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The Mystery of Submission August 23, 2015

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Ephesians 5:22-33

Proper 16

August 23, 2015

 

Focus:  God gave us a Groom, that is, Christ.

Function:  That the hearers submit themselves to the love of Christ.

Structure:  This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

The Mystery of Submission

 

I want to begin today by calling out all of you Packer fans.  You’ve had a good run, but it’s a new season, and I want to see some respect.  So this season, when the Packers play the Vikings, out of respect for your brothers and sisters in Christ here at St. John’s, I want you to wear purple to church, and if you win, which isn’t too likely, don’t rub it in.

Now all you Vikings fans, I know it’s been a tough few years, but it’s a new season.  To show that you’re good sports about all this, when the Vikings take on the Packers this season, I want you to find a Packer family here at church, and have them over to your house where you’ll eat lunch together and watch the game.  And don’t make fun of them for the silly yellow triangles on their heads, or whenever you see another State Farm discount double check commercial.

Alright, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on with the sermon.  Ephesians 5.  Admittedly, I love this text.  And part of that is because it ruffles feathers.  This text, more than most, turns people off.

Singles tune it out as soon as Paul begins because he’s just talking about marriage again, and that has nothing to do with them.  Women tune it out because Paul tells them right at the start to submit.  And modern, civilized, egalitarian American ladies want nothing to do with that.  And men either tune out as soon as Paul’s done addressing the women, or once they realize what’s being asked of them.

This is a tough text.  This is a counter-cultural text as much today as it was 2000 years ago.  This text makes us uncomfortable.

So let me tell you why you should still be paying attention.  We have a diverse family here at St. John’s.  Singles of all ages, men and women.  Some have always been that way and like it that way.  Others wish to be married someday.  Some are still hurting and suffering the pains of divorce, and others still are grieving the loss of their spouse.  We have husbands and wives who love each other dearly, and we have husbands and wives who would rather spend most of their time apart.  And yet, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, we’re the church.

To all of you who are single, this text matters to you because of this verse: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  Wives, every woman, this text matters to you because it helps you to see and truly appreciate the gifts Christ has given to you.  Husbands, all men, this text matters to you because it teaches you what it means to be a leader.  This text matters, for all of us.

Keep the text open, whether you’re in your bulletin or in the Bible, keep it ready.  You’ve got the NIV in front of you, I like to preach from the ESV translation.  And that’s a good thing as noticing differences between them can help you learn more about the Bible.

As we get ready to dig into the text, let’s first notice how Paul gets their attention.  Maybe you caught it, maybe you realized that the start of the sermon today wasn’t just meant to be goofy in honor of the upcoming NFL season, but it was meant to draw your attention.  And more specifically, it was meant to get you familiar with Paul’s technique.

Now, for those of you who’ve been in one of my Bible classes on marriage, or to my pre-marriage counseling sessions, we’ve gone over this.  But I want everyone to see it.  This is a great technique.  The authors of Scripture weren’t fools!  They had the Spirit of God guiding them.

Paul knows his audience, and he plays a trick on them to get them to pay attention.  He speaks first to the women in a male dominant society.   He addresses them and tells them how to live, how they should treat their husbands.  And how do you think the men respond?  What do you think they were doing when they heard “wives, submit to your own husbands,”?  They were listening.  They might even have started cheering, or egging Paul onward.  They were hooked.  Just like you Vikings’ fans when I was telling all of Packerdom to wear your colors on game day.  You loved it.

But then I turned it around.  It’s one level of difficulty to put on a different color shirt, it’s a whole nother level when we start talking about hospitality, about hosting a rival, about cooking them a meal, about being nice to them even if the game goes south.

Paul had the men’s attention, and then he turned it on them.  He tells them what their role in the marriage is to do.  And there’s a lot more responsibility, and it’s a lot harder.  If you don’t see it, don’t buy that Paul knew what he was doing, just keep reading into chapter six, as he pulls the same technique twice more, with children and parents, then slaves and masters.

Anyway, let’s start with Paul’s mystery.  Christ and the church.  So we go back to verse 25, and we look to what Christ did:

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.

 

That’s us!  We’re the church, we’re the bride of Christ.  We are the ones who are in need of washing, cleansing.  We’re the ones in need of sanctification.  We’re the ones that need wrinkle removers and cleaning companies so that we might be presented as pure.

We’re not even close.  You and I know it.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we know it.  We know our mistakes, we know our faults, we know when we fail to listen to God and instead put our trust in earthly things, whether it’s a relationship, money, a job, or raising kids.  We all do it.  We all fall short.  There’s not one of us who’s blameless, spotless, and wrinkle-free.

And yet Christ loved us so much that He came for us.  In the midst of our filth, He calls us His bride.  And more than that, He gives up His own life for us.  We didn’t deserve it, we certainly aren’t worth it, but He loved us so much that He gave us everything, even His own blood shed for us on the cross, that we might be forgiven, healed, cleansed, indeed presented before the Father as holy and without blemish.  Christ did that for us.

So what’s this got to do with marriage? With husband and wife?  Paul tells us this is an analogy.  Paul calls upon this relationship to help us understand our relationship with God.  So he begins with wives, although the order doesn’t really matter.

“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.”

 

Now I’m not going to stand up here and lie to you and say this is easy.  I’m not going to do that because we’re all the bride.  Each and every one of us, as the church, is the bride of Christ, and we’re not blameless.  We struggle to submit to the Lord, to admit that He knows what’s best for us, that He wants what’s best for us.  We hear His commands and sometimes we do them, but other times we question them, and wonder if God really knows what He’s doing.  Sometimes we just plain ignore it.  But nonetheless, this is where Paul points.  That wives follow the leadership of their husband, as husbands follow the leadership of Christ.

And then as I mentioned, it gets harder.  Husbands love your wives, even as Christ does the church.  Ladies, don’t take offense, because we’re all sinners.  But husbands, you are called to lead your family, to lead your wife, to present her in all splendor, without spot or blemish, cleansing her, washing her, sanctifying her.  There’s no going to our buddies and sharing the dirty secrets of our relationship.  When your wife mistakenly says something foolish, you forgive her, and you forget it.  Your coworkers don’t need to know the latest gossip.  Your friends don’t need to see your wife’s flaws.  It’s your job to cover them up.  To present her as nothing less than a precious gift from the Lord.

But more than that.  Husbands, you are called to love your wives just as much as Christ loved the church.  You are called to give yourself up for her.  That means dying for her, if it comes to that.  But in the present it means humility.  It means casting off yourself, your interests, your desires, and instead treasuring your bride.  Doing whatever it takes to care for her, and to prepare her to meet her true groom, Jesus Christ, in Paradise.

You see, the word submit doesn’t mean women don’t matter.  In fact, if we take an honest look at Scripture it’s just the opposite.  Christ gave everything for His bride.  And we see from Genesis 1 that woman was created to be man’s helper.  If a husband lords himself over his wife, refusing to accept her influence, denying her thoughts and emotions, not considering her input in decisions, he’s removing her creative function as God designed her.  He’s calling her worthless, and there’s nothing loving about that.

And in the same manner, when wives desire the role of their husband, the role of leader in the home, when they fight for it, when they oppress him and overtake him, they are removing his created function.  They are calling him worthless, and there’s nothing respectful about that.

Again, singles, I’m hoping you didn’t tune me out, because all of this matters greatly to you.  I need a volunteer couple, I just need one married couple to stand up for a minute or two.  Single brothers and sisters in Christ, you don’t have to want this for yourselves.  In fact, Jesus and Paul both talk in the New Testament about what a blessing singleness can be.

But whether you want it or not, you do need to understand it.  Because this is the analogy that God has chosen to use to help us understand our relationship with Him.  In this relationship, God wants you to see Him.  And you can take part in this.

If you wish to remain single, that’s a good thing.  But you can encourage your friends and community to be faithful in their marriages.  You can encourage them to be good parents.  You can help them raise their children to know the Lord.

If you want to be married someday, you can begin to show this to others.  You can show faithfulness by waiting for marriage as the Lord instructs.  I won’t pretend that’s easy, but it’s faithful.  It’s what God wants for you.  You can pray for your future spouse, even if it’s someone you haven’t met, you can pray that they would know the Lord, and have a strong relationship with Him.  You can learn more about your relationship with God, so that when marriage does come, you’ll be all the more prepared for the role God gives you.

And husbands and wives, I hope you caught that.  If we don’t model this well, we’re preventing people from seeing their Lord and Savior.  If you’re struggling, don’t hide it.  Please, please, please, I’ll beg if I have to.  Come talk to me.  Let’s build your marriage on the rock of Christ.  Let’s build you up so that you can more clearly see Christ and show Him to others.  This matters.  Let couple sit down.

We can’t give up on our spouses.  This is why the Bible speaks this way on divorce.  “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” – Mark 10:9.  We are told this because we are the bride of Christ.  And despite our atrociousness, despite our unfaithfulness, Christ, our groom, never gave up on us.  He constantly gives, constantly calls us back to Himself.

If you’re struggling with divorce and the pain that it has brought into your life, please come talk to me.  Let’s sit down, let’s pour through the Word of God.  Let’s work on healing, and if at all possible, let’s work toward reconciliation and forgiveness.

This is our witness, that we would love and respect one another.  We live in the midst of a culture that is drowning, it has no clue what marriage is about.  God is calling us to be a city on a hill, to be transparent, to be fish in a fishbowl, that others might see us, and they might see Christ in us.

This is why marriage matters.  Because through it, whether it’s our own or someone else’s, we see Christ!  We see love, sacrifice, and service.  We see humility, contentment, and respect.  We see forgiveness, reconciliation, and new life.  Brothers and sisters in Christ, we submit ourselves to Christ, to His authority, to His leadership, to His love, and to His sacrifice.  We are His bride, we are forgiven, and He is presenting us as holy and blameless in the sight of His Father.  There’s never been, and will never again be, a more selfless deed than that.  Our groom has given us life.  Amen.

 

Whoever Feeds on My Flesh August 16, 2015

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John 6:51-69

Proper 15

August 16, 2015

 

Focus:  God gives us the bread of life.

Function:  That the hearers serve the Lord.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Whoever Feeds on My Flesh

 

One of our youth took me up on the offer to shadow me for a day this week.  One of the things we did was plan the upcoming church movie event.  As we were looking around the theater’s website, he asked me how bad I thought it would be if I invited you all to an R-rated movie.  For starters, I’m not sure many of you would join me.  But it would probably also be damaging to my reputation and to our relationship.  But don’t worry, War Room is rated PG!

Sometimes, this happens on a larger scale.  In the past couple of weeks, both political parties’ leading frontrunners for next year’s presidential election experienced it.  Hillary Clinton found herself backpedaling after mentioning the phrase “all lives matter” and Donald Trump found himself in an awkward debate with reporter Megan Kelly.  At the moment, it looks like both of them ostracized lost some of their followers.

Most all of us at one point or another have said or done something foolish and it cost us a friend.  It even happens sometimes when we speak the truth.  And that happens all over.  Scientists who believe in Jesus can and do lose their jobs over their belief in creation.  Parents trying to guide their children lose them over difficult topics.  Unfortunately, it happens.

We see this in the words of Jesus today.  Over the course of His ministry, He said some pretty strange things.  He made comments that ostracized some of His followers.  He didn’t mind speaking the truth, even if it meant upsetting people.  But this one might just be the strangest of them all.

We are still in the aftermath of Jesus feeding the five thousand a few weeks ago.  But historically, it’s only been a day.  Jesus and His disciples fed the crowds, and then they journeyed across the sea to Capernaum by boat.  And that’s where the large crowd follows Him and meets up with Him again.

He had fled from them, knowing they were seeking to make Him a bread king.  That’s not why He came, but it’s what the people wanted.  And so they caught up with Him on the other side of the sea and they began asking questions.  So He began to teach.

51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

 

That’s a tough saying, and one the Jews didn’t understand.  So they argued about it: “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”  And Jesus elaborated:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

 

And that’s when the disciples chime in, just as confused as the Jews.  “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?”  And they were right!  It is a hard saying, it’s a strange teaching.  And then we read that “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.”

‘Eat You?  How can we possibly do that?  You can’t give us Your flesh, and even if you could, that’s cannibalism.  It’s weird, it doesn’t make any sense.  Maybe You’re not as great as we thought You were.’  And they left.

Now, we’re not told specifically that it was the crowd of five thousand that left, but it sure seems like Jesus has gone from being surrounded by a massive crowd, to now only being in the presence of the twelve disciples.

The words of Christ ring true: “This is why I told you that no one can come to Me unless it is granted him by the Father.”  We aren’t capable of coming to Him on our own.  Even the crowds and disciples that had seen His miracles couldn’t believe on their own.

We see this in our Old Testament as well.

Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness.  Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.

 

They don’t get to choose to follow God.  They’re already His.  Their choice now is either to continue in the gifts and blessings God has given them, or to walk away as the crowd did.  We’re the same.  Okay, maybe you’ve never been tempted to worship Baal, or Ra, or someone of the like.  But we’re each tempted in our own way.

For many, a big temptation happens every time we get behind the wheel of a car.  God has given us government and He has given them authority.  Their law is law.  If we break it, we’re sinning.  It doesn’t matter that you want to get there a little faster.  It doesn’t matter if you’re going 31, 41, or 81 miles an hour down Main St.  It’s a sin.  But we’re also communicating something to the child or the friend in our car, to the neighbor on our street, to the coworker we’re carpooling with.  We’re telling them it’s okay.  We’re telling them to follow someone other can God. Everyone does it, so it’s fine.

Think about it for just a moment.  What would it say to that same coworker, or friend, if you were careful not to speed?  Do you think they’d notice?  Might they be annoyed that you won’t get there as fast?  Might they ask you about it?  Might they even ask you to speed up?  And if they do, what can you tell them?

Another big one in our culture now is sex outside of marriage.  Most of us who are adults understand this.  It tempts some of us more than others, but we get it.  We understand how pleasurable and fun it can be.  We understand the temptation that comes from peer pressure, the temptation that comes from a constant bombardment of graphic images that we see everywhere on a daily basis.  Our culture says sex is fun and casual and no strings attached.  But God doesn’t say that.  Indeed, the author of sex, says the opposite.  That it’s a one flesh union, that it permanently bonds us together.  That it unites us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  And that when it’s used as He created it, it’s a wonderful and fun blessing.  But apart from that, it brings much pain.

This is a challenge to our young people for sure.  It’s a challenge to everyone.  But what message can you send by saying no?  What message can you share, what weird difference is there about waiting for marriage?  We get to say that God has a plan, and we get to say what it is.

Because when push comes to shove, that’s what sin’s about.  It all goes back to the Garden, to the very first question: “Did God really say?”  Even in our own midst, our own church community, this is a real struggle.  We water down the Word.  We question it.  We ask “did God really say men and women are different?”  “Did God really say that we should listen to our government?”  “Did God really say that we should care for the widows and the orphans?” “Did God really say it’s wrong to tell a white lie if it will get me out of trouble?” The list goes on and on and it ultimately leads to this:  “I don’t want to follow a God who says ______.”

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell.

 

We struggle with this, too.  It’s hard to echo Joshua’s words, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”  We don’t choose this for ourselves.  God calls us to it.  God called the people of Joshua’s day, and they responded, they said they would follow Yahweh, who brought them out of slavery.  They would follow the God who drove out the Amorites and gave them the Promised Land.  We’ve seen it, we’ve lived it, we’ve tasted the fruit.  God is good.

The twelve disciples responded in a similar way.  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”  They had seen it, lived it and tasted the fruit.  They knew that God is good.

And we respond in a similar way.  We know that following the Lord isn’t an easy thing.  We know that there are challenges and temptations that we face every day.  And we each know of the times we fall short.  You know better than anyone the hurt you’ve caused, the times you’ve walked astray.

But we’ve tasted and seen that the Lord is good.  In those moments of our shame, and our guilt, and our defeat, we echo these words, “Lord to whom shall we go, You have the words of eternal life.” And in those times, indeed in all times, we eat the flesh of Christ.  We come together as His people, in His house, to His table, to partake of His body and His blood, shed for us on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  And they are.  Our sins are forgiven.  But it goes so much deeper.  It is so much more.  Because in this bread, in this body, in this wine, and in this blood, we also have the resurrection.  We have life.  We are forgiven, and cleansed, and loved, and saved, and victorious, and alive.  We are part of the family and we have life everlasting in His name.

And so when temptations come, we echo Joshua: “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”  When we’re tempted by our coworker to speed, we explain to them how government is a gift from God.  When tempted by friends to cheat because we feel neglected in our marriage, we tell them that we will be faithful, just as God is faithful.  When tempted to walk away from this community because we’re hurting from a sin someone else did against us, we remind ourselves that we are part of a family, and you just don’t walk away from family.  When we’re discouraged because we’re single and everything we seem to hear is telling us we have to get married to have any value, we remember that our worth comes from Christ crucified and from His proclamation that we are loved.  And when we are tempted to ask the same question the devil loves, “Did God really say?” we open up His Word, we read, mark, and inwardly digest it, so that we can respond and say, “Yes, God really did say _____.”

We serve the Lord, not because it’s a choice we have to make, not because it’s something we must do to avoid death, but we serve the Lord, we follow the Lord, because He has promised that “whoever feeds on this bread will live forever,” however weird that might sound.