Download or listen to The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, “A Treasure, a Pearl, a Net” (Matthew 13:44-52)
“Old and New”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Marriage is the oldest story in the world, and it’s the newest story. It’s the oldest story in the world, after creation itself. The very first relationship between two people in God’s good creation is what we call marriage, and what Adam called, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Adam had been all day at the naming of the animals, seeing a whole series of animals with male and female paraded in front of him. But none of them was his pair, none of them was his fulfillment, none of them was his complement. Even in God’s good creation, it was not good that the man should be alone, singular, a sort of human island in the mass of creatures. So while Adam slept—while Adam did nothing—God did everything, and made another to fit side-by-side with Adam. This is the oldest human story, and it has continued throughout every culture, every country, every nation, every people. Jesus took this story of the creation of Adam and Eve and said, “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; He said, whatever else human sinners do with marriage, this is how God created it.
And sinners have done quite a lot with marriage. Some do the sinning, some are the sinned-against, but none of us is innocent. None of us is untouched. All of our hearts are hard or hardening, which is why Jesus said that Moses allowed Israelites to give each other certificates of divorce. Eve may have come from Adam’s side, but very often what separates husbands and wives seems more powerful than anything that joins them together. I say all of this not to bring you down on this day, but to make sure you know what you’re getting into (and from our conversations, I think you do). But even with all the pressure on marriages from within and without, even with all of the attempts to tear apart what God has joined together, the Lord didn’t just let that old story go on, returning to the same broken tune like a damaged record. The eternal Son of God entered flesh, and the very first public sign that He did after His baptism was a blessing spoken over a wedding. The wedding was good, but it wasn’t good enough. They ran out of wine, and Mary seems to hint that Jesus should do something about it. It is not yet the time for Jesus to do His most important work on the cross, but nevertheless, He makes more wine than all the people at the wedding could ever drink. So while the people were running on empty and drunk on the Lord’s gifts, the Lord began to write a new story, His work of new creation: an unending feast for the people of God, whatever sinners might do with it. Even so, John says, His disciples believed in Him when they saw the sign.
And so it is that God continues to make old things new. He continues to bless men and women with wives and husbands. He keeps doing it in spite of us; while we are looking for ways to satisfy our own selfish desires, He blesses us with someone to turn our eyes away from ourselves. He blesses you, Nolan, with Beka; and you, Beka, with Nolan. And it is not just to make you happy, although marriage certainly does that. It’s not just to complete you, so that either of you can say of the other, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Those things are true, and they happen. But just as the wine wasn’t the main point of Jesus’ work in Cana, so there is something deeper at work in your lives than what most people think about when they consider marriage. There is a great mystery here, St. Paul says, so that marriage becomes a sign of God’s action in the world. This is what Paul means when he talks about husbands loving their wives as Christ loves the Church and wives submitting to their husbands as the Church submits to Christ. Do sinners mess this up? Do husbands sometimes abuse the responsibility that God gives? Yes. Do wives sometimes refuse to accept the gift that God gives in their husbands as head? Yes. Will you fail Beka? Will you fail Nolan? Without a doubt. But that’s why this mystery is not so much about marriage as it is about Christ and the Church. Because as even while we refused to submit to God, Christ loved us with an everlasting love. Husbands cannot save their wives, but Christ has saved His Bride. Husbands can’t make their wives holy, but Christ gave Himself to make His Bride holy. Wives ought to respect their husbands, and husbands ought to love their wives, but in the midst of the mess that sinners make of marriage, you are both together part of the Bride of Christ, and He has joined Himself to you in an unbreakable bond that no one can ever put asunder. And while death may part you from each other for a while, not even death can separate you both from the love of God that is Christ Jesus our Lord.
The old story of marriage in a perfect creation was always meant to point toward the new and eternal story of Christ’s marriage to the Church. In that marriage, too, the Bride and the Groom give each other everything that once belonged to each of them alone: the Church gives Christ all her sin, and Christ gives the Church all His holiness and a life that does not end in death. In your life together, Nolan and Beka, you will have the opportunity to exercise the promise of Christ as a sign to this world. You will sin against each other, but because you have all the forgiveness of Christ, you have more than enough to share with each other. You will question whether your vows can hold, but because Christ never breaks His promise, you can hold fast to each other in the hope of His mercy in your life. You will be tested and tempted and sometimes it will seem like it’s just too much. In those times, take refuge in Jesus, who loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, having cleansed her in Holy Baptism so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. In that promise, in that grace, in that Man, the story of your marriage will be new every day, and finally, you will both be made new forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 7/23/14
Download or listen to The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, “Real Hope” (Romans 8:18-27)
[Sorry, I forgot my voice recorder]
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s obvious that there is a problem in the parable Jesus tells. What is the problem? Why is it that some seed falls on certain ground where it bears no fruit; and some falls on other ground where it bears fruit 30 or 60 or 100 times more? Usually, the first place we look for a problem is at the soil. It doesn’t seem like there’s anything wrong with the seed, so the problem must be in the soil. And that’s part of the answer, unless we let it deceive us into thinking that this parable is instructing us on how not to be bad soil, or if we are bad soil, how to be better soil. Jesus’ parables are never about how you ought to improve yourself. They are always about what God is doing in Jesus. They may include things about us, about sinners, about the world, but the main point is always about God. What makes this parable more difficult is that we’ve left out the verses in between the parable and the explanation Jesus gives. The disciples of Jesus ask Him why He speaks to the crowds in parables. We’re used to thinking of parables as folksy illustrations meant to clarify something about God. And they do that, but not always. Jesus tells His disciples that He speaks in parables to the crowds who are more and more opposed to Him. There are more and more who refuse to hear Him; more and more, the leaders of Israel are plotting to get rid of Him. So He says, “The meaning of the parables is not given to the crowds, but to you it has been given.”
Download or listen to the Funeral for Christie Clark, “The Stronger Man” (Matthew 12:22-29)
Independence Day is a great reminder of everything with which the Lord has blessed us in this country. We have the freedom to gather as congregations of Christians in this country, to share freely the Faith that has been handed down to us for the salvation of all people, and the material blessings to easily do that. While that material blessing has caused us multiple problems (e.g., materialism, greed, laziness, a feeling of rights and entitlement), it has also been used widely to provide for the work of the Gospel here and around the world. These are some of the many blessings for which we give thanks to God.
And yet, the very notion of independence has caused us problems as well. Though we celebrate our independence from monarchs who would determine the form and content of our worship, a vacuum of independence will be filled by dependence of one sort or another. In other words, as that important theologian, Bob Dylan, put it, “You gotta serve somebody.” If it’s not a king, then it might be a president. If it’s not a president, then it might be capitalistic or socialistic greed. But whatever it is, it usually ends up as service to the Almighty “I”. I have rights (very often severed from responsibilities); I have choices (very often severed from consequences); I’ll have things my way, and you can’t tell me otherwise. And when political and individual independence begins to merge with religious independence, and blur the lines between the two, very bad things can happen.
For example, when Christians desire independence from the authority of God’s Law, it usually results in independence from God’s Gospel as well, and then our Faith begins to look little different from the dominant American spirituality of “live and let live” with its complete redefinition of Christian love. Or, Christians declare independence from the Scriptures, directly and indirectly. Even among us, who claim a very high place for the Scriptures, sometimes people will hear what the Scriptures say, believe that the Scriptures say something relevant, and show by their actions that they simply don’t care. Even when Scriptural arguments are presented, some say, “That all makes sense; I just don’t agree.”
Independence in the Church is not a good thing, understood, as it generally is, to be independence from anything higher than my own self-willed choices and decisions. This results in a lack of respect for others, perhaps especially before the altar at the Lord’s Supper, where we confess and show most clearly that we are one Body, dependent upon Christ our Head and each other, the other members of Christ.
So in this month when we celebrate Independence Day for the United States, let us also celebrate the fact that we are completely dependent upon God and His mercy in Jesus Christ for everything we are and everything we have.
*St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, said, “For you I am a bishop [overseer]; with you I am a Christian.”
Quote for the Month
“God has given an independent will neither to you nor to anybody else, for self-will comes from the devil and Adam. These two turned their will, received from God, into a will of their own; for a free will is one which has no desires of its own but constantly looks to the will of God. In this way it then also succeeds in remaining free, clinging and cleaving to nothing. Now you notice that in this petition [The Third Petition of the Lord’s Prayer] God bids us pray against ourselves, thereby teaching us that we have no greater enemy than ourselves. Our will is the greatest power within us. But we must pray against it: O Father, let me not so fall as to do things according to my own will. Break my will. Restrain my will. Let come what may, only let my lot be determined not by my will but only by Thy will; for so it is in heaven, where there is no self-will. Let it be so also on earth. Putting this prayer into practice is very painful to human nature.” (Martin Luther, What Luther Says [St. Louis: Concordia, 1959], 4655)
Download or listen to The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, “Worse Before Better” (Romans 7:14-25)