Sermon transcript, 28 June 2015, Foundation Day (Marriage blessing of Robbie & Marivic)
God makes the two one by Fr. Dana
The first reading today (Ezekiel 37:1-14) gives us hope that there’s no point at which it’s too late in life: the bones, although they looked dead, were given new life. That is true for each of us; that is true for Marriage. Normally we wouldn’t have a Marriage ceremony as part of a Sunday morning Mass, because we distinguish giving the Lord His pre-eminence, and giving marriage the focus it is due. But somehow when Robbie and Marivic asked, I felt that it was the right thing to do; and as the day drew closer I understood why: It’s singularly appropriate to come together this morning, first to worship the Lord, but also celebrate and bless the union of Robbie and Marivic in Holy Matrimony, because this is also the day we commemorate the founding of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.
At first glance that might sound like two totally different and unrelated things; but amazingly enough, the two are tied together in Scripture – not in the readings we heard this morning, but in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. The letter to the Ephesians is a letter of encouragement and instruction; he speaks to the believers of the tremendous gift of salvation that we have received through grace – not that we have earned it by our good works – and how we are called to live a new life, a life made possible by the Holy Spirit living in us and working in us. Paul gives us some instruction how to live in unity and how to work in love, and then he turns his attention to marriage; and he uses an analogy that was probably quite unexpected, and that is still unexpected in our day.
Read Ephesians 5:22-24. If you read that in the culture, you will immediately get a nuclear meltdown. “What? Are you insane? We’re equal…” It’s because they don’t read on: they stop there, and that’s all they listen to. So let’s read on in Ephesians 5:25-32. This passage starts by speaking to the wife, and then it turns and speaks to the husband, and then finishes speaking about Christ. Let’s address these in reverse order.
Giving up yourself to become one
Let’s look at Christ. “…just as Christ also loved the Church.” How did Jesus love the Church? God created man and woman and told them they could do anything in the world that they wanted to do except one thing: to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; and that was the one thing they couldn’t do without. But God had a plan: God the Father and God the Son looked down on mankind trapped in the bondage of sin; and the Father asked the Son to do something, and the Son said “Yes”. He set aside His Godhead: He was involved in the creation of everything, yet He set that aside, became a man, lived a perfect life and died as an innocent sacrifice to pay the price for everyone’s sins and set us free. And what He received for that was the Church: anyone who would accept what He did. He gave up everything: everything He was, everything He had, all His rights, all His privileges, to give Himself for the Church. He does that to sanctify us: “sanctify” means to be set apart for holy use. In order to be set apart for holy use, He had to cleanse us, because in our sin were not clean. That’s what He did; that’s how Jesus loved the Church.
He speaks to husbands: “Love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church…” Give up all your rights, give up who you are, give up what you have… to love someone completely, to do whatever is necessary for her benefit. This does not mean, “I’m the husband, I know what’s wrong with you and I’m going to fix you.” It does not mean being a lord over her; it means laying down your life for her. It means co-operating with God as He is working in her to make changes: He’ll show what needs to be done. It means seeking God for changes in me, the husband, because she’s not the only one with problems; I have problems too. It means I must be willing to give up anything and everything that God asks me to give up for my wife. That’s how husbands are to love their wives.
Let’s go on to that passage where He speaks to wives: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord”. Given what we just heard about husbands, if you find a man who’s willing to do that, it’s a lot easier to submit yourself to his care. When a man takes a woman as his wife, she becomes part of his body: the two become one flesh, they are inseparable, they are the same body. And we are to take care of our body and provide for it, just as we do our health, our appearance, our spiritual well-being, the whole body. A wife might consider submitting herself to someone like that, someone who has her best interests in mind, not his own. That does not mean that the wife has to do whatever her husband says, no matter how bizarre or evil it is, and that she can’t say anything. It does mean I am to respect my husband as guard, guide and protector of the home, and that I am to show him that respect even when I don’t agree with him, and when I’m telling him that I don’t agree with him. When we’re working through these problems, I do it with respect, and he needs to do it with love. And if we can’t agree, and it’s not something that causes me to go against the laws and will of God, I need to be willing to let him have the say. And if it goes wrong, I need to be willing to work with him to understand why it went wrong so that we can do something different the next time. It’s not a blind, unthinking slave – it’s two people who are made one flesh; and they both want the best for the body. In that context, I submit, it becomes possible for a wife to submit to her husband.
But notice to whom Paul speaks when he gives these instructions: he says to the husbands “Love your wives”, not to the wives, “Nag your husband until he loves you”. He says to the wives, “Submit to your husbands”, not to the husband, “Make her submit to you”. That’s very intentional: marriage is a willing giving up of yourself to become one; that’s what Robbie and Marivic are doing today.
All of us can learn from this
And even those of you who are not married can take something away from this:
- Men: Don’t just marry someone you can live with; marry someone whom you can love like Christ loved the Church, whom you can give yourself to wholeheartedly, someone who recognises the value of that kind of love.
- Women: Don’t just marry someone you can live with; marry someone who’s willing to love you like that, who is willing to love you not for what he can get out of it but what he has to give you – I don’t mean money and a house, but himself – someone whom you can trust with your submission.Submission is not something that you should give lightly, because you’re giving your whole self, just as the man should be giving his whole self to you.
- Both of you are taking risks, because you’re making commitments – shall we be honest? – that you haven’t got a clue how serious this is.I didn’t when I got married: “Oh, this will be good; I like this.” And then the challenge comes: “Am I really committed to this? Am I really going to hang in when I don’t understand a thing she’d doing and she doesn’t understand what I’m doing?” Look for someone that you can love like that, whether you’re a man or a woman.
God does the work
Given all that, we’re still human. Who can possibly lay down his or her life for another person? Who can possibly love his wife as Christ loved the Church? Who can possibly submit to her husband in all things? In our own strength we can’t; and that’s why in the Church, Marriage is not a contract. If all you want is a contract, so that when things go wrong you can get your piece when you split, go to the courts: that’s the purpose of Marriage before the State: so that the children can inherit, and so that if one of you dies, the other one gets it… all the legal things. That’s not Marriage in the Church is: it’s not a contract, although you do sing something; it’s a Covenant, and it’s not just the two of you: God gets involved. God doesn’t just say, “Love your wife as Christ loved the Church… Submit to your husband as the Church submits to Christ…” – He says, “That’s My desire, and My Holy Spirit will live in you to make that possible.”
It’s not just a contract between two people – it’s a Sacrament. The Eucharist is a Sacrament: it’s not just remembering – God is present and He comes into us when we share the Body and Blood. He does something in us, He’s not a celestial watchmaker who wound up the universe and went to coffee and will come back later to see how things are going – no, He’s intimately involved. Even in spite of all evil and terror in the world which came in because of what we did, He’s still involved, He still works in our lives; and He stills works in our marriages, and He still makes it possible for us to do what He asks us to do. He enters our marriage; He begins making us one the moment the Marriage is concluded. But it’s not one hundred percent instantaneous: that’s when it starts; He makes a change right then, but then He keeps on making changes as we go along: we grow into it, we mature, we make mistakes, we argue, we disappoint one another, we forgive one another; and we become stronger, because He’s weaving us together: He’s weaving a man and a woman together as one. He’s doing the work; we commit to it, but He does the work.
Baptism – Robbie was baptised two weeks ago – it’s not just a sign so that we can say, “Oh yes, I was baptised, so I’m OK”; it’s a work that God does to change our hearts, to make us one with Him. That’s what Paul is talking about with Christ and the Church becoming one, and Jesus when He prays, “Father, make them one as you and I are one” (John 17:21-22). That’s what He is doing; that’s what He is doing today. That’s why He called the Charismatic Episcopal Church into being: to proclaim and to embody what has always been in the Church but has sometimes been forgotten. God works; He’s still working. It’s not dead ceremony; it’s only dead ceremony if I’m dead; I can do a ceremony as if it has no meaning, but it’s only because it has no meaning to me, not because He’s not there; it’s because I’m ignoring the meaning and I’m just going through the words. God help me if I ever get that way: take me home!
And so today we celebrate with Robbie and Marivic the two becoming one, God making two one. It starts today, and it keeps on going. And that is a miracle; it’s a mystery. Thank God.