Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Beaten Before We Started

As I write this, news is breaking that the Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.  So it goes.  It was bound to happen.  The redefinition of marriage has been going on for decades, and the Church has allowed it to happen.  Only recently, when the definition has been slightly expanded to include two people of the same gender, has the church raised her voice in protest.  And then only weakly.

What happened?  Before two people of the same gender who loved each other deeply argued for their right to get married, two people who used to love each other deeply but no longer do argued for their right to get divorced.  Before that, two people who love each other deeply with little or no desire to share that love or receive the natural fruit of their sexual union argued that they should be allowed to marry without also being expected to have children.

Marriage has already been redefined.  As God created marriage, it was a life-long union between a man and a woman, as the liturgy of Holy Matrimony teaches, “intended by God for the mutual companionship, help, and support that each person ought to receive from the other…so that man and woman may find delight in one another…for the procreation of children who are to be brought up in the fear and instruction of the Lord.”

Did you catch that?  We used to believe that marriage was about more than just love.  It was about the life-long companionship of a man and a woman, that they might have a God-pleasing outlet for their sexual desires, that God might bless their union with children. 

Then the culture embraced contraception, believing that sexual pleasure could be separated from God’s gift of children.  And the church went along with the culture.  Then the culture sold us no-fault divorce, supposing that if a couple is no longer “in love,” they should divorce in order to find happiness.  And the church bought what the culture was selling.

If you believe that marriage is simply about love, then children are optional and divorce is a good solution if you quit loving each other.

When the church protests against same-sex marriage, while making no fuss about the prevalence of divorce or contraception among Christian couples, she sounds exactly like advocates of homosexual marriage misrepresent her: whiny and narrow-minded.  God’s Word doesn’t prohibit same-sex marriage because homosexual behavior is sinful (which it is).  It prohibits same-sex marriage because marriage is a gift from God for the life-long, procreative union of a man and a woman.  The gift of marriage is much bigger than we’ve allowed it to be reduced to.

As long as the church is unrepentant for allowing contraception and no-fault divorce, she has already allowed marriage to be redefined.  Advocates of same-sex marriage are just using the new definition of marriage that we have permitted: two people who love each other.

Before we gripe and moan about the SCOTUS’s opinion on DOMA, we would do well to turn critical eyes toward ourselves.  If we begin in repentance for our past (and present) mistakes, for wanting to receive some of God’s gifts but not all of them, we’ve found better ground to stand on.  Then we can extol the beautiful gift of marriage, which is more than just the relationship between a man and a woman.  It’s an icon of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church.  This is the only perfect marriage, the only perfectly eternal marriage, the only perfectly fruitful marriage. 

Let’s receive the gifts God desires to give as He desires to give them.  His gifts truly are good.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

An Open Letter to Dave Roemer, Park President, Six Flags St. Louis

May 22, 2013

Dear Mr. Roemer,

I left a message for someone in your group sales office that I'm reasonably certain will go unreturned. As I did last year, I called to speak to someone there regarding the coupons we receive every year from Six Flags that you ask us to hand out to our captive audience of school children and VBS-goers. What I was calling to find out was how many fliers for Bethany Lutheran Church to mail to you to hand out to visitors to your park on one day. I figure if you expect me to advertise for Six Flags, the least you can do is return the favor. 

Believe me, I don't expect that to happen. But neither should you expect a congregation of the Lord's Church to be the instrument by which you do your marketing.

Maybe you've been duped by an entertainment-saturated culture into believing that the Church is just another place people go to get entertained, and so, “customers” of churches should be ripe customers for Six Flags. Maybe you've been tricked by the preachers who scratch where ears itch that the Church is little more than a social club of affluent (or wanna-be affluent) people who come to feel better about themselves so they can live better lives now. Maybe you blasphemously see the Church as a means to an end, whereby you can more easily disseminate admission coupons than by coughing up the cash for ads on Coca-Cola cans.

 The Bride of the Lord Jesus, the Church is none of those things. Well, not exactly. She is a means to an end, but not where the end is greater revenue for Six Flags (or any of the bazillion companies who want us to try to sell their stuff to the people in our congregations). The end for which the Church exists is the saving of people, the forgiveness of sinners, the reconciling of humanity to God. As such, the Church is the place where God accomplishes these miraculous events.

It is in the Church where God gathers His people to lavish upon them His gifts, where he collects them to preach His good news to them that Jesus has died to take away the penalty for their sinfulness. The Church is the place where God kills sinners in the waters of Holy Baptism and raises from those waters newborn saints. The Church is the place where Jesus sends pastors to speak words of forgiveness to sin-seared consciences. The Church is the place where those of us who know our great need for forgiveness find it in the meal of the Lord's Supper, where Jesus gives to those He gathers His real Body to eat and His real Blood to drink.

Those are holy things.
And they're all gifts.

Imagine how it would cheapen this message and trivialize the gifts of God the Church exists to give out if we coupled the message of forgiveness abundant and free to an advertisement for reduced admission to an amusement park.

Do I have anything against Six Flags? No. In fact, if we find enough discount coupons from Coke cans, I might even bring my family there this summer.

But I'll let your amusement park remain a place for amusement and entertainment, and I ask you to let the Lord's Church be the place for forgiveness and salvation.

Rev. Jeff Hemmer, Pastor
Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church Fairview Heights, IL