Practical Christianity
Monday after Transfiguration
27 February 2017
While listening to American Public Media's business news show "Marketplace" on the radio, I heard a report on businesses owned and managed by the partnership of husband and wife. In the report husband and wife restaurateurs were featured and the wife in the team spoke of how she and her husband managed the challenges of business life together, " It's not that we're so great, but it's just that we just keep plowing through. Even during the difficult times. And when I can't plow anymore, he does it. And when he can't, I do it, you know. That is really so much strength to run a business with." Right. But it struck me; that is the same strength that could run a family and manage a marriage. What husband and wife business teams have discovered is not just how to run a business, but how to run life, including marriage and family. When one falters the other picks up the slack and vice versa. This is "mere" human wisdom. This is the advice that our mothers should be telling us before we enter marriage or that we should see modeled in our own parents' marriage.
The problem with "mere" human wisdom is that it is not often exhibited in the primary instructors of our culture: media and Hollywood; in which the abnormal and dysfunctional has become the normal and expected. Daniel Patrick Moynihan named this devolution of our culture "defining deviancy down." The results of the onslaught on marriage and family have been disastrous. Now divorce and dysfunction are the new normal. Those who insist on supporting traditional marriage and its cultural concomitants such as marital faithfulness and sexual purity are accused of the only deviancy now. "How dare you advocate for sexual purity and marital faithfulness, you narrow-minded prude!"
The pop term for Moynihan's more elegant phrase is: "Everyone's doing it." And if you aren't, you'd better soon, or you will be left behind by the rush to new lows or crushed by those stampeding over the cliffs of perversity. Now those who defend traditional morality are excoriated and vilified by those who support the new normal (read: "deviance"). Nietzsche has triumphed. The church has a hard road ahead of it where "mere" human wisdom is no longer passed on in our culture and is subverted by the media and the cultural elites. She cannot begin to lead the community to a higher order of self-sacrifice when basic morality is dead.
We Christians have that higher life in marriage. It is a gift from God. No marriage can be truly happy without the recognition that it is a gift from God. Here is the greater wisdom. Here is the help when neither husband nor wife can plow any more. Here is the way to take what seems a purgatory and make it an Eden. Here is patience to suffer trouble. Here is the power of the forgiveness of sins in daily life. Often people say, "Pastor, can't you make Christianity more practical?" What's more practical than being able to forgive your spouse in marriage? But often what we mean by more practical has to do with "mere" human wisdom than the divine wisdom of the mercy of God lived out on a daily basis.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Martin Luther
"Grace and peace in Christ, our Lord and Savior. You are not the only ones, my dear sirs, who are having a great deal of trouble with marriage matters; others are having the same experience. I myself am greatly plagued by them; I put up a stiff resistance, calling and crying out that these things should be left to the temporal authorities, and as Christ says, 'Leave the dead to bury their own dead' (Mt 8:22). God grant that they may do this, rightly or wrongly, for we are supposed to be servants of Christ, that is, we are to deal with the gospel and conscience, which gives us more than enough to do against the devil, the world, and the flesh.
"No one can deny that marriage is an external, earthly matter, like clothing and food, house and property, subject to temporal authority, as the many imperial laws enacted on the subject prove. Nor do I find any example in the New Testament where Christ or the apostles concerned themselves with such matters, except where they touched upon consciences, as St. Paul did, and especially where unbelievers or non-Christians are concerned, for it is easy to deal with these and all matters among Christians or believers (1Co 7:1-24). But with non-Christians, with which the world is filled, you cannot move forward or backward without the sharp edge of the temporal sword. And what use would it be if we Christians set up a lot of laws and decisions, as long as the world is not subject to us and we have no authority over it?
"Therefore I simply do not wish to become involved in such matters at all and plead with everyone not to bother me with them. If you do not have monarchs, then you have officials. If they do not render just decisions, what concern is it of mine? They are responsible. They have undertaken the office. I am horrified too by the example of the pope, who was the first to get mixed up in this business and has s eized such worldly business as his own to the point where he has become nothing but a worldly lord over emperors and kings. So here too I am afraid that the dog may learn to eat leather by nibbling at his own rags and we too may be misled with good inten tions, until finally we fall away from the gospel into purely earthly matters. As soon as we begin to act as judges in marriage matters, the teeth of the millwheel will have snatched us by the sleeve and will carry us away to the point where we must decide the penalty. Once we have to decide the penalty, then we must also render judgment about the body and goods, and by this time we are down under the wheel and drowned in the water of worldly affairs.
"Praise God that now the whole world knows what effort and zeal I have already expended and how hard I am still toiling to see that the two authorities or realms, the temporal and the spiritual, are kept distinct and separate from each other and that each is specifically instructed and restricted to its own task."

Martin Luther, On Marriage Matters
1 Corinthians

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband.  But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.  To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her.
And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him.  For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.  How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?  Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.   (ESV)
Lord Christ, I pray for the world that is despising the gift of marriage and family life. Call our nation back from the abyss of self-indulgence to a faithful use of marriage and the service of husband or wife and children in marriage. Help me to honor marriage by being a faithful husband, wife, or child. Amen.
For the Congress and State Legislatures, that they would be about the business of setting moral standards for our communities in keeping with the proper office of government
For all those who are feeling anxiety because of the difficulties of daily life, that the Lord Jesus would give them rest
For those serving in struggling in parishes, that they would be encouraged in their labors
Art: MANETTI, Rutilio   Wedding Feast at Cana  (c . 1620)
Memorial Lutheran Church
©  Scott Murray 2017