The sermon, based upon Ephesians 5, preached by the Rev. Larry A. Peters, at the wedding of (the Rev. Seminarian) Coleman Geraci and (Deaconesss) Rachel Fickenscher, at Kramer Chapel, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, IN, on Saturday, October 7, 2017.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Coleman and Rachel.
Flannery O’Connor famously wrote “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” – but you already know that Rachel. O’Connor’s story has become one of the most profound short stories in American literature – but it is not so much about marriage. The theme of the story, however, is how grace works in territory held largely by the devil. And that is why we are here.
Something indeed happened to make finding a good man or a good woman difficult and it is the same thing that transformed marriage into a relationship that requires much work. When Adam surveyed and named all that God had made, he found one thing off. He was alone. It was not that God gave him much choice in the matter. A deep sleep and the loss of a rib and Adam was presented with the best woman available. And he recognized it. Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!
For Eve it was not much different. From the first time she opened her eyes, Adam was in her vision. There was no awkward meeting, no courtship, no eHarmony surveys – and there were no in-laws to deal with, either. It was perfect! A perfect match!
Things went downhill from there. Sin and jealousy opened their eyes to things they had never seen before and it as not good. The complement became competition. The relationship became a power struggle. In the end Adam threw his perfect spouse under the bus to justify himself and she was not without excuse as well. Ahhh, and now we are back to Flannery O’Connor. Marriage has become how grace works in a territory held largely by the devil. Marriage made be made in heaven but it is lived out right here on earth, where sin and its death reign.
Even though the fall changed Adam and Eve and all their children, including you Coleman and you Rachel, St. Paul still holds up the ideal. Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord and husbands love your wives as Christ gave Himself up for her. Being people who have gotten rather comfortable living with the way things are since the fall, his words are hard to hear in our ears. So despite God’s creative intent and because of sin, marriage have become where grace works even though the territory is held largely by the devil. But this grace is not merely existing, this grace is thriving and transforming and succeeding in God’s purpose for His glory.
Let me put it another way. Two sinners standing before the Lord making ideal promises would be a fool’s errand for any husband and wife to be except that God is here. He has provided grace to you so that you may make promises that are not only ideal, they are real.
Despite what you may think, Rachel, Coleman is not perfect. He may not even be as good as Adam. And Coleman, I hate to say it, but Rachel is not perfect. She may not be as good as Eve. But you are not here to recreate an idealized version of marriage. You are here, by the grace of God, to grow into your new vocations as husband to Rachel and wife to Coleman. Neither of you will master it in your lifetimes but God will supply grace so that you may daily grow up into the godly man who will provide for and protect his wife even at the cost of himself and the godly woman who will not shrink from honoring her husband as God’s man in your life and home.
All of this happens in territory held largely by the devil. You must live out your marriage in a world which denies mean and women are different and invents genders at will. Your marriage is lived out in a world where love always comes second to self – where giving comes way down the line after getting and where it is always me first. Your marriage is lived out in a world where manliness is mistaken as power and womanliness is mistaken as a competing power.
What St. Paul is advocating for is nothing less than a marriage shaped by grace – the grace of forgiveness, the grace of self-sacrifice, the grace of honor, the grace of compassion, and the grace of real love (not proud or arrogant or selfish).
So where on earth do you see this? You see it first in Christ and His Church. Our Lord is devoted to His Church, covering her sin with His righteousness and forgiving her, defending her against every enemy, taking her side before His Father, and ruling her not by might but by grace and sacrifice. He has made the Church, His bride, a new creation by water and the Word, wooed her, won her, and bought her with His blood. And the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, responds to the power of this love with faith and trust, with a grateful heart and with humility that is in awe of such perfect love. Herein she learns to love, learns to love holiness, and to live the holy new life God alone has bestowed.
But you also see it in marriages where imperfect men and imperfect women in peace and forgiveness and joy become servants of one another for Jesus’ sake. I see it here. I see it in you, Coleman, and your desire, by the grace of God, to be Christ-like toward Rachel. I see it in you, Rachel, and your desire, by the grace of God, to submit to Coleman as to the Lord.
Marriage is not holy because holy people get married. Marriage is holy because it is made holy by grace. A good man is hard to find. A good woman just as hard to find. But we proclaim a Gospel where love has become incarnate, to seek and find, to forgive and restore, and to find perfect joy in the other – no matter its cost.
The world is going to hell in a handbasket and it has been for a long time. We cannot even say for sure what it means to be a man or a woman, anymore. Marriage is the object of scorn where desire is mistaken for love, where children are seen as burdens or as objects, and where husbands and wives are forced into the impossible role of making us happy.
But your marriage is not lived out in the world. It is lived out under grace, before this cross and from this altar. You have Christ for you and Christ in you by baptism. Hidden there is the most wonderful joy of marriage that is today, tomorrow, and forever. So Rachel, submit to Coleman as to the Lord and Coleman love Rachel as Christ loved you. For you belong to Christ and your life together is lived out in Christ, in grace, and in peace. And your life together will be the sign of Christ’s love to our broken world and of the perfect love that exists between Christ and His Church.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved you and gave himself up for you, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Amen. In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.