“let each one of you love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” St. Paul
The Archbishop gave instructions to the clergy at Synod that we are to preach on marriage this year and I am so glad that he did. This is the fourth Sunday that we have remained in John chapter six and the Discourse of the Living Bread and I don’t think that I have another bread sermon in me. So I’m happy for the opportunity to address something else.
I want you to use your sanctified imaginations with me for a moment as I create three scenarios in your mind’s eye. The first is from a TV show that aired years ago. It was called All in the Family and the lead character was named Archie Bunker. He was an older version of Al Bundy from Married with Children, if that helps. He was a blue-collar worker and sort of a Redneck if people from New York can be Rednecks. He was sexist and racist and would bark orders at his wife Edith from his chair, telling her to stifle herself and to get his dinner ready. You get the picture.
The next scenario is Dr. Evil from the Austin Powers movies. If you don’t know who that is the Austin Powers movies are parodies of the James Bond movies. As his name implies Dr. Evil is the lead villain. He made a clone of himself but who was only half of his size so he called him “Mini Me.”. When not being evil they exchanged loving looks and continually said to one another “You complete me”accompanied by a pinkie to his lips.
The third scene is Adam recovering from a deep sleep after some divine surgery has been completed on his side. He wakes to discover a beautiful naked creature sitting next to him, unlike any he had ever seen before. He exclaims “Wo….Man!” which is how “Woman” got her name. (It’s in the Bible somewhere, look it up.)
Now what in the wide world of sports do these scenarios have to do marriage? I suggest to you that these three scenarios represent three differing views of marriage and are examples of how desperately important it is to have the correct image before you if you are going to do the will of God and experience the kind of joy that God intends for marriage to produce.
Archie didn’t just drop out of thin air. Probably everyone here has known an Archie Bunker and some have even had him as their dad. This model is husband as king of the castle, head lion in the den, lead dog in the pack, when-I-say-“jump”-you-ask-“how high?” In this image children are to be seen and not heard and wives are to quietly serve their husbands.
I had a family member who married an Archie Bunker. He used to come home from work and plop down in front of the TV and shout for a beer. Like Edith she would deliver it in haste. That went on for some time until one day a friend of hers said, “Let me take it to him”and as she did so she shook the can of beer the entire length of the hallway. After it exploded all over him the husband he never again barked out orders for a beer.
Therein is the damage of this model. It not only makes one the superior and the other the inferior, it ends up making war between husband and wife. It can be a boisterous war like Archie and Edith or it can be a quiet passive/aggressive war that goes on for years with especially the wife leading a life of quiet desperation. I used to lead domestic violence treatment groups and so I know that this Archie Bunker model is still very much with us. But it falls way short of God’s intention for marriage.
A much more popular image today is that of Dr. Evil and MiniMe with each telling one another “you complete me.” On the surface it may look like a good relationship but since MiniMe is a perfect replica of Dr. Evil their devotion to one another is really just thinly veiled narcissism.
I have witnessed some wedding ceremonies so steeped in narcissism that you fear it foreshadows the true substance of the future marriage. You don’t want to think it but as you sit in the congregation and say to yourself, “Yeah, this one is not going to last.”
That is why I deeply appreciate the wedding liturgy of the Prayer Book that puts things in their proper perspective. We don’t process to the theme of Dr. Shivago or have bridesmaids and groomsmen dance down the aisle like they are on America’s Got Talent. The Prayer Book reminds the couple that this is bigger than you. We don’t write our own vows about staying true to each other as long as our planets are in alignment. The Prayer Book declares marriage as a permanent arrangement. It is one man and one woman for life. In seeking the blessing and support of the Church the husband and wife are reminded that it is bigger than you. In fact they make a vow to God before they make a vow to each other, which reminds them that it is bigger than you. In case I have not said it enough, and I think that St. Paul is also saying it is bigger than you.
I love the curve ball that St. Paul throws to make that point. He gives specific instructions about the relationship of husband and wife and then he says, “This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church, however let each one love his wife as himself and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” So the reader is left asking, “Wait, are you talking about Christ and the Church or husband and wife?” And St. Paul’s answer would be “Yes, because I want you to know that this is bigger than you.”
So the unity that a couple shares is not by one becoming a clone of the other. One marriage counselor said, “If both of you are exactly alike then one of you is unnecessary.”Unity does not come from uniformity it comes when a man and a woman become a complementary whole. Each provides what the other is lacking. They do indeed complete one another but only by becoming the unique person that God had called each of them to be.
The third scenario is Adam waking up from divine surgery to discover his wife who is bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. She is not one of the animals over which Adam is to have dominion. Nor is she a clone of Adam so that Adam can worship himself. She is his companion and partner and coheir and lover and friend. She increases Adam’s joy, as he does hers. She makes his life whole because even though all of God’s creation is good, life is richer when there is someone you love with whom to share God’s goodness.
This guy is walking along the beach and discovers a bottle with the proverbial genie in it. He lets the genie out and so the genie offers to grant him one wish. The man says, “I love going to Europe but I hate flying so I want a bridge across the Atlantic.” The genie says, “You’ve got to be kidding. Do you realize how much steel and concrete that would take, not even to mention the engineering headaches of spanning 3,000 mile of water. Don’t you have an easier request?” The man thinks for a second and says, “Help me understand my wife.” The genie says, “Do you want 2 or 4 lanes on that bridge?”
An author has made a fortune telling us what we already know, that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. That truth is as old as the Scripture that also recognizes that men and women have different needs and play different roles and can even be a mystery to one another. These differences are something to be celebrated rather than ignored or attacked. And before we write off this teaching of St. Paul on marriage as culture-bound and archaic, lets’ more closely consider what St. Paul is saying. I believe it is divine wisdom.
One of my favorite movies of all times is A Few Good Men. There is a dramatic scene when Lt Kaffee is questioning Col Jessep and he asks “Why the two orders? If Kendrick told his men that Santiago wasn’t to be touched, then why did he have to be transferred?” That scene came to mind when I was trying to understand St. Paul’s teaching. Why the two orders? Why does he tell men to love their wives but tell wives to respect their husbands? Why the two orders.
As I pondered I came to believe that St. Paul was touching on some core values of each sex. This is a generalization and of course there are exceptions to the rule but I would submit to you that the following is true for most men. You can tell us all day long that you love us but if you disrespect us then you can keep your love. And I have discovered with my wife that as long as she feels loved or cherished that she would stick with me even if it meant attacking hell with a squirt gun. Respect is a core value of men and love is a core value of women. Of course it does not mean that men don’t need love and women don’t need respect. That is not the point. But imagine a world where the wife’s chief thought and passion every day was to honor her husband. Imagine how her husband would be empowered to attack his day. Imagine a world where a husband’s number one goal each day was to make his wife feel cherished. Imagine the joy in that home. Imagine a world were Christians could evangelize by saying, “If you want to know how much Christ loves the Church come to my house and meet my family.”
There is another divine mystery here in St. Paul’s teaching. He points us to a Second Adam whose side was also wounded in order to receive His Bride. From His side flowed water that would birth the Church and Blood that would nourish the Church. Through the Spirit empowered Sacraments His Bride would mature. His one thought and passion is to present her to His Father in all her glory and her one thought and passion is to honor Him in all that she does. Christ and the Church are separate entities, playing very different roles and yet they are one. They are one, so much so, that His Bride is also His Body. THIS is the model we are to follow. The Christian husband and wife are not in competition with each other, nor does one disappear in order to complete the other. As icons of Christ and the Church their mutual love and respect preaches the greatest sermon ever preached.
What do you do about this teaching if you are currently single or called to celibacy? First remember that just as with couples, this is bigger than you. You live in community. You live in a spiritual household and so what affects the household affects you. If the household becomes sick through following the wrong models then eventually it will have an impact on your life. So your job as a single person is to uphold the correct teaching about marriage and refuse the world’s attempts to redefine it.
Second pray for marriages. Your enemy knows that if he can destroy marriage then he can destroy the Church. Pray for husbands to cherish their wives and for wives to respect their husbands. Pray that their children will be raised in the love and admonition of the Lord. Pray that their love and respect for each other will preach a sermon that will touch the lives of others for eternity.
St. Paul gives us some very practical instructions about marriage and so I want to end with a very practical suggestion. By far the best thing that Beth and I have done for our marriage has been to attend and facilitate Financial Peace University. I went to it kicking and screaming. I thought FPU people were weird and I didn’t want to invite Dave Ramsey into my heart.
Not only has it brought us the peace and joy of being totally debt free but also since half of the divorces are due to money problems we have bullet proofed our marriage. They say that Financial Peace University is a marriage seminar disguised as a financial seminar and that has been our experience. We held it for our entire Church and although only about 20% attended our members paid of over $490,000 in personal debt in 9 weeks. As my wife once put it, “If you can talk to your spouse about money, you can talk to them about anything.”
Find a class and strengthen your marriage.
Husbands love your wives. Wives respect your husbands. In this way you will experience a life, as Dave would say, is “better than you deserve.” Amen.