Seventh Sunday in Easter – 5/12/2024

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Deuteronomy 6:4-9   4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone.  5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart.  7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.  8 Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead,  9 and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Ephesians 5:21 – 6:4   21 Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.  23 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.  24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.  25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  26 in order to make her holy by cleansing her with the washing of water by the word,  27 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.  28 In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  29 For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church,  30 because we are members of his body.  31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  32 This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church.  33 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.  2 “Honor your father and mother”– this is the first commandment with a promise:  3 “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”  4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Godly Family Relationships

Last week we reached a turning point in Ephesians where Paul moved from the theological to the practical.  Today our lesson is very practical and most appropriate for Mother’s Day since it is all about relationships; husbands and wives, fathers and children, Christ and the Church.

The first verse sets the tone for the rest of the passage.  “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  This is to be the basis for all our relationships both within the family and with all others.  Relationships and all we do are to be from reverence to Christ for he is the rock upon which we stand; our solid ground.  This includes how we treat the clerk in the grocery store, the waitress or waiter at a restaurant, our boss at work, our neighbor next door or across the world.  Reverence for Christ is to undergird our relationship as the Aston Presbyterian Church with our community.  Our love for Christ is to be so strong that all we do and say, all we are flows from this love.  It is on the basis of this love that Paul instructs us to be subject to one another.  Submit as it is put in other translations.  Now submission is not a very popular word nowadays.  We are all about being independent, self-fulfilled people.  

It may seem counter-intuitive but to be a self-fulfilled person involves self-denial.  Self-denial is a way by which we realize that our happiness and fulfillment are not dependent upon having our own way or getting everything we want.  Self-denial is a willingness to consider the needs of others above our own self-interest. I remember my own days as a young mother.  I quickly realized that my baby’s needs came ahead of my own, including my need for sleep!  It was because I loved my babies that I was able, willing and even wanted to put them ahead of myself.  Paul wants us to be subject to each other because we are all loved by Jesus and in knowing his love; we are transformed and able to put others above self.  

Now there is a phrase that is not very popular in these verses. “If we can get beyond the phrase in this passage, we will discover a beautiful and challenging model for Christian marriage.  The phrase in question is the one that calls for wives to submit, to be subject to their husbands, and the designation of the husband as the “head of the wife.”  If Paul had stopped here with instructions only to wives, marriage would be a very authoritarian relationship.  But Paul did not stop here.  He went on to say, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church,” and “husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”  Paul is giving commands to the husbands, ordering them to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  Paul’s instructions on the marriage relationship are based on Christ’s relationship with the church, a relationship built on love and self-sacrifice.  

Eugene Peterson in his translation, The Message, softened the language. I’m going to read verses 21-25. See what you think of this.

21 Out of respect for Christ, be courteously reverent to one another.22 Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. 23 The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church, not by domineering but by cherishing. 24 So just as the church submits to Christ as he exercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their husbands. 25 Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church – a love marked by giving, not getting.

I think this comes closer to the loving reciprocity of a true marriage.

We cross over into the sixth chapter of Ephesians with Paul’s instructions to children and parents.  Children are to obey their parents and Paul refers back to the fifth commandment for this.  Honor your father and mother. Paul points out that this commandment comes with a promise, “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”  Keeping the fifth commandment is part of the Christian’s call to love God and love neighbor as the good fruit of faith in Christ. The family remains one of God’s providential gifts for the flourishing of humanity.

I noticed that there are no instructions to mothers here, only fathers. Since it’s Mother’s Day I thought we should spend some time thinking about why Paul might not have given instructions to mothers.  All of us had mothers and I bet all of us, at some time in our early lives made our mothers Mother’s Day cards.  You know the kind I mean, hand-drawn, probably with flowers on it.  We couldn’t wait to give it to our mothers on Mother’s Day.  We wanted to thank our mothers for all they did for us.  For every meal they made, every skinned knee they kissed better, every homework assignment they helped us with.  On Mother’s Day our hearts overflowed with gratitude to our mothers.  Our love wasn’t demanded from us. No one had to tell us to love our mothers, it was automatic. Perhaps Paul simply didn’t feel mothers needed to be told to love their children.

Finally comes Paul’s instructions to fathers.  Fathers are told not to provoke their children to anger, some translations say exasperate their children.  In our modern society we do not hear how radical this instruction was.  Under Roman law, fathers had complete and total power over their children.  Fathers could order their children killed and it was completely legal.  Even under Jewish law, fathers held power.  Yet here comes Paul, an acknowledged expert on Jewish law and he tells fathers not to provoke their children but to bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.  We again see reciprocity in the parent-child relationship.  Children and parents relating to each other out of love.  This instruction can also be seen in our reading from Deuteronomy where we are commanded to love God with all our heart, soul and might.  We are to keep God’s words in our hearts and we are also told to recite them to our children.  If we do not first love God completely and totally, if we do not keep God’s word in our hearts we will not be able to have loving relationships.  

As I stand here today speaking of loving relationships of mutual submission it may seem like this should be easy to do.  The sad truth shown by the divorce statistics in our country is that marriage is difficult.  And the statistics are only slightly better for Christian marriages than the overall population.  The same goes for our relationships with our children.  The statistics on child abuse are appalling.  What are we missing?  Why don’t we do things as we should?  I think much of it comes down to an abuse of authority.  So what authority should exist in a marriage?  The authority of love.  Mutual love and respect will be evident in a good Christian marriage.  Mutual submission one to another.  

Mark Galli, writing in Christianity Today, described the difference between love of authority, of getting our own way and the authority of love.  He uses the Transfiguration story in Mark’s gospel to illustrate his point.  Jesus takes Peter and John with him to the top of the mountain where Jesus is transfigured and his glory revealed.  God the Father speaks from heaven.  “This is my Son, whom I love.  Listen to Him!”. We delve into this story more fully every Transfiguration Sunday but what I want us to hear this morning is what God uses as the ground of his authority behind his command to listen to Jesus.  

There are many kinds of authority.  There is delegated authority.  Take the military for example. In the military there is a chain of command.  Only one of higher rank can give an order to one of lower rank.  Privates do not give orders to generals!  However, if the general sends a lowly private to tell a captain to come see the general the captain will obey what the private says because that private has the delegated authority of the general behind him.  God did not use delegated authority.  He did not say, “This is my son, in whom I have invested all my power and authority.  Listen to him.”

A second type of authority is that of expertise.  Those who know much about a particular subject are considered experts in that area.

If I have a legal question, I would go to a lawyer. If I have a medical question, I would go to my doctor. This is not what God did at the Transfiguration either.  God did not say, “This is my Son who is a wise teacher and an expert on moral ethics.  Listen to Him!”. 

One of the favorite methods of exerting authority particularly within families is psychological manipulation.  Laying on the guilt.  My mother was an expert at this!  I’m sure many of you were told to clean your plates when you ate because of all the starving children in China. My mother told me that if I didn’t finish my orange juice at breakfast that the orange tree who had given the oranges to make the juice was going to cry.  Oh, the guilt!  I would make that poor little orange tree cry!  I finished my orange juice.  God doesn’t use psychological manipulation at the Transfiguration either.  He doesn’t say, “This is my beloved Son, and I will be sad and hurt and might even cry if you don’t listen to Him!”. 

I would add one to Mark Galli’s types of authority.  God doesn’t even ground His command in his power, in the fact that he is God.  He doesn’t say, “I am the Lord God Almighty and I will smite you unless you listen to my Son.”

So, having gone over all the types of authority God did not use, let’s look at what God did ground his authority in.  God said, “This is my beloved Son, whom I love.  Listen to Him!”.  Love!  God’s command to listen to Jesus is grounded in love.  The disciples should listen to Jesus because Jesus is loved by the Father.  Love is to be the ground for all our relationships, husbands and wives, parents and children, members of a congregation.  Listen to the words from Deuteronomy again.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.  When we learn to live in God’s love then all we do and say can be grounded in love, which will lead to mutual submission.  

I saw a wonderful example of these verses lived out in the first church I served. I had only been there a week or so when Bob came to me and said he was thinking of leaving the church.  Not exactly what a brand new pastor wants to hear!  Now he made it clear he loves the church and the people; his reason came from these verses.  Bob is Presbyterian and his wife is Lutheran.  They raised the children here but now that they were grown his wife had gone back to worshipping at the Lutheran church.  Now, Bob doesn’t like their services at all, he finds it hard to follow.  But he told me he had been meditating on these verses from Ephesians and he was thinking about what it meant for a husband to love his wife as his own body.  What he, as a loving husband was called to do.  He knew his wife, Linda had sacrificed her own worship preferences for years and now he felt it was important for him to worship with her and to worship at the church she felt most comfortable at.  I think he’s gotten used to the service at the Lutheran church by now although he may always prefer a Presbyterian service.  He loves attending church and worshipping with his wife.

Let me leave you with a challenge this week.  It is for husbands and wives, parents and children and all of our relationships.  Let us strive to love others as Christ has loved us.  Let us be willing to submit to others out of our love for Christ that dwells in our hearts.