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Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Sermon for Epiphany 2 – Isaiah 62:1-5, 

Augustana, 2013

Note: I departed from the manuscript somewhat significantly in the preaching of this sermon in order to smooth some of the rougher edges.  As always the mp3 format audio can be heard by clicking the link 12 Sermon for Epiph 2.mp3

Grace and peace to from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The sermon today is more thematic than exposition.  Both the Isaiah reading and the reading from John’s Gospel are bound up with wonderful wedding and marriage themes.  And both readings today are just filled to the overflowing about the mercy of God in Christ, each in their own way.  In Isaiah, Israel is depicted as feminine and married to her bridegroom.  She is no longer thought deflowered and disgraced—the Lord Himself delights in her, has made an honest woman out of her.  And in the reading from John there is far more than a simple magician’s trick of water into wine.  Jesus did not change just any water into win, He changed the water in the jars set aside for ritual washing according to the Law.  And while we could and might probably should go on to understand the deeper meanings of what that means perhaps what is really needed this morning is just to take a step back from the deep theological profundity of marriage as a theme for how God loves us and just get reacquainted with what marriage is, with what God says marriage is.

Hardly any of us would disagree that marriage today is under attack.  But I don’t mean that quite the way conservative TV pundits might mean it.  Yes, there is an organized agenda from gay rights groups to not merely get legal rights but to literal redefine what marriage is.  In this country, they have a right to try to change something they think is wrong.  They’re not here to hear this sermon.  They are not the object of this Word today.  You are.  I am not the first to suggest that the reason marriage is under attack was because it was in a very vulnerable position for most of the last century.  We should not be surprised that people want to expand the definition of marriage because, quite frankly, straight couples and even many Christians have been doing the same thing over the last one hundred years.  So the purpose of this sermon is, as I said, to bit of housecleaning on our end.  To proclaim clearly what marriage is, in fact, what marriage can only be and call all of us to repentance for our sins against God’s gift in marriage.

One of the ways we can look to see what marriage is, is to see what God says of it and then to see how we have taken it and torn it apart.  “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Ge 1:27–28)  Man and woman are created in the image of God.  Man is not superior to woman, nor woman to man.  But they were created, male and female for one another.

God Himself confirms this when the account for Eve’s creation is told:

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” 19 Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.  (Ge 2:18–25)

I want to be clear about what we are saying here.  God created Adam and Eve, and they are part of the creation He Himself calls, very good on the sixth day.  God creates Adam and Eve for each other.  He joins them in the first marriage in the first Church that is Eden.  Adam gets it.  He calls his bride, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.  “Therefore, a man will now hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh.”  And that “one-fleshness” that male-ness and female-ness joined together is an expression of the image of God.   I said we’d try to skip some of the theological profundity but that’s just too hard to do here.  Bound up somewhere in the creation of Adam and Eve as male and female is an expression of the image of God, the very reflection of the Creator in His creation.  Marriage has to do with what God has done and said.  What He did and said first, when things were still very good before they polluted by the rebellion of humankind away from God’s Word.

So let me just make this very clear then.  Marriage is not what your sociology teacher told you it is, a thing created by humans as they evolved over the millennia where women were first property, etc.  Marriage is not an invention of the rule of men in order to subjugate and control women.  If marriage became what the sociologists say it was, and the historians confirm it, it isn’t because that’s what marriage is, but because people sinned against God’s Word and the gift He gave in marriage at the first.  Our language around marriage should not be one of rights or liberation and never power or property but of gift and blessing, and where broken, of repentance and forgiveness and restoration.

Let’s be clear here not just on how the pagans would take marriage from us but how we have loosened our grasp on the gift.  We who know God’s Word have turned marriage into a joke and a byword in our own community.  Just look at all we have done with what God intended as a lifelong union of a man and a woman for the procreation of children and the passing on the faith.  Even in the strongest marriages, too often hearts grow cold and words turn harsh, maybe not for long, but long enough to hurt and to sin against what God has given.  Or maybe the hearts grow cold and then grow warm for someone else turning the oneflesh into a lie, maybe even extending the oneflesh into a series of monogamies but that’s not marriage.  We turn a blind eye to those who try oneflesh for a time to see they’re suited for one another.  We call it “living together”; we used to call it what it is, living in sin.  And it goes on from there, as we now.  Because of our society, and the educational requirements to keep it going, we encourage our young people put off marriage until they’re “settled.”  We encourage them to put off having children until their “more stable” financially.  Where has the extended family gone?  They used to start a couple in a house to avoid a mortgage.  They used to bring a son-in-law into the family business or onto the farm.  All of it gone.  Is any wonder our children have turned to playing at marriage, to hooking-up to try to find a thin shred of the meaning and purpose and pleasure God intended for us to have as His people?  Sin.  All of it.  Not the gay’s sin, not the pagan’s sin, ours.  We took what God said and said, “Be quiet, God, we have a better idea.”  We have done everything we can to tear asunder what God joined together and all for what?  Pleasure?  A bit of pleasure cut off from all the promises and blessing from God.  How good could that ever be?  We were NOT created for this and if we were honest with ourselves we would fall on our knees collectively and beg forgiveness for the mockery we have made of God’s gift of marriage.

And yet, and yet, still to us God says, “For your sake, I will not keep silent.  Even though you would silence me, for your sake I will not be quiet until you are restored in all your perfect glory.  All the pagans around you, those who mock Me and my Word, and you for listening to it, they will see it, they will see your flawless beauty.  They will no longer be able to say what they have called beautiful can ever compare to such unspoiled beauty they now must admit they see in you.  You will no longer be called reject.  You will no longer be called defiled, violated.  You shall be called ‘My Delight is in You,” blessed. You will be called “an honest woman.”  God delights in you when you take great pleasure in the gifts He has given you.  What God has set aside for you in marriage is so much more than do and don’t, so much more that what can be won or lost in a culture war.  He created marriage for you to enjoy His blessing, from the very beginning.

I’ll be very honest with you.  We may very well have lost the battle over marriage in the wider society.  If so, we will have lost it not because the enemy was so clever or well-funded or even because they controlled the media but rather because we failed to keep the faith.  We shrunk back from the vanguard position the Word of God puts us in and made ourselves vulnerable.  Our only course back is not to curse them, but open repentance with ourselves and open and humble conversations with our children and grandchildren whom we have failed.  In repentance together we will return to the Lord and hear once again His Word about the gift of marriage and rejoice in it and experience its blessings.  And we know that God’s Word does not just echo forth from the mists of Eden, but from the mouth of the incarnate Word, who not only blessed marriage by His miracle at Cana, but proclaimed again the intent of the Father for the oneflesh union when Israel had perverted it.  We know that the Lord Jesus never just excuses sin.  He came into human flesh to die to it and in so doing give us freedom from it.  The cross may not look like a wedding hall, but it is there that the Bridegroom suffered all for the sake of His bride, you.  And the crazy thing about the love of our Lord Jesus is that even delights in forgiving you.  How about that for a paradox?  Our Lord Jesus delights in His agony to free us from sin.  That is the nature of the love of God.

And our living in the delight of God will flourish when we put off all manner of infidelity, serial monogamy, shacking up, and hooking up, and pornography.  And we take for ourselves God’s promise to bless us even if we shun the accepted practices of the pagans around us.  And we marry and husband and wife experience great pleasure in it and see that our children and grandchildren marry and we support them and hold them to their marriages and take pleasure in their children and see to it that they are reared in the Word once given our first parents in paradise.  This the pleasure the Lord has in store for those who would but hear His Word and receive it in its fullness.  That He would delight over you.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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