In Nomine Iesu
August 29, 2010
Pentecost 14—Proper 17C
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~
Some things never change. Oh sure, most things do change. Our technology changes. Who knew about i-pods, i-pads, and i-phones just ten years ago? It’s also true that our bodies are always changing. Toddlers turn into teenagers. Hair goes gray. And sometimes hair just goes! I’ll even concede that our perspectives change—the way we see the world—the way we think—our attitudes change.
But some things never change; and that’s why we’re gathered here this morning. Our God does not change. The author of the sermon to the Hebrews states clearly, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” God’s Law, summarized in the Ten Commandments, does not change. And neither does our ongoing rebellion against that Law—our attempts to circumvent those commandments—our attempts to be god in place of God. Thankfully, the promises of our God don’t change either—promises to forgive our sin for Jesus’ sake. He is the Lamb who was slain as our substitute whose blood sets us free to be people of God. That doesn’t change.
Earlier this year we studied the book of Hebrews during our Sunday morning Bible study. We learned that the book of Hebrews is, in many ways, a sermon—written for Jewish converts to Christianity during the first century. For these former Jews, the very foundations of the faith had radically changed. Everything was new and different. The primary purpose of the “sermon” to the Hebrews is to proclaim Jesus Christ—how He is true God and true man, how He is superior to the angels and superior to Moses, how His mercy and forgiveness are received not by sacrifices at the temple, but by faith.
But despite all the changes that these Jewish Christians were facing, the sermon to the Hebrews concludes (as we heard today) with a reminder that some things do not change—such as the need for God’s people to keep on loving each other, the need to be hospitable and to look after those who had been imprisoned because of their faith in Jesus, the need to beware of the love of money. These were comfortable old truths—unchanging commands from the unchanging God.
Of all these truths that do not change, perhaps the one we most need to hear today is stated in v.4: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” In that one sentence the preacher to the Hebrews has given us an earful. Some things never change. What God declares about sex and marriage will never change. God declares that sex and marriage go together—and what God has joined together, let not man separate.
A lot of people today would find that to be a rather quaint, old-fashioned notion, but it’s really just some straight talk from God about sex and marriage. We live in a world that’s not all that different from the early New Testament world. Back when the book of Hebrews was written prostitution, adultery, homosexuality and even pedophilia were all socially acceptable practices. Today the only thing that’s changed is that we have an entertainment industry to glamorize it and publicize it and digitalize it. Christians then and Christians now are part of a small minority who hold fast to what the Creator of sex and marriage has to say about these gifts. And what He says is that any sexual relationship outside the marriage union is sinful. It is harmful. It is wrong.
But it’s not just a question of what not to do; for God also reminds us that marriage should be honored by all. Literally, marriage should be treasured and respected. Marriage isn’t a human idea. It’s not a human institution. It’s divine—a good gift from God. Therefore, we should honor marriage. We should value marriage. We should esteem it as a very precious thing. It’s not ours to tinker with, to revise, revamp or redefine. Marriage, God says, should be honored by all.
Yet, we find so many ways to dishonor marriage. Adultery and sexual immorality dishonor marriage, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When husbands do not love their wives as Christ loved the church—when husbands refuse to sacrifice and suffer for the good of their wives—marriage is dishonored. When wives do not submit to their husbands as they submit to Christ—when wives attempt to rule the roost with a steady barrage of bitterness, criticism and fault-finding, marriage is dishonored. Pornography dishonors marriage. So does abuse and grudge-holding and a refusal to forgive. Some things never change, including, sadly, our ability to dishonor God’s wonderful gift of marriage. And for this we all need to repent and be reconciled.
Why devote so much time to a topic like this? After all, it’s an uncomfortable subject for some and perhaps a little embarrassing for others. But if our God loves us enough to give us this unchanging truth about sex and marriage, then this straight talk needs to be proclaimed and heard—here and now more than ever. Because the messages we hear outside these walls about sex and marriage couldn’t be more wrong. Our children (whatever their age), our teens, our twenty-somethings—every person here today—is constantly assaulted with the destructive and harmful lie that sex and marriage do not go together—that marriage is whatever you want it to be—that your body is yours to do with whatever you see fit.
You can buy into those lies about sex and marriage. You can accept as normal the emptiness, the loneliness, the fear that always follows behind those who choose to live by their own rules.
OR, you can live each day in the glad confidence that you are not your own—that your body from the top of your head to the tips of your toes—is a temple of the Holy Spirit. You can live each day in the joy of your baptism. It’s because of that baptism that your body is sacred space—holy ground where the Holy Spirit has taken up residence. And this is the best of news! For it’s by that Holy Spirit that you can honor marriage and keep your own marriage holy and pure. It’s by that Holy Spirit—living in your body—that you can lead a sexually pure and decent life in what you say and do, and husband and wife can love and honor each other.
It’s by the Holy Spirit that the forgiveness of Jesus Christ is personally applied to you, for your sins—including sins of adultery and sexual immorality and homosexuality. You see, in the grace of Jesus Christ adulterers are not always adulterers. The sexually immoral are not always sexually immoral. There’s an amazing passage in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. There in chapter six he writes, first of all, about God’s strict judgment on all adulterers and all the sexually immoral. But because Jesus Christ died to forgive those very sins, Paul doesn’t stop there. He can’t. And so he writes, “That is what some of you were.” Notice the verb tense. Some in the Corinthian church had committed acts of adultery and immorality in the past. But they were adulterers no more. They were guilty no more. Because, Paul writes, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11).
To those troubled about sexual sins, Paul points them to their baptism, where they were washed—where they became holy children of God. To those who have pretended that sex and marriage do not go together, Paul points them to Jesus. Why? Because with Jesus there is forgiveness. “You are not your own,” the Bible says, “you were bought at a price.” Jesus is the One who paid that price, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death, so that you might be His own—so that you now belong to Jesus.
Beloved in the Lord, this is precisely why we Christians practice sexual abstinence before marriage. This is precisely why we Christians practice sexual faithfulness within marriage: We’ve already been spoken for! Our bodies are members of Christ’s body. Our bodies belong to Him. How then could we use these bodies for cheap thrills or selfish gratification?
Some things never change. What God declares about sex and marriage will never change. Sex and marriage go together. God has put those things together for your good, because He loves you, and because He wants nothing but the best for you. How can we use these good gifts as God intends? How can we lead sexually pure and decent lives? Our own willpower isn’t enough. Good intentions, pledges and promises can’t be guaranteed to corral the passions of the body or the lusts of the heart. No, purity and self-control are gifts of God—fruits of His Holy Spirit. That Spirit does His work in you by the power of your baptism, in your hearing of God’s Word preached and proclaimed, and in the Holy Supper of Jesus’ body and blood. There you will find power to drown the Old Adam. There you will find strength to honor marriage. There God gives purity, self-control, forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting. You can count on it. Because some things—those things—never change. Amen.