Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Families Under the Cross - Devoted to One Another

Families Under the Cross: Devoted to One Another from a series by Rev. David Johnson.
Ruth 1:1-17, Ephesians 5:22-6:3, John 19:25-30
From a Sermon by Rev. David Johnson.
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Well now, tonight we are getting into some interesting territory.  We’re going to ask the question:  What does it mean for Families Under the Cross to be devoted to one another?  
Let’s start by asking what the word “devoted” means?  Webster’s dictionary gives this definition: Devote: 1: Commit by a solemn act.  2: to give over.  Synonyms Dedicate, Consecrate, Hallow mean to set apart for a special and often higher end.  Devote is likely to imply compelling motives and often attachment to an objective.  
It’s interesting, I think, to have a definition that says something about a “solemn act.”  Because indeed a family is created by a solemn act.  
I,    name of bridegroom   ,  take you,    name of bride   ,  to be my wedded wife,  to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God's holy will; | and I pledge you my faithfulness.
The solemn act of marriage creates a family.  That’s how God set it up way back in the beginning.  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24, ESV)  A family’s devotion to one another begins with the promises of a man and woman to be “devoted” to each other “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer…”  And so God creates one family out of two different people.
A study of some 3,000 couples found that the lifetime commitment of a husband and wife was the number one indicator for satisfaction in family life.  The study found five other factors, 2, Spending time together; 3, Listening and expressing thoughts and feelings together; 4, Complementing each other; 5, Working together as a team during a crisis; 6, A high level of religious commitment.
These things give us a good picture of what it means to be families “devoted” to each other.  And this is the kind devotion we see in our readings for tonight.  When Ruth says, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV)  And Paul tells husbands and wives to submit and love each other and children and parents obey and care for each other he’s talking about devoted families, too.
Now that’s a big charge these days, isn’t it?  You know how difficult it is for families to be devoted to each other.  You know how hard it is because you know about the times you’ve failed.  You know about the pressure that is put on you from outside of your family.  You know the pressure that comes from your own sinful heart, too.  
There is no doubt we live in a society that wants us to believe that “stuff” is what makes a family happy.  Dad overworks to the point of neglect.  Mom is told that taking care of children is a demeaning job and she’ll find more contentment working outside the home.  Recently a well known feminist said that women who stay home and take care of their children are a “treat” to civilization.  All to get bigger and newer stuff that they don’t have time to enjoy anyway.  Self fulfillment at the expense of family conflicts with the promises made when the two became one.
Fortunately this trend seems to be decreasing.  More moms are choosing to stay home because their children are a higher priority.  More baby-boomer fathers are cutting their work schedules to spend more time with the kids.  And a quarter of baby-boomer moms are planning to leave the workforce to be at home.  Even though these folks are at the top of their professional careers they see family as more important.  It’s difficult to make these kinds of decisions.  But maybe we too should be thinking about what’s important instead of what we are told is important by commercials.
Families spending time together is important.  And yet, there just doesn’t seem to enough time to go around.  Life is so busy sometimes we just want to scream, “Stop the world, I want to get off!”  How many of you parents actually thought that having a baby was going to bring you closer?  The truth is with mom so focused on the newborn’s needs, there’s little left for her husband.  And it doesn’t get better as the kids get older either.  Pre-school, grade school and junior high have their own pressures for kids and their parents.  Parents are pushed and pulled in every different direction, and rarely ever toward each other.  Teens want to be independent and they often drive a wedge between the other members of their families as a way to express their desires.  And how hard it is to let go, and oh how much regret effects a family when the first child happily runs away to college.  And grandparents wonder what happened to their family when distance makes family gatherings few and far between.  Keeping the family together and devoted to each other takes work, hard work.
And all this pressure plays right into our own sinful nature.  We are constantly bombarded by ideas like freedom and choice.  While these can be good things we can see human sin at work when even marriage becomes expendable.  Only a generation ago couples believed in staying together “for the sake of the kids.”  But these days we are told that they are resilient, and bounce back quickly.  Divorce is seen as a right of passage for a woman and man to be set free.  I was told of a Hallmark card that illustrates the idea very well.  
"Think of your former marriage as a record album.  It was full of music -- both happy and sad. But what's important now is...YOU! the recently released HOT, NEW, SINGLE!  You're going to be at the TOP OF THE CHARTS."
It says it all. This is the opposite of what God tells us in His Word.  Not to mention the growing body of evidence that shows children do not bounce back from divorce.  They often carry the scars into adult hood and often their own marriages end in divorce.  It’s no wonder that God says he hates divorce. (Mal 2:16)
What we all struggle with in trying to be devoted to our families is selfishness.  It’s easy to put self-happiness and self-fulfillment over our family members.  We have lots of excuses.  We really think that “quality” is better than “quantity” when it comes to time with our kids.  We tell ourselves that it’s better to be a work-a-holic and provide those little extras for our families, then to have a little less and be at home more.  As teenagers we think it’s ok to live as if we don’t have parents at all, as if the family home were a bed and breakfast, because that’s what everyone else is doing.  As younger children we believe that mom and dad should give us whatever we want when we want it.  All of us have these kinds of problems.  That’s because the problem inside our hearts is catered to by the voices we hear on the outside.
So it’s tough to be devoted to each other in the world today.  But when we live as Families Under the Cross and realize that Jesus died there for these very sins, our lives can be different.  Living Under the Cross means that the forgiveness of Jesus makes our lives different.  Just look at His devotion to us.  It isn’t a coincidence that the relationship between Jesus and the church (that’s you and me) is described as a Bride and Bridegroom.  When we describe what we want our marriages to be in the promises we make at the altar, we are describing exactly what Jesus is to us.  Jesus lived out a selfless life for our sake.  He was devoted to you and me.  He carried the burden of our sin to the cross.  He poured out his life blood so that we could be His bride.  He is devoted to us by giving to us freely the forgiveness of sins that we so desperately need.
Talk about devotion, as Jesus himself said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, ESV)  You’ve maybe heard the saying that even though Jesus was nailed to the cross, the nails didn’t hold him there, it was love that did.  It was His devotion.  You were his compelling motive attached to an objective.  He selflessly stayed on the cross to take away your sin of selfishness.  His blood washes you from the stain of selfish neglect.  His blood makes you clean again and acceptable to God the Father.  Living Under the Cross means living in that forgiveness given to us by faith in Jesus.  That forgiveness empowers us to work at being devoted to each other, just as Jesus is devoted to us.
And how does it look in our families?  It shows up because Under the Cross we have been made new creatures.  That means that a saint resides in there with that sinner.  Our devotion is a reflection of Jesus who promises to be with us through the Holy Spirit.  Doing the right thing happens, because that’s what “saints” of God do.  
Christ’s love and forgiveness can even help families after a divorce build new lives together.  Christ’s love and forgiveness can help a husband and wife lay aside the hurt caused by being pushed apart and find time to be together.  I love the quote from Luther, “Let a wife make his husband be glad to come home, and let the husband make her sorry he must leave again.”  Christ’s love and forgiveness helps us to deal with our children with their best interests at heart.  Finding time, in quantity, to make happy memories that are carried into how they will deal with their children.  Christ’s love and forgiveness helps us to make the sacrifices we need to make to care for each other, weather that’s caring for children or caring for aging parents. Christ’s love and forgiveness helps us to be devoted to each other even when time is against us, when it’s inconvenient.  
That’s life for Families Under the Cross.  We can be devoted to each other because Jesus is devoted to us.  It’s hard work, we are still trouble by sin.  But, Jesus takes care of our sin on the cross.  So we are able to be devoted to each other as Families Under the Cross.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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