(preached at St. John’s UMC on 9/15/2013)
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind – yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband. Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.” And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Families of faith – part 2. Last week we looked at the role of God within the family; we talked about how our relationships with God extend out toward others, and we left with the challenge to encounter God through his Word and prayer. Today we are focusing on the family unit itself, and what it means to be a Christian family.
Have you ever heard of the lectionary? It is a great tool. Many churches and pastors use it to help orient and guide their worship throughout the year. It is a three-year cycle of scripture lessons that allows a community to make its way through the length of the Bible. At its best it forces us, and by us I mean me, to examine different parts of scripture and apply them on a weekly basis. However, at its worst it prevents us from encountering the most troubling verses in scripture because they are conveniently absent from the lectionary.
One of the other options is coming up with an authentic and exciting sermon series. A pastor or a church picks a topic, finds scripture to go along with the message and BOOM! God’s Word breathes new life from the pulpit. At its best it allows us, and by us I mean me, to speak toward and about specific issues within the community and really get at the heart of contemporary Christianity. However at its worst, sermon series reinforce the distancing of difficult texts from being proclaimed in church.
As I was putting together the sermon for this week I kept thinking about the scripture that Pam just read, the so-called “house-hold” code from Ephesians, and I was thankful that I wasn’t going to preach on that text. Its too difficult, filled with ancient patriarchal balderdash that has no place in the modern church. So instead I looked for easier passages, you know something nice from the psalms or proverbs, and maybe a narrative from the New Testament about a mother and her son, but the more I tried to pray and write, the further I felt from God’s Word. And, as the Holy Spirit is apt to do, I was pushed toward preaching on the Ephesians passage precisely because it is so difficult.
I remember once being at a magnificent wedding. The beautiful bride made her way elegantly down the center aisle to her sweetly crying soon to be husband. I can remember the groom, with excited anticipation, nervously rocking back and forth on his heels. The church was decorated perfectly, all the guests sitting with smiles on their faces, women crying, and men pretending not to cry; a truly wonderful wedding.
And there was the pastor, standing before the bride and groom and all of us ready to give his homily. He probably said something about love: love is patient; love is kind; it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Corinthians 13.4, 7). And then all of the sudden he started quoting Ephesians: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.”
He went on, waxed lyrically about the sanctity of marriage and the different roles the bride and the groom were to play and he ended with this: “John your job is to love your wife, and Sally your job is to respect your husband.”
I have a hard time with the text from Ephesians, or at least the way it has been used throughout the centuries to reinforce gender and sex divisions. It passages like this one that have kept women from being independent, from defining their own future, and even from standing in the pulpit. It puts forth a blueprint not only for marriage but also for simple for male-female interactions that defines the role of the woman versus the role of the man.
“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.”
I have heard men use these words to continually suppress their wives and other women throughout the church in such an embarrassing way that I have always been afraid to preach from this text.
But then I realized something.
Most people skip over verse 21: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
There can be no doubt that Paul had the patriarchal family order as the backdrop in his letter because he knew no other. But the beginning of the passage touches on something that shines forth an incredible beauty within the family dynamic: Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
The virtue of submission is not popular in our contemporary period. Our desire for freedom and individuality makes the practices of submitting to one another appear obsolete or even negative. Maintaining equality is too important to allow for people to submit themselves to each other. In a way, though, Christianity is committed to the doctrine of human equality in a deeper sense than the ways of the world. It’s not just about an equal playing field, but instead more about submissiveness on every side within a family.
The good news of mutual submission within a Christian family is inseparable from true love. Loving one another means accepting that other as a person, as a “you” and not an “it.” In marriage, in family, in church, and in life a person is never a mere object. We are created in the beautiful image of God, with our own desires and powers for being in relationship with one another, free to say yes and no.
When Paul addresses and calls the church in Ephesus to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ its all about reciprocity! – It does not merely call upon the less powerful to submit, it equally charges the more powerful to act with gentleness toward and concern for those around them.
When we read the rest of the passage in Ephesians, the description of the household codes for Christians, we need to keep the very first verse at the forefront of our minds – Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
Think about your own families for just a moment, your marriages, your children, and your parents. In living out your Christian identity as a family have you given yourself to others out of love for Christ? How might all of our families look and feel different if we first address one another selflessly in order to mirror what Christ did for us.
Paul writes: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of the water by the word. Love your wives. This does not just mean, tell her she looks pretty, buy her flowers every once in awhile, let her hold the remote control for the television. It means loving your partner with self-sacrificial care, “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” The Christian family is so much more than love, its about sacrifice, trust, reliability, about laying down yourself for the other person out of submissiveness. And wives this goes for you too, Christian marriage and family requires us to enter into this kind of covenant together. This does not just mean, iron his shirts, cook dinner, or let him hold the remote control for the television. How many of us really love our families in the way that Christ loved the church, enough to mount the hard wood of the cross? Love is easy; what you do after love is the hard part.
And children! You’re part of this too. – Honor your father and mother because you are promised that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth. You are called to submit yourselves to your parents out of reverence for Christ! But parents are also supposed to do the same toward you…
A household in which moral chaos rules, is a tragedy for a child. Adjusting to adult life is never easy. Think about this with me – Can a greater blessing come to a child than to see father and mother in penitent prayer? Realizing that Dad and Mom themselves are sinners! Mom and Dad confessing. When done appropriately penitence on the parents’ side will not rob the parent of their authority within the family. It will instead place obedience within a larger framework of Christian living. Just imagine what it would look like to you if you saw your mother and father on either side of you in the pew, praying and asking for forgiveness for the ways they have fallen short. How would you respond?
In our culture today, we need more than an “educational system” to help our children because secular education will not suffice. We can no longer rely on the school system to teach children everything they need to learn in order to more fully live in the world. Similarly, children need to have the space and freedom to speak the truth against us when we make mistakes because we are always growing and learning what it means to be Christian in the world. There must be admonition of the Lord.
Having a Christian family is only really possible when it mirrors the inclusive grace of the kind of love that is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ.
I think what bothered me most about hearing that preacher during the wedding wasn’t that he used the passage from Ephesians, but how he interpreted it. There was a very clear separation of roles from the man and the woman – love and respect. However, Christian family life can no longer fit into the blueprint that is established in these verses (and they could never fit into them during the first century either).
Families today are no longer made up of only a husband and wife, 2.2 children, a dog and cat, and a white picket fence. Many children today grow up in families with only one mother, or just one father, or their raised by their grandparents, or they have two dads, or two moms, or they’re raised by adopted parents. There are stay-at-home dads as well as stay-at-home moms. Some couples choose not to have kids, and some are incapable. Those families exist not because of a blueprint that they are trying to match, but instead because they are born out of love and submissiveness to one another.
Calls for submission are on all sides – husband to wife and wife to husband – children to parents and parents to children. In our modern world, family life places demands upon mutual subjection greater than ever before.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Living into the calling of a Christian family can no longer take place in the form of fitting into an ideal shape or box; Raising and being part of a family is tough. We are not commanded to have complete separate and isolated roles, but are instead invited to mirror the love and life of Christ in the way that we live and love others! Christ is the solid rock upon which we stand, the great and almighty “I AM”, the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the incarnate deity, the beginning and the end.
Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.