God’s Gift of Marriage and the Renewing Power of Jesus’ Love
“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and before His Church to witness the union of this man and this woman in holy matrimony. This is an honorable estate instituted and blessed by God in Paradise, before humanity’s fall into sin.” This is how our liturgy of Holy Matrimony begins. Marriage is an “honorable estate instituted and blessed by God.” At a time in which modern man is redefining marriage and attacking God’s institution, it is important for the Church to remain steadfast in defending what God has given, calling the world and her own members to repentance for sin, but also holding up the Biblical portrait of marriage and family as wonderful gifts of God for the good of the Church and all of society.
For us as Christians, the Word of God is determinative. We believe what we believe and teach what we teach and confess what we confess about marriage because God’s Word speaks. He is the Creator. He is the One who has instituted and established marriage. He is the One who gives order to the world in which we live. What God says and what God gives is good, even though sinful man might reject it and chafe beneath it. That is the way of the sinful flesh since the fall. To follow our emotions and feelings, to allow any notion of human love to dictate our actions, to be afraid to speak the truth because it might offend someone we love who does not believe the truth is a recipe for disaster.
In the beginning, before humanity’s fall into sin, the Holy Trinity created man in His image: “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Genesis 1:27-28). God’s gift of marriage is the union of a man and a woman in one flesh through which God intends to continue to bring human life into the world, and to nurture that life through the loving care of a father and a mother. The man and the woman are not merely two generic parents in whatever modern man wants to call family; they are two very different individuals that make up the one flesh union for the giving and receiving of life and love in marriage. This is how God intended the image of God to be reflected in the world. It is a glorious gift through which we participate with God in the self-giving love which creates life! This is why having children is called “procreation” — a father and mother are not the creators of their children, but they participate with God in the gift of life and are brought into God’s creative work when they come together in the one flesh union and children are conceived, born, and cared for.
Same-sex unions cannot produce the life that God promised as a sign of His blessing upon marriage. Same-sex unions are contrary to God’s Word and the very life-producing order that God built into nature. To put it bluntly: same-sex unions cannot produce life; they can only end in death! They are contrary to nature. But some might say: “What about love? What about affection? What about what I want? Isn’t this the way God made me?” No! God is not the author of sin. Adam’s fall wreaked havoc on God’s creation. It is marked by a radical rebellion against God which constantly chafes against what God has said and given us in His Word. For us as Christians, all human emotions and feelings must be placed under the scrutiny and judgment of God’s Word. That’s what the call to repentance is all about! It is the realization and confession of one’s sin and then the fleeing to Christ for forgiveness, help, and renewal.
This is what we in the Church must offer to the world: a clear confession about what marriage is, a call to repentance for sin and those struggling with same-sex attractions, and the forgiveness, salvation, and new life that is offered to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We condemn sin and call to repentance not because we are saved by our works, but so that sinners might be saved through the work of Christ. There is no perfect marriage, even among heterosexual Christian husbands and wives. We all need to hear the call to repentance and be renewed by the forgiving Word of Christ. But this is what God promises everyone who hears the voice of the Good Shepherd and believes: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new…For [God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:17, 21).
Our ultimate comfort and source of strength to live as God has called us comes from Christ, the bridegroom sent from heaven. What God intended for marriage comes to its fulfillment in Jesus! God the Father sent forth His Son in love for us to be united to our flesh and blood. The Son of the Father was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary to be the husband for His bride the Church. He made the ultimate self-giving sacrifice of love on our behalf by laying down His life for His bride upon the cross. He gave Himself to His bride, withholding nothing from her, and out of His loving sacrifice new life sprang forth through the forgiveness of sins that is received by the members of His body the Church.
Many people who claim to be homosexual or who are struggling with same sex attractions might confess that they simply want to be loved. Many Christians in broken marriages want the same thing too! But true love—the love that saves, heals, and makes us whole—is the love of Christ. It is not received by rejecting God’s Word, but by repentance and faith in everything He says. True love—the love of Christ for His bride the Church— is received through His words, His absolution, His body and blood. We in the Church must vigorously hold up the Biblical portrait of marriage, but we must also, with equal fervor, hold up the forgiveness, comfort, love, and new life we have in Christ our heavenly bridegroom. Sin breaks everything it touches, including marriage, family, and human sexuality. But Christ’s forgiveness and love renews us and satisfies the deepest longings of our hearts. It is this Gospel that we offer to the world.
In Christ, Pastor Bender
“Once in Royal David’s City”: A Lesson on the Service of Carols
It really begins before the downbeat of the first familiar chord, in which are recollected so many Christmas seasons, before the breath is taken and held in that ever-so-slight anticipatory gasp, waiting to exhale, that something is about to happen. The familiar “Once in Royal David’s City,” the traditional opening of the festival service of nine lessons and carols, began as a children’s song, written by Irish poet Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander, published in Hymns for Little Children (1848). In this children’s hymnal, Alexander’s hope was that the “language of verse which children love, would help to impress on their minds what they are, what I have promised for them, and what they must seek to be.” So in this regard, Mrs. Alexander’s poems did not begin in her generation, either. Writing for the Church of Ireland, her work is aimed at catechesis, not merely teaching of doctrine, but the preaching of repentance and the forgiveness of sins and to live in love toward one another. Alexander wrote poems for Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, poems regarding the promises of baptism, and poems upon each section of the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, and the Ten Commandments.
By teaching the faith and sound doctrine “in a simple way,” children were introduced to the language of faith which they would carry and confess throughout their lives. As a result, these children’s hymns were taught from parent to child and became intergenerational classics. The familiar words “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all” from “Once in Royal David’s City” were to teach the doctrine of the incarnation, an explanation of “was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary” of the Apostles’ Creed. Equally, we could point to a number of “Lutheran hymns” that function in the same way. Alexander translated St. Patrick’s Latin of the hymn, “I Bind unto Myself Today” (LSB 604), which teaches about the Trinity. Other traditions have incorporated more of Alexander’s hymnody. She wrote the words for the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” teaching from the Apostles’ Creed about God the Father, as “Maker of Heaven and Earth.” Alexander’s hymn, “There is a Green Hill Far Away,” placed in rhyme the atoning work of Christ, “there was no other good enough, to pay the price of sin,” expanding upon the words, “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” The poem succinctly and memorably sums up the satisfaction of Christ’s righteous work upon the Cross.
Broadcast worldwide, “Once in Royal David’s City” touches millions each Christmas season, bringing back the words of the bidding prayer, taking us back to the message of the angels, back to Bethlehem, and back to the babe lying in a manger and the loving purpose of God. For that is what great hymnody does, it brings us back, and this is why we continue in it. Such hymns begin before us, express the great truths of the faith which are believed generation after generation, and recollect the Song of the Church, the song of salvation in Jesus.
Peace’s Annual Service of Lessons and Carols will be held Dec. 19, 7 p.m.
Preus Addresses Suicide in Lecture Series
That a Christian trusts in God and in His many blessings, yet this Christian despaired and gave up on those same blessings is a paradox of Christian suicide, the paradox of a number of paradoxes which confront those who remain following a Christian’s suicide said The Rev. Peter Preus, addressing a crowded Loehe Hall, filled with congregational members and community guests, in the first To Everyone an Answer lecture of the 2014-2015 season on Oct. 19.
The Rev. Peter Bender prefaced Preus’ address with words from Philippians, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Phil. 3:9), saying “self-worth lies in having the righteousness of Christ, having our sins forgiven as the free gift of His grace, apart from our merit, is the ultimate comfort for us in our troubles.” Pastor Bender’s words were a fitting introduction to the Gospel-laden presentation that was to follow.
Preus, pastor of Lutheran Church of the Triune God, Brooklyn Center, Minn., spoke of the apparent contradiction of the one who is both Christian and who committed suicide presents—How can one who has faith in Christ also despair of that faith by committing suicide? This paradoxical duality often leads to the false conclusion that the loved one lost his or her faith, leaving the suicide survivor to deal with the burden of the stigma of suicide. This stigma comes from judgment and ignorance of the facts said Preus. The stigma is removed by the truth. In order to resolve a number of stigmas associated with suicide, we as Lutherans must address what we know—what is faith? What is sin? And what is God’s grace? Preus drew upon examples of clinical depression and its relationship to suicide from his personal and pastoral experience, focusing in his answers to these questions upon saving faith. Faith is trust in Christ as Savior, and it is not equated with positive feelings, cognitive thinking, reasonable opinions, or an understanding of truth. Preus emphasized that faith saves because of what it has: the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.
One of the most comforting doctrines is that God keeps us in a state of grace noted Preus. “Baptism is God’s means of protecting us spiritually.” God’s grace is stronger than the sin of suicide. And as a baby who wants out of its mother’s arms, God is stronger than our desire to want out of His care and protection Preus told the audience. Preus illustrated how many of the judgments upon the suicidal and guilt placed upon those who remain after a suicide, arise out of a psychological understanding of faith which desires to “add-on” to faith: faith plus obedience, faith plus reason, faith plus self-esteem, or faith plus optimism.
Preus closed the evening stressing that pastors should not ignore the appropriate need for medical attention nor the sin of suicide with the depressed, but in pastoral care, the emphasis needs to be upon the Gospel as the final word. As the words to the hymn “Salvation unto Us Has Come” proclaims, “the Law no peace can ever give, no comfort and no blessing.” Relief can be found in God’s Word of the Gospel and in His sacraments. Talking about one’s baptism, attending the divine service, and providing God’s gifts of private communion and private confession to the depressed and hopeless brings the future hope of being with Christ in heaven to earth and into this present life, even if circumstances may not change. In consoling the grieving who have lost loved ones to suicide, Preus suggests that rather than focusing upon the effects of sin in depression and disease upon those who committed suicide, comfort for the grieving can be provided by talking about who this person was in Christ as a baptized and redeemed person. Christ died for every sin, despair, and hopelessness, even that which accompanies depression and suicide.
Editor’s Note: An audio CD of the full presentation is available for free. Copies of Preus’s book, And She Was a Christian: Why Do Believers Commit Suicide? are available at cost ($20). Contact Brenda in the church office, 262-246-3200.
What Should I Know About Depression?
Not all people with depression will show all symptoms to the same degree. Consult a medical doctor for proper diagnosis. Other disorders show similar characteristics to depression. In an emergency, contact 911. For suicide prevention, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: 1-888-333-2377 may be a helpful resource. Pastor Bender may also be reached at 262-370-1189.