Sunday, December 29, 2019

Forgotten grace. . .

In our drive to justify not calling marriage a sacrament, we Lutherans have lost the sacramental nature of this divine institution that comes with God's blessings attached and ended up giving aid and comfort to the idea that such things as marriage, family, children, and vocation are mere matters of personal preference and decision.  They have become essentially secular subjects in the minds of our people.  We have lost sight of the Table of Duties and of the essential connection between these and so much more and the gift of God used in accordance with His design and accompanied with His blessing.

The result of bequeathing marriage to the secular realm is, in effect, admitting that there is distance between God and the choice to marry or not, to have children or not, and to be faithful to your spouse or not.  Marriage is left to personal choice -- not only the choice of who to marry but if to marry.  This is not Lutheran.  Marriage is not simply a choice but the design of God and, though there are those to whom God has given the grace of singleness, the direction of all humanity is to marry, husband to wife and wife to husband.  It is not simply a divine command who may marry but it is the direction of all humanity to marry in accordance with the shape of marriage given by God in creation and to which God has attached the promise of blessing.  That some long for marriage and have no husband or wife is not God's intention but the manifestation of sin against the very construct that is the shape of human life on earth.

The same holds true of the choice to have a child or children or not.  Our people have come to think of this precisely in terms of the world's idea of personal preference and independent decision.  Can this be reconciled with the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth?  Do we have a choice here or are children the fruit of the love that is planted by God's design in the woman made for man and the name who desires the woman as the flesh of his flesh and bone of his bone?  Birth control has become merely a stewardship issue for some Lutherans as if choosing not to have children is as legitimate a choice as having them.  How can we justify this except by ceding to the secular realm of choice and preference this most wonderful grace given to husband and wife?  In natural family planning at least the abstinent make sacrifice but with artificial means of birth control there is no sacrifice in choosing not to have child.  The pleasure is kept but the fruitfulness is emptied and we have left our people thinking that this is a moral choice they are free to make without all that much consideration or concern.  God barely enters into any decision here and thus the morality or immorality of the choice is left supremely to the individual or the couple to do what seems right in their own sight.

In the same way, vocation is too easily surrendered to the realm of choice in the same way and thus God barely registers as reason for who we are or what we do.  We simply make prudent choices given the circumstances we find ourselves in -- and that is all Christian morality has become?  We Lutherans often presume that these subjects can only be reasoned by two choices -- one that leaves people in the secular realm making their own choices as best they are able or the Roman Catholic model of law, rules, and commandments that must be fulfilled to live within a state of grace.  Are these really our only two choices?

Sacraments by our definition have visible meals and a promise of the grace of forgiveness attached to them.  That is all well and good.  But marriage is sacramental.  It has God's institution and it is accompanied with His promise of blessing.  It is hardly secular.  The family exists not simply for the choice and to fulfill the desires of those within that family but for the purposes for which God has established that family.  There, where the faith is lived, taught, and passed down, is where we see that family exists for more than to serve as a building block of society and community.  It is the primary incubator of the faith.  And the children born to that husband and wife are not mere matters of their own choice or desire but God's will.  Be fruitful and multiply did not stop with the introduction of sin but continue even with sin's corruption of its perfection.  Marriage is the shape of family and family expects children.  This is the witness of Scripture and the manifestation of Christian life in the home.  It is not up to the individual couple to decide what is best for them alone.  This is not simply a matter of what they think works for them for they and their life together flows from God's design, is sustained by His love, and is marked with His hand of blessing.  Children are not incidental or optional to this.

While as the heirs of Luther we do not call marriage a sacrament, we joyfully acknowledge its sacramental character both as God’s institution and gift and we confess it to be a high and holy calling (not simply choice or preference).  Marriage is given by God in credation.  What God gives is holy and good and for our benefit as well as His glory.  Though marriage is His gift to man, it still belongs to Him and He defines it and gives it meaning.  More than this, He makes its promises possible with the gift of His love and the power of His forgiveness.  Husband and wife have a noble vocation and a high and holy calling to live in the world and before the Lord within the estate of marriage.  So Luther paraphrases Proverbs 18:22:  “Therefore Solomon also says, ‘Whoever finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains a blessing from the Lord.’

Yet we have stopped talking in this way and left our people with the sad conclusion that when it comes to marriage or having a family, they choose just like any couple not Christian, what is right in their eyes and what works for them.  Is that all there is to this?

Marriage belongs to God and is His gift to man.  In a context where marriage as God’s institution is under assault, Christians do well to study Luther’s words, which are really the Word of God from Holy Scripture.  God grant us to repent of our own abuse of marriage and sexuality, our casual acceptance of cultural mores, and our flippancy toward this sacred institution.  God grant us also by His grace to live in the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and believe His promises concerning the blessed estate of matrimony.  God is pleased with it, and by it He fills and rules the earth.  We should honor and revere marriage as God’s holy will, promote it to our children, pray for its sanctity, and model its holiness in our own relationships.  To this end, God help us.  (copied from The Rev. Jonathon T. Krenz)

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