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.
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