The Holy Marriage of Grace Kristine Lagemann and Christopher Bryan Corbin
November 12, 2016 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the beginning God created us male and female and we knew the difference. He meant for men to woo women, to win them, and then to leave their fathers and mothers in order to cleave to their wives. Before the first woman, without her, it was not good. Adam was incomplete. Even after the fall, St. Paul still believes in the ideal. He presents it to us in Ephesians chapter 5 as we heard this afternoon: “Wives, submit to your own husbands as to the Lord. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.”
But what was once easy and natural has been corrupted by sin.
A lot of people stop at the first bit. They can’t tolerate this command: “Wives, submit to your own husbands.” They refuse to hear it. It reeks to them as oppression, even slavery. They view the world through Marxist lenses and so everything is seen as a struggle for power, for control. Even marriage for them is a struggle for power and husbands are arrayed against wives. This is how fallen men to let Marx or Adam Smith or Henry David Thoreau or someone else define the terms. They thereby let the world set the agenda rather than letting God speak.
Ask Eve how this works out. She will tell you that it never goes well.
Nonetheless, we must engage this idea about submission for neither submission nor obedience is slavery. These two airmen submit to their commanders and sergeants. They follow their orders. If they refuse to or if they run away they could be shot. Are they therefore slaves of the US Air Force? Of course not! In the first place, they voluntarily yoked themselves to this system and they did so under an ideal of service. Even when this country had a draft the idea was that all able-bodied men would and should render this service when called upon, that it was their duty to their neighbors and their country.
Airmen must submit to their commanders. They do so for the sake of their neighbors and their country, not for the sake of the commander. They also have rights in the system. Commanders have limits. And only a fool would think that airmen are slaves. Submission and obedience are necessary in the Air Force. Not only does the success of the mission depend on it, but so also the lives of their comrades depend upon it.
So we need to stop this knee jerk reaction against hierarchy and authority. We need to reject the thinking that assumes that submission is always the result of oppression or is always evil. What these two airmen do is not evil. Nor is it evil to require them to do it.
We should note next that St. Paul calls upon wives to submit to their own husbands, not to any man who claims them or makes a demand, but to their own husbands. Jael didn’t submit to Sisera. Susanna didn’t submit to the two old judges. Both of them were celebrated and vindicated by God. Wives are called to submit to the particular man, to their own husbands, that is to the man that that they love the most on this earth, to the one whom they chose and whom they trust.
Grace, here, isn’t called upon to submit to a dictator, a tyrant who will lord it over her and chain her to the stove. She is not marrying a misogynist who hates women, whose insecurity and weaknesses have made it his one goal in life to prove that he is strong by beating her.
She is marrying Christopher. He is not perfect. But he is an honorable and decent man. He wooed her and she chose him. In that she is called to submit to him, as to her own husband.
Now, you might be thinking that would be fine if Christopher could handle it, if he was incorruptible. Well, he can’t handle it, but he is being called to it anyway. For too long we’ve misunderstood the Lord Acton axiom and used it undermine authority. First of all, Lord Acton was not infallible. His words didn’t come from the Holy Spirit. But in any case, he did not say “authority corrupts.” He didn’t even say, “power corrupts,” the way we usually hear it. He said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Power and authority are two different things. Christopher is not being given power over Grace. He is being called to authority. When Our Lord Jesus Christ was nailed to the cross for the sins of the world, He gave up all power. Pilate and his soldiers and the Sanhedrin had power. Jesus did not. He was powerless. But He had authority, moral and spiritual authority. And He exercised that authority by laying down His life for His Bride, the Church.
By the grace of God, with the help of his bride Grace and with the support of his family, Christopher will grow into the office of husband. No one comes to it prepared or ready, anymore than anyone comes to battle or command ready. The office makes the man not the man the office. He will never fully master it. He will not perfect it in this lifetime. But in Holy Marriage he will learn to be a man, and in Holy Marriage Grace will learn to be a woman.
Next we need to confess and proclaim that being a man and being a woman are not the same thing. They are not interchangeable. Men and women are not called to identical duties either in Holy Marriage or in a just society. This is hard to tell in our confused and effeminate society, but it is the truth. Sadly, for the most part, we have lost the ideals and the virtues of both masculinity and femininity. We have replaced them with selfish assertions and open rebellion. That is why we have man-boys still playing video games and living in their mother’s basements. We made them this way by refusing to teach them to be men and not demanding that they be men. This is also why we have such a high divorce rate, so many fatherless children, and a host of other ills.
As a people, we are confused by this in a way that our ancestors weren’t. We have tried so hard to soften men and make them act like women that it makes it hard for us to recognize what true masculinity actually is. As in almost all things in this fallen world, in response we often end up with the polar opposite error. In this case, we end up thinking that masculinity is rugged independence or bodily strength and courage and then we get the strutting hyper-masculinity that tries to fake those things by buying big trucks and making crude jokes and even, God forbid, by mistreating women. Nothing, in fact, could be less masculine than mistreating others, especially mistreating women.
The only way we can know what true masculinity and true femininity are is through the Bible. As seen in Our Lord Jesus Christ true masculinity is not strength for strength’s sake. Rather it is sacrificial giving. That is what makes soldiers masculine. It is not their strength or courage or commitment. It is their willingness to die for others. That is what we stand in awe of and what we respect. Virtue by itself isn’t any good. A man needs someone to serve, to be strong for, to be courageous for, to be committed to, to protect and provide for. And when he fails, he needs to get back up again and start over. He doesn’t get to quit just because it is hard. Nor can one can he hire sometime to do it for him. He has to keep on. A soldier who is strong but who uses that strength only to preen is not a true man, so also is a soldier who quits or gives up when it is hard is a worthless soldier who does not deserve honor.
If a man is to be a man, he needs a wife and children and a community. He needs not just people to help and support him, but he also needs people to love and to serve. Unless his courage, wisdom, discipline, patience, chastity, and the like serve the good of others, they aren’t manly virtues and he is not masculine, he is just proud, and despite the rhetoric of our age, pride is not merely overrated, it is wrongly rated. True masculinity is humble and self-giving, self-sacrificing.
What St. Paul is advocating for in husbands is true masculinity, self-giving and self-sacrifice for the good of wives and children. To be fully masculine is to be Christ-like, that is to be devoted to your wife, covering for her, defending her, and taking her side – even if that is against your own mother, and at some point it almost certainly will be. Christ does not rule over His Church by the Law or even by right. He rules by grace. He forgives His Bride for whom He has died in order to wash her clean in Holy Baptism that He might present her to His Father as holy and without blemish. To be a true husband, to be masculine, is to forgive, to praise, and to adore, even as you are forgiven, praised, and adored by Christ.
Now, who couldn’t submit to that? In fact, all Christians, male and female, do submit to that. Even as every commander in the Air Force has a commander himself, and is never a law unto himself, so also every husband, every man, in the church lives under Jesus Christ and happily submits to Him. This is no struggle because Christ’s love is perfect. He never abuses His authority. He freely forgives. He does not act selfishly. This mystery is profound: God loves us in Christ and has reconciled Himself to us even though we weren’t worth it and didn’t deserve it. This mystery, the essence of the Christian religion, is what enables imperfect people to live together as husband and wife, in peace, in forgiveness, and to be servants of one another. Holy Marriage, like all things Holy, is made Holy by grace. In this way, in the grace of God which passes all understanding, in Him who has loved us to the end, who did not shrink from His duty but went to the cross and came out of the grave for us, in this, in Christ, and His self-sacrifice, a man can love his wife and keep on loving his wife and a wife can respect, and keep on respecting, her husband and nourishing her children.
And if all the world goes to Hell around us, and almost no one knows what a boy or a girl is anymore, and if marriage has no honor and is treated as a business contract or a power play, sobeit. We have Christ. In Him we have grace. We have hope. We have a future. And in Him, we receive Holy Marriage as a singular gift and joy. It is a good thing, a wonderful thing, the best thing. So wives, submit husbands and trust the Lord. And, husbands, give up your lives for your wives for they belong to Christ.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.
*This sermon is indebted to the Concordia Publishing House book by Rev. Jeff Hemmer, Man up! The Quest for Masculinity expected to be available in 2017.