Sunday, January 18, 2015

Homily for The Second Sunday after the Epiphany (Epiphany 2)

John 2:1-11; Romans 12:6-16; Exodus 33:12-23

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There is no human institution that is more ancient or more universal than marriage. Every culture of every time and every place has instituted, promoted, and protected marriage in some way or another. In ancient and medieval times, marriages were seen as contracts between families and were often arranged in order to procure and to secure land and wealth, and to maintain ruling dynasties. In addition to these purposes, marriages were entered into with the intention of procreation to produce offspring and heirs. Indeed, our modern conception of marriage, which holds that love and equality are the key factors, is extremely new and innovative, and has shallow roots in human history. Arguably, the first marriage, instituted by the LORD Himself in Eden, was not a union of love or equality, or even of sexual attraction, but marriage, as the LORD instituted it, is a union of completion and fulfillment – the union of man, – for “it is not good that the man should be alone.”
But, why? Why is it “not good that the man should be alone?” Well, that’s a good question – a question that is not answered directly, but implicitly and by example throughout the rest of the Holy Scripture. For, when we consider how marriage is portrayed in the Scriptures we see that it is bound up in selflessness and sacrifice and redemption. For example, consider these famous marriages in the Holy Scriptures: Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and Rachel, Boaz and Ruth, the Bridegroom and Bride from the Song of Solomon, and Joseph and Mary. Now, of course these marriages were not perfect, indeed they were riddled with problems of various kinds. Thus, these Biblical marriages do not serve as models of perfection that preach the Law to us, “Be like this!” but, rather, they are realistic examples, Gospel examples, of sinful people, …well, sinning, and repenting, and being forgiven and restored.
Let’s take Adam and Eve as our chief example. They had it all: Peace, love, and excellent real estate. They were the first marriage, created by God, brought together by God, and blessed by God. Obviously, they are the supreme model for marriage. And yet, they sinned, and in their sin they plunged all of God’s creation, including all their children and all their children’s children, into sin and death. Of course, the model for marriage was not what came after the fall, but what God instituted before the fall. First and foremost, God created Adam and Eve in unity with one another. Husband and wife were united in heart, mind, spirit, and will. Adam wanted only that which was good for Eve and glorifying to God, and Eve wanted the same for Adam. They were truly united as “one flesh” in every way imaginable. The LORD instituted their marriage union so that they might reflect Him – His selfless, sacrificial love which gives life, reproduce with Him – in the procreation of children to be raised in the selfless, and sacrificial image of God, and to reign with Him over all that He had made – in selfless, sacrificial stewardship of God’s creation.
And, that is precisely why Satan attacked Adam and Eve in the way that he did. Satan attacked their marriage in attacking their unity of heart, mind, spirit, and will. His seemingly innocuous question, “Did God really say?” was meant to create disunity. It created a divide between God’s will and word and another will and word, any other will and word. Before the question, Adam and Eve were in unity with God’s will and word, and with each other. But, after the question, they were divided and defeated in heart, mind, spirit, and will, even before actively sinning by eating the forbidden fruit. And, the poisonous fruit of their sin was born quickly: They hid from God because they were afraid of His holiness and righteousness. They were ashamed of their nakedness, for they no longer saw each other as “one flesh,” but as individuals to control, manipulate, and to possess. And they blamed each other, and they blamed God, for their own sinful failings. And, to seal their fate and their separation from both God and from each other, they became self-righteous, seeking and finding their justification and purpose in themselves alone. Truly, nothing can be more separate, divided, and isolated than self-righteousness and selfishness. No longer did they reflect the LORD who is in essence selfless and self-sacrificing. No longer could they reproduce Godly fruit, the fruit of selfless love and sacrificial service. And, no longer could they reign over all creation as God created them and blessed them to do, for all creation became to them, now, means to control, manipulate, and to possess to their own selfish ends.
We live in a cynical age, and I know that my speaking this way about the sanctity of marriage, even within this Christian congregation, has some of you wagging your heads in disagreement, disillusionment, disgust, and unbelief that anything so broken, so messed up, and so filled with disappointment, conflict, hurt, and mental, emotional, and spiritual pain as marriage could possibly be the key to knowing God, His will, and His purpose for our lives and our relationship with Him. Indeed, that’s precisely how Satan wants you to think. Moreover, that’s why the institution of marriage is under attack today. For, marriage has always been under attack, even from the beginning when God created man and woman in His image and blessed them and joined them in a selfless and sacrificial one-flesh union.
And thus, Jesus’ first recorded miracle in the Scriptures occurs at a wedding. This is not by chance, mind you. St. John’s Gospel is arranged like a catechism. His purpose in writing it is “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.” Marriage is the chief and key revelation that God has given us that we may know Him and trust in Him, and conform to, and reflect Him in the world, reproducing His love in others, and reign with Him in and over His creation.
With only a cursory reading, it might appear that John included this miracle of Jesus only so that His power might be revealed. While, that is certainly a part of John’s purpose, and His account certainly accomplishes that purpose, that is only to scratch the surface of John’s telling of the events of the Wedding at Cana. This story is a revelation of Jesus’ re-creation, or creation anew, of His Father’s creation that had fallen into sin and death. It is not a coincidence that this wedding occurred on the “third day.” Third day language in the Scriptures is fraught with weight and meaning in connection with Jesus’ resurrection on the Third Day. This is new creation language, and the story cannot be rightly understood without seeing it through the interpretive lens of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. Moreover, it may be reckoned from John’s numbering of days that the third day was in fact the Sabbath Day, the day of rest. This may be part of the explanation of Jesus’ initial protest to Mary’s request that He do something about the wine problem at the feast. Jesus’ reply, “My hour has not yet come,” once again, necessarily, connects this story with the hour of Jesus’ passion and death upon the cross.
The time for Jesus’ fulfillment of God’s Law, Word, and will in His death upon the cross has not yet come. Nonetheless, that hour will come, and when it does, Jesus will be raised from death on the Third Day and He will usher in a new creation. This is symbolized in the six stone jars of water used for purification rites. The six jars represent the six days of the former creation, ruined by sin and death, thus, requiring purification. However, in the new creation, sin and death have been defeated, atoned for, and removed. There is no longer need for purification, for the Father’s Law, Word, and will have been fulfilled in Jesus’ holy and innocent life, obedience, suffering, and death. In His first miracle, or His first sign, as John refers to it, Jesus demonstrated that He has come to “make all things new.” He will fulfill the Law, Word, and will of His Father and release all creation from the curse of sin. Thus, the story of the Wedding at Cana is much less about marriage and weddings, or even about powerful miracles and signs, than it is simply and plainly about Jesus and His work of atonement and re-creation. It is truly the first sign of who He is and what He came to do. As John puts it, “This, the first of His signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested His glory. And His disciples believed in Him.” And so do we.
Thus, when the Lord returns on the Last Day, there will be a wedding in heaven. For, just as Adam’s Bride was brought forth out of his riven side, so will Jesus’ Bride, the Church, brought forth out of His riven side in the water of Holy Baptism and His holy, precious blood in Holy Communion, be presented before Him as a Bride adorned before Her Bridegroom. Truly, marriage is the preeminent revelation the LORD has provided us to the kind of relationship He desires to have with you. He is not a God who is far off, but a God who is so very near to you that He became flesh and blood, that He might marry you and have a one-flesh union with you that, together, you might reflect His glory, reproduce His selfless and sacrificial love, and reign with Him over heaven and earth forevermore. This is what was instituted by God in marriage from the beginning, and this is what is at stake when we seek to reduce marriage to mere equality, love, or sex.
Therefore, when it comes to marriage in this world, which is passing away, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Let those who determine human rights grant human rights where and when they believe it is needed. We do not have a mandate to change the world by force, but rather by influence. Indeed, the model for Christians is salt, leaven, and light. By being Christian, by following the example of our Lord Jesus in showing love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness to others, in and through our callings, our vocations, we will change the world, not by force, but by influence. However, we can only do that if we do not permit ourselves to become conformed to the world. Truly, we have no hope of influencing marriage for the better in this life and world if we do not understand and hold to what our LORD instituted marriage to be in the first place. Therefore, husbands and wives are to love and to serve each other as they love and serve the Lord. And, those who remain single, you are to love and to serve others as you love and serve the Lord. And if you are blessed with the gift of children, then your primary Christian duty is to raise your children up to love and serve others even as they love and serve the Lord. For, the LORD instituted marriage that you might know Him and the kind of relationship He desires to have with you, a relationship of grace, mercy, compassion, and forgiveness borne out of selflessness and sacrifice, which are truly love.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

No comments: