President Harrison preaches at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Oconomowoc, WI
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
October 4, 2015
We do not always know how to pray, so Christ gives us words in the prayer He has taught us. You never have to doubt your prayer when the words are given by Christ Himself. That same wisdom gave birth to our hymnal. While no hymnal is divinely inspired, we are blessed when the liturgy we chant is taken from Scripture and when many of the hymns we sing have been sung by the faithful for centuries, standing the test of time. Our hymnal has passed through scrutinizing theological review to ensure that it will us faithfully. And does it ever serve us well! Consider the order of service for Holy Matrimony found on page 275. Following the invocation, you hear these wonderful words that capture the beauty of marriage. “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.” Later, it continues, “The union of husband and wife in heart, body, and mind is intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Marriage was also ordained so that man and woman may find delight in one another. Therefore, all persons who marry shall take a spouse in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust, for God has not called us to impurity but in holiness. God also established marriage for the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord so that they may offer Him their praise.” In other words, marriage is a blessing, a gift from God.
Christ gave marriage to man and woman when there was no sin. That is just how blessed an estate it is; built into the fabric of God’s good creation. But creation is now fallen, tainted with sin. Still marriage remains God’s blessed, holy gift. From the fall, marriage has been under attack. Satan hates all of God’s gifts, but he has particular disdain for marriage. In the fall, Satan seeks to undo what God had done in marriage. The two became one flesh by God’s grace. At the fall, Adam turns on his wife. God calls Adam to account for his sin and what does he do? He blames his wife – “the woman whom you gave me, she gave me the fruit!” Instead of confessing marriage as a gift, Adam blames it for his fall. And Satan smiled in delight. Satan attacked marriage then and he’s still attacking marriage today. You see it all around us. It is symptomatic of how much sin has blinded our age that we have become confused about what has been understood throughout history. Marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. That has been under attack throughout the ages. Abraham looked outside his union with Sarah for a son. David perverted marriage by becoming culturally relevant by means of polygamy. But in our age, marriage has been redefined to be whatever you want. When marriage can mean everything, then it means nothing. Which shouldn’t surprise us because we are just like the hard-hearted folk of Moses’ day. Jesus says that Moses allowed for divorce because of their hardness of heart. Can the age of no-fault divorce be any different?
We rightly point out where our age has gone astray. But are we willing to point out where we have gone astray? And we certainly have abused marriage because we are sinners. And that is what sinners do. The fall perverts our view of everything. It perverts the most central reality of marriage. Marriage is a gift; it is not a human invention to be manipulated and re-engineered. Marriage is a gift. More specifically, woman is a gift to man. God looked upon Adam and said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” So the Lord created the woman and brought her to the man. Woman was given to man. Perhaps that is why I have observed men struggle more than women when a spouse dies. Certainly, losing a husband is hard for a loving wife. And certainly a husband is a gift from God to a woman. Yet I have discussed with other pastors how we often find a widower tied to his wife’s grave for months and years. Man needs woman. But that is perverted by some men to commandeer control over their wives, treating her as a servant rather than bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. It happens in the Church as husbands will pervert God’s word so that they might justify their domineering control of their wives. The Biblical teaching of headship is used to force a wife into submission rather than to live in sacrificial love toward her. The Biblical teaching of the one-flesh union will be perverted into the requirement that she be available for his every physical demand.
Our perversion of marriage pours over into children. The Lord loves life, so He brings life from the one-flesh union as children are conceived and born. Today, we rejoice that the Lord’s gift of marriage has led to another child being brought to the font that she might be an heir of everlasting life. Still, in our sin, we have perverted the gift of children. On one hand, we commoditize children so that they are desired based upon economic stability or they are feigned because the economics are not right at this time. Others will overreact to such a de-valuation of children by turning them into a legalistic requirement of marriage. Children are not a commodity nor are they a burden of the law. Children are a gift within the one-flesh union.
If only that were the only way we have abused marriage. We have also treated it as an idol. That is the temptation with all of God’s gifts, pervert them to be the end-all rather than a gift from He who alone is our all. We have idolized marriage by seeing a man or a woman as somehow less without marriage. Similarly, we are tempted to see those one-flesh unions who have not been blessed with children as somehow less than those who have been given children. Was Jesus somehow less because He did not marry and did not father children? What about St. Paul?
Dignity, value and worth is found in one place. It is found in union with Christ. That allows for marriage to be seen in its proper light. Marriage is not for me to gain stature, dignity or whatever. Marriage is for me to serve another in a unique way. And if Christ has not united you with another, you can still serve others with all the beauty and dignity that is yours as a child of God. And if Christ has not blessed your one-flesh union with a child, you can still love and cherish your spouse faithfully and serve all those whom Christ has placed in your life.
Christ brings the woman to Adam who says, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The depth and beauty of those words is only surpassed by God’s own words. “This is why a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife and the two will become one flesh.” Two become one. It is a mystery. If you think you have “two become one” all figured out; you don’t. It is a mystery that transcends our understanding. It is like the two natures in Christ. He is at the same time fully human and fully divine. How can that be? It’s a mystery. It is like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three persons in one God. How can that be? It’s a mystery. I can no more wrap my mind around “two become one” than I can wrap my mind around the two natures in Christ or the Trinity. I cannot fully comprehend it; but I can confess it. I can love and cherish it.
Love and cherish the mystery of two become one because it is a reflection of the greater mystery which is the one-flesh union of Christ and His bride the Church. Jesus sealed His marriage to His bride by shedding His blood for her that she might be cleansed and made holy. Christ gives His body and blood under bread and wine to His Church that His union with His bride might be tangible and real. Christ binds Himself bodily to His bride. This is where we find answer to how our sinful age attacks marriage. You will honor marriage as the one-flesh union of man and woman until death parts them because it proclaims Christ’s union with the Church. Christian men, you will not domineer your wife, for Christ does not domineer His bride. He serves her, perfectly, selflessly, sacrificially, completely. Whether you are married or single, engaged or divorced, widowed or yearning for a spouse, with a herd of children or praying fervently for just one child to be given, you will look to one place for fulfillment; you will look to Christ. The union which makes you whole, complete, never in doubt about your value, confident in your place in this world and in the world to come is the union in which Christ unites Himself with you by His body and blood.
Rev. Kevin Golden, PhD
Pastor, Village Lutheran Church
Another brutal and senseless killing spree by a crazed gunman, motivated by racial hatred, sends our thoughts swirling between despair and numbness. Why were these nine Christians martyred as they were taking in the life-giving Word of God in Christian Bible study? We know and are too often reminded that there is horrid evil in this world, and an “evil one” who bedevils the minds of such killers. Jesus said it would be so (John 17:15).
As the world devolves around us from insanity to insanity, I’m reminded of the statement of John Adams that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Nowhere is that more true than in the case of the Second Amendment. As both religion and morality are on steep decline among us, we can only expect more of this insanity by individuals unhinged from the safety of families and a society normed by natural law and influenced by the genuine teaching of the Bible. “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
No truth of the New Testament is so loudly stated by Jesus than that the Triune God is the creator of all people (Matt. 19:4); that God loves all (John 3:16); that all are equally indebted to God and valuable to Him (2 Cor. 5:14–15; John 8:12). Racism is a fundamental denial of the Word of God (cf. Acts 2:5ff.; Matt. 15:21ff.) and natural law. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (Declaration of Independence). The denial of human rights, maltreatment of persons due to race, including the forbidding of the right for a man and a woman to marry without regard to race, is contrary to natural and divinely revealed law (Holy Scripture). It also contradicts the universality of the truth of the Gospel of Christ, who died for all (Romans 3:9–10, 19; 2 Cor. 5:19).
We mourn the loss of these dear Christians and pray for their loved ones. May they be consoled by “the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting,” and the picture of heaven painted by St. John in Revelation of “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands” (Revelation 7:9).
We reject racism and racially motivated hatred in all its forms. We repent where we have fallen short, and we pray for strength to stand for what is good and right and true. We pray for the perpetrator and his family, even as we demand the swift execution of justice.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Pastor Matthew C. Harrison
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
Some 1800 years after Tertullian of Carthage wrote these words about Christian martyrdom at the time of Roman emperor, Septimus Severus, his prophetic utterance comes to mind at the news that radical Muslims murdered 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on the same north African coast not 750 miles from Tertullian’s home. It is a sad reminder of the horrid conquest by Islam of the once thriving and dominant intellectual center of Christianity in North Africa. Pope Francis’ words were right. We, too, stand with all martyrs and confessors of Jesus, no matter what Christian church or confession. These men died with the words, “Jesus, help us!” on their lips. That is the fundamental confession of a genuine faith. We mourn with the Coptic community, not only in Egypt and North Africa, but here in the United States.
As Christians, we plead in prayer for secular leaders everywhere, and certainly for our own. We also plead in prayer for our brothers and sisters in the faith all over the globe, and particularly in the morass of the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Asia, Nigeria, and wherever else the irrationality of radical Islam and Islamic states threatens the lives of not only Christians, but also Jews and of anyone who dares to contradict the dictates of their insanity. As Christians we know Tertullian’s words are true. We know that, in the divine plan of the suffering and cross of Christ, the victory belongs to Christ. We know that martyrdom is the normal course of Christianity (Luke 21:12). “I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Rev. 6:9–10). Even as we know the Lord’s recompense must come, we will continue to pray for the souls of those who are possessed of the devilish delusion that such murderous action is pleasing to God. “Pray for those who persecute you,” is a mandate of the Savior (Matt. 5:44).
We also stand and bear witness to the genius of Luther’s two-kingdom doctrine. Religion and government are distinct. “Our churches teach that lawful civil regulations are good works of God. They teach that it is right for Christians to hold political office, to serve as judges, to judge matters by imperial laws and other existing laws, to impose just punishments, to engage in just wars, to serve as soldiers, to make legal contracts to hold property . . .” (Augsburg Confession XVI 1–2). “The Gospel does not introduce laws about the public state, but is the forgiveness of sins and the beginning of a new life in the hearts of believers” (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XVI 58). “Therefore the two governments, the spiritual and secular, should not be mingled or confused” (Augsburg Confession XVIII 12). Governments do not possess authority over the mind and heart, and certainly not faith. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). We seek no Christian government per se. We seek governments that recognize the basic and universal dignity of all people, the right of free speech for all people, and the right of freedom of faith and worship for all people and all religions. Such freedom guarantees the free course of the Gospel. Islam’s “one-kingdom” dogma—that is, that state and religion are one—is a gross confusion of what God has determined ought be distinct and separate, and it threatens not only Christianity but free intellectual discourse as well as the rational functioning of the state in carrying out its divinely mandated and rationally determined functions. The state exists for the protection of life, property, and freedom. The governing authorities, according to the Bible, “do not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4). No soldier or government official is criticized for his vocation per se in the New Testament (Luke 3:14). Governments are to punish evil and wage just war. Wanton violation of the rights of Christians, and any and all citizens in this world, demands the recompense of legitimate authority.
By all accounts, Christianity in America is following the path it has taken in Europe. Luther, whose death we commemorate today (February 18), prophesied that the Gospel is like a passing rain shower, which comes for a time and then leaves. He correctly foretold that after a time in Germany, the Gospel would leave, and they would have Islam. That is coming true today, even as many German Muslims are converting to Christianity. The reason the Gospel passes away, according to Luther? Thanklessness (Luther’s Works, 23:261).
On this Ash Wednesday, and during this Lententide, may the horrid events of the past days in Libya and beyond, remind us of what a precious treasure the Gospel is and the freedom to believe and act upon it as we see fit. Lord, have mercy upon us, and grant us ever thankful hearts.
Matthew C. Harrison
February 18, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
Today is Ash Wednesday, when the Church begins her slow and measured journey to the cross, where we see Jesus: the Savior who hangs — bloodied and scourged — for us. It is a time of reflection and repentance for me and also for you, for all of us as the LCMS, and for the Church throughout the world.
And yet in the midst of our dusty Lenten ashes, we also look forward to Easter, when our Lord is raised from the dead, triumphing over sin and Satan, all for us. Yes, even during our Lenten fast, joy abounds!
That’s why I want to share two important things with you, so that you may see and know that our Lord is at work in and among each one of us, and is using us collectively as the LCMS to bear witness to Him.
First, our Synod treasurer, Jerry Wulf, shared at our Board of Directors meeting last weekend that together as the Synod we have reduced internal borrowing of restricted funds to cash flow operations from some $16 million four years ago to zero. You read that correctly. Zero! And we’re not stopping there. To get our financial house in order, we have also achieved a three-month cash reserve for operations, which is the minimum for a responsible non-profit.
Second, I’m delighted to announce that we are closing in on doubling the number of career missionaries internationally, which is a goal set by the Synod in convention in 2013. We are working to find a measured pace that will ensure that a sound system of missionary care remains in place but, by God’s grace, will also enable us to continue to add men and women, lay and clergy, to our worldwide mission team. The international moment unfolding worldwide before us as the LCMS is truly astounding!
So, thank you. Thank you for taking part in getting our finances in order so that we may be hearty stewards of all our Lord has to give. And thank you for being a part of our church’s mission work, that our fellow members may go to the ends of the earth to bear witness to Christ to those who have not yet heard that they are loved and whole on account of His death and resurrection.
Thank you. Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s Word and to the Lutheran Confessions. Lay people, thank you for loving your pastors. Pastors, thank you for loving your people.
Thank you for living boldly as the baptized children, loved by God, that you are. And thank you for the privilege of serving you. I covet your prayers and promise you mine, this Lenten season and always.
Under the cross,
Pastor Matt Harrison
President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod