On January 9, Bishop Bill addressed the College of Bishops in Melbourne, Florida, and gave a sermon on the importance of marriage not only for society but as a sign that points towards the revelation of God in Christ. The sermon is reprinted below. For more information on the College of Bishops, visit the ACNA website, or check out this post with the official ACNA College of Bishops Communique.
College of Bishops January 9, 2018
In keeping with this mission moment that we find ourselves in today and remembering our context, our culture, and our church, lets start off from Genesis 1:1-4, “and God saw that the light was good…” This phrase appears 6 times and on the 7th time it becomes “and God saw all that he had created and behold it was very good.” His work in this first phase of the creation of the world ends after the creation of man and woman in his image. He saw it, and it was very good.
I have three framing questions for the message: these questions will help us hold together the simple yet very challenging questions for our church, our culture, and our souls. They are:
- What is man and woman in the eyes of God?
- What is marriage in the eyes of God?
- What do these two questions have to do with our proclamation and mission?
1.What is man and woman in the eyes of God?
The eyes of God saw creation and said it was good. The eyes of God saw them male and female and it was very good. The two were created in the image of God, “male and female he created them.” (Gen.1:27,31)
Central to the revelation of God throughout the whole of scripture is this image and truth that both man and woman bear the image of God, who wants humanity to know how they are in the image of God. The frame work of who we are and what we do together and what we long for flows out of the reality that we are male and female, different and yet desirable to one another. Humans are hard wired for relationship, intimacy, and creativity, wanting to be known and to know. The Community that spoke and said, “Let us make mankind(humanity) in our image” made them male and female. This Community is the Trinity.
Humankind is made for relationship, the care of creation, the oversight of the animals, and essentially living like gods in the presence of the rest of creation. Because humanity is made in the image of that Community, the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we long for connection with one another.
Even after the fall of man and woman, in the brokenness of disobedience, God came looking for them. Even after the ejection from the garden they still carried the image of God in the world and the promise of redemption came to them. In Christ, the believing community is restored to the fellowship of Holy Trinity. The Church, as a community of families and singles, is the place of witness, fellowship, hospitality and transformation. The Church is meant to be the gathering of men and women connected in Christ to one another and to the fellowship of the Trinity.
The end toward which the world is moving is either reunion with the Trinity or the Hell of eternal separation from God, full of aloneness and suffering, the opposite of the things for which we were created. The intimacy of life in the Spirit and life in Christ becomes a taste our life forever in God and with one another. This intimacy of faith flows easily into the marriage metaphor and draws us all in, whether we are single or married. We are created for oneness with Christ now and into eternity.
The answer to our first framing question, “What is man and woman in the eyes of God?” is that they are made in the image of God and are the object of God’s desire and intimacy. (James 4:5) This is the way God sees us.
2.What is marriage in the eyes of God?
Jesus tells us what God saw when he created male and female and how it related to marriage. He tells us this in response to the question he was asked in Mark 10:6-9, “Is it right to divorce?” Jesus replies, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So, they are no longer two but one. What God has joined together let no one separate.”
This image of marriage gets applied to the church in St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 25 -33. How does the mystery of marriage that St. Paul is speaking of here apply to the Church? How does one person leave his father and mother and hold fast to Christ? This is applied to both men and women, of course, so both single and married people should listen.
As Christ has left the fellowship of the Trinity to seek us and make it possible for us to live in him and with him (Phil. 2:5), and as this reality is our salvation, we fall in love with Jesus and leave everything to be with him who left everything to be with us and to provide us a way to the Father through the Holy Spirit forever. The image of the Greek Orthodox Wedding and the crowning of the bride and groom comes to mind here, an image of the two being crowned with martyrdom and bound together.
Marriage, in the eyes of God, is a picture of God’s people moving into God and God moving into His people. It is an image of God’s desire for union with everyone, both married and single people.
3. What do the previous two questions have to do with our proclamation and mission?
The context for our mission, both in New England and in North America, is a broken culture, broken with the confusion of what it means to be a man or a woman. For too long I had nothing but distain for those asking the gender questions and challenging marriage in the Church. In my repentance from that distain, I am finding a growing need to listen to that brokenness from the heart of God who seeks the lost and confused.
We hear our culture say back to us in many different and often very direct ways: “So what is the big deal about marriage in the Church? I am not happy with who I am, so why can’t I be someone else?”
Now I see these issues as a cry for help and an invitation to go further into someone’s life. Are these conversations we really want to have? Can we lead the conversations with the culture, with the men and women around us, from a place of humility? Can we risk offering some of the treasure of our hearts to people who may not care or respect what we offer? Can we learn to lead our mission with a love and passion that flows from the joy we have found in Christ? We are called to share the intimacy of fellowship in Christ and the blessings of the sacraments with a culture that is not only resistant but hostile.
If we are to do this effectively, we will have to look to find stories that demonstrate the changed lives of the men and women we serve and fellowship with today. They are the ones whose changed lives represent the living examples of people who love Christ and one another with a Christ-like love. These are the men and women whose respect for one another has deepened, who have become free or freer from self-interest and self-gratification, who have been touched by the beauty of Christ’s love and the unbelievable longing of God for each one of us. God has a longing/yearning for the spirit he has made to dwell in us (James 4:5). When we have a story of this intimacy that is not in stained-glass language but in a language of personal discovery, we have a treasure to share.
There is a harvest, and these stories are the treasures we must begin to look for in our clergy and laity and in ourselves. We can find them if we look for people who still have eyes bright with the passion of the Gospel and shining a love for Christ and his Church. These ones will have stories that will begin to change and challenge the perspectives of people resistant to Christ and his Church but ready to hear more of God. You know the people who don’t think they need God, who are not even asking the questions yet, the ones who we are praying will begin to want to want God.
Brothers and sisters, we need to be the kind of priests and people and churches that embrace a contrary and unique picture of marriage from that of the culture. Our relationships can be the witness that many are looking for, though they don’t know it yet.
Can we imagine a new set of questions from the people at the edges of our relationships? Questions like: What is it like for you with Christ? What is it like for your husbands and wives and all the people of God married and single in the church?
And what if we were to accept the different aspects of our callings? What if we embraced all the scriptures and reminders that tell us yes, the intimacy that Jesus calls us to is real and costly and hard work, but it is a beautiful knowing and deeper certainty of his love and desire for us? Can we capture or create a new language of the beauty and intimacy of our life together in Christ? What if the context for all this was a new sense of Wonder, a wonder that the God of the universe should create and redeem us? We know that God in Christ loves us into intimacy with himself again and again through his death on the cross and the presence of his reconciling Spirit, but do we sit with this God, present with us at table long enough for him to say to us, “Come away, my Beloved?” or “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife…but I am speaking of Christ and his church.”
He says again and again, ‘In My eyes this Christ and this Church are very good.’ This longing and call for union with God and each other is our destiny. It is so much a part of God’s intimacy that we were created for that the whole story ends this way, as St John writes: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a Bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev. 21:2) And further on, “I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a Bride adorned for her husband.” (Rev: 21:9b) And then again, “And seven angels said come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb…The Spirit and The Bride Say come, and to the one who hears, he says, ‘Come.’” (Rev. 22:17)
Beloved, our adoration of the One who loves us leads us to a place of intimacy and oneness that transcends all other relationships. It is in that relationship that the Church is beginning her experience as the Bride of Christ, and it is in that mystical marriage with God in Christ that we begin to see the end of it all, which is really the new beginning we are destined for.