Saturday, May 05, 2007

Rollercoaster of Marriage

Marriage of Erica and Martin
Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7; Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 5:13-16
Saturday, May 5, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

I’ve always loved rollercoasters. When I was a kid and went to Disneyland or to Magic Mountain, the only rides I really wanted to go on were the rollercoasters. There was always the sense of anticipation as I waited in the lines for the rides – lines that seemed to go on forever, that never seemed to move fast enough. Eventually, after the long wait, came the moment when I could see the place where you rollercoaster ride started – where people joyfully got into the cars and took off on their ride. And a few minutes later, the cars would pull back into the station, and the people would get off, with looks of intense exhilaration on their faces. And finally came the moment when it would be my turn. I would get in the car of the rollercoaster, the attendant would strap me in and lower the bar over my lap. At that point, I could hardly contain myself. I was ready to go – I was more than ready. After what seemed like an eternity, while the attendants helped everyone else into their cars, strapped them in, and gave final instructions, we were off. The real thrill had begun, with the car taking off, increasing speed, making unexpected turns, slowly plodding up steep inclines, and then suddenly dropping on the other side, with the car increasing speed. All this resulted in non-stop breathtaking and heart pounding exhilaration.

Not having been married, I often imagine that being married can be like an exhilarating rollercoaster ride. There is the anticipation and seemingly endless and even agonizing period of time just getting to the wedding. And then the attendant, that would be me, prepares the couple and launches them on their way – on the way to a thrilling adventure together, filled with ups and downs, unexpected curves in the path, moments of slow plodding progress, and moments of fast-paced, breathtaking speeds. Like a rollercoaster ride, the journey as married couple will hopefully be great fun, punctuated by lots of laughter. But there may also be moments when the ride may seem a little terrifying or scary, punctuated by screaming. There may be moments when you think “what have I gotten myself into?” But then, God willing, at the end of an exhilarating lifetime together, the couple looks back and says “wow, that was an awesome ride!”

Today, we are launching Erica and Martin on that exhilarating adventure known as marriage. After the long wait to get to this point, the time of praying about whether this is what they are called to do, the time of discussing all the practicalities and all the logistics, the time of dreaming, the time of planning and anticipating, the moment is finally here.

I have had the great pleasure of walking with Erica and Martin during the last six months as they have prepared for marriage. During this six months, we have spent a lot of time in thoughtful and prayerful conversation – time spent exploring their relationship; examining and discerning what it means to be a couple, and what it will mean to be husband and wife; time evaluating the strengths that will serve them well as they journey together in holy matrimony; time struggling over the challenges that they face as two strong-willed, independent people seeking to join as one; time imagining how those challenges will be played out and worked through in the months and years ahead. While it has not always been easy, I think it is safe to say that this time together has been incredibly productive.

Those of you who know Martin and Erica know how driven and determined they both are. That is exhibited in the way they work hard and they play hard. And it is no less exhibited in their relationship together and in their commitment to each other and to their life together. Throughout our time working together on pre-marital counseling, we talked about and struggled with some critical issues of relationship. Erica and Martin fully entered into the process, determined to learn all they could about themselves, each other, and their relationship. I was constantly amazed that whenever we would discuss an issue, no matter how large or how small, they were willing to fully dive into the process of exploring what this might mean for them as a couple. And then they would instantly start to work on dealing with whatever challenges may have arisen. By our next session together, they would reported their insights, the steps being taken to deal with a particular issue, and progress made. And there was always progress made. They were obviously taking their relationship seriously and doing whatever they could to further improve it. This dedication and determination will be one of their greatest assets as they embark on their shared life.

This dedication and willingness to do whatever is necessary for the ultimate improvement of their relationship, to striving for perfection in their life together as husband and wife, is further demonstrated in their choices of material for today’s wedding service. You will hear this in the vows that they will make in just a few moments. And you heard this in their choice of scripture readings, particularly in the second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. This passage is part of a longer section in which Paul exhorts the Christian community at Colossae to holiness of life, specifically in terms of what it means to be a community of believers and how to live into that life – a life in union with Christ that is not static but which is seen in terms of growth leading to perfection or spiritual maturity. These words outline the virtues that promote harmony and unity in relationship. While written to a community 2,000 years ago, this passage provides words of wisdom as to how to live into a life in the bonds of holy matrimony. These words provide insight into what a man and a woman need to do in order to live together as one.

First off, Paul exhorts them to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” These are all important virtues to be exercised in any relationship, but particularly so in one as close as that of husband and wife. In compassion and kindness, one partner has sympathy for the situation and circumstances faced by the other. In addition, each partner takes as their focus the consideration of the needs and interests of the other. In humility, one partner considers his or her spouse as better than himself or herself. In meekness, one partner is willing to cede his or her rights to those of the other, rather than being concerned with personal gain – again, the needs and interests of the other partner are made top priority. And in patience, one partner is willing and able to make allowances, not excuses, but allowances, for any shortcomings of the other, and is thereby able to tolerate the ways in which those shortcomings may be manifest.

Paul goes on to exhort them to “bear with one another,” further lifting up the virtues of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. In addition, he is pointing out the realistic nature of relationship – that it is inevitable that there will be complaints and conflicts. And when one partner is not able to live up to these virtues and falls short, or is the subject of a complaint or the instigator of a conflict – and this will happen from time to time – Paul urges that they “forgive each other.” And the example to be followed is that of our Lord – “just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”

“Above all,” Paul then writes, “clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” It is your love for one another that has brought you to this point in time. It is your love for one another that will bind you together in the many times of joy that you will share. And it is your love for one another that will give you the strength and the courage you need to work through any challenges you may face. It is that love that will guide you and enable the perfect harmony that you are called to. That will not always mean perfect agreement. But it will mean a sense of wholeness. Through your love for one another, with that love as your guiding principle, you will be able to establish a harmony in your relationship that will make you whole as a couple.

And finally, Paul provides the means by which you may accomplish that sense of wholeness that you seek in your partnership. It is something that you have already found through your shared faith in God and in Christ. Paul admonishes them to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . . [to] let the word of Christ dwell in you richly . . . and whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.” Your love for one another is what binds you together, but it is the example of God’s perfect love made manifest through the gift of his son, Jesus Christ, that makes your love possible, that strengthens your love, and helps you to become whole. You have already experiences that in the journey that brought you together and in the journey that has brought you to this glorious day. Every day, give thanks to God for the gift of love and for the gift of each other. In your joy together, remember that God has made this possible and rejoice in what has been provided to you. And when you experience challenges, pray to God for strength and guidance, and that through those experiences, your love may be strengthened.

Erica and Martin, keep these words you have so rightly chosen always in your hearts and your minds, for they will provide you with what you need as you embark on this rollercoaster ride called marriage. They will serve you well in both times of joy and in times of challenge. If you let them, and with God’s help, they will not only guide your relationship, but they will also be the means by which your relationship continues to be strengthened and brought to wholeness, so that at the end of your life together, you will be able to look back and say “wow, that was an awesome ride!” And now, Erica and Martin, buckle up and enjoy the ride!

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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