It was a court case for the ages, a case that would set precedent, a case that was appealed to the highest court in the land.
Meanwhile, the Christians waited. And worried. And wondered:
- What would the outcome be?
- How would this case affect the Christian Church?
- What would Christian proclamation look like, if and when this court case was decided against the Christian viewpoint?
No doubt, they prayed….well, HOPEFULLY they prayed, rather than simply fretting over the daily politics.
And it was on everyone’s mind. The church was buzzing with the news; some people said just wait & see what happens, while others postulated about - and PLANNED for - a worst-case scenario.
But through it all, Paul sat in prison – a prisoner for the sake of Christ, originally imprisoned in Jerusalem on some trumped-up charges of violating the sacred space of the Temple by bringing some uncircumcised heathen into the Temple area. And Paul could have been freed! But instead, he appealed to Caesar.
And now – the Ephesians waited…worried…wondered…fretted, buzzed – and hopefully prayed.
Perhaps you can sympathize.
- You’ve seen the headlines, watched the coverage, formed your opinions, perhaps shared them with others;
- You’ve already worried and fretted over the worst-case scenarios;
- Maybe you’ve pointed at the precedent and the past history of other countries, as those countries enact laws that were further & further from the laws of God’s Word;
- Maybe you’ve seen the commentary, fellow Christians saying we don’t have anything to worry about - because we’ve still got the First Amendment! Yes, our Constitution will still protect us, so that we’ll never have to suffer for the name of Christ!
- Maybe you’ve wrung your hands, seeing this hill as one worthy of staking your Christianity upon; after all, the slow slide of society further into publicly-acepted sin must be stopped somehow, must be challenged at every turn – why not here?
If you missed the headlines, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling on the case Obergefell v. Hodges, pointing to the 14th amendment as reason why marriage between two men or two women should be the law of the land.
And - I don’t know about you - but I haven’t seen such an avalanche of discussion in a very long time. Whether it’s Facebook or Monday’s newspaper, the nightly news or every blog and online news source…we’re talking coverage of the facts, opinions about whether the Court was right and justified - or whether they overstepped their responsibilities; opinions, editorials, worries, and wonders.
And I can only imagine similar conversations at the coffee shops and fast food restaurants across our country. Perhaps you’ve had similar conversations yourself; maybe you’re a little upset that the sign of God’s post-Flood promise (the rainbow) has been hijacked by people who use the rainbow for a very different purpose.
Quite frankly, I’m afraid. But in another respect, I’m relieved.
Stick with me a moment so that’s not taken out of context.
I’m not afraid that, one day, Christians may be imprisoned in America as they have in Europe when speaking God’s truth.
I’m not afraid that this court case somehow changes our purpose and priority as Christian churches in America.
I’m not afraid, in any way, that a homosexual couple will come to our church demanding to be married. Feel free.
I’m not afraid that our son Joel will grow up thinking homosexual marriage is okay – but I am a little afraid that Joel will think that THAT sin is worse than any other sin.
But even more:
I’m afraid that we’ve lost our way.
I’m afraid that we identify more quickly with politics and parties and stances and positions than we do with Christ.
I’m afraid that we can quote Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly off the tops of our heads, summarizing their words in the most winsome, polite, friendly way; gladly speaking up about their opinion, or our opinion on any and every political topic . . . while many of us remain clueless as to the topic of Galatians or any quotation from the Gospel of John;
Or we’re so quick to declare God’s design for marriage, but that we do so with a self-satisfied, angry attitude that distracts from the glory of God revealed in every phase and aspect of his creation & plan of salvation.
And in a way, I’m relieved.
I didn’t say HAPPY - I said relieved:
- Relieved, that maybe finally the Christians in America will begin to understand what it means to suffer for the name of Christ, and to suffer joyfully; not because our sufferings earn us any merit points with God, but because the reason for our suffering is the name of Jesus - and not our own privately-held, publicly-spouted opinions;
- Relieved that, hopefully, Christians across our country will realize that - as much as our government’s laws may reflect our Christian beliefs - the government never can and never will replace Christian proclamation, and the government never can and hopefully never will take upon itself the task which belongs to Christians alone.
That’s what Paul talks about in the text before us: God’s intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In other words:
- Church of God - that’s you, dear Christian - Church of God, you alone have been given the unique job, unique task of proclaiming the truth of our forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
- World may shout, scream, object, decry, legislate, even imprison and kill; so what? That’s what the world has always done, and it would be a fallacy to think that the world has ever aligned itself with what God’s Word says. “The kings of the earth take their stand against the LORD and against his Anointed One…the One enthroned in heaven laughs; the LORD scoffs at them,” Psalm 2.
- You’ve been entrusted with the many-faceted, trackless beauty of God’s riches in Christ. That beautiful word is used to describe the many blessings we have been given in Christ. It’s like you’re following along after Christ, tracing his footsteps through sand or dirt, following after the one single set of footprints, following the one single blessing of forgiveness. And then a set of extra footprints crosses the path. And another, another, another. Pretty soon, there are so many footprints that you can’t detect the original set!
That’s how God describes the many blessings we’ve been given in Christ: So many, found in the manger and cross and empty tomb and mount of Ascension – so many that we cannot trace them all out, and we almost lose track of them all.
And you know what God has done, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord:
Remember chapter 1, where we saw how God planned your salvation - YOUR salvation - from eternity, and how God chose you in eternity, before he began the world; and that God brought you to faith…in your lifetime…through his chosen tools of Word & Sacrament.
Remember how, despite the fact that we were outsiders and foreigners – you and I have been brought into the family of Christ, you and I have been washed clean and made co-heirs, co-members with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.
That is God’s purpose for his church: Not to reform society, or come up with the most perfect set of laws; not to make sure that our culture doesn’t applaud rampant outward sin; but to declare what God has done, in both law and gospel, with the express purpose of bringing glory to Jesus.
And that’s exactly what God says here: That throughout history, the very angels who have been observing God’s actions and praising him from the day of their creation - those very angels are watching in wonder as God’s grace is revealed more and more in the lives of his people; and when you share God’s truth, even the demons of hell shudder once more.
His intent was that now, through the church - that’s you & me - through the Church, the manifold, trackless wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So what do we do now?
Now that homosexual marriage is here, what do we do?
- God’s people do what they have always done: preach law and gospel. Nothing has changed in that regard.
- And practically speaking, from personal experience – this isn’t the first time I’ve served in a country that permitted homosexual marriage. Truth be told, it’s not that different – although perhaps the one difference is that Christians weren’t looking to the government to enforce or encourage morality; rather, the Christians understood that government is not and never will be the friend of the church, no matter how much we might think and hope, and we need to preach and work together and praise and sacrifice accordingly.
- Please, look again at God’s Word. Consider how you have been blessed by God, and how you can join our proclamation here.
- Chances are, you know someone who needs what our church offers. They won’t find it in the laws of our land, or in many of the churches of our town. Invite them! Yes, they needed Jesus just as much a few days ago as they do today…but today, our eyes are a little more open to our purpose, and that NO ONE ELSE is going to accomplish that purpose.
In conclusion, I’d like to tell you a little about my normal Sunday routine. I get up early, make some coffee, review my sermon; but music is a big thing of my Sunday mornings. The first song is always this beautiful, beautiful rendition of Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending by the King’s College choir. It’s a sharp reminder that Christ is returning soon, and that this might be the last sermon I get to preach before that happens. I wish that it were!
But another song that’s high in the rotation is by the same people who wrote In Christ Alone. It tells of a rich young man who came asking Jesus what good thing he had to DO in order to earn heaven; the second verse describes what happened when the widow put in her pennies, while the rich gave out of their wealth; and then, the third verse is really an application of both of those accounts. It says: Lord, grant me such a faith as this…and when I cling to what I have, wrest it quickly from my grasp; I’d rather lose all things of earth than lose the things of heaven. [slight paraphrase]
Is that what happened here?
Did we cling to our rights, our freedoms, our Constitution, the man-made rules established by our God-given government…to the point where it distracted and detracted from our purpose as God’s Church, and God wrested some of that from our grasp?
I can’t speak for what God does or has done, apart from the revealed Word.
In either case, that’s where we’re at.
But this is not a day or an occasion to wring our hands that the sky is falling; today is a day to rejoice in the beautiful treasure that God has given to us. Church of God, you’ve been entrusted with a mystery; please! Treasure it and speak about it! AMEN.