For round two, I tackled the household codes portion of Ephesians. It was at this point I wondered why in the world I hadn’t arm-wrestled my friend for the first few chapters… That said, I was really pleased with the way this came out.
Ephesians 5:21-6:9 – Waking up to a Dog’s Nose
Just before Thanksgiving, we went from being a family of four to a pack of five. You see, our newest household member, Fred, is of the four-legged variety. A Bagel to be precise. This means that he can be as excitable and fun-loving as a Beagle and as laid-back and loyal as a Bassett.
One morning, just before I left for January term, I awoke to a dog’s nose. Fred had jumped onto our bed at some point in the night and wriggled his way up between me and Paul. His head was actually on the pillow next to mine, and one of his little paws was draped over my wrist. It was such a sweet moment I was almost sad when Paul rattled Fred’s leash and they were off on their morning jaunt. There was something about waking up to a dog’s nose that made me realize, we don’t just own Fred… we are bound together by love in this adventure together.
As I read the scripture passage for today’s sermon, I actually wished that we did not have to jump right into the whole wives and husbands discussion. I would have been nice to start with some easier… like
Dogs, love your owners. Owners look after your dogs.
But alas, Paul leaves it to us to sort out how we live together as a pack.
Instead, Paul continues on in his instructions for how we might live together in community, as beloved children of God. Children who are called to be part of God’s plan to reconcile all of creation
To live out this calling, Paul challenged us to be imitators of God, loving as Christ loved. Here, Paul is looking at the relationships that bind households together. He gives us three pairings of people are to be “subject to one another out of reverence to Christ”:
Wives and Husbands, Children and Parents, Slaves and Masters
Taken together, we see Paul making a pretty radical statement. When he addresses the wives, children and slaves before addressing their respective counterparts, those who are the last and the least become the first.
Thinking back to the dogs might actually help us understand what makes that reversal so audacious. Certainly, as dog owners we choose whether or not to treat our pets well. We have the power to make their lives comfortable or miserable or anything in between.
Now, to say “Dogs, submit to your owners… “ would assume that dogs have a choice
To submit or not.
To leave the relationship or even
To be in the relationship to begin with.
The men Paul is addressing as husbands, fathers and slave masters had traditionally held all the power – had every advantage – in the relationships. Women, children and slaves were essentially their property….
By saying to the whole community, “be subject to one another” Paul is changing the dynamic, placing Christ alone at the head of the household. As wives choose to be subject to their husbands, they do so in the same way the church lives under the Lordship of Christ.
As children choose to honor their parents, and slaves their masters, they do so in the same way the church ministers under the Lordship of Christ. As believers choose to submit to one another out of fear and reverence for Christ, they become a new creation, a new way of being in communion.
And while understanding that husbands are to love their wives is important, even more important is the phrase “as Christ loves the church.”
That almost sounds as if Paul is taming or constraining love in marriage. Far from it!
Christ’s love for the church isn’t staid or stuffy. Its only order is the order of the cosmos. Radical obedience is far from decent! Paul is replacing power plays with self-sacrificing love, exchanging legalism for freedom, ownership for mutuality.
This is why Paul prays as he does…
to live as Christ calls us to live, we need desperately to understand the depth, breadth, length and heights of God’s love…
Of Christ’s love.
Christ’s open arms and eternal vision sets us free to love in return – deeper, higher, wider and longer than our hearts could ever imagine.
The Love that is not just for you or for me… Christ’s Love that is for the way that you and me are called together as a we. As couples, families, as a body, as a church.
You see Paul is telling us that we can’t be us, the church, unless we are willing to love one another – in mutuality and humility
In our homes: Husbands and wives, parents and children, and sure, dogs and owners…
In workplaces, where slaves and masters have become employees and their supervisors
We must live out the love of Christ…
Love that knelt down and washed feet
That wept over the death of a friend
That saved the party by turning water into wine
Love that touched lepers,
fed multitudes and
calmed hearts and storms.
Christ did not transform people with threats or power plays, demanding their service and worship.
No… Christ is the Love that descended, took on flesh as God with us
Christ is the love that died on the cross, humble and obedient – The lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world
Christ is the love that that rose, victorious – Messiah, Redeemer
That, my sisters and brothers, is the love we share in our households and in this faith community…
Love that is both winsome and transforming.
With Christ at the head of our relationships, we are no longer bound to the patterns of our old lives. We don’t have to wait any longer to see the Kingdom of God; we bear the Kingdom of God into this world.
Not that any of this is easy or cheap. It’s hard to let go of our privilege and power- however illusory it really is. Being open, taking risks, getting hurt, forgiving. That is the hard work of being in relationships. Of being in community. But God, through Paul, reminds us that the risk-benefit analysis cannot be done on human terms, for we are empowered by the Spirit, and living in Christ as God’s children.
No, my friends, it doesn’t come easy, this loving as Christ loved. And – as God’s standard-bearers, we can expect opposition. Sometimes it will be our own sins and shortcomings. But given the cosmic nature of God’s plan for the church, we can also expect challenges on a cosmic scale.
Next time, we will look at how Paul instructs us to deal with the battles before us.
Meanwhile, I pray for and urge all of us to live a life together worthy of the calling we have received. Seeking to be completely humble and gentle; patient and bearing with one another in love. 3 May we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 Remembering there is one body and one Spirit just as we were called to one hope when we were called; 5 Worshiping one Lord, honoring one faith, celebrating one baptism; 6 Praying to the one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. AMEN.