A PDF for easier printing Pentecost 22, Proper 24
October 21, 2018
Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
Today we are going to do something that has not been common in the Church for a very long time. We are going to solemnize a marriage as part of today’s Eucharistic service. This is not without precedent, but it goes back a ways. The early church was ambivalent about marriage. In ancient Rome very few qualified for legal marriage, so local customs usually prevailed. The Church saw it as something essential for society but also a social and economic arrangement. Augustine of Hippo started talking about including bishops in the marriage arrangements, and that started a long process by which marriage went from a social and economic contract to a sacrament of the Church.
During the late Medieval period, when it really got established, it was still to be done before Mass on Sundays, and then later provisions were made that it be part of the worship of the gathered community. That’s what we’re going to do today. Richard and Guadalupe are here with their family and friends, and we are going to see them married.
But this day is not just about them, it is also about us. I want to talk to you about Christian marriage as part of your stewardship. Yes, Christian marriage is part of stewardship. Remember that stewardship is a call to radical discipleship. When James and John go to Jesus to ask for positions of power in the coming Kingdom that Jesus is inaugurating they entirely missed the point. The Kingdom of Jesus is not a political entity, it is a condition of the inner being. It is present in those whose attitude toward power and authority is the same as Jesus’s, which is servant leadership. What is servant leadership? In the Kingdom, authority is not one’s own, it is delegated. One uses it in accord with the designs of the delegator, and that delegator requires that it be used in self-giving ways, just as he does. Servant leadership comes out of a surrender to Jesus as one’s king, the one who commands one’s utmost and final loyalty. It recognizes that all that we have has been entrusted to us by him, and all that we have is to be employed for his Kingdom. To use an old English word, we are stewards of what we have received, and we gratefully exercise that stewardship in accordance with the desires of our Lord.
Stewardship has been described as, “All that I do with all that I have after I say, ‘I believe.'” What is it that you have? Whatever you do with it in relation to your faith is stewardship. Nothing is excluded—nothing at all. Richard and Guadalupe will have a marriage in their hands in a few moments. Their commitment is to be a married couple in such a way that it is related to their faith in Jesus Christ. In the end, how you treat your marriage, like how you treat everything else in life, ultimately reflects your relationship with God, the ground of all our being.
The essential attitude that opens the door to this way of being is gratitude. Richard and Guadalupe are so grateful that they found each other. Many of you are so grateful for having found this Church. All of you experience those moments when you are grateful for life itself. Gratitude for all that we have and are lies at the heart of Christian living. It recognizes that it all comes from God and ultimately goes back to God. We just get to borrow it for a while to do stuff that makes Jesus happy. When you are grateful stewardship as a way of life comes naturally.
So, what does it mean to be a Christian couple? In a sense, in any Christian couple we have a trinity. We have party 1; we have party 2; and we have the party they celebrate between them, the relationship itself. That third party may or may not include children or jobs, but it will include leisure, family, and friends and will build a history over time. The Christian couple, then, reflects the Trinity as the first and primary community. Just as the Trinity is the sacred community out of which all creation flows, human relationships are the stuff out of which human society flows. Being a Christian couple means building the foundation of your relationship on your faith.
In any Christian couple we have the call to Christlike love. Every couple runs into things in the other that irritate or annoy. If you haven’t either you have your eyes wide shut, or you haven’t been together very long. In 40 years of marriage, I know. I remember clearly the game-changer moment when I realized that the things that irritated me most about my wife were things that I did, too, and therefore, a golden opportunity for me to grow. (Darn!) But it’s true, and it’s hinted at in Jesus’ words about divorce. It is explicit in Paul’s writings about marriage, and it becomes a theme throughout the Church’s thought about marriage. Marriage, the most intimate of human relationships, is a school in holiness. Paul specifically calls couples to love one another like Christ loves the Church, that is, and he is very clear—in that he gave his life for the Church. Oh, it’s a blessed school, to be sure, but a rigorous one as well. Blessed are those who are couples, for they shall learn self-giving love!
Every Christian couple has the potential for the generosity of divine love. The other night on TV we were watching one of those reality vet shows. This one is an office in California that specializes in exotic pets. One couple came in with a something-or-other, I don’t even remember, they had adopted all their pets through pet rescue because, as the wife said, that they share so much love that they “have so much love to give!” Love is not a commodity, nor a zero-sum game. It’s not like if I give you love then I have less for someone else. It’s more like fire. Fire is plenty capable of expanding to engulf all the fuel available. If you take some away you haven’t really diminished the fire, you’ve just made it grow into two fires. The more we give love the more love we have to give. We learn to love family, friends, children, pets, those in our Church family, and there’s always more to give.
When love reaches the pocket-book things get interesting. You give to what you love, right? and you hardly miss it. The Christian couple’s love and gratitude for one another and for the God on whom they build their relationship should inspire them to sit down and decide an amount to give back that reflects their love for God and their love for one another. (This is, after all, stewardship month—I had to throw that in!)
You may or may not be in an intimate relationship with another human being, but you are in an intimate relationship with God. That relationship is more intimate than any other relationship possible, for God is closer than the air you breathe and the beat of your own heart. In this relationship you are caught up in the sacred dance of the Trinity. In this relationship you, too, are in a school for self-giving love. In this relationship you, too, are invited into that discipline of divine generosity. The living out of that relationship as it touches every aspect of your living is your stewardship. “All that I do with all that I have after I say, ‘I believe.'”
Now, let’s get this couple married!