Scripture: Ephesians 5:21, 25-33
If you were turn on the radio right now on a station playing music (and you picked any station that was not playing Christian music) odds are good you would be listening to a love song. It does not matter if you are listening to modern pop songs, an oldies station, or country music. For the entire lives of everyone here today love songs have dominated the airwaves. In the 1960’s half of all pop songs were love songs and in 2007 that number was 60%. If you do not believe that love songs dominated the billboard top charts, then listen to this and see how many songs you recognize:
For decades love songs dominated popular music, but in the past several years that has been shifting. The number of songs released today that have romantic love as their subject is decreasing when compared to previous years. The trends show that this will probably continue. In 2015 cultural commentator Terry Teachout floated his hypothesis for what is causing this trend. In the 1960’s 61% of all adults were married and the divorce rate was in the teens. As of 2011 only 31% of all adults were married, and the divorce rate was somewhere in the 40 percentile. Teachout’s thought is that we live in a culture where romantic love most signified by marriage is not as prevalent as it used to be. Popular music is a mirror that is reflecting where we are as a culture. It is a bit of a tragedy that has to be acknowledged, culturally love does not occupy the same pedestal that it once did. This is unfortunate, because what the world still needs is love and marriage is one of our best expressions of love.
For this entire month we are going to be focusing on family. Specifically we are going to be looking at what how our family relationship can illuminate our faith and how our faith can deepen our family relationships. For many people marriage is where many family relationships get their roots. As we consider this scripture from Ephesians we can see that there is a way that our faith can help us have stronger marriages and a lesson we can learn from healthy marriages that will strengthen our faith.
There is no need here and now to rehash the controversy that the concept of marriage has been surrounded in for the past few years. Much of the problem around marriage is that it is such a complex concept. When we use those that one word we refer to three different and unique understandings of that word. Marriage is a legal status that has legal benefits and responsibilities. Marriage is a social status. How we relate to people, how people relate to us, and how we are understood in society is impacted by being married or not. Finally, for people who are disciples of Jesus we understand marriage as having a faith component. We understand marriage to be a covenant, a sacred promise, made before God. We believe as Paul quotes in this morning’s scripture, and Jesus quoted in the gospels that in marriage that “ a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” In the social principles of the United Methodist church our official stance on marriage is laid out. That document states, “We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such a marriage.” It is our viewpoint and sincerely held belief that marriage has a strong spiritual component. As this morning’s scripture states, the love found in the ideal marriage should be so deep and so steadfast that it even models the love that Christ has for us.
In this morning’s scripture Paul commands husbands to love their wives the way that Christ loved the church. Paul tries to spell out exactly how this works. However the way that a marriage relationship works is not quite equal to the way that Jesus loves the church, and in the scripture it seems that Paul himself gets lost in his analogy when in verse 32 he declares “this is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church.” What Paul is trying to get at here is that love in marriage should be modeled after the love of Christ, specifically it is sacrificial. Paul’s instructions with marriage begin with verse 21, and it is this verse that sets the tone for what marriage should look like: “Submit to one another out of reverence of Christ.” When we submit to one another, we put our personal desires and petty preferences aside. We seek to put another first and love unconditionally. This is the kind of love that Jesus showed for us. In the garden, Jesus submitted to God’s will for our benefit when we prayed not my will but yours be done. Romans reminds us that Jesus did this for us, while we were still sinners, and Phillipians reminds us that Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross. Jesus was willing to submit his life on our behalf. He sacrificed all that he had for our benefit. Paul describes the impact that this kind of love has on us when he describes the church as the bride of Christ in verse 26 and 27. Jesus submitted and loved sacrificially so that we may be “a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. “ Jesus proved his love for us by the way that he willingly submitted his life. It was an unconditional and sacrificial love that was on display on the cross.
After describing this love of Christ, Paul continues. “In the same way husbands out to love their wives.” Now it is one thing to say you will die for someone. I think most married people I know would probably say they are willing to die for their spouse. I think this is especially true of husbands. Being willing to take a bullet for someone is a very masculine form of romantic and it sounds manly as all get out. The ultimate display of sacrificial and unconditional love that Jesus shows us was on the cross, but that was not the only example that Jesus gave. It is one thing for us to say we will die for our spouse, it is a quite a different thing (and seemingly harder) thing to say we will do the dishes for them. In our daily lives radically serving one another is more often than not the way we put into practice submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is when the rubber meets the road, where the theoretical becomes the practical, and where we put into practice the example of Jesus. Specifically the example that he gave us when he washed the feet of his disciples.
I am not a big fan of romantic comedies, and the move that gets closest to being one of those that I actually really like is the 80’s classic The Princess Bride. In the movie one of the two characters destined to fall in love starts off as a farmhand. Whenever Buttercup, the love of his life, gives him an order, he replies, “as you wish” and does the task. The film quickly tells us that whenever he said as you wish, he was really saying “I love you.” The concept of saying “I love you” through serving another person is a very biblical one. When it comes to having healthy relationships, especially marriage relationships, this above all else is what we should learn and take to heart. Out of a deep love for humanity, Jesus submitted his life in sacrifice and service to save his bride the church. In the same way we should submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. We do this by putting the other first and serving one another radically. Just as Jesus washed the disciples feet, our marriages should be ones that are characterized by how we go out of the way to serve one another. Putting that scripture into action is key to building marriages that will last.
Our Christian faith gives the example to follow and model marriages after, but marriages can also strengthen our faith. I am blessed that I come from a family of strong marriages. My parents have been married for over 40 years. Before my grandfather died in 2004, my grandparents were married for 65 years. When the divorce rate is close to one out of every two marriages, it shows that spending that much life together is a true accomplishment. I could not find where it originated from, but there is a well-worn internet meme that speaks to this. It states: “A reporter asked the couple: How did you manage to stay together for 65 years? The woman replied, ‘We were born in a time when if something was broken we would fix it, not throw it away.’ “
In any relationships there will be loggerheads, rough patches, times when you reach a complete impasse. For a marriage to last over the long haul, it requires time of brutal honesty and fixing. It requires a conscious choice to stay in love and work at staying in love. Love is a choice and it is a choice that requires hard work. This is a lesson we can learn from our faith. Our faith walk will not always be mountaintop experiences. There will be times when we feel like we are lost in the valley of the shadow of death. There are times when God will seem so distant it is as if he is nonexistent. There will be times we will go through what St. John of the Cross called “dark nights of the soul.” There will be times when our faith feels broken. Just like a marriage relationship, if our relationship with God is broken, we fix it.
Just like a marriage, we have to put the same work into it. We have to be brutally honest, often with ourselves. We also have to stay in love with God. We cannot expect to spend an hour on Sunday with God, and have a healthy relationship. Imagine if a married couple only spent an hour a week together. Their time might be civil and good, but it would not be deep. It would not be based in unconditional love. To have a healthy vibrant faith, we need to make the choice to love God. We stay in love with God by expressing our love through following God’s commands. We take to heart God’s directive to live in a more loving and peaceful way. We seek where God is at work in the world around us and we join in with that work. We stay in love with God by spending time with God, a lot of time with God. When life gets tough it is not right to throw our faith away, because reconciliation with God the Father and salvation through Jesus the son are relationships worth fixing.
We explored marriage as a relationship that our faith can inform and as a relationship that can inform our faith. Now I fully realize that not everyone here today is married. If that is you, scriptures like this mornings about marriage can still be relevant to your life. The base lessons contained within are important to all disciples, not just married ones. Submitting to one another and loving sacrificially is vital to having a healthy and godly marriage, but those same principles can be applied to all of our relationships. Putting others first should not just be limited to spouses. In the same way, a long term married couple may have a better idea what it is like to fix a relationship, but all of us can find value in doing the work of staying in love with God. So in sickness and in health may each and every one seek to follow the model of Christ. Through thick and thin may we be willing to love others sacrificially. More than that though, may we learn the importance of working on a relationship. Whatever we may do in our own lives, may we stay in love with God, so that we all live as faithful disciples until death do us part.