I hit a breaking point this past Friday! I had too much to do this week and it finally got to me as I was riding home from giving a lecture at the Church. While Peddling my trusty steed (my bicycle for those all of you that I just lost to the imagery of my riding a horse down Rudy Lane,) I was met by a wall of wind, hitting me head on when all that I wanted to do was to get home, shower, and start on the weekend’s sermons.
What I was going to write was blurred by the stress I had mounting to the point that I was mixing the messages of the two very different services that I was to preach on Sunday in my mind.
…The wind is a funny thing… Born a sailor, or as Jimmy Buffet would say, a Pirate, simply 200 years too late, I grew up knowing the water as the place that I felt the closest with God.
It doesn’t much matter the median; surfboard, sailboat, or just bobbing up and down with a pair of swimmies, when I am in the water, I am in direct contact with God.
The wind always added to the experience. It is a natural phenomenon that I learned in seminary was synonymous with “the Breath of God” or RUAH in the Hebrew language. I loved the wind… as a sailor in Annapolis Maryland!
Then I moved to Kentucky and I traded my boat for a bicycle and my relationship with the wind suddenly changed. What used to speed me up, slowed me down. What once helped me relate to God turned into something that frustrated me and my need for control.
“Really God!?! I’ve been working my tail off for you this week!” I said as I peddled into the invisible wall that was head on all the way back to the highlands. “Not only have I been working myself to death this week, but I’m trying to get home so I can start on YOUR message for this weekend!” I pause to say that my chats with God are not always happy or liturgically sound… train!
After an epic battle that left my fists clenched and quadriceps on fire I finally made it home. That’s when my goofy 10-pound lion of a dog, in playful excitement, charged out the door and started gleefully running circles around a tree. CHEWBACCA WOULD YOU GET THE HECK BACK IN HERE! (Any other day I would have bellied over in laughter at his antics.)
Uh Oh. I looked at his playful eyes, now confused by my misguided frustration, and knew that I had crossed the line, so I proceeded to put myself in timeout.
I didn’t write any sermons on Friday despite an encroaching Sunday morning deadline. Why? I had the evening free…
Because I needed to nurture my relationship with Jesus before I tried to share his love with others.
You know that work stress is currently the leading cause of divorce in America…
You know that ministers are 20% more likely to have to receive treatment for depression or anxiety and succumb to work burnout.
Those whose relationship with God is supposed to be exemplary often lose it because it becomes stressed…
I do the work, I follow the rules, I read the scripture, etc. etc. etc… but are you in Love with God?
How many of you have been or are in Love?
The central theme of the whole Ephesians letter lies in our reconciliation of the alienated within the unity of the church… We all feel “alienated” in our relationships when we lose balance, that of love and intimacy, tears with laughter, seriousness with playfulness, and the like… or maybe it is the relationships that we lack that leave us alienated.
Ephesians 5 begins by calling on Christians to “imitate” Christ’s love in worldly relationship and uses the body and marriage as analogies; just as husband and wife are to be “one flesh,” states Eph. 5:31.
This analogy, for the author (there is debate as to if this letter was written by Paul) describes the relationship of Christ and the Church.
(ekklēsia or “the called out ones”)
Husbands were commanded to love their wives (and vice versa) “just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” When Christ nourishes and cherishes the church, he nourishes and cherishes his own flesh.
So we continue on with the 10 Commandments today, and as I alluded last week, we are going to look at that of Adultery.
We know that we should not cheat on our spouses (I hope…), but what about when we cheat ourselves out of a loving and intimate relationship with our creator? So let us look to Ephesians 5 for today’s message in light of our Spiritual Adultery.
Read SCRIPTURE: Eph. 5:21-33 “
21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[b] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”[c] 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.”
Adultery is one of three sins (along with idolatry and murder) that Ancient Jewish Mishnah (Rabbinic teachings on the Torah) state “must be resisted to the point of death.”
The New Testament supports the sanctity of marriage and affirms the gravity of the commandment, but I don’t believe that if we cheat on God we are destined to be consumed by a flaming pit… I don’t actually believe in red-horned men parading around with pitchforks… I believe in something far worse…
I believe in emptiness. When we fall to spiritual adultery, fall out of relationship with our creator, the world becomes an incredibly lonely place, a living hell. We lose the ability to laugh to the point of a stomachache; our tears of love and emotion are replaced by tears of sorrow for the life we lack; and we enter a state of numbness as we swirl directionless amidst a disjointed world.
“And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion who will help him.’ So the LORD God formed from the soil every kind of animal and bird. He brought them to Adam to see what he would call them, and Adam chose a name for each one. He gave names to all the livestock, birds, and wild animals. But still there was no companion suitable for him
Genesis 2:18-20 addresses our need for companionship, but no matter what relationships that we enter here on earth, we will remain empty until we nurture our relationship with Christ. We are unable to know or share love until we experience the love of God. This is why John 3:16 extends the Creation narrative of Genesis, “For God so Loved the world that he gave his only son,” our truest companion.
Our call today is to be deliberate in our relationship with God’s son and that requires us to first ask, “what is standing in the way of our intimacy with Christ?”
Got something in mind? Surrender it. Surrender everything that is pushing you away from your love to what you know is right, true, and beautiful; and then act passionately and fiercely on those things that are left.
Friday I cheated on God with work (ironically it was with what I deemed to be God’s work that stood in the way of my relationship with God!)
Secondly, remember that relationships are a balance of work and play, tears and laughter, and everything in between. This passage from Ephesians can be a heavy read with words like “submissive” and “reverence,” but your relationship with Christ should be energizing and joyous as well as serious and deliberate. Here’s a good adultery joke to lighten the mood!!
An old priest got sick of everyone in his parish confessing adultery. So during his sermon he told them, “If one more person confesses to adultery, I’ll quit!”
Not wanting him to quit, they decided to use a code word: “fallen.”
From then on, anyone who had committed adultery said they had “fallen.”
This satisfied the old priest and everything was fine for years…until the old priest eventually passed away.
Shortly afterwards a new priest settled in, he paid a call on the mayor.
“Mayor,” he said, “You have to do something about the sidewalks in this town. You can’t believe how many people come into the confessional talking about having fallen!”
The mayor, a member of the church, laughed realizing that no one had explained their code word, but before the mayor could explain, the priest said -“I don’t know why you’re laughing; your wife fell three times last week!”
No, adultery isn’t funny, but we strain our relationships if we take them too seriously. This joke highlights our need to understand the 10 commandments and to see them as more than words on paper (or on stone tablets.)
We can try to get around the rules by messing with the words. Different people have interpreted adultery in different ways, and that was evident as I read through commentaries on the commandment this week. The same is true of theft, blasphemy, murder, and the like; however, we know what is right and wrong.
I saw a t-shirt the other day that made me laugh. “Dear God…” it said on the front. A prayer on a shirt, how nice I thought. Then the back read, “I can explain.”
Our sinfulness is our spiritual adultery and no matter how we justify sins in this world to make us feel better, how often we confess them, what we call them, or how we “explain” them, they directly impact our ability to be in relationship with God (and that is cheating ourselves out of life.)
Furthermore, our ability to ever truly know love in the world, be it in friendship or marriage, is dependent on knowing and nurturing our love of and from Christ.
“When I witness a wedding”, states Wendell Berry, “I witness a death that shadows new life: two individuals die into their marital union the way a soul dies into God.”
Without our first surrendering our soul to the love of Christ, we will never be able to find love in another on this world.
That’s scary! Love is scary! Love requires giving up control. Love is curiosity, not certainty, and opens us up to vulnerability and to a sometimes-harsh world. A flower is often the symbol of worldly love, so I will close with a floral metaphor…
Worldly love is like that of a flower- It is temporal. A flower grows in beauty when fed by the sun (note the pun there is indeed intentional!) It shares its beauty with the world, as long or short as its lifespan allows.
Pause there… Imagine a flower. I was once told “God would be flat out annoyed if we did not pause in our daily tasks, so to stop and smell the roses.”
The flower comes and goes, bearing the mission to make the world a more beautiful place and share the beauty that its relationship with the sun allowed. So it is with us.
Thomas Odem wrote, “If the essence of my being has caused a smile to have appeared upon your face, or a touch of joy within your heart, then in living-I have made my mark.”
If we try to hold onto the control, never opening ourselves to Christ and letting the world stand in the way of our intimate relationship with Jesus, then we commit spiritual adultery and will never bloom to the world with the colorful love of our God… and that may very well be the ultimate sin.