I am saying it refers to Christ and the Church

I’m a preacher, so where my expertise if I can say I have any, is with the scriptures. If you want a non-scriptural argument on what they call conjugal marriage, these guys have that nailed down at book length. But I am also like this guy more or less conceding that our surrounding culture has rejected those arguments. That rejection will lead to problems down the way. One of the biggest is that just like so many other things the culture will no longer help the church in teaching truth. The church will be forced to preserve and teach the truth by itself. Given that the church became very lazy and its muscles have greatly atrophied from ill use, that will be painful. What I want to explore for a second in writing is what certain distortions in the understanding of marriage will be telling people that we will have to preach and teach against before you even get to more serious matters. Repent means to turn around. In C.S. Lewis’ famous observation, if you have been going in the wrong direction, repenting means retracing some steps. There is also a philosophical concept that I will be exploiting. The way Paul in Ephesians 5:32 talks about marriage assumes a Platonic understanding of the relationship. The real or the ideal thing that we are talking about is Christ and the church. The picture, representation, mystery, accident that we talk about is marriage. Changes in the picture or the mystery do not alter the reality, but they do speak falsely about it. Those falsehoods give rise to certain tendencies.

So what are the essential traits of the real – the relationship of Christ and the church? 1) There is a covenantal relationship meaning that Christ and the church have made unbreakable promises. Christ has promised love and sanctification (Eph 5:26). The church has promised submission to following Jesus (Eph 5:23-24). 2) There are two natures in one body. Just as Christ himself is God and man, in the body of the Christ we have the Spirit of God and the human nature. The church is not Christ and Christ is not the church, but the two are yet one. 3) That union is fruitful. It takes the naturally rotten fruit producing sinful human and makes the new creation by water and the spirit which brings forth good fruit. 4) It has an end point, or maybe a fulfillment. In the resurrection we will have the reality of Christ and the church together, so the picture is no longer needed. The shadow passes away. (Matt 22:30). 5) That relationship is exclusive in this life. Christ is the way, truth and life, and as the church has long taught there is no salvation outside of the church. He is the vine and we are the branches. Neither the vine nor the branch go around connecting themselves willy-nilly (John 15:4). There may be more things, but that is a good start.

The next question is how do those realities find expression in marriage? I am going to just follow my order from the above paragraph. 1) The covenantal relationship is one that is life long. Divorce should be unthinkable. 2) The two natures find expression in the complementarity of man and woman. 3) The fruitful union finds its expression in children. 4) The end point finds its expression at the death of one of the partners. A widow or widower might remarry because the original partner has entered into the fulfillment. 5) The exclusiveness finds expression in a monogamous relationship.

So the next question is what can we expect from a blurring of the image? The first one might be the easiest. If you live in a culture where divorce moves from being a rare shameful act to being commonplace, what falsehood would that teach about the reality? I think what you would see is great doubt about the faithfulness of God, doubt about the teaching of the church, a rise of a variety alternative covenants and a weakening of the demands of the covenant . If the image tells you that covenants can be broken for little or trifling reasons, then the natural conclusions are doubt and investing little in the relationship. And as no-fault divorce spread is this not what we have seen? The rise and glorification of doubt. Deep questions about fundamental doctrines. The hesitancy to invest in both marriage and the church. And, the rise of alternative arrangements. The marring of the image we see in marriage has had immeasurable impact on the witness of the church.

I want to jump to number 5 for a second. What could we expect if the image has been blurred to accept all sorts of fornication and adultery? If the image teaches that the reality is not exclusive, then we would expect to find all kinds of other relationships vying of for the church’s attention. No longer focused upon the Word of her Lord, the church would find all sorts of consorts in politics, in money, in cultural projects. We would expect the promotion of ideas such that their are multiple paths to salvation or all roads lead to the same place. We would also expect a turning away from the other toward a looking only at the self. Again I think we can easily see all these things in the church today from the prosperity gospel to the social gospel. None of them the real gospel.

Those first two have been a long time stewing and have done the most damage. What I would say is that only if you have taken those out (which we have) would any of the rest come around. What would you expect if the image no longer projected the fruitfulness of the reality? I would expect something like a lukewarmness as the concerns about fruitfulness are no longer necessary. I would also expect an inability to think in future terms as all emphasis is turned inward and on the now. If children are no longer an expected part of marriage, if the future generation is not in the picture, why would we maintain and build upon what has been given instead of consuming everything?

Last one I want to think about. What would you expect when the image marriage offers no longer includes complementarity of sexes? I would expect the return of major Christological heresies and major confusion about core doctrines like justification. The church is justified and sanctified by Christ. If the image says that there is only one nature, then a natural conclusion would be something like we are God and God is us and there is no difference. We can justify ourselves and God will like our justification, because we are actually the same. In some ways this leads to the Hindu or Eastern notion of Brahman finding Atman. Also, since the image denies two natures, the cultural picture would teach a Christ that is man only or God only. Either an eternal spirit with secret knowledge (gnostics) or a man we should seek to follow on our own (adoptionism, pelagianism, arianism).

Just some musings. As I said, I have consigned myself to living in a culture that has grossly distorted the picture in marriage. What does that mean for pastoral practice and what will I have to teach and preach about to correct that image and the false conclusions drawn from it?

Contempt

Why she moved to the Daily Beast(?!?) I don’t know, but Megan McArdle writes this morning about the VP debate and she says something deeply true.

There was an interesting exchange on MSNBC after last night’s debate when one of the hosts asked one of the string of professional Democrats who were streaming through how she thought Biden had done. I paraphrase, but her answer was roughly: “I thought he was great. He really showed contempt for Paul Ryan.” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley enthusiastically agreed that yes, Biden had been really contemptuous, which was great.

What an odd thing to celebrate…Yet I suspect that MSNBC was right: this was what the Democratic base wanted to see. Yes, they also wanted to hear him defend their issues. But they already agree with him on the issues. Their biggest desire was just for someone to express their disdain for the Republican Party, and particularly its rising young star–to display their collective contempt in a public venue. I’m not sure exactly why this is so important, but I seem to recall that the same dynamic from Republicans in 2004. There’s a lesson there about where American politics is headed, and it’s a pretty grim one.

She doesn’t expand on that sentence I put in bold type. But that triggered my memory of where the warning comes from – Dr. Gottman’s research on marriage. Gottman, on a bunch of factors claimed he could predict divorce with 90% accuracy. He had a bunch of factors, sometimes called the four horsemen of divorce, but the one riding the pale horse was contempt. When Gottman observed contempt, he stopped watching. It was over.

Now individuals in this society can divorce. And at the margins I have a feeling that we might have been practicing something like that over that last generation. There aren’t too many NY liberals who wake up and say, “I’d love to live in Texas.” Likewise I don’t know too many died in the wool conservatives pining to be residents of CA and NY. When I worked for IBM which had an interesting outpost in Austin, it was always interesting seeing who was happy at a move to Texas and who started to break out in hives. But there is no such thing as an amicable divorce for a nation. Nations are like marriage pre-1960’s. Nations aren’t protestant but catholic. Living with contempt makes the home an awful place.

Incidentally, doing a word study on contempt int he Bible is interesting. (Just take out you concordance, look up the word, and scan the verses it is used in.) Here is my quick look. Those are not stories or places where you want to find yourself inserted. When you find yourself with contempt, the first thing necessary is repentance in the underlying sense. Turn around and change because nothing good comes from that. That way leads to death.

(Genesis 16:4 ESV) And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.
(Genesis 16:5 ESV) And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!”
(1 Samuel 2:17 ESV) Thus the sin of the young men was very great in the sight of the LORD, for the men treated the offering of the LORD with contempt.
(2 Chronicles 32:17 ESV) And he wrote letters to cast contempt on the LORD, the God of Israel, and to speak against him, saying, “Like the gods of the nations of the lands who have not delivered their people from my hands, so the God of Hezekiah will not deliver his people from my hand.”
(Esther 1:17 ESV) For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’
(Esther 1:18 ESV) This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty.
(Job 12:5 ESV) In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.
(Job 12:21 ESV) He pours contempt on princes and loosens the belt of the strong.
(Job 31:34 ESV) because I stood in great fear of the multitude, and the contempt of families terrified me, so that I kept silence, and did not go out of doors–
(Psalm 31:18 ESV) Let the lying lips be mute, which speak insolently against the righteous in pride and contempt.
(Psalm 107:40 ESV) he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
(Psalm 119:22 ESV) Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.
(Psalm 123:3 ESV) Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.
(Psalm 123:4 ESV) Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.
(Proverbs 18:3 ESV) When wickedness comes, contempt comes also, and with dishonor comes disgrace.
(Isaiah 9:1 ESV) But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
(Isaiah 16:14 ESV) But now the LORD has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.”
(Ezekiel 22:7 ESV) Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you.
(Ezekiel 28:24 ESV) “And for the house of Israel there shall be no more a brier to prick or a thorn to hurt them among all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the Lord GOD.
(Ezekiel 28:26 ESV) And they shall dwell securely in it, and they shall build houses and plant vineyards. They shall dwell securely, when I execute judgments upon all their neighbors who have treated them with contempt. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.”
(Ezekiel 36:5 ESV) therefore thus says the Lord GOD: Surely I have spoken in my hot jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave my land to themselves as a possession with wholehearted joy and utter contempt, that they might make its pasturelands a prey.
(Daniel 12:2 ESV) And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
(Micah 7:6 ESV) for the son treats the father with contempt, the daughter rises up against her mother, the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.
(Nahum 3:6 ESV) I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.
(Mark 9:12 ESV) And he said to them, “Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?
(Luke 18:9 ESV) He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt:
(Luke 23:11 ESV) And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate.
(Hebrews 6:6 ESV) and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

Law, Gospel, Families and Dealing with the ’60s or Love among the Ruins

I grew up in Fulton, Il, which you can see is at least an hour away from anything resembling population. We would joke around that something that hit the culture took about 20 years to come to Fulton. When people in Chicago were doing the electric slide, Fulton was doing the Hustle. Hence as a child growing up in the late 70’s and 80’s the vast majority of my classmates were from what is now quaintly called traditional homes – mom & dad were present. Although in an interesting twist my best friend from those years was not. The ’60’s would eventually come to Fulton as well. And while I’m sure there was a short lived liberating thrill, the hippies and the hope were gone by the time it came to Fulton. The only thing it brought was the sudden revelation that what had been solid ground no longer was. Marriages, covenants, became just a piece of paper.

In going through seminary I inherited parts of the libraries of some pastors. It was always interesting going through the old books. Some of them were timeless treasures that are now on my shelves, a couple pulled down almost weekly. Others were “of their time”. One of the pastors I inherited from had retired from the ministry a little early. He went into real estate. Looking through some of the books I think I got a deeper sense why. He was a deeply good and honest man. And societal changes had just hit him like a tsunami wave. He wasn’t trained either to be a counselor or to deal with a flock that didn’t respect the Bible. The books were either deep theology or hastily written how-to’s: How to deal with divorce, How to deal with unruly children, etc. Being good and honest, he rebuilt his life instead of trying to fake it when he no longer felt he could handle the “how-to’s”.

I’m writing on this because of a couple of articles. This is a heartfelt and poignant piece. I’m sure the author will have pictures with goats appear soon because he gets too close to an argument that might cause reflection. And if there is one thing our society won’t allow is a real reflection upon the sexual revolution. This is a New York Times Pulitzer trolling long article that spurred the first as well as some backlash.

All those How-To’s and the initial response of society to the sexual revolution were the law. That law – which I’m speaking now about God’s law, things like the 10 Commandments – is clear and bright. Do not commit adultery. (Exo 20:14) Which Luther would explain succinctly: “We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in words and deeds, and each love and honor his spouse.” The calling of all Christians is to chastity, some within the bonds of marriage. If Moses wasn’t enough there are all kinds of New Testament places: Mark 10:2-12, 1 Cor 7:7-17, 1 Pet 1:14-16, Eph 4:17-20 are just a few. The law convicts. But what the law doesn’t do is save. The law is powerless.

So why did we turn to the law? Is the truth because we had either forgotten the gospel or just no longer believed its power? It is not that the church’s reaction was not correct. The law is good and wise. It is always appropriate to read, study, learn and inwardly digest as the prayer this week has it. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Prov 1:7) It is just that the church’s reaction was impotent. In the face of law we can choose to be fools. In fact we might prefer it. We are a rebellious and stiff necked people – and darn proud of it too – an almost chosen nation. But the law will exact its own payment. It visits the iniquities of the fathers upon the third and fourth generations (Exo 20:5). Social Security trust funds empty, medicare unfordable without bankrupting the country, the emergence of “two classes” as per the NYT article, and any number of other problems, the fruits of trespassing the law.

But the church has this mustard seed. Actually the church doesn’t have it. The seed has already been planted. The leaven is already mixed in the dough. (Matt 13) The church has been given the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the mouth to proclaim. While we were trespassers, while we were sinners, Christ died for us. You have a free pass. It requires absolutely nothing. I guarantee that whoever you are, when you are placed before the throne, Jesus will try and give you a wedding garment. You will all have a resurrection body. How many of us will demand that no, I want to judged by the law. And if I can’t get my kingdom, than I don’t want any kingdom. Fine, to the outer darkness. Did we lose that? Do we believe it today? That is the powerful stuff.

The law is still good and wise. We can learn from it. There are definitely times when we should just do it, even though we might not want to. But if it really takes the law, there is something missing at the core. As Jesus said to the woman at the well who had 5 husbands, “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth (Joh 4:23 ESV)” The law is part of that truth, but the Spirit testifies to THE TRUTH – Jesus Christ is sufficient. Anything good that will stand is built on that foundation and cornerstone. So we who live among the ruins build on that love, His love for us which was faithful to the cross. That is not just a piece of paper. That is a marriage covenant.

Bad Religion – The Confusion of Law and Gospel edition

Our news cycle is so compressed these days. And that might be part of the problem, because real theological thinking takes some time. It is hard work primarily because as Dr. Haidt would say: we are elephants with a rider. What he means by that is that our intuitive systems (what the classic writers would call the passions) are the elephant. Presented with some happening, we intuitively make a decision to learn toward it (this is good!) or away from it (the is bad!). The intuitive systems have a rider, namely reason. What the rider normally does is justify the elephant’s lean and probably encourage a harder charge. Dr. Haidt would hold that the rider has some ability to push the other way but quite limited. It is nice to see academic writing getting to where Luther was 500 years ago – i.e. ‘Reason is a whore’. What little theological reasoning we can do is because the Spirit lives within us. It sure isn’t natural. Maybe by Confucius’ 80 years of formation we can do the will of heaven without effort.

Why I bring this up is that I’m convinced that the basic problem underlying so much of our modern problem is bad theology. Most of what goes by the title of theology is little more than the rider justifying the elephant’s lean. A good job for a lawyer or PR-person, but not for a theologian.

I saw one real clear example starting with Andrew Sullivan (for those not familiar a Gay Roman Catholic British Tory) who wrote the Newsweek annual Easter takedown of the church. (Ok, if I’m being more fair his article doesn’t deserve the cover title – Forget the Church Follow Jesus – but lets be honest. Would Newsweek (or Time or the New York Times) ever publish something with a headline – Forget the Heretics, Follow the Body of Christ. Didn’t think so.) But that article isn’t what I want to bring up. Mr. Sullivan, especially on grace, is a capable theologian. But he is a good example of the elephant and the rider when it gets close to himself. He is gay. I think even he would say that is a defining trait. So he links to things like this. The person recommending is Dan Savage who is also gay and a widely read advice columnist. The elephant is picking up steam. The comments on that last link are instructive although they are not for innocent eyes. Eventually you get to this and this. What you have is a 21 year old gay male with the brains to attend Harvard, a Christian upbringing and the honesty to recognize a conflict and try to address it.

I’m not sure how Mr. Vines financed it, but the student took a couple of years off of school to answer his conflict. It is a perfect example of two things: 1) the elephant is in complete control. The student is gay and Christian. He must reconcile these things. But the intuition has already ruled. These thing must be completely ok together. (“And for some reason, a lot of people have a big problem with anyone who believes in God and is gay.”) The two years of research and reasoning were not for attempting to be a good theologian and placing himself under the Word of God, but they were two years for the rider to construct arguments for the way the intuition was already leaning. 2) Bad theology is driving the debates in the country.

You name the argument there is bad theology at the root: Health care, sexuality/marriage, and even economic regulation. Our collective elephants are leaning one direction and our riders are pushing further that way constructing bad arguments as it goes.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that I understood the intuitive lean of the collective elephant in the direction of homosexuality. I get the liberty and caring arguments for gay marriage. My elephant says, “hey, gay marriage makes perfect sense.” My rider could even chime in with St. Paul, “in Christ there is no make or female.” The problem is that is very bad theology. First, what St. Paul describes in Gal 3:28 is an eschatological reality. When the kingdom comes in its fullness there is neither jew nor greek, slave nor free, male nor female. As Jesus says elsewhere, in the Kingdom we will not marry or be given in marriage (Mark 12:25). There are parts of that eschatological reality that have been grasped, but even those are often tenuous in this world. We think that slavery has been done away with, but just start with a google search for human trafficking or modern slavery. For theology to approach truth, it must start out describing reality. Paul’s statement is a reality as far as the gospel, as far as our relationship with Christ depends on nothing that we bring. The Gospel is pure grace. But we live in an overlapping of the ages. The Kingdom has been inaugurated, but this world is still passing away. The law still has a place in this world.

Mr. Vines attempts to address this when he discusses Lev 18:22 and the OT in general. In what I take as his core summary statement, Mr. Vines dismisses the law.

But after the Council of Jerusalem’s ruling, even those central parts of Israelite identity and culture no longer applied to Christians. Although it’s a common argument today, there is no reason to think that these two verses from the Old Law in Leviticus would somehow have remained applicable to Christians even when other, much more central parts of the Law did not.

He will acknowledge that, “the Old Law does contain some rules that Christians have continued to observe – the Ten Commandments, for example.” But not that any of the prohibitions against homosexual activity have anything to do with the Ten Commandments. What he holds is that, “Christ’s death on the cross liberated Christians from what Paul called the “yoke of slavery.” We are not subject to the Old Law.” It is right here that Mr. Vines has confused law and gospel or that he has not understood both have a continuing roll in our existence. Mr. Vines has taken the freedom of the Gospel as the excuse to go and sin as we please (Rom 6:1). He is right that we are free from the law in regards to our salvation and maybe more importantly our identity. We find our identity in Christ. Christ found his identity in doing the will of His Father. His Father, who we are instructed to call our Father, revealed his general will in the commandments. They no longer have their sting – death has been defeated, but they still remain to instruct and guide. Until the final revelation of the Kingdom, the law has a place, and even there I would speculate that since they are the Word of God they will not pass away but just be a true dead letter as we will be a new creation without the sinful nature.

What I would point Mr. Vines toward is how Jesus interprets the commandment on adultery in the sermon on the mount, Matt 5:27-32 and also pay attention to all discussions on divorce especially Matt 19:1-12. Yes, Romans 1 is important, but that is not the heart of Christian sexual teaching. The heart of Christian sexual teaching is that anything outside of the one-flesh bond of marriage between one man and one woman is a breaking of the commandment against adultery. Is this a tough teaching? Hell yes. That is probably why Jesus goes hyperbolic with the cutting off of hands and gouging out of eyes. He’s serious. The law is serious stuff. There is probably no better place than sexual morality for today’s culture to feel the hopelessness of the law and hopefully the sweetness of the gospel. Our intuitions, our elephants are charging toward sexual openness because we desperately want love. We want to feel that connectedness. We want to find our identities in relationship. But as our divorce statistics and rate of marriage counseling might tell us, this is not the primary identity. The relationship between Christ and the church, the bridegroom and the bride, is not the primary identity. Christ’s first identity is loyal son. Our first identity is as a child of God. Within that identity God has purpose for us. It might include a call to marriage. It might not. There are eunuchs for the kingdom. (Matt 19:12) To a great many, God might leave this as a free choice. To others, not. If we attempt to satisfy our identity and purpose through sin, it can’t but come to naught. But even when we’ve made a complete wreck of things, Christ forgives, God welcomes home.

Again, is that a very tough teaching? Yes. Would I expect lots of failure trying to keep it? Yep. Probably about the same amount of trouble as unmarried, good looking, rich, 21 year old straight guys have being chaste. Probably about as tough as a rich man finding his primary identity in Christ and not in his own work and possessions. (Mark 10:17-31) Probably about as tough as a learned man admitting that he is a fool. (1 Cor 1:20) Probably about as tough as being told to pick up the cross. (Matt 16:24) “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed…therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Pet 4:12-13, 19) Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom. (Matt 5:3). That is the entry door. Good theology starts in recognizing our own poverty of spirit, in letting The Spirit be the rider and form our Elephant.

The Elephant in the room…Mark 10:1-16

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Full Text

This sermons subject – sexuality and specifically divorce – is a hard word in our culture. Jesus doesn’t allow it – divorce that is. Divorce is not in God’s plan. And we can’t keep that – neither in what our society formally calls marriage, nor in our sexuality that assumes marriage rights without the committment. And it is a standing judgment against us – sexual sins are those we can’t fix, are those we commit against our own bodies. Wouldn’t it be easier if Jesus was just more laid back about divorce? Go that way if you want to lose the Gospel. Marriage is how God describes his relationship with His people – and he took reconciliation all the way to the cross – no divorce indeed. We are sinners, but our God’s grace and mercy are much larger than our ability to mess it up. Trust in that faithful relationship sealed on the cross made sure at the resurrection.

Samuel and Eli – And the LORD appeared again…

Text:1 Samuel 3:1-21

It is hard to really get a grip on poor old Eli. I guess the picture is just of a weak man in an office much bigger than he was. His kids ignore him and do despicable things. He assumes that drunk people normally stagger into the Tabernacle (Samuel’s mom), and quickly rushes to cover his mistake. He lives and works in the place of worship, is the chief worship leader, and yet the Word of the Lord was rare in those days.

In the Lutheran tradition we speak of Law and Gospel proclamation. The Law is what bring terror while the Gospel is God’s peace for us. I wonder if when Samuel told Eli what God said – that his house would be cut off – if Eli took that as law or as Gospel. If it was law you’d expect a personally pious man to repent and be grieved (think David when confronted by Nathan and Psalm 51). Proclaiming the law is tough and Samuel doesn’t have an easy first assignment – hence the hesitency and Eli’s insistence. Maybe for the first time in his life Eli is forcing “his son” and himself to do the hard thing. Eli’s response is – “It is the LORD, let him do what seems good to him.” I can’t help but think he took it as a Gospel proclamation – God would deliver his people from all of Eli’s faults. No tearing of the clothes. No sacrifices or attempts to save himself, his son’s and his line. But a sense of consigned happiness. The weight of it all, the office, the misbehavior, that lack of the Word, would be removed.

I can’t help but think of Eli as something of a symbol for much of our leadership both national and in families – too weak a people to carry out the duties assigned and expected. 40% of children in America are born outside of marriage. Fathers are too weak to accept the role their bodies signed them up for. Mothers too weak to admit picking poorly. Those parents bring up children who run loose and behave like Eli’s children with any amount of power. Religious leaders afraid of preaching and teaching the gospel with personal lives too screwy to do so effectively. And if they are too afraid and live like that, why should parents teach their own kids. Political and cultural leaders who behave as children and cry when caught with their hands in the cookie jar. But the LORD appeared again at Shiloh, for the LORD revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the Word of the Lord. So is our prayer – Lord reveal yourself again by your Word in our lives.

Marriage, Divorce and the Church

Text: Mark 10:1-16

The catechism teaching on sacraments says they all have three things: 1) Instituted by Jesus, 2) For forgiveness of sins and 3) containing a physical element. The Roman tradition carried seven sacraments spanning birth to death: Baptism, Confirmation, Lord’s Supper, Marriage, Ordination, Confession, Last Rites. The Lutheran tradition, using those 3 points struck down or maybe I should say collapsed those to two: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Confirmation, Confession and Last Rites are reflections or rememberances of baptism. None are explicitly instituted by Jesus. In the C.F.W. Walther Lutheran understanding, Ordination is like a super-confirmation so it to is a remembrance of baptism in a way. (There are Lutherans who would howl at what I just said about ordination. I’ll just say they are significantly misguided and if you are interested leave a comment or give me a call.)

All of that leaves marriage. Lutheran’s immediately say marriage isn’t for the forgiveness of sins. That is true, but…. It is instituted by God. Out text today makes that clear. Splitting hairs it might not be instituited by Jesus, but “what The LORD GOD has joined…” makes it pretty clear who instituted marriage. The physical element is clear – it is our own bodies. The Word has joined them together in one flesh. Justification, forgiveness of sins, is the central Lutheran plank, so marriage is not a sacrament based on not forgiving sins. But, marriage is the only divinely instituted way to engage in sexual and procreative activity. It doesn’t forgive sin, but it avoids sin by living in the way God created it.

All of that also avoids the fact that the biblical metaphor of Christ and the Church is that of Groom and Bride in marriage. Marriage represents in our bodies and ceremonies the relationship of Christ and the church. The Augsburg Confession Article XIII on the use of the sacraments says, “Our churches teach that the sacraments were ordained, not only to be marks of profession among men, but even more, to be signs and testimonies of God’s will toward us…” The vast majority of other mentions of marriage in the confessions are specialized around the marriage of priests. Marriage was just not an issue in that time. Especially like it is today. When something becomes an issue it is usually because the church does not have the proper (i.e. God’s) understanding of it.

All told, enough stuff to make you go hmm…

I’m not going to solve marriage in 500 words, but there is something about the church’s understanding of marriage that is out of focus. When catholics can buy annulments to paper over it, and protestants divorce at the same rate as the external culture to just ignore it, but Jesus says: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adulter against her…”, we have something wrong. And that something wrong is one of the fundamental images of how God interacts with His people. In other words it is important.