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More Than a Miracle

(a sermon for January 27, 2019, the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, based on Isaiah 62:1-5 and John 2:1-11)

After having now officiated at 250 some-odd weddings over the years – including two within my own family this year – I think I can say with great certainty that at just about every wedding ceremony, something almost always goes wrong!

Mind you, it’s usually something very minor:  the groom stumbles on a line in the marriage vows; the flower girl panics, starts crying and refuses to walk down the aisle; the musicians miss their cue, leading to several moments of awkward silence as the processional is supposed to begin!  You know, just little mishaps that are barely noticed, much less remembered; but then, there are also things that happen that everybody sees and no one ever forgets!

Like at the wedding I attended with my parents years ago, long before I was a pastor: where literally moments before the ceremony was about to begin the church organ broke down and my father (who would be providing music for the reception) was asked if he could possibly bring his electric organ over to the church so that there could be music for the ceremony!  And so my father and I immediately rush over to the fire station where the reception was being held, lift that Hammond B3 organ on the back of the truck, head back to the church and very discreetly roll it into the sanctuary where the church organist was waiting, sheet music in hand; all of this in the space of ten minutes!  But we’re running late, and so after hitting the power switch, Dad and I go back to our seats and the organist sits down to begin playing the processional music.  Except – and this is an important piece of the story – that particular instrument was equipped with an electronic rhythm maker, AKA an automatic drumming machine which somehow in transit had inadvertently been switched on (!); so the moment the organist set her hands to keyboard to begin playing “O, Promise Me,” immediately the sanctuary was filled with a rousing and incredibly loud swing beat!  No matter the years that have gone by, I will never forget the sight of my father, red-faced and slinking down the church aisle, amidst riotous laughter (!), to turn off that automatic drummer so that the wedding could proceed!

I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a great lesson for a young pastor-to-be, but not the one you might think.  For you see, I also noticed that day that while we all laughed at what had happened, at the end of it all what people remembered the most about that particular wedding day was how beautiful the bride was, how great the ceremony was, how much in love she and her groom looked to be, and how much joy there was in their starting out on this journey of life together.  So often, you see, at a wedding – as in life, actually – there’s so much more to what’s happening than what you can actually see.

In our text this morning from John’s gospel, we’re told that “there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee” and that it was attended by Jesus, his disciples and, as it happens, also Jesus’ mother.  And under the heading of something always going wrong at a wedding, during this celebration the unthinkable happens: the host runs out of wine to serve all of his wedding guests. Understand, this was no mere faux pas; in a culture where hospitality meant everything, it was literally humiliating for a family to run short of wine; indeed, this was the kind of mistake that would tarnish their family’s reputation for years to come. So with a bit of prodding, shall we say, from his mother, and even though in his own mind it was a bit early to “go public,” that his “hour has not yet come,” Jesus changed six stone water jars, each one holding some 20 to 30 gallons of water, into wine for the celebration; and not just wine, but good wine, the kind of wine that any right-thinking host would have brought out for his guests early on in the evening.

This was Jesus’ first recorded miracle, and on the face of it, changing water into wine seems to be a great act of hospitality and celebration (I always loved the story about the little boy who heard this Bible story in Sunday School, and afterward when his mother asked him what he’d learned that day, the little boy replied, “I learned that if you’re going to have a party, make sure you invite Jesus!”).  And moreover, the fact that there’s this little exchange between Jesus and his mother just makes the story for me; not only is it truly funny and delightfully real (“They have no wine,” Jesus… “Well, what’s that got to do with me, Mother? Will you please just stop pushing me!”), but also, in all seriousness, it hearkens back to everything we read about during the Advent and Christmas seasons:  Mary’s knowledge, from the very beginning, of who Jesus was and why he’d come, not simply to this wedding celebration but indeed for humanity itself.

So, no doubt, there’s great significance in this miraculous changing of water into wine; but as we heard this text read this morning did you notice that it’s never actually referred to as a miracle?  That’s right; in fact, none of the miracles Jesus performs in John’s Gospel (and there are seven of them) are called miracles but rather signs.  In other words, in this story – as with so many other stories about Jesus, especially as they’re given to us in John – there is much more happening than simply what we see.  The miracle, as it were, is meant as a sign that points us beyond the miracle itself to what we’re supposed to see:  Jesus’ power and his glory.

More than a miracle, you see, as great as that is, it’s a proclamation of everything that Christ’s coming brings to the world!

For instance, it’s worth noting that those six 30-gallon jugs of water Jesus sent them to fill were containers used by devout Jews to fulfill the law as regards ceremonial washing; even and especially at a wedding feast, there were rituals of cleansing that needed to be followed.  So these six jars were not have simply been filled with buckets of well water, but with the purified and undefiled water of the Pharisees; this is what served as the “vessel,” so to speak, of Jesus’ miracle, and in doing so Jesus transformed these symbols of an older time and older way into a harbinger for the future and the imminent arrival of a “kingdom” of God!.

I mean, even the idea that Jesus would transform something tired, worn out and empty (like, old jars of water) into that which is rich, fragrant and ripe with the fullness of joy (as is new wine for a wedding feast) points so clearly to power of God; a power manifest in abundance where once was scarcity; celebration where uncertainty had once prevailed; the salvation of God’s own people symbolized by new, good wine!  You see?  Ultimately, it’s not about water becoming wine per se, any more than it is about a harried father of the bride saving face at the reception!  It’s more than a miracle, but a sign which reveals glory of Jesus, who takes the old and makes it new;  in whom a seemingly dead end of living becomes a new life filled with purpose, both now and eternally.

And the best part is that just as in the aftermath of this wedding celebration and everything that happened there, “his disciples believed in him,” even now, these are the signs by which we also come to know him… and believe.

Alyce McKenzie, Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Texas, makes a point of saying that in John these “signs” of Jesus happen when “human resources are at an end.”  At the wedding at Cana, there is no more wine left; likewise in the other miracles recorded in John, for instance when “humans have come to an end of their medical skills, supply of food, and supply of courage, Jesus heals, feeds, and comforts amid the storm.”  Even and especially in the cross, we bear witness to the Word made flesh coming to an end of his earthly life – it is his hour of death – and yet even in death, “God who sent him will flow into him with resurrecting power that will result in his glorification.  A miracle of supply where there is only lack.”

McKenzie’s words are a reminder to us that most often in our lives we are unaware of the glory and power of Jesus in our lives until those moments that we have no other resources in our lives, or from within ourselves, to draw from.  It’s only in those times when we’ve come to realize that the old lives we’ve led have nothing more to give that we discover, much to our surprise and amazement, that there’s been something new and transformative happening all along! I mean, how is it that there are moments in each of our lives when despite the cacophony of competing voices all around us and the many contradictions that would seemingly assault us, we still can stop in the silence of a new morning and know that it is a gift at the hand of the divine? How is it that the person in the midst of their own struggle of life and living – whatever that struggle happens to be – has had every bit of strength and courage tapped out of them, and yet still wakes up in the morning secure in the knowledge of what’s expressed in that wonderful hymn, “deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome some day.”  How is it that any of us can look to the nations of the world as they currently exist, with all their division and hatred and evil seeming to run unabated, and yet still be confident to our very souls that in the end truth, and justice, and dare we say, love will prevail?

It is because ours is the God who has given us a sign in the person of Jesus, who is the Christ; and who is the one who is the very fulfillment of those hope-filled words of prophecy we heard this morning from Isaiah:  “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch… You shall no more be termed forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her.”  And, get this:  “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your builder marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

Sounds like it’s time to break out the new wine, because there’s going to be plenty of it!

Beloved, it’s as simple and as all-encompassing as this: Christ has come into the world not to leave that world as it is, nor to leave you and me standing alone in the midst of life’s sorrow and its emptiness.  Christ has come that we might be filled up as surely as were those stone jars with water that became wine.  Christ has come that you and I might begin to recognize the signs of his presence and power; and in doing so start to behold his glory: in our worship, in our work, in our prayer and service, in our relationships with one another, and in life unfolding.  And the thing is, when it happens it might just seem like a miracle; but in truth, it’s much more than that.  It’s the place where by God’s good grace life – true life – begins!

That each one of us here might discover that wondrous truth for ourselves is my prayer for us today.  May it be said of you and of me , just as those wedding guests discovered in Cana, that the best was indeed yet to come.

Thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on January 27, 2019 in Epiphany, Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon, Spiritual Truths

 

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Along the Way: The Better Part

"Christ in the House of Martha and Mary," by Johannes Vermeer (1655)

“Christ in the House of Martha and Mary,” by Johannes Vermeer (1655)

(a sermon for August 16, 2015, the 12th Sunday after Pentecost; fifth in a series, based on  Luke 10:38-42)

I went to figure it out this week, and counting the two I just performed during my recent vacation, I have now officiated at 247 marriage ceremonies!

Two hundred forty-seven (!); friends, no matter how you slice it, that’s a whole lot of wedding cake!  And trust me, that total includes ceremonies of just about every size, shape and variety; from huge mega-celebrations that actively seek to imitate a royal wedding, to small, intimate affairs that include only the bride and groom, a couple of witnesses and me!  There have been quite a few memorable moments over the years: there was the medieval-styled ceremony in which the groom wore an authentic suit of armor, and the groomsmen were all dressed as knights of the realm (although as I recall, one of the groomsman must not have gotten the joke, because he came dressed as a Jedi knight, complete with lightsaber!); then there was the time when butterflies – hundreds of butterflies (!) – were supposed to be released into the sky at the end of the ceremony, flying joyfully and romantically into the horizon and symbolizing the beginning of  a bright new future for the happy couple… but instead immediately fell to the ground, hundreds of butterfly wings flapping helplessly on the pavement beneath our feet!  (We could only hope it wasn’t an omen…)

Every wedding ends up being a little different from the other, and that’s part of the fun of it; that said, however, I can also tell you that there are some things that are always the same, and one of them is that there usually somebody in the midst of it all who is ever and always… busy.  Sometimes it’s the Maid/Matron of Honor or the Best Man; quite often, it’s the Mother of the Bride; in some situations, it might be some kind of Wedding Coordinator or Planner.  But there’s always that person who’s constantly running around, looking after the small details, perennially doing something before, during and after the wedding!   And sometimes, it’s even a group: at the wedding I did for Sarah’s friend out in Ohio a few weeks ago, about ten minutes before the service was to begin I was actually approached by a woman who said, “Now, as soon as you pronounce them husband and wife, don’t be offended because we’re all going to get up and leave!”  And sure enough, no sooner had I said, “You may now kiss the bride,” there are at least ten of them who were up and out!  And this was because these were… the Aunts; well known for having had a hand in planning, leading and executing every major gathering in the life of that family: weddings, funerals, baptisms, reunions, you name it; and now they were off to do the reception!

And what a job they did, friends!  The food was wonderful, and abundant; the sweets and hors d’oeuvres beautifully displayed, the decorations were perfect; in fact, everything was perfect, and for the next three hours or so, those aunts never stopped!  In fact, it got to the point where Lisa and I remarked to each other that it was almost too bad; that these women had been working so hard in making this wedding reception absolutely perfect for their niece and her new husband that they never had a chance to stop and enjoy the celebration themselves!  Surely, it would have been “the better part” for them to stop for even a few minutes to have something to eat, to visit with family or just to soak it all in; and yet, you also got the clear sense the “the aunts” reveled in what they were doing, and in truth, there was nothing wrong with that!  This is what they do, after all; they do it well, and bottom line, they aren’t about to leave it in another’s hands, no matter what the cost or sacrifice!

It’s actually the same kind of dynamic we find on display in our gospel reading for this morning, that wonderful story from Luke in which “along the way” in “a certain village” (probably Bethany) Jesus is welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha and her sister Mary.  I love what Thomas Long, professor of theology at Emory University, has written about this passage; he says that this seemingly innocent little story is “almost guaranteed to stir up an argument.”  Actually, the story is sort of predicated on an argument: on the one hand you’ve got Martha, who is doing everything she can to show hospitality to Jesus; cooking a nice meal, making sure Jesus is comfortable and has everything he needs, welcoming all the other guests (because this probably a dinner party, after all) and just seeing to it that everybody feels right at home.  She’s working hard at this – and understand, this is nothing unusual, since in this culture hospitality to a visitor was considered to be of utmost importance – but it’s to the point where, as Luke puts it, “Martha was distracted by her many tasks;” or, in modern parlance, she was now overwhelmed by everything that had to be done and was starting to “freak out.”

On the other hand there’s Martha’s sister, Mary.  Understand as well that in this ancient culture, it was customary for all the adult women in the household to have shared in the responsibility for showing hospitality to their guests (and by the way, elsewhere in the gospels we learn that there’s also a brother in this household named Lazarus; but we hear nothing about him in this story, and that tells you a lot!); but Mary’s not helping out with this at all, instead choosing to sit quietly at Jesus’ feet, listening intently to everything that Jesus is saying, in the same manner as would one of his disciples!

And upon seeing this, Martha’s had more than enough and she lets her feeling be known.  What’s interesting, though, is she doesn’t say this to Mary, but she says it to Jesus, her guest (!), and moreover, it’s pretty much a reprimand, one that you have to imagine is spoken in the irritated tone of a slow burn! “Lord, do you not care,” she says, “that my sister has left me to all the work by myself?  Tell her then to help me.”

This, according to Thomas Long, is where all the arguments start!  Because Jesus responds, as Jesus always seems to do, by saying something unexpected; he says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that these words probably did not at all calm Martha’s nerves!  To begin with, I’m not sure that beginning by saying, “Martha, Martha” (or as The Message translates it, “Martha, dear Martha!”) was going to go over well (!), and moreover, it almost sounds as though Jesus’s words are intended to reprimand Martha right back!  And besides, the fact is that Martha wasn’t wrong!  Not so much in terms of whether Mary should have been helping or not, but rather in terms of the importance of what Martha was doing!  As I said earlier, the act of showing hospitality amounted to far more than mere etiquette; hospitality, as far as Martha was concerned (or for that matter, as far as any truly faithful person of that time was concerned) was sacred duty!  And, by the way, wasn’t Jesus himself always talking about sending out “laborers in the harvest?” (Luke 10:2)  It can’t be mere coincidence that just prior to this story in Luke’s gospel is Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, in which the truly “good” neighbor is the one who shows mercy over and above what’s required?  In Martha’s mind, what she was doing was no different; this for her was an act of faith!  So for Jesus to somehow suggest that she simply not worry about it; well, that would be like somebody coming up to the Aunts and saying, “Don’t worry about this reception; just leave it, and whatever happens, happens!”  It just wasn’t going to happen!

And yet, here’s Jesus, saying to Martha – and by extension, to any of us who are out there working hard and diligently to do, by faith, what is good and right and loving – that Mary’s chosen the better part! Honestly, friends, for those of us like to think of our very lives as needing to be an overarching act of faith, who believe that on some level all that we know about God and Christ and the Kingdom of heaven has to touch everything we say and do in this life, what Jesus says here just seems to undercut everything!

Or… does it?

In the end, I suppose, I’d compare it to how it is when you’ve got young children around.  You know, when our kids were little, it seemed to me that Lisa and I were always on the move!  I mean, especially after Zach was born, because then there were three of them and Lisa and I were suddenly outnumbered (!); and every day was this race to get them up, to get them fed and dressed, and often out the door to whatever it was they had going that day, and then at night was the same thing in reverse!  And the thing is, not only was Lisa at home with the kids at that point in their lives, but we also weren’t big on overscheduling them and signing them up for everything that came along… but still!  As I recall those days, it was a relentless whirlwind of activity; and it was exhausting and overwhelming, but it was also good, and it was necessary, and it was valuable in shaping them to be the adults they are today.  And yet, what I think I remember the most were those moments along the way when all they wanted to do was climb up in our laps and cuddle; and suddenly, all our plans and schedules and good intentions for the day had to be tossed to the four winds because this, what was happening at that moment, this time of love and nurture between a parent and a child, was much more important.  This was the better part.

It is good, you see, that our faith in God in Jesus Christ become intertwined with everything else in our lives; it is just like the Good Samaritan story in that loving God and loving neighbor go together, just as praying for peace has to connect with working for a just world, and our being blessed inevitably moves us toward our being a blessing for others.  Doing the work of the kingdom, as God directs, is good; and it’s necessary; and it’s not only valuable, but also essential in shaping both our lives and our very spirit; and, might I add, in building up the church of Jesus Christ

But even in the best and the most holy of tasks, there are many distractions; and as Jesus pointed out to Martha, those distractions will risk drawing our attention from the one thing that is truly important.  And, to quote Thomas Long once again, “if we try to do this kind of service apart from the life-giving Word of the gospel, apart from the vision that comes only from God, it will distract us and finally wear us down.”  That’s where Mary had it right, beloved; Mary chose “the better part,” which was first to listen to the Word; to hear the teaching of our Lord; to let his Spirit move in and through her, inspiring her and girding her for what lay ahead.  “If she is going to love God and love neighbor,” writes Long, “if she is going to show hospitality to the stranger and care for the lost, then everything depends on hearing and trusting that word.”

So… let me ask you:  are you a Mary or are you a Martha?

Actually, I hope and pray that your answer is… YES (!); that in truth of fact and faith, you’re both a Mary and Martha, because beloved, the world needs both.  We need to be both.  As Jesus reminds us again and again, the kingdom is drawing near; and there is much of love’s work yet to be done: for our neighbor, for the community, for the church, for the world.  But in order for us to do that work, first we have to stop… to focus… and to listen.  There are many distractions; so many things that we deem as being necessary… but ultimately there is need of only one thing.

May we have the wisdom and the grace to choose the better part; because whatever happens, that can never be taken from us.

Thanks be to God!

Amen and AMEN!

c. 2015  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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How’s Your Love Life: Love Is a Choice

love

(a sermon for February 9, 2014, the 5th Sunday after Epiphany; second in a series, based on 1 Corinthians 13 and 1 John 3:11, 16-24)

Love, as they say, is a many-splendored thing!

And as conclusive proof of that, there was a wonderful survey done a few years back amongst children, ages four through eight, on that very subject; and some of what they had to say was just terrific. For instance, one kid, when asked what love is, answered, “Love is that first feeling you feel before all the bad stuff gets in the way.”

“When you love somebody,” says another, “your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”  (Methinks that child has seen a few too many Disney cartoons!)

But then there are the more practical aspects of this; as one child puts it, “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your french fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

Or, “Love is when you kiss all the time.  Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more.  My mommy and daddy are like that,” this child adds. “They look gross when they kiss but they seem happy.”

Or how about this, which is sort of on the opposite end of the romantic scale: “Falling in love is like an avalanche, and you have to run for your life!”

And this one:  “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other.”  This smell thing does seem to matter; another kid says that “love is when mommy sees daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Brad Pitt.”

And finally, get this, because in a lot of ways I think this gets to the heart of the matter:  “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too.  That’s love.”

Isn’t it true that for all the feelings we usually associate with love, in the end it’s action that truly makes it so? Yes, we do tend to define love in emotional terms, and things like infatuation, physical attraction and passion are all a part of that: to fall in love is truly to have your head in the clouds; as the owl explained to Bambi (speaking of Disney!), it is “to be twitterpated!”  But feelings, by their very nature shift and change, depending on the situation or even our mood on a given day. The realities of life can bring us from floating in the clouds to crashing down to earth; and even doctors will confirm that the chemicals in our bodies that fuel physical attraction can recede over time.

So if love is merely about the feeling, watch out; because ultimately that kind of love lacks real staying power!  It’s only love in practice, love girded in action that will stand the test of time; or to put it another way, love is demonstration, not an inclination!  And while that’s true for us in our lives and relationships with one another, it’s particularly true for you and I as followers of Jesus Christ.

This is what’s at the heart of Paul’s evocation of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  Now, if you were with us last Sunday you’ll recall that we established that as far as Paul is concerned, love is “Priority One” in everything we do; that our words are at best ineffective, our knowledge incomplete, our giving insignificant and our accomplishments inadequate if love is not at the heart of it!  As we heard this morning from The Message, “no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”  So what’s clear is that love is essential to all aspects of the Christian life; love is what gives our lives its meaning and its integrity.  But that being said, the question then becomes: what does this love actually look like? What kind of shape does this love take in all of what we say, or believe, or do?  How do we know that our lives are girded by love and thus have the kind of power and purpose it should?

Actually, as I ask this question, I’m reminded of something an old woodcarver said when he was asked how he was able to carve an old hunk of wood into the beautiful shape of a dog: he said, “That’s easy.  You pick up the piece of wood and just cut out everything that doesn’t look like a dog.”  Well, this is essentially what Paul does in this passage: he shows us how to recognize genuine love not only by what it is, but also by what it isn’t.  In four short verses, Paul offers up here what might be referred to as a “checklist of love,” and lets us know that the choices we make regarding each item on the list goes a long way in determining the sincerity of our love; and, might I add, its spirituality.

You know the words; we’ve all heard them hundreds of times, recited at dozens of weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…”  All very familiar, basic assumptions, and full of feeling; of course love is to be patient and kind, right?  Just the warm fuzzy stuff of greeting card verses; that is, until we remember that when Paul wrote these words to the Christians at Corinth (who, as we have said, were most assuredly not known for their patience or kindness to one another), they were meant to be taken quite literally and very personally – by the Corinthians, and by us!

Actually, what I’ve always found helpful in this regard is a little exercise I first learned years ago:  if you really want to get to what these four verses are really about, simply replace the word “love” with your own name.  In other words, in my case, it would sound like this: “Michael is patient.  Michael is kind.  Michael is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Michael does not insist on his own way.  Michael is not irritable or resentful; he does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.  Michael bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.  Michael never fails.”

Well, that’s embarrassing!

I don’t even come close to living up to that standard – believe it or not (!) – but then neither, I suspect, do most of us in this room.  If we’re being honest about it, we’d have to admit that as Paul has describes it in these verses, we are often “love challenged.” After all, it’s far easier for us to give in to impatience and the temptation toward verbal assault, than to be patient and kind to those who are causing us that frustration; much more satisfying to brag on ourselves and our accomplishments than to be humble enough to not have it always be about us; much more delectable, if you will, to revel in old wounds and past hurts than it is to truly forgive those who have hurt us, to rejoice in what is true, and good and loving.

The bottom line, especially for us as people of faith, is that we cannot simultaneously talk about how “we should love one another” while making a working list as to why we really shouldn’t have to love them!  Ultimately, you see, love is never about “them,” whoever they may happen to be; love is not about who they are, or what they’ve done or not done, and it’s not about how deserving we think they are in receiving our love.  True love is about what we do; about how we love, and the choices we make to love one another.  When Paul says that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” he is talking about our love and how we extend to others.

And no, it’s not easy.  In fact, William Willimon says it very bluntly: “Love,” he writes, “is not for babies.  It isn’t easy, [and] it’s [definitely] not doing what comes naturally… love, of the kind described here, takes every ounce of your maturity, hard work over a lifetime, waking up every morning for the grace to help you love despite others, despite yourself.”

It’s hard work!  But the good news is that we have a model for living this kind of love; and in fact, what you and I are called to give is that which we’ve already received.  As we heard read in 1 John this morning, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”  As you and I struggle to do which we already know, deep down, is the right thing to do, Jesus has already set the example.  Sometimes I wonder if when Paul wrote those words to the Corinthians about love, he was thinking that “Jesus is patient.  Jesus is kind…” that “Jesus bears all things.  Jesus believes all, things.  Jesus hopes all things, endures all things.  Jesus never fails.”

We are called “to love one another, just as he has commanded us,” to love by faith, and with extravagant welcome because our God in Jesus Christ has already loved us in just that way.  This is how love can move beyond mere “word or speech” but become “truth and action,” because true love is both the fruit of our relationship with God, and God’s gift that we have to share with others. These virtues of patience and kindness, trust and endurance become ours when we begin to understand how God first loved us, and then make the choice to live – and love – by example.

Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of officiating at 241 weddings: wonderful celebrations of love that have run the gamut from small, intimate ceremonies to mega-productions that would put the royals to shame!  And I can tell you some stories… (!)  But I can also tell you that while no two weddings have been alike, they’ve all had at least one thing in common, that they’ve all been beautiful weddings in their own way.  BUT… as I am quick to point out to the couples involved, in the end that it’s not the beautiful wedding that will make the difference in their lives; it’ll be the beautiful marriage that takes root in that special moment.

And that will come down to the choices made along the way, the love lessons learned as the years go by.  Patience, for one.  Tolerance.  A sense of humor; definitely essential!  Forbearance and forgiveness; the ability to compromise; the discretion not to say “I told you so” even though you have the opportunity and perfect right to do so!  All this, and of course, little things like honesty, trust, fidelity, and commitment!  As I am fond of saying, marriage, like anything precious, requires constant care and nurture in order for it to grow; but even more than this, it requires the full intent and determination to love “for better, for worse,” come what may.

And friends, it’s the same thing whether you’re talking mother to daughter, father to son, friend to friend, or in the ways that we are the church together.  It’s one thing, you see, to speak with great eloquence about the wonders of love, to hold hands in a circle and sing with great joy and satisfaction that “they’ll know we are Christians by our love;” it is quite another to make that real by the way we are determined to live and relate to one another.

Every day, you and I have choices to make: as to how we speak to one another, as to whether we will truly respect and value those with whom we are walking on this journey; as to the ways our “acts and attitudes” will either put ourselves first, or serve others and thus honor God.  It is up to us, beloved, and we can go whatever way we choose to go; but for life to become something that is filled with beauty and meaning – that requires the choice of love, a true love that never ends.

Thanks be to God, who in Christ, gives us that kind of love to give to others.

AMEN and AMEN.

c. 2014  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2014 in Epistles, Jesus, Love, Paul, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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