July 27, 2019
1 John 4:7-12
Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia
During the LCMS convention this past week I had lots of time to think about parliamentary procedure: motions, amendments, amendments to the amendments, and calling the question. Calling the question ends debate. During the convention a wise person said to me, “Calling the question doesn’t work in a happy marriage.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “but limiting speeches to two minutes would probably help!” We want discussion to end, and move to voting. The democratic ideal, that each person gets an equal vote, cannot work in a marriage, because it’s a society of two. And we cannot call the question, or end discussion, because the community of marriage is founded on discussion.
Mark, you and I share a love of German things. Perhaps you’ve heard of the German man who said to his wife, “I love you, and if anything changes, I’ll let you know.”
I know it’s blasphemy, but even the love of Teutonic culture can go too far! Discussion within marriage is like the liturgy – a joyous repetition of eternal truths. When the Lord gives us His benediction, we don’t just say “Amen,” but rather, “Amen, Amen, Amen.” So let your love be expressed like the triple Amen. “I love you, and it’s not going to change, but I will keep letting you know.”
Marital discussion is not political discussion, intended to persuade or impose your will on the other. It is a discussion with an entirely different purpose: “How can I help you?” “What do you need?” St. John Chrysostom calls this obedience – a voluntary and continuous placing of self in service to spouse. He says that in marriage it’s not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of both partners obeying each other.
But you can’t be married for too long before you want to start calling the question, raise a point of order, or maybe even walk out of the assembly. The Bible readings you chose show us a better way: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:10).
Conflict is resolved not through winning the argument but through the taking away of sins. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 Jn 4:11). Marital love cannot then be defined simply by the romantic or the erotic, but by the reconciling power of absolution and self-sacrifice.
Mark, shortly after you were baptized, you wrote me a note that included this line: “I have received the greatest gift.” I wonder if you still thought that when Kirstin was coming down the aisle. She’s an incredible gift to you.
But it is still true. Baptism is the greatest gift, because it gives us the foundation for everything else. Baptism gives us the righteousness of Jesus, His life, His resurrection.
The gift you have received becomes the gift you also give. The Holy Spirit, through St. Paul, tells us that Baptism is also how the husband relates to his wife.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Eph 5:25-27)
This means, Mark, that Kirstin is holy, not just today, but throughout your life. She is without blemish, without spot, without sin. That’s how the Lord regards His baptized, and that’s how the husband regards his wife.
Baptism is the foundation of the Church; and according to St. Paul, baptism is also the foundation of holy marriage. Marriage is a little church, and Mr and Mrs Reistad, you are to be commended for the way you raised your children. I was overwhelmed with joy when I heard Kirstin describe the spiritual life of your home. Most significant was the bedtime singing. It reminded me of this hymn:
Lo, the’apostles’ holy train
Join Thy sacred name to hallow;
Prophets swell the glad refrain,
And the white-robed martyrs follow,
And from morn to set of sun
Through the Church the song goes on.
This is what happens at a Christian marriage. The Song goes on. A new family, a new little church, takes up the Song. The Song is a hymn of praise to the Lamb.
Mr and Mrs Reistad, Kirstin told me that she didn’t like it when in the evening you would sing the Nunc Dimittis. I couldn’t understand why. But she explained, it meant the singing was over. But it’s never over, Kirstin. It just pauses for a moment so we can sleep. Now you and Mark take up the Song. Let it animate your home, your marriage, your souls. As God blesses you with children, you teach it to them.
That’s really what marriage is. Not the exultation in romantic love, although I hope you have it in abundance. Marriage is not a contractual arrangement, as though we are exchanging goods and services. Christian marriage is singing the Song, the Song of Christ, as we help each other get to heaven.
So we never call the question in holy marriage. Never end the discussion. When trouble comes to your marriage, from within or without, sing the Song. Remember the gift, the greatest gift. Now, through your marriage, the song goes on. ✠INJ✠