Sermon delivered in Toledo, OH. If you would prefer to hear the audio podcast of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: Genesis 2.18-29; Ephesians 5.21-33; John 15.1-8.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Michael and Monica, I want to talk with you briefly this afternoon about what it will take for you to have a good marriage and so I’ve titled this sermon, Ribs (or Marriage) Done Well. If God really is our Creator as Genesis proclaims and our faith believes, who knows better than God what it takes for his human creatures to be happy and prosper in this foundational and most important of all relationships—marriage? A quick look at the relational history of humankind with all of its failed alternative solutions to God’s original intention for how men and women should live together as families shows us the wisdom of this. Is it just coincidental, for example, that in this country alone we have seen the breakdown of the God-given family structure and the rise of mass murder, addiction, alienation, and depression over the last 50 or so years? And so my hope and prayer for you, as well as the rest of us here, is that you will have the needed wisdom and humility to hear what God has to say about what you need to do to ensure that your marriage relationship remains healthy and strong over the years.
In our OT lesson we read the beautiful story of how God created man and woman in his own image. We are told that God saw it was not good for man to be alone so God formed woman out of the man’s rib to be his helper and the man immediately recognized that this was exactly what he needed to fulfill his most basic relational needs. Two things immediately jump out at us from this story. First we see one man and one woman coming together to form a lifelong relationship as husband and wife. God did not create multiple Eves nor did he create another Adam to be Adam’s companion and helper. God created Eve from Adam’s rib with the intention that the two should become one permanently in this life. In telling this story, the text proclaims that God ordained and blessed marriage as the foundational relationship for humans.
Second, the logic of the text suggests that only when man and woman come together as one do they become the complete image-bearers of God that God created us to be. When God told Adam that he would make a partner and helper for him, God did not intend this to mean that the woman was somehow inferior to the man or that her purpose in life was to toady after him. Her purpose was to be his equal partner so that together as a family they could be faithful in their task of being God’s wise stewards and rulers over God’s newly-created world.
It was from this created order that St. Paul would later write to the church at Ephesus about the structure and good order of Christian households that we read in our epistle lesson and here is where I want to speak to you both personally because this is what it takes to have ribs (marriage) done well. Let me start with you, Monica. In Ephesians, St. Paul tells us that wives should be subject to their husbands. It is right about now that the women here start giving me the stink eye and wonder where I am going with this. Let’s be honest. The notion of the wife being subject to the husband does not play well to our modern ears or sensibilities. But if we bow to our own hangups and prejudices, we do violence to the text and will miss completely St. Paul’s sound teaching about healthy marital relationships. So please hear me out.
St. Paul wisely understands that every social structure needs a good leader, and he appeals to the created order (man first, then woman) when he tells the wife to be subject to her husband. St. Paul does not mean that the wife should become a doormat for her husband or that somehow she is inferior or unequal to her husband. That would do violence to the creation narratives as we’ve just seen, and St. Paul knew his scripture too well to do that. What he means is that the wife should recognize her husband’s God-given leadership role in the family and allow him to lead. This is further tempered by the fact that St. Paul recognized Christ as the ultimate head of every family. More about that anon. But for right now, Monica, as you enter into marriage with Michael, I encourage you to allow him to lead in the manner of Christ and to correct Michael when he fails to do so. Of course you both will have to work out what this leadership looks like on the ground in the context of your married life. But if you have the wisdom and humility to do this, and if Michael has the wisdom/humility to lead in a godly manner, your marriage will thrive.
Now to you, Michael. If Monica allows you to lead in a godly manner, your charge is far more difficult. In Ephesians St. Paul tells us that the husband’s job is to love his wife. When scripture talks about love, it does not have in mind some kind of sappy, sentimental emotion or the kind of love that attempts to fulfill all the beloved’s desires, even if those desires are disordered or unhealthy. To be sure, scripture validates and celebrates romantic love as the Song of Solomon powerfully attests. But in Ephesians, St. Paul is talking about always acting in the light of God’s truth for the best interest of the beloved. So when St. Paul talks about the husband’s leadership role (not headship) in the family he doesn’t have in mind the husband running roughshod over his wife or barking out orders for her to fetch his slippers, bring him a beer, or cater to his every need. That is not loving your wife; that is loving yourself.
In other words, the kind of leadership St. Paul has in mind is the servant leadership that was exemplified by Christ himself, who died for us while we were still God’s enemies so that we could be reconciled to the Source of all life, and who tells us not to lord it over others but rather to lead by becoming like slaves who serve (Mk 10.35-45). This does not come to us naturally or easily and that is why you have the far more difficult task as husband in your marriage. Your job is to love Monica and care for her more than you care for yourself. Of course, Monica, you are called to love Michael in the same manner by supporting his godly leadership. If you both can do this, you will demonstrate by your actions that Jesus really is your Lord and the true head of your household, that you are part of his vine, and you can therefore confidently trust his promise to be your rock-solid foundation on which your marriage will be able to withstand even the most terrible storms of life (Mt 7.24-27). Our Lord did not tell us we would be immune to those storms, only that when we submit to his Lordship and order our lives as God intends, we will have a power that is greater than ours to help us withstand any evil that besets us.
To help you love each other in the way Christ intends, I want to suggest a good exercise for you both, but especially for you, Michael, because you are given the task of leading your family. Memorize and recite excerpts from 1 Corinthians 13 and substitute your name in places where you read love so that it reads, e.g., Michael is patient, Michael is kind. Michael does not insist on his own way. Michael is not irritable or resentful, etc. If you both can rehearse passages like this on a daily or regular basis you will discover that it will have a profoundly wonderful effect on you, that your relationship is strengthened and blessed, and that you will find joy and purpose in living together that you never dreamed possible.
I do not suggest that any of this is easy or automatic. You have to work hard at it and you have to work hard at cultivating your relationship with Jesus so that you allow him to be Lord of your individual and married lives. To do this, you will need to pray together, read scripture together, and be part of a community of faith who will love and support you, in addition to your families and friends, because there are many forces out there who are opposed to your married life and want to destroy it and you. But if you are wise enough and humble enough to do these things together and as part of the greater family of Christ, you will find that you will bear much fruit as Christ promises in our gospel lesson and so have the necessary power to live your life and marriage as God intends for you. May God bless and enable you to have a marriage that is done well.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.