Marriage is Made in Heaven — So is Thunder and Lightning

Please read Song of Solomon 8:6-7 and Ephesians 5:22-32

In my stocking this past Christmas Santa gave me a fridge magnet with the following printed on it: “Marriage is Made in Heaven … But so is Thunder and Lightning!”

I appreciate the positive implication of the humour: Marriage is not an idea born from a fairy tale dream of marrying a princess/prince. A healthy marriage is not approached in abstraction, but manifested in real time, in the real world, in real, honest relationships worked out “on the ground.”

And real, healthy relationships also include conflict.

Conflict can be bad, but conflict can be good too. In your vows you wrote a line that implies clearly the potential benefit of facing conflict in your marriage. I appreciate your heads-up, real approach to your marriage. You are not distorting a vision of your marriage by an idealism that denies these sometimes hard realities we all face in relationship.

If marriage and thunder and lightning come from the same place – God, then what can we say about a healthy marriage grounded in reality, not abstraction?

The scriptures you have chosen for your wedding reflect this bold, real approach to your marriage. The text from Ephesians is certainly one that causes much conversation in Christian circles. So, let’s take a brief look at this text. The critical verses in succession are 22, 25 and 31; and, in each let’s focus on the verbs therein:

22. Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands

25. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her

31. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh

From a reading of this text I gather, first, that a healthy marriage is characterized by mutuality. What is “mutuality”? Strictly defined, mutuality is demonstrated when: What you want from the other is what you give to the other. A healthy marriage reflects this dynamic. A healthy marriage is mutual when both members have something to give.

As I said, you are bold to have chosen the text from Paul’s letter from Ephesians to be read at your wedding, especially in this day and age. Often in this text we zero in on is that line where wives must “submit” to their husbands. And we presume that if a marriage will last, it’s all on the woman’s shoulders to make it work; that is, she must always submit to her husband’s whims and wishes. In this case marriage feels more like a one-way street, does it not?

But we make a mistake if we stop there, not to mention creating a distorted image of a healthy marriage. Because later in this scripture Paul instructs the husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church; that is, the husband is called to “give himself up” — sacrifice –himself for the sake of his wife.

In short, both wife and husband have something to give. Submission and Sacrifice are properly exercised in the context of mutuality. If you want your partner to submit and sacrifice to you, then you must also submit and sacrifice yourself to him or her. It’s the only way it will work.

An important life skill learned and practiced by many couples in healthy marriages is the ability to compromise. Let me define “compromise” as the ability to let go of — release your grip on — your total, perceived sense of rightness.

The ability of this giving is fueled by responding to the needs of the other rather than compulsively seeking self-centred solutions to problems – and it goes both ways of course. Both partners have to operate this way, so that both partner’s needs are met.

Perhaps another way of understanding how this is possible is through the process of detachment and attachment. You have to leave something before arriving at the new thing.

For example, imagine taking a ferry boat to cross a channel of water. In order to complete the journey, you first have to step off, leaving an old land, in order to step onto a new country, a new piece of land. It’s impossible to have one foot in the past and the other in the now and future. It’s impossible to demand a total agreement of your point of view in a dispute and still claim a fair marriage. It’s impossible to experience something new and better in your marriage without first letting go, or giving up, a way you normally respond; for example, reacting impulsively the same way to your spouse’s behaviour, every time.

What do you have to give up? To each their own …. is it pride, is it the need to be right all the time? “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” — another provocative proverb for marriage. In short, you can’t have healthy relationships — in marriage, in the church, at work, in families — unless ALL members learn how to compromise.

The Amish have a period of time, “rumspringa”, during adolescence when teenagers detach from their community for a time. Then most (80 percent) reattach. This experience speaks on the importance in the growth of someone as one leaves a phase of life and transitions ot the next. It also speaks of the need to “detach” from only thinking about your own interests, your own “world”, your own world views …. in order to embrace in love the other’s.

Detachment and attachment means loss, change, yes. It also leads to growth, personal development, and maturity in love. I heard from someone recently a wise comment: They said that we grow more from bad experiences than good experiences; we grow more from those challenging, difficult situations in life than the mountaintop experiences. Facing those hard times square-on makes us grow.

How than can we approach marriage with realism, but without getting mired in negativity and sulking in continuous despair?

Your selection of poetry from Song of Solomon presents a very real depiction of love, a love that is put alongside death. How bold! How real! Love can exist in full passion and strength without denying the hard realities of life.

Your choice to get married is such an expression. You could have chosen not to. But you chose life and love in the midst of all that assails you.

While the text from Song of Solomon at first appears to equate love and death, a further reading may give love the upper hand. The first part of the pericope says that love is as strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave.

But then the latter part of the passage tips its hat to love: not even one of the strongest forces of nature on this planet — water — can overcome love. After all, the force of water can over time literally move mountains; water can pound boulders into sand. Not even the force and strength of water can, however, overcome the power of love.

And while in a real marriage our human love is imperfect, it still has great power for the good. And what is more, the power of God’s love for you and your family is greater than anything we can imagine on earth and in heaven. The power of God’s love assures us that what unites us in relationships is stronger, much stronger, than whatever divides us.

And that’s what we’re here today to celebrate and affirm in our coming together.

On the surface thunder and lightning can scare us. It certainly does me! But thunder and lightning also signifies a positive change in the air mass. Thunder and lightning often means that the air that was once heavy, humid and oppressive needs to change to a climate where the air is clean, light, fresh. And where we can all breathe once again.

Marriage is indeed made in heaven. Thank God so is thunder and lighthing!

Let’s sing together now, “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling!”

“Happy New Year!” Are you happy?

Please read Genesis 1:1-15 and Mark 1:4-11

I have to confess this time of year is a bit of a let down for me: The twelve days of Christmas are over. Today I spent a couple of hours taking down and packing away the outdoor lights. We’ve started dismantling the Christmas tree. The wrapping paper is boxed and stored for next year. And when I drive around town I see Christmas trees discarded on the road and curb sides. The colours and lights and festive decor has been transformed to …. grey and drab. Hello to the dog days of winter. At least a couple of months yet till Spring.

It makes the “happy” in “Happy New Year!” a bit hard to swallow.

And yet this time of year for Christians is a time for hope. During this very ordinary and downer of a time, we are called to pay attention. Because God is up to something!

Donald Miller wrote in his book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” a true story about Bob whose children were bored on New Year’s Day. “It must be the most boring holiday in the whole year!” his children complained as they sat around in their living room. So Bob asked them what they could do to make it more exciting. They could buy a pony; they could build a rocket ship; they could be in a parade.

A parade! Bob jumped on the idea (he was probably happy to get out of having to buy a pony). What could they do to make it an exciting parade? They could wear costumes, hold balloons, and invite everyone on the street to a BBQ in their back yard afterwards (they live in the San Diego area, not Canada, after all!).

Before they went out to recruit participants, Bob suggested they ask everyone to be in the parade, not just watch it. And surprisingly, plenty of the neighbourhood agreed to be in the parade! And a dozen or so even stayed afterwards for the BBQ in Bob’s back yard.

What is truly amazing about this story is that Bob’s children created something out of nothing. From a perceived state of boredom, they created a tradition that has over the past ten years now blossomed into a major annual event in the San Diego area. Even residents who have moved since that first New Year’s Day parade come back and schedule holidays around January 1st.

What a wonderful illustration of the generative and creative power human beings hold — a reflection of the nature of God to create something out of nothing. In the opening verses of the bible we learn about a major tenet of the Christian theology: God speaks creation into being … out of nothing, absolutely nothing, “the void” as the bible expresses.

The good news pronounces a word of hope that it is especially and repeatedly spoken into the parched places of our lives. God breathes something new; a seed is planted in those places of our lives that we feel bored, lonesome, lost, burdened. A new creation is being born in the midst of the drab, ordinary, daily humdrum of living. Do you see it?

When I was in my 20s I spent a year abroad in Germany. It was the first time I was away for a significant length of time from my twin brother, parents, country, language, and anything that was familiar to me. At first I found it extremely tough to bear. I dipped into the doldrums and found hard to keep my spirits up.

In the midst of the turmoil a friend I met there gave me this bible verse. He framed it for me; I’ve kept it on my wall ever since. It’s from Isaiah 58 — “The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your needs in parched places …” (v.11)

It is not just in the spectacular, festive and holiday events; it is not just in the high worship services when the candles are lit, the trumpets are sounding and hundreds of worshippers are singing praises; it is not just in those mountaintop experiences that validate the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives. More to the point, it is what happens AFTER where the rubber hits the road of our faith journeys.

What happens AFTER the glorious birth of Jesus is how in the season of Epiphany Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, the Saviour of the whole world. It is what happens AFTER the angels sing when the reality of faith gets played out over time. And it isn’t always quaint and pretty.

Herod wants to kill the baby Jesus. Listening to the messenger of God the holy family flees to Egypt. They have to leave the country for some time until Herod’s violent energies are expended. And what a tragedy: baby boys murdered in Bethlehem to satisfy some megalomaniac and paranoid impulses of an evil dictator. The Epiphany stories begin on a rather sordid, conflicted note, wouldn’t you say?

And yet it is precisely in this drama where the revelation of God in our lives begins. It is in those “nothing” moments: when bad things happen; when we get bad news; when we honestly struggle through issues — those are the moments our eyes are open to see God creating something new out of nothing.

We sometimes assume, I think, that those people who have the Holy Spirit are perpetually happy, bubbly and glowing with warmth. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is often associated with glory, and things ‘spiritual’, things removed from the ordinariness of life.

We are called not to be glib and fake in our spirituality. We are called to be real, honest and authentic human beings. The Spirit of the living God is just as present in those hard circumstances as much as in the easy times, but always breathing new life, hope and promise.

The Holy Spirit “tore apart” the sky (Mark 1:10). Birds sometimes dive-bomb to the earth, you know; birds don’t always just gently float on the air. There’s a realness that permeates the Gospel text for today: there’s water, clothing from camel’s hair, a diet from bugs, tying sandals, etc. These details speak of the earthiness of the spiritual life. Spirit and material are combined in the Christ.

God’s voice creates out of nothing. What we may perceive as nothing, as boring, as depleted of all life and energy, pay attention: God may just be in that ‘nothing’ making something. And what God speaks creates something unimaginably beautiful, exciting, meaningful and truly happy.

What is the Spirit of God working in your life today? How is God revealed to you in the ordinary time of this season? Even in the dead of winter when all is frozen, God comes to us and is revealed to us in love, in power and in grace.