03 October 2009

The Marriage and Family of God

You cannot know what it is or what it means to be a man, woman or child, apart from Christ Jesus and His Church. Nor can you comprehend the significance of marriage and family, except by way of Christ and His Bride, the Church. For man is made in the Image of God, which is to say, in Christ Jesus; and marriage and family belong to that divine Image.

From the beginning of creation, God created man, male and female, to live in communion with Himself, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and to live in loving communion with one another within one Body and Bride of Christ Jesus, the beloved Son. That is the point and purpose and significance of holy marriage; and that is the higher purpose and ultimate reality to which even marriage and family are subordinate.

Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who attempt to build their own. And yet there remains a larger household and family to which the Bride of Christ and all the sons of God in Christ belong; not only here in time, but hereafter in eternity.

The intimacy of male and female within the lifelong union of husband and wife, is an icon, a confession, and a testimony of the divine, eternal unity of the Holy Triune God, and of the loving intimacy and holy communion of Christ Jesus and His Bride, the Church.

Consequently, fornication on the one hand (sexual intimacy outside of marriage), and divorce on the other hand (the breaking of the marriage bond), and all other forms of adultery, are false confessions of a false Christ, which contradict the Gospel.

Within marriage, the children God may give to husband and wife not only point to the fruitfulness of Christ’s Church in conceiving, bearing, giving birth to and nurturing the children of God; but children who are born to Christian parents and brought to Christ in His Church (through Holy Baptism and the catechesis of His Word) belong precisely to that fruitfulness.

To avoid or reject children, on the other hand, is to reject the Kingdom of God in Christ.

But here we do not speak of any competition or supposed merit in attempting to maximize the number of children anyone has. It is rather to speak of faith and love, by which you look to God for all good things, trust in Him in every circumstance, and receive from His hand whatever He may give you; and by which you live graciously and generously toward your neighbors, beginning with your own family and household.

It is in this way that Christian families are called to live, because it is in this way that God the Father gives life to the household and family of His Church, in Christ; and it is the way that Christ Jesus lives for His Bride and gives His life to and for the children of God.

Thus, husbands are called to sacrifice themselves in order to give life to their wives. And wives are called to trust Christ in their husbands, to receive life from Him through them, and so to bear in faith and love the children that God the Father gives.

And fathers and mothers together bring their children to Christ in His Church, and to God the Father in heaven, understanding that children are created and born for life with God, both now and forever. Withholding them from Christ and His Church, in order to make a life for them in this world instead, would be a grave offense and a serious stumbling block.

But so it is, with our children, as they grow up and leave our homes to establish households of their own, that we are reminded of what remains true for each and all of us: Here we have no permanent home, but we are strangers and aliens on earth, sojourners in a foreign land, on our way to our eternal dwelling in the city of God.

Hence, our children do not remain with us forever; and even the sacred institution of holy marriage is not eternal, but only as permanent as our temporal life on earth. In heaven we are neither married nor given in marriage, but, like the holy angels, our whole delight shall forever be in the one true God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In truth, there is finally and forever one God and Father, one heavenly Bridegroom, one holy Bride, adorned and radiant with His Holy Spirit and His Righteousness. But there are and remain many sons and daughters of God, many brothers and sisters of our one Lord, Jesus Christ. So it is that marriage and family and every other human relationship is taken up into the unity of the Spirit and the bond of Peace in the holy communion of one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.

Already now, that divine fellowship is a present reality within the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic Church; even here on earth, though we cannot see the perfect unity of the Church except by faith in Christ, our Husband and Head. We do not yet experience the loving unity of the household and family of God, because we do not care for one another as we should.

All manner of things intrude upon the Church and interfere with her unity in Christ Jesus. Envy and jealousy and a spirit of competition, even among His disciples. Hardness of heart, even among the people of God. Sin and death. Frailty and finitude. The burdens and obligations of mortal life in a fallen world.

Give thanks to God, and Christ be praised, that marriage and family, husbands and wives, parents and children, all point beyond themselves to something more, to something even more blessed, to something divine, eternal and holy.

For that very reason, and also for the sake of the Church on earth, God has not called everyone to be a spouse or a parent, but He establishes other vocations and stations in life, which serve His household and family here and now, while also pointing beyond themselves to His heavenly Kingdom in their own proper fashion.

Perhaps it is to such a vocation that God has called you, or will call you. Discerning your place in life is largely a matter of listening to your parents and other authorities, whom God has placed over you. So, if you are a child or a young person, talk to your father and mother, and to your pastors and teachers, about the path that you should pursue. Even if you are an adult, do not despise or disregard the counsel and guidance of your parents, but talk to them and listen to them, as well as to your pastors and teachers, your peers and colleagues. All of this belongs to living in the Kingdom of God like a little child, that is, by faith in His Word.

If you are not married or given in marriage, be patient and proceed in faith, but also consider and discuss whether you may be given the vocation of celibacy. That is to say, perhaps you are given to live the heavenly life already here on earth, devoted to the service of Christ and His Church, and to your neighbors in the world, in purity and chastity, faithfulness and love.

Likewise, if you have been widowed, perhaps there is then an opportunity for you to serve the household and family of God in ways that you would otherwise not have been able to do.

In these circumstances, whether as unmarried or widowed, you are able to live unto your heavenly Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, in the service of His Bride, the Church; whether you are male or female, young or old, rich or poor. You thereby anticipate the consummation of all things in the Resurrection of the faithful departed to the life everlasting.

Similarly, if the Lord has not granted you the blessing of your own children, or if your children are already grown and out of your home, you have the opportunity to receive and care for the children of God within the household and family of His Church.

Especially by those Christians who are unencumbered by the responsibilities of their own marriage and family, the Church is able to care for orphans and widows in their distress, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and to visit the sick and imprisoned, the lonely and forsaken.

Whether married or unmarried, and with or without children, you are called to live by faith toward God and in love for your neighbor. You are called to live as belonging to the Bride of Christ, and as a child of the heavenly Father, whether within or without a family on earth.

You are called to repent of your sins, and to live by faith in the forgiveness of your Lord Jesus Christ.

So then, if you have been lazy or unfaithful in your marriage; if you have committed adultery or gotten divorced, repent of your sins, and be joined to Christ, who cleaves to you in love and does not cast you off or send you away.

And if you have refused to receive the little children in His Name and for His sake — even if you have put them to death by abortion — or if you have neglected the children God has given you, repent of your sins and return to the waters of your Baptism. Be drowned and die in the depths of that great sea, and be born again as a little child of God.

Have you heard how Jesus takes them in His arms and blesses them? So He does for you. His hands are stretched out to you here at His Altar, in love, to receive you to Himself like a little child. It does not matter how old you are, how big or small you are, how smart you are, whether you are a boy or a girl, a man or a woman.

The Kingdom of God belongs to such as you, because it belongs to Christ Jesus, who gives Himself entirely for you.

So has He cleansed you and sanctified you by the washing of water with His Word in Holy Baptism. He has clothed you in His righteousness and holiness, His innocence and blessedness, without any spot or wrinkle or blemish or flaw. Beautiful, that is what you are. And you are His, and He is yours forever. He has given you His Name, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. His God and Father is now your God and Father.

Do not shy away from this, that you are now one flesh with Him: bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh, blood of His blood, and a member of His own Body and Bride. For God the Father has caused Him to sleep the sleep of death upon the Cross, and from His wounded side, by the water and the blood, the Lord your God has recreated you to be His companion. The Father walks you down the aisle in this new Garden of Eden, and gives you to this Groom, the most handsome of men, to be His very own.

Dearly beloved, here He receives you to Himself, to have and to hold unto eternal life. With His own wounded hands, and by the bloody sweat of His brow, He has built you a house that shall remain. His labor has not been in vain, but He shelters you with His good work and His perfect righteousness. Whatever hardness of heart you have harbored, He has opened to you and given to you His own beating heart of flesh and blood. In this there is the love of God the Father, which is from the beginning to the end, even from everlasting to everlasting.

Even death shall have no power to part you from Him, for He has tasted death for you and for all, and He has been vindicated, raised from the dead, and exalted high above the highest heavens, to the right hand of God the Father, forever and ever.

If you shall be like the angels in heaven, neither married nor given in marriage, but wholly devoted to Christ; nevertheless, in Him, in His flesh and blood, you are crowned with glory and honor exceeding that of all the angels. For He is not the Savior and Bridegroom of angels, but He is your Savior and your Bridegroom; here in time, and hereafter in eternity.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Debbie Theiss said...

I wish I was sitting at the feet of you yesterday hearing this instead of what I heard. Sigh.....

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Thank you for providing such a clear and faithful exposition of this Sunday's pericope.

sarahlaughed said...

Preach it, Pastor! Again, I'm so very grateful to God for giving me gifted, faithful pastors. Sometimes it's overwhelming: Why me and why here instead of somewhere else? God is merciful and knows our needs.

Pr. H. R. said...

I'll be stealing most of that for an upcoming wedding sermon. Thanks.