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Affirming Marriage and Family
January 17, 1982

First United Methodist Church of Modesto

Happy the home when God is there, when there is love, peace and prayer. Perhaps your experience sometimes though, is more like that of one of my favorite philosophers, Erma Bombeck. As she reflects on motherhood and wife bird, this is what she says, “What do you mean you're a participle in the school play, and you need a costume? You be careful in that attic. Do you hear? If you fall through and break your neck, you’re going to be late for school. A drudge? That's all I am. They'll all be sorry when I'm not around to run and fetch. So you swallowed the plastic dinosaur out of the cereal box. What do you want me to do? Call a vet? Lunches, better pack the lunches, listen to them bicker. What do they care what I pack. They trade their own grandmother for a cough drop and a holy picture. Of course, none of these things would bother me if I had an understanding husband. Mother was right. I should have married that little literature major who broke out in a rash every time he read Thoreau. But no, I had to pick the nut standing out in the driveway yelling at the top of his voice. I am 39 years old. I make $30,000 a year. I will not carry a Donald Duck thermos to the office. Boy, he wouldn't yell at me like that. If my upper arms weren't flabby. He should worry, he doesn't have to throw himself across the washer during spin to keep it from walking out of the utility room. He doesn't have to flirt with a hernia making bunk beds. He doesn't have to shuffle through encyclopedias before the school bus leaves to find out which United States President invented the folding chair. It's probably the weather.” 

Could be the weather. Or, it could be the revolution in which we are now participating. It's good to remind ourselves every now and then that we are in the midst of a revolution, a revolution that is consequential and far reaching, a revolution some of the futurists tell us is as significant as the first one which was the agricultural revolution where we changed from the life of cavemen to agriculture, and as significant as that second great revolution, the industrial revolution which transformed the Western world. We are now in the midst of a similar revolution that is far reaching and consequential—a social, political, economic revolution, the outcome of which we are not sure. And it is having a shattering effect on marriage and family with divorces, violence, juvenile delinquency, and increased crime. A lot of people in our society look at what's happening around us, they look at these changing times. lament and wring their hands. They're afraid. They'd like to turn back the clock and bring in a yesteryear. These people are influential in our government, in our religious world and TV media. They would like to turn back the clock, but it won't be turned. They wring their hands and lament. 

But actually, these are very exciting days in which to live because the revolution that is shattering cultural patterns, old values, social pressures that used to make us conform to what the culture expected us to do is crumbling, weakening and falling. We have the chance, we have the possibility to create marriages and families that perhaps have never been seen on the face of this earth. As everything changes around us, we can influence what the outcome of this revolution might be. We can create for ourselves what we value as significant and important. What an exciting time in which to be alive, not to lament and wring hands, but we have an opportunity to discard all that was bad, discard all that was irrelevant and unnecessary. We are going through a purge. We're going through a time of refinement and we can intentionally make the kind of marriages and families we want. We do not need to be victims, but winners. The Lord is calling to us today. We can hear the voice of God in a way that we have not heard for centuries. God is speaking through all that is happening to us and calling us on to great ideals and visions. I believe it is possible for you and me to create marriages where people actually love each other, and where that love deepens and grows through the years, and is not snuffed out like a candle by cultural marriage—a love of one person for another in sacrificial self- giving. That’s possible for you and me to create. I believe it's possible to create marriages where sex becomes beautiful, deeply significant and moving over the years, and not cheap. 

It's possible for children to like to be at home and enjoy each other, enjoy their parents and grow, flourish and are nourished. That's an ideal. We have that chance today. Beware of copying the world and our culture. Beware, because this world is not friendly to marriage and family. It's not friendly, and never has been. Sometimes we have been seduced into believing it to be friendly. Beware. We are closely akin to the times of the Bible when Christians were in the minority. They knew they were in the minority. They were often persecuted, always harassed and tempted, and we're in those kinds of times. They knew that the devil was out to destroy them. They knew there were evil influences and evil spirits that worked upon them and they were aware, alert and vigilant. That's the kind of attitude we need today in relation to our world. Be vigilant. 

Our ancestors in the frontier knew their world was unfriendly to them. It was filled with bad weather. They battled the elements. There were wild animals. They fought alcohol, booze, which was a big enemy of life on the frontier. They knew the world was unfriendly, and they fought against it. You and I have been asleep. We must realize this world is not friendly to marriage and family. Do not copy the values of this world. The world believes that things are important and that we are to accumulate things. A family, a marriage that puts the accumulation of things as a top priority is headed to lose the spouse, the children and the whole enterprise for things rust, decay and decompose. 

The world believes in foreign aid to buy love and cooperation. Foreign aid given not just to help people but so that we will have friends in the international scene backfires on us. And a family that tries to buy love, cooperation and support will fail. The world believes that military might and power wins cooperation and peace. When will we ever learn that that brings nothing but confrontation, smoldering bitterness and resentment? Depending on military might does not work in the international scene and it doesn't work in a family that builds a home on force and corporal punishment. If you whip a kid, he just smolders with resentment until he gets big enough either to cut out or give it back The world believes in soap opera morality where extramarital affairs are taken for granted and illegitimate pregnancies and births are taken as a matter of course. 

The United Methodist Church is trying to get into the TV industry and buy a TV station, make programs and send them around the country. I read that one of the ideas that our church has is to actually write a soap opera in which people do not commit adultery. I wonder if people would watch that. What a great idea for a story! They never thought of that. 

Putting our trust in and copying the world's values will destroy and undermine what we're about as a family. Take advantage of this revolution to build the kind of marriages and families that we want. Let's take our families back from the school to whom we gave them. Let's take our families back from the neighbors where “everyone does it”. Let's take our families back from movies and TV morality. Let's build the  kind of families that Jesus wants. We affirm marriage. We affirm family as the basic human communities.

What is the ideal Christian family and marriage? What is that ideal to which we aspire? I believe a Christian marriage, a Christian family is where Jesus Christ is head of the house. Jesus is the head, not the man, not the woman but where we are mutually subject to Christ and mutually subject to one another. In the non-Christian home sometimes the man is head of the house, sometimes the woman is head of the house, and many times the children are head of the house. There is chaos when the children rule the roost. 

A Christian marriage is where Jesus Christ is the head and where we all share a common commitment to Jesus Christ. A Christian home is where sexism then is abolished, we are mutually subject to one another. A Christian marriage and home is where age is abolished, age distinctions are abolished. When a child spills on the tablecloth, it is carelessness and clumsiness. But when father spills on the tablecloth, it's an accident. In Christ each is treated with dignity and respect. 

And it's surprising how good company children can be, how much fun they are to talk to, play with, and learn from. A Christian family is where Jesus is head of the home and each then is mutually subject to one another and to Christ. 

When Jesus is head of the home, marriage and family then have a mission, a goal. It is our goals that give meaning, substance and direction to our lives. Where that goal is high, significant and worthwhile then our lives are. Isn't that true with your individual life? What gives you meaning, direction, vitality and hope is what you are about. If your only goal is to fill your stomach, put clothes on your back and money in the bank, that's a very lonely, directionless life. Likewise with a family. How can a marriage and a family survive and make it if their only goals are to feed one another, clothe one another, or meet each other's needs. A marriage that's built on companionship and meeting each other's needs is too self-centered to survive. It's like a pool of water that has an inlet and no outlet, where it gets green, stagnant, rotten and smelly. An individual life that is self-centered, and a marriage and a family that have no other goals than to meet each other's needs is ingrown, inverted and sick. A marriage built on Jesus Christ, a marriage in which there is a commitment to serve and to follow Jesus Christ has a goal, has a mission to which we're all then committed. It pulls us along, gives direction, substance and meaning. 

An ultimate mission for a family is to serve Jesus Christ, to be his body and to respond to human need as Christ calls us. Many families have as a mission a concern for the environment. They save bottles, caps, cans and papers for recycling. They have a common purpose and goal. 

There are many families in this church who have the church as their goal, as their place for mission. They participate here as a family. That's how our family has worked it out. Our children are very concerned about the church and each does his part. It's our common family enterprise. It's something we do as a family. It has never entered any of their minds not to go to church. They fight about Sunday School sometimes, but they've never said, “Do I have to go to church today?” It's just something our family does. We invest in it, we give to it and we care about it. It unites us as a family and strengthens us as a family. A marriage and family that has Christ as Lord has a mission that unites, strengthens and calls. 

Now, what are the values of a Christian marriage and a Christian home? If we reject the values of the world—soap operas, militarism, and things—what are our values? The United Methodist Church in our 1980 Discipline writes, “We believe the family to be the basic human community through which persons are nurtured and sustained in mutual love, responsibility, respect, and fidelity, loyalty.” Those are our values. Subsequent sermons in this series will develop these values of mutual love, respect, responsibility, and loyalty. In the last sermon of this series, we'll look at ways in which our church family can be our larger family. No two people can make it by themselves these days, no family of just parents or single parents and children can make it. No single person can make it alone. We all need each other. We need the larger family to underwrite these values. Subsequent sermons will deal with this. 

I'm excited about this series because I believe we all need to look at marriage and family. I hope you'll spread the word and invite people to come. I believe the Lord is calling us these days, and if we can hear vividly and clearly of what to do, we can make beautiful marriages and beautiful families in the sight of God. 

A Christian marriage and family is where Christ is the head, where we are mutually subject to Christ and to one another, and committed to Christ in carrying out his mission, which then in turns unites us as a marriage and family.

© 1982 Douglas I. Norris