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Lombard CRC

Honoring God With Our Love

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone

and maybe that was a fun day for you

or it’s always a hard day for you

or it’s just a day like any other day to get thru.

But it was hard to escape the talk of love

from dedication songs on the radio

to subject matter on TV shows

to ads for romantic dinners

even at such exotic places as Burger King.

 

It used to be when talking about

love and marriage in church

it was kind of like preaching to the choir.

Yes, there were issues,

some struggling marriages,

lonely people needing love

and feeling left out and forgotten,

some secret sins like pornography

and regretfully even some abuse,

but despite the troubles

most Christians were on the same page

when it came to

God’s teachings and provisions

for marriage and family.

 

Not anymore.

The choir is singing a different tune,

if there even is a choir.

It is speaking like the Big Bang Theory,

like This is Us,

like 50 Shades of Grey,

like Modern Family,

like Grey’s Anatomy.

 

Today it’s: My body my choice;

gender is not biological;

same sex marriage is a right

by which all other rights are judged;

sex has no relationship to marriage;

and Playboy magazine is putting

nude pictures back in

because it turns out men don’t

buy it just to read the articles after all.

 

Barna research says,

that half of Americans believe

that if you hold traditional views

of marriage as a covenant

between a man and a woman for life

you are an extremist.

 

This is how much and how quickly

our society has changed

regarding love and expressions of love.

TED talk: Esther Perel –

Monogamy used to mean

one person for life.

Today, monogamy is one person at a time.

We used to marry,

then had relations for the first time.

But now we marry,

and stop having relations with others.

We live in an era where we feel

we are entitled to pursue our desires,

because this is the culture

where I deserve to be happy.

And if we used to divorce

because we were unhappy,

today we divorce

because we could be happier.

 

And by far public sentiment is that anything the Bible would say about it would thrust us out of our new Eden and throw us into the wilderness.

Most see the Bible as judgment, not grace,

when it comes to relationships and sexuality,

whether single, married, widowed, straight or gay.

 

As far as scripture passages go,

this one from Ephesians 5

doesn’t usually make the top ten

of favorite Bible verses.

At the women’s march in Washington

and around the country a few weeks ago

no sign quoted

any of these verses from Ephesians 5.

Nobody chanted:

Wives submit to your husbands.

 

Yet this scripture passage is good news.

Scholar Sarah Ruden wonders

how could it be that words like this from Paul

were so respected, treasured

and received in Roman culture?

But they were.

 

And the Ephesians among others

found in words like these verses

peace, joy, hope

and love.

 

What if we saw today’s

sexual self-determinism

as an opportunity to honor the Lord

of life and love

by submitting our desires and habits

to this word?

What if we approached texts

like this one not merely for information

but for transformation?

What if we, the church, chose to be holy

when it comes to love and sexuality?

What if we took a humble posture

before the living Word of God

and acknowledge that

in this great gift of love

we who are imperfect,

sometimes broken,

sometimes hurt,

sometimes lonely people,

need to be formed after the image

of the perfect love of God, Jesus Christ?

Can you be open to listening

and letting even this Word of God

form your desires and attitudes about love?

 

Submit to one another

out of reverence for Christ . . .

 

Here is the faith posture to take.

Submission is not a word we prefer.

When we think of submitting

we think of being a doormat,

of cowering before bullies,

of giving up and giving in.

But that’s not what the word means.

To submit means to choose

to honor others above yourself.

Honor and submission

are the heads and tails

of the same relationship coin.

When I submit myself I am

honoring you above myself.

Jesus submitted to the Father:

he prayed, not my will but yours be done.

Submission is a faith act of those made

in the image of God.

 

We submit to the Lord and to his Word,

then we submit ourselves to one another.

We are choosing to let the will of God

and the grace of our Lord determine

how we live together in community.

We are recognizing that we belong

together as a community of faith,

made up of older and younger generations

each to be honored above ourselves.

How does that show itself in relationships

whether single, married, divorced, widowed,

or with same sex attraction?

I like how CS Lewis describes it.

What do you think of this?

He taught:

There are two ways

in which the human machine goes wrong.

One is when human individuals

collide with one another

and do one another damage . . .

The other is when things go wrong

inside the individual -

when the different parts of him

interfere with one another.

You can get the idea if you think of us

as a fleet of ships sailing in formation.

The voyage will be a success only,

in the first place,

if the ships do not collide

and get in one another's way;

and, secondly,

if each ship is seaworthy

and has her engines in good order.

As a matter of fact,

you cannot have either of these two things

without the other.

If the ships keep on having collisions

they will not remain seaworthy very long.

On the other hand,

if their steering gears are out of order

they will not be able to avoid collisions.

 

But there is one thing

we have not yet taken into account.

We have not asked where the fleet

is trying to get to . . .

however well the fleet sailed,

its voyage would be a failure

if it were meant to reach New York

and actually arrived at Calcutta.

 

Morality, then, seems to be concerned

with three things.

Firstly, with fair play

and harmony between individuals.

Secondly, with what might be called

tidying up or harmonising

the things inside each individual.

Thirdly, with the general purpose

of human life as a whole:

what humanity was made for:

what course the whole fleet ought to be on . . .

 

You may have noticed that people

are nearly always thinking about the first thing

and forgetting the other two.

When a person says,

"It can't be wrong

because it doesn't do anyone else any harm,"

she is thinking only of the first thing.

She is thinking it does not matter

what her boat is like inside

provided that she does not run into your boat.

 

But what is the good of telling the ships

how to steer so as to avoid collisions

if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs

that they cannot be steered at all?

What is the good of drawing up

rules for social behaviour,

if we know that, in fact, our lust and selfishness

are going to prevent us from keeping them?

 

But I do not think we can stop there either.

Let us go back to the man who says

that a thing cannot be wrong

unless it hurts some other human being.

He quite understands that he must not

damage the other ships in the convoy,

but he honestly thinks that what he does

to his own ship is simply his own business.

But does it not make a great difference

whether his ship is his own property or not?

Does it not make a great difference

whether I am, so to speak,

the landlord of my own mind and body,

or only a tenant, responsible to the real landlord?

If somebody else made me,

for his own purposes,

then I shall have a lot of duties

which I should not have

if I simply belonged to myself.

Your life, whatever your present circumstances,

is for the glory of God, not your own glory.

So that means different actions, holy choices.

Even if my relationship, my marriage, breaks down

I don’t have to break away from godly behavior.

 

With that understanding

we submit our own thoughts and feelings

to the word of God.

We choose to be different regarding desires.

We don’t say

I am entitled to pursue and fulfill my desire.

We say

I recognize that God made me with desires

and that my desires have been compromised by sin

so the Spirit of God through the truth of God’s Word

must form my desires

according to the will of God,

so that I learn by habits, choices, prayer and worship to want what God wants,

loving the things God loves

and despising the things God despises.

 

Paul writes in a classic way for his time

about human relationships:

husbands and wives,

parents and children,

masters and bondservants.

Scholars point out that as far back as Aristotle

the Greek and Roman cultures

organized their teachings

on home and daily life this way.

So Paul,

writing to Gentiles in Ephesus

used this same structure because

they would recognize

these as household rules.

Paul uses the word picture of headship:

For the husband is the head of the wife

as Christ is the head of the church . . .,

in this sense.

The people would hear the word ‘head’

and think, okay,

Paul is telling us about our relationships,

about how to be a family,

how to be a single person,

how to be a widow, and

how to live in community.

He places each one of us in the household of Christ.

 

But from then on Paul’s words

are revolutionary.

He doesn’t speak of husbands ruling,

but as loving,

and love meaning a Christ-like

sacrificial, lay down your life love.

He doesn’t speak of wives obeying,

but submitting and respecting

that is, honoring their husbands.

He speaks first to wives,

and by so doing sees them

as primary partners,

not just acted upon,

but exercising their faith

in relationship also.

22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands  as you do to the Lord.

A few things to notice.

We already mentioned what submission means.

It doesn’t mean being passive.

While Aristotle had used the

dominant image in the home of

husbands ruling

over wife, children and servants,

Paul never does.

Submission means honoring.

It doesn’t mean I have no value.

It means even tho I am

fearfully and wonderfully made,

I will honor you above myself.

I will listen not just until it’s my turn to speak

but to understand you.

I will respect the burden of your position

and responsibilities.

I will see Christ p[resent and working in you.

Those choices are the beginnings of submission.

 

For each one of us.

If we honor others above ourselves,

above our own wants or desires,

if we practice the habits of honor and submission

this will in turn lead to God-honoring

relational choices

no matter if we’re single or married,

straight or gay.

 

But this is what we can’t forget:

this word to women was to women.

Paul doesn’t write:

Husbands, demand your wives submit to you.

He says directly, wives, submit yourselves . . .

He is saying that you have a choice.

You have faith in Christ to live out in your relationship.

That is amazing grace for the time.

And it is amazing wisdom today.

Women, make choices in your relationships

that submit to Christ.

 

The scripture is telling us that

even as adults God is sovereign

over our desires.

Kids, even your parents must answer

to our Heavenly Father.

God is in charge of their lives and marriage.

Do your kids know that even you

answer to the Lord?

 

Now if husbands and wives are held accountable

in their marriage,

that means we are all held accountable

in our relationships whether family,

first date, getting serious,

and in any daily circumstances, temptations,

or desires in love.

Even if you are single

even if that’s not your choice,

you honor the Lord

by relational choices that

reflect the boundaries, limits

and blessings of the Lord.

 

And the next instruction is more striking still:

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ           loved the church and gave himself up for her . . .

We’ve already noted that the Ephesians

would not have expected this language.

Being a husband, being a man

in that culture was all about ruling.

Love had very little to do with a household . . .

If that surprises you

it only serves to remind us

how much of a good and blessed

influence scripture has been

for people when it comes to home life.

Because of Christ and the love of God

we expect love to be what

life and home and church are all about.

 

Love! Can love be commanded?

Shouldn’t love be without expectations,

without strings attached,

without any requirement or commandments?

Yet the bible commands us to love:

You shall love the Lord your God . . .

Love your neighbor as yourself . . .

Husbands, love your wives . . .

These sound like commandments to me.

 

This word to men commands even our language.

Our language toward women should reflect

the love of Christ.

There is no room or place for objectifying women

or attending places that do this,

nor for crude or lustful language.

 

Love is not first of all

about feelings or physical relations.

Love is a determination to act

in order to bless another

no matter how one feels.

The old wedding words still apply:

“You married each other

because of your love.

Now you must love each other

because you are married.”

 

Love because God is love.

Because God so loved us.

I can imagine the congregation at Ephesus

stopping the reading of these verses

and someone saying, excuse me,

could you say that again,

I must have not heard you rightly.

23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

Jesus isn’t referred to as Lord here,

tho we would expect that given what

we assume of when we think of headship.

But no, he is called Savior.

And so the primary way we are

made in Christ to relate to one another

is in terms of blessing, care, love.

Again, this fits married or single,

straight or gay.

 

A summary application goes like this:

God is sovereign over our love.

Love is to be formed by Christ and the gospel.

Relationship or sexual behavior is not up to us,

our will or our way.

Faith demands a different love than

the culture of the day.

A reverence for Christ is the way to health,

not self-expression.

How we are called to relate to one another

as the church of Jesus

explains the mystery of how

we are to go about our own relationships.

 

So for instance,

pornography is a sin,

not just because of how it warps

our sense of sexual expression

but because it is below us.

We are so much more in Christ,

and we are expected to be better

at being ourselves.

 

Sam Allberry addressed

the synod of the church of England

and talked about being gay

but also in support of traditional views of marriage.

He said there are many like him,

but many still looking to be accepted

within the church’s fellowship.

He challenged the church to believe what it teaches.

He said,

Sexuality is not a matter of identity

 and that is good news.

‘You want me as a gay person to believe this,

then will you believe this about me?’

He says, My primary sense of worth and fulfillment

as a human being is not contingent

on being romantically or sexually fulfilled.

And this is liberating for me.

The most fully human

and complete person who ever lived was Jesus.

He never married.

He was never in a romantic relationship.

And he never had sexual relations.

If we say these things are intrinsic

to human fulfillment

then we are saying Jesus was not perfect.

 

Those with same sex attractions

need the Lord and his church

like anybody else.

Each needs forgiveness and regeneration

and acceptance and belonging in Christ

and with his church.

Each needs spiritual friendships and companionship.

 

So how can a church help?

Not by ignoring what God says.

So what can we do?

Make same sex attraction easy to talk about.

Homosexuality is not a political issue;

it is a personal one.

We must walk alongside those

who live with this,

the person and their families.

Not to right a wrong

but to let the discerning power of the Spirit

lead us to the will of God.

We must recognize that each person,

no matter the orientation,

still needs meaningful friendships

and companionship,

along with encouragement from trusted people

to obey the commands of the Lord.

We won’t make it easy to talk about

if we draw lines and use the divisive language

and judgmental words

so often and easily shared.

If we truly believe our identity is in Christ

and not our orientation

then we must accept one another

by the reality of Christ in us

and not our orientations.

 

We must also honor singleness.

Remember the church is a family,

so be family to one another.

In fact, it is the behavior of church as family

that sets the terms for your home life

and not the other way around.

Singles need to be invited into home family life

and couples need to be invited

into a single’s life and experience.

 

In the best selling novel

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

the question is asked:

 “How do you ever know for certain

that you are doing the right thing?”

One answer is voiced by Frederick:

“Your problem, Werner, is that

you still believe you own your life.”

We don’t own our lives,

we belong, body and soul,

to our faithful savior Jesus Christ.

 

Even our loves need to be formed,

transformed,

by the love of Christ for you and his church.

Submitting to scripture

is a way to honor Christ’s formation

of our desires and loves.

What will you take from this scripture passage

to form your understanding

of love and life?

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