01 September 2012

Great Homily by Dr. Leo Sanchez

which he delivered at the International Center on Thursday, on Ephesians 5:22-33:

LCMS International Center Chapel
Scripture Text: Ephesians 5:22-33
Homilist: Leopoldo (Leo) Sánchez
President, 5th Hispanic National Convention (LCMS)
Director, Center for Hispanic Studies, Concordia Seminary

"This mystery (i.e., marriage) is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." (ESV)

Greek: Mysteryon. Latin: Sacramentum. Esp: Sacramento. Eng: Sacrament.

So marriage is a "sacrament," after all. But we have little "s" sacrament and big "S" sacrament. Big "S" sacraments are signs of God's grace that deliver the forgiveness of sins to you in the here and now:

Baptism: "I baptize you in the name of the F, and of the S, and of the H.S." And it is done! You are brought into the saving name of the Triune God.

Lord's Supper: "Take and eat, this is my body given for you. Take and drink, this is my blood shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins." And it is done for you!

Absolution: "In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the F, and of the S, and of the H.S." And what God says, God does for your spiritual good, to console and comfort guilty consciences with the Gospel.

Now, there are other signs of God's grace that do not deliver the forgiveness of sins, but serve to teach us about the Gospel and how to live in accordance with the grace of God given to us freely in Christ Jesus. These signs are not means of grace, but like the means of grace, they are instituted and commanded by God for our good.

Marriage is an example of such a sacrament, a sacred thing, a divine sign in the world instituted for our own temporal good. The Lutheran Confessions state: “Marriage was not first instituted in the New Testament but in the very beginning, at the creation of the human race. It has the command of God as well as certain promises that pertain…to the bodily life (KW, Apology, XIII:14). Here is a benefit of marriage for this life: Marriage is a divine sign of Christ's sacrificial love for His bride the church, but also of the church's submission to her Lord Christ. Lordship. Submission.

After the Fall, it is, of course, difficult to grasp what joyful submission and gracious lordship are supposed to look like. In the world, submission and lordship are synonyms for oppressive language. The history of Christianity, including that of the conquest and colonization of the Americas, is full of bad examples of submission and lordship, disfigured faces of lordship and submission, power games of struggles between the oppressed and the oppressor. We do not have to go that far back or that far south in history. We see plenty of submission and lordship—all justified in the name of Jesus and the Bible—in the painful history of slavery in U.S. We see it to some degree in the ambiguous history of migrant workers and “patrones” (bosses) in the U.S. that, under the leadership of civil rights activities like Cesar Chávez, led to the rise of farm workers’ unions, safer working conditions for farmers, and so on.

And of course, we can all see this disfigured state of affairs by looking in the mirror. Each and every one of us has attempted to lord it over others, or has been oppressed by another. At times, we also want to live for ourselves and do what we want without submitting to anyone. We do this in our congregations, in our institutions. And in our own house, we are oppressor and oppressed in our own marriages all the time, in subtle and unfortunately even in crass ways.

I had a good, responsible father, and a caring, loving mother. But they did not have a good marriage. So I had to find that somewhere else, and I did in the church. But even the church has never been immune to the attacks of the devil against marriage, to the pain of hurt and divorce. And yet the church is still a great place to look for good examples of marriage because there Christians learn to bear their crosses for one another. And nowhere in the church is bearing the cross for another practiced more than in marriage.

Through the cross, Christ redefines what lordship and submission are. Through Christ, we learn that lordship is exercising one's power not to lord it over others but by sacrificing for them. And submission is exercising one's freedom, but not for oneself as freedom is often understood today. Rather, submission is the exercise of freedom in service to another. Both are acts of unselfish love where you die to self in order to make room for the neighbor. Sounds like Jesus, who submitted to His Father even unto death for us, who did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life for us.

Right away we see one of the benefits of marriage for each of us, and even for the whole world that peeks in every so often to see what the church is up to. Marriage is the place to go to learn from the Holy Spirit what true lordship and submission are. In marriage, we learn what it means to bear the cross of lordship and submission. Indeed, we are not given in Scripture any other human relationship to go to in order to learn what it means to love like Christ loves the church and to learn what it means for the church to love Christ back. Not the dad-son relationship, not the mother-daughter relationship, not the relationship between best friends, not the relationship between pastor and deaconess, not the man-pet relationship, and, of course, not the relation between two persons of the same sex.

In his Marriage Booklet, Luther offers this prayer for the newly married couple: “Lord God…we beseech your never-ending goodness that you would not permit this your creation, ordinance, and blessing to be removed or destroyed, but graciously preserve it among us through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (KW 16) Why such prayer? If marriage is destroyed, the fabric of human life, the great school of godly relationships, is gone. This sign of Christ’s love for the church, and the church’s love for Christ, would not be around for the world to see either.

Only the husband and wife relationship, and no other, is the great sacred sign, the magnum sacramentum, the mega mysterion, the profound mystery and sacred thing, the go-to place, instituted by God to admonish us against our sin and to teach us again and again to bear the cross by exercising our power and using our freedom to serve others.

How should we use the power and authority handed over to us in our church offices as we relate to one another? How should we exercise the freedom we have been given in the Gospel as we relate to others? Return to your marriage. In and through marriage, the Lord has given us a sign and a way to learn lordship and submission the right way every day, the way Christ serves the church and the church serves Christ, the way of the cross.

So avail yourselves of this great gift that is marriage, enter that mystery with fear and trembling, but also with faith, trusting that God will bless you, and even others watching from the outside, through this divine sign. For the Christian, marriage is a great school of the Holy Spirit to go back to over and over again. What you learn in marriage, the cross of Christ you learn to bear for your closest neighbor there, will shape your service to others in this place, in the church and the world. What a blessing! Amen.

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