Christ Church, Reading
(c) Paul V. Marshall
Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7; Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 7:21,24-29
We are all here to express in one way or another our love for Kim and Andrew, our joy in their happiness, and our hopes for their long and happy future.
And to have a party. That, it turns out, is the very biblical thing to do.
At the same time, the bride and groom are trying to express something to us. I don’t think I have ever seen a couple put as much time and care into the choice of scripture lessons, thus our attentively reflecting together on the texts they have chosen is a way of honoring Kim and Andrew, giving their choices serious attention.
In this regard, I owe to Mr. Andrew Reinholz my acquaintance with the tv series Madmen (and some technology needed to view it). It is striking that in the very first episode Don Draper cynically observes, ”What you call love was invented by guys like me to sell nylons.” Well, no, Don. What we call love was invented by God to defeat precisely the cynicism you express…and to enrich the world. Lovers are an asset we need to cherish—and respect.
But delight, joy, and enduring passion need a container to survive the changes and chances of life, and our other lessons explore structures, containers, and habits that can keep the spontaneous fire burning.
In the gospel we discover that Jesus is the originator of the fundamental concept in real estate: location, location, location. Rock or sand. Rock or sand. It really matters how and where you build.
So Jesus speaks of the wise builder. In choosing that gospel passage, Andrew and Kim have exercised the wisdom the Lord recommends. They have recognized that along with the passion and deep joy of their union, they need to be shrewd in planning and building their relationship. Rather than the sandy and somewhat deluded business of assuming that all they need is love, they are willing to take God’s advice, to willingly embrace the disciplines of love and to follow Jesus in their loving each other. The only way to maintain the ecstasy over the decades is to plan for it, and this they have done.
That is to say that in some ways the whole point of marriage as sacramental relationship is the fact that in every life and in every relationship rains do fall, floods do come, and winds do blow. In the work of supporting each other, understanding each other, and sometimes just tolerating each other, grace happens.
Do not under-rate the toleration part, because toleration in relationships is essentially the choice to let the other person be. The real paradox of the most intimate and personal of human relationships, marriage, is the decision not to take things personally. There is in each of us the dark talent for finding insult, rejection, and criticism in just about anything other people say and do. Boxers call that “leading with the chin.” Marriage, because it is where we are most vulnerable, is the relationship in which most of us learn to rise above obsession with self. Instead, with all that we have and all that we are, we choose to honor another person’s integrity and freedom without making everything somehow about ourselves. Marriage is also the relationship in which most of us learn to take the other on the average, rather than how we feel about them or their behavior at a particular moment in time.
I think this is part of the dynamic St Paul speaks of in the second lesson today: loving just as Christ loves. Passionate, self-giving, and yet making the other free. Only those who have tried it over and over know that in this case virtue is most profoundly its own reward. There are satisfactions to loving shrewdly that do defeat death, satisfactions that help us experience our deepest adult need, the need for meaning.
St Paul has a peculiar way of wrapping up this portion of his letter about how to get along and blossom. He makes two points.
The first is about letting Christ’s peace rule. What would the world be like if every married couple together said the prayer of St. Francis each day? Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Seek to understand. For it is in giving that we receive, and so on. I think most of us know it. Its simple sentences make room for real life to grow in our hearts, bit by bit, day by day.
Well, as Christians we might have seen that very good advice coming, but there is a surprise that balances its seriousness. The apostle adds a three-word sentence: “and be thankful.” Giving thanks changes everything. There are days when that takes effort, but thanks, praise, and singing change our neurochemistry and thus change our attitude and even our experience. This management of our perceptions is the fundamental tool of Christian spirituality and is the shrewdest part of the discipline you adopt here today: couples who define their relationship in terms of gratitude just go on and on, growing in grace and delight. It may be January outside but grateful hearts still can hear the turtledove, that peculiar manifestation of the dove which we call the Spirit of God. Our wish for you is that their song is increasingly audible to you, and that your love sweetens the lives of all around you.
[To the Reader. The gospel passage ends with the distinction between Jesus' authoritative voice and that of the parroting scribes. Especially when it comes to life-long relationship you cannot know any of what I have written here in any significant sense unless you have had the joys and trials of long-term, covenanting with a beloved. I thank her who has taught me much!]