearing and sewing. Love is beautiful because it is eternal.
Does that sound like you? I’ll give you the answer: No. The lesson of our first premarital counseling session is one truth of your marriage you will learn again and again and again. It’s the lesson of 1 John 4: In this the love of God was made manifest – was incarnate – among us, that God sent his only son into the world so that we might live though him. God is love and love is this: Chris has died, Christ is raised, Christ will come again. Before you would give yourself to your spouse, know this: that you are not your own, and you were never were. You have been bought with a price. You have been taken up in the arms of love incarnate.
If you want to learn how to love, if you want to fill your life and your marriage with good things, then follow around the man, Jesus Christ, as we see him save his people. Hear him speak truth that hurts to people who need to hear it. Watch him dole out unconditional love when he sits in the dust next to those who’ve really screwed up. Let his grace first wash over you and all your imperfections and then, and then, when you recognize yourself as a redeemed Child of God, then take up your role to look like Christ in the life of your spouse.
And that is why marriage is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But it’s the best. Because no one and I mean no one else in their life will get the awesome, insane, incredible privilege to speak a multi-faceted interconnected word of forgiveness and grace to them again and again and again. Now, don’t get me wrong – to forgive isn’t to say that it’s ok, it doesn’t matter, don’t worry about it. When you forgive, you are saying, I know you have done wrong, and it hurt me. But I choose not to hold that hurt against you. I will pay your debt. To look at your spouse when they are at their best, and when they are at their worst, to say precisely when you see their imperfections and flaws, that you love them no matter what.
And so your love is a chasing after his love for you. So you two get the great privilege of loving each other when you are loveable and when you are not-so-loveable. When Austin, your boots are fresh and when your boots are muddy. When Kelsey your car is clean and also when your car is not so clean. When Austin you are home at 6pm, or when you’re home at “Farm-time” 6pm, which I hear is more like 8. It means that apart from your vocation as child of God, you are now known first and best not as reporter, not as farmer, not as son nor as daughter but as husband and wife.
Marriage will be the best thing you ever do when it is a place of clearest following after Jesus Christ.
Worship Sermons & Letters