I will begin this closing meditation with a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer from a wedding sermon from his prison cell in Letters and Prayers from Prison.
“Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance, through which he wills to perpetuate the human race to the end of time. In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal – it is a statute, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes a king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you to another in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage comes from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains
A few years ago I had a telephone call from a woman telling me what had happened to her. She had been married for around 20 years and had two children, who were then moving toward the end of their teens. Her husband had informed her, three months previously, that he wanted a divorce, having had and still carrying on an affair with another woman.
The woman told me that when she heard the request of her husband and found out what had been going on, she simply could not deal with it. She went to bed and stayed there for days on end. She did not eat for that whole period of time and drank very little fluids. She lost over 30 pounds during that sojourn in bed.
At the end of that sojourn in bed alone, she cried out to God and told God that she simply could not take it. The next morning she woke up with a deep sense of peace and began to eat and to drink and to live again.
When she spoke to me, three months after the ordeal began, she had still not told her children about the unfaithfulness of her husband, and was actually being blamed by her daughter for the mess she was in. But though the despair was real, her marriage no longer sustaining her love, she was, by the grace of God, at peace and starting to move ahead to face all the difficult challenges that moving into the divorce process would bring.
The distinguished father in the faith, Martine Luther, always spoke clearly and effectively about the three orders of creation; the State, the Church, and the first order of creation, the sacred family. Though they are separate orders with clearly defined areas of responsibility, they share a unity in their various responsibilities and mandates, to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over all the creatures of the earth. They were to do so in obedience to the Lord, honouring, his will, his way, his word, his design, and the image of God in which humankind was created, male and female, husband and wife, co-creators with God.
The State has the responsibility to honour and protect the family, permitting it to rear their children in the fear and love of the Lord, and indeed fill the earth and subdue it. The state is to rule with the authority given by God, under the supervision of the Law, the law both engraved on our hearts and the law given by revelation.
The Church, in its visible form, has the responsibility to honour and protect the family, so that its members can hear and live under God’s gracious moral law embedded in the ten commandments, and most important, to hear and live under the call of the Gospel, becoming new creatures in Christ, rightly distinguishing between the Law and the Gospel.
Both Church and State, each operating in its own clearly defined area, has the responsibility to honour and protect the family, within God’s design and intention. The very well being of the Church and State are themselves very much affected and influenced by the well being of the family they themselves have been charged to honour and protect within their own spheres.
God’s design for human kind, in all three orders of creation, is as beautiful and magnificent and holy as is God’s design for creation and the universe, as we see it. God knows what God is doing. But sin and evil still poison our world, and when we depart from God’s intentions and design, sin and evil are given the opportunity to wreak much greater havoc in all three orders, and they do.
The husband, we referred to earlier, when he told his wife that he wanted a divorce, was essentially stating that God’s design for his family was faulty and invalid. His own love of another woman was more holy and more to be desired than the Holy order of marriage established by God in the beginning.
It is not at all strange that the wife could not deal with it and went to bed and stayed there for days on end without food and very little fluids. She had lost the love of her life. But even more precious, she had lost the support of that Holy order of creation coming from above, and the sanctity and rights and love that it brought. She could not deal with it and relied on God to bring peace as she attempted to live with a wound that would never go away.
We probably all remember the time when our Canadian State chose not to honour and protect the family within God’s design, and decided to extend the privileges attached to the Holy State of Matrimony to same sex couples, and declare it to be a legitimate and holy marriage. There were some who spoke against it but our Church was not among them, and certainly not our Bishops and Pastors. We chose not to be heard speaking in opposition, concerned about civil rights for all our citizens, irrespective of sexual orientation.
And we remember the time, two months ago, when our church in convention, decided that God’s design for the sacred family, from the beginning, was literally flawed, and that we needed to repair it, following the example of the State. Can you imagine a church literally leading its people in paths of idolatry?
Now, the three orders of creation are in disarray, and the chaos that we see all around us is increasing rapidly. Our society is under the judgment that comes when God’s design is blatantly ignored and dishonoured.
Not many of us have stayed in bed for days on end without food and with little fluid. We are distraught to be sure, but that is mitigated by our own sense of responsibility and failure. We failed to see it coming until it was too late. We have allowed our Lutheran tribalist propensity to render us ineffective. We share in the responsibility for the debacle that we now face.
There are times to declare Status Confessionus. This may just be that time. There are times to repent and acknowledge our own failures with fasting, and prayers without ceasing. This is that time. There are times to acknowledge that we simply cannot deal with it on our own and rely on God to lead us. There are times to wait on the Lord, for the way into the future will only become clear as we wait for the Lord’s direction. But this also is the time to rejoice in the privilege of suffering for the sake of the Gospel and the Church and the truth! This is the time to fear, love, and trust God above anything else and really let God be God, and let God’s Word be God’s Word. God is in charge and God will lead us in paths of righteousness for his own name’s sake. Thanks be to God!
Lord have mercy! Christ have mercy! Lord have mercy!