Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Power of the Word

First Sunday After Christmas – Year A
Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 147:13-21; Galatians 3:23-35, 4:4-7; John 1:1-18
Sunday, December 30, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

Words are a powerful thing. Be they spoken or written, be they prose or poetry, words can carry incredible potency and potential. They can stir our thoughts and imaginations, prompt dreams and possibilities. They can evoke strong feelings and emotions, both positive and negative. They can be the motivation for action, both good and bad. They can create and they can destroy. They can influence our perception of the past and can shape our outlook on the future.

Virtually all of our communications, at least, any communications conveying complex ideas, generally require the use of words, either in spoken or written form. Think about the place of words in your life, on our collective life, and what influence words can have.

As we approach 2008, we move full speed ahead into an election year. Candidates are vying for the votes they will need to make them the next President of the United States. They do this through their words. They make speeches extolling their virtues and their experience which make them the right choice, or criticize and even vilify their opponents in an attempt to demonstrate why they are not the right choice. They engage in debates and interviews, where they present their positions on key issues, attempting to convince us that they will lead the country down the right path. And then we have to take all these words, figure out which ones resonate with our own personal political and social views, and make our choice for who we think will do the best job. So much hinge on these candidates’ words. Based on their words, we will make the choices that will lead this country down a good and noble path, or down a path of that could lead to trouble and turmoil, if not ruin and destruction. Either is a possibility. Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy were elected based on their political rhetoric. But so was Adolf Hitler.

Many of the people in this congregation are or have been teachers or professors. They have used their mastery of the word, both spoken and written, to convey knowledge about their particular fields of expertise. Through their words, they have educated those under their tutelage. And they have inspired some students to go on to further their education in a particular field of study – students that may further contribute to research in that field and further expand society’s understanding of a particular subject.

Journalists, regardless of whether they work for newspapers, magazines, radio, or television, use their mastery of words to convey a broad array of information on a variety of subjects. Through their use of words, they inform us about what is going on in our own neighborhoods, across our country, and around the world. And, when dealing with controversial subjects (and what subject is not controversial these days?) they, through their careful choice of words, help shape public opinion and attempt to influence what we view as right and what we view as wrong.

Even in the church, in our worship services, words play an important part in our faith journeys and our relationship with God. Scripture and the words of our prayers attempt to convey the essence of our common faith. Preachers and pastors, through the careful crafting of their words, seek to inform people’s understanding of scripture, help them understand how sacred words written millennia ago are still relevant to our lives today, challenge their congregations to figure out what their faith means to them, and guide their parishioners as they travel along their respective spiritual journeys. And choirs sing anthems and lead us in hymns – words set to music, intended to convey the story of our faith and evoke an understanding and a personal, emotional response to the story that is not achieved through the mere spoken or written word.

The words we use and hear daily have great potential to influence and even change our lives – both personal and corporate – as well as our society and our environment. But we are just now beginning to understand the true power that words have on our lives and on our environment. Japanese physician and researcher Masaru Emoto has done extensive work on the affect that words, thoughts, feelings, and even music, have on physical reality. Dr. Emoto’s research is based on his extensive experimentation with frozen water crystals. He has discovered that crystals formed in frozen water reveal changes when specific, concentrated words or thoughts are directed toward them. When water samples are bombarded with negative or hateful words or thoughts, and the water is then frozen, the molecules form into amorphous blobs without any clear crystalline structure. But when water samples are bombarded with positive or loving words, and the water is then frozen, the molecules form into intricate, delicate, symmetrical, crystalline structures. Even such a simple word as “thank you” resulted in a remarkable transformation in the structure of water molecules. In one notable experiment, some lake water was examined and determined to have a dark, amorphous structure with no crystalline structure. After the chief priest of a local temple did a one-hour prayer practice over the lake, a new water sample was taken and frozen. The ugly, brownish blob of the former sample had become a clear, bright white, hexagonal crystal-within-a-crystal.

The implications of Dr. Emoto’s research are staggering. Our human bodies are made up of over 70 percent water. If water, the water inside our very bodies, is indeed responsive to words, the type of words we are exposed to, the type of words we ourselves use, can have an amazing impact on our own physical health. And that impact on our physical health cannot help but influence our mental, emotional, and even spiritual well-being. Not only that, but similarly, the Earth is about 70 percent water. Dr. Emoto’s research indicates that our words may not only affect our bodies, but our planet and its environment, as well. Words may indeed be more powerful than we had previously thought.

In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear of the most powerful word of all – the Word (with a capital W). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). We hear of the ultimate word from God, the word that was from before creation, the Word that is not just from God, but is God.

Throughout our history, God has been trying to get us to hear his Word. As Genesis tells us, creation came into being by the very act of God’s spoken word. “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep . . . Then God said, ‘Let their be light’” (Gen. 1:1-2a,3a). God spoke in creation, and all that is came into being. But God’s word did not stop there. God continued to speak to His people. God called Abraham into covenant, to become a mighty nation. God spoke to Moses out of a burning bush and called him to lead His people to the Promised Land. God continued to speak through the Law at Sinai and through the prophets. Throughout scripture, “The Word means much more than simple speech; it is God in action: creating, revealing, and redeeming. It is the invisible God incarnated in action” (The Living Church, Dec. 31, 2007, 4).

At this time of year, we celebrate God’s ultimate action, the ultimate speaking of the Word, the giving of His Word to all humanity. “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The Word took on human form to be among us, to live among us, to be one of us. The Word took on human form so that we might finally be able to truly hear the Word of God. Yes, the Word was spoken in creation, the Word was spoken to and through Abraham and Moses, through the Law and the Prophets. But we didn’t hear it, or at least we didn’t fully comprehend the message. So God had to take extreme measures, so that we would not just hear it, but experience it. God had to find some way to make his message alive for us. He had to make his Word alive, in a manner that we could see and hear and touch. The eternal Word had to become bounded by space and time, had to become bounded by human flesh. Only then could we hear the Word that has been spoken from before time and space began. And so, the Word became flesh in the form of Jesus, God’s only begotten Son. In the “Word made flesh,” Jesus embodies what God wants to say to us. In Jesus, God is saying “I love you.”

If Masaru Emoto’s research is correct, a simple kind word from a fellow human being can have a profound impact on our lives. A simple “thank you.” A simple “you matter.” How much more profound of an impact, then, does the Word from God, the Word made flesh, the eternal “I love you” that was spoken in the birth of Jesus, have?

This season we celebrate the coming of the Word made flesh, the Word that has potency and potential unlike any other word ever uttered, by human or by God. This Word has, and will continue to stir our thoughts and imaginations. This Word has, and will continue to prompt our dreams and possibilities. This Word does, and will continue to evoke strong feelings and emotions. This Word has been, and continues to be the motivation for action to do significant good in the world. This is the Word that continues to create, who gives new life. And because of this new life freely given, this Word shapes our outlook on the future.

The proclamation of the eternal Word in human form, the Word made flesh, was not proclaimed with a shout. The Word came in the form of a baby, born in a backwater town in a remote outpost of civilization. No, the Word coming in flesh as a baby is but a mere whisper – the tender, sweet whispering of the Beloved, to us, His beloveds. But the Word continues to be spoken. As the child grows into manhood, as he begins his public ministry, as he heals the sick, feeds the hungry, cares for the orphan and widow, proclaims the Good News, the Word grows in intensity, becomes clearer, takes on greater meaning. No, the Word would not become a shout until Christ’s death and resurrection, when the whisper of that baby’s birth would take on its full meaning, reveal its greatest significance. At that point, and only then, would God’s full message be revealed, would the eternal Word be known, would the Word made flesh have its greatest power – the Word spoken to all humanity, saying, “I love you above all else, and would do anything to save you and make you my own. Even if it means giving up my only son. Because you’re worthy of the gift of my Word. You are worth it. Every one of you is worth it.”

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

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Prince of Peace Reigns

Christmas Day – Year A
Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-12; Luke 2:1-20
Tuesday, December 25, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

The angel of the Lord proclaimed, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

As Advent has wound down, and as the Christmas season begins, I have been reflecting on the names, or attributes given to the Messiah, the Savior, by the Prophet Isaiah – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. In my reflections, I find that I keep coming back to the image of Jesus as the Prince of Peace. While not specifically part of today’s Old Testament lesson, the portion of Isaiah that we did hear invokes rich imagery of the one who comes heralding peace. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.” It is hard not to hear Isaiah’s earlier reference to the Prince of Peace in this passage.

I suppose it is natural to turn to this imagery, to this hope, of the Prince of Peace at such a time as we find ourselves in. Everywhere you turn, there is news of war and violence. We are involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are threats of war in Iran. There is ongoing violence and conflict in Israel-Palestine. In our own back yard there are gang wars. And where there is not war in the strict military sense, there is the imagery and language of war. We are fighting the war on terrorism, the war on drugs. So where is the Prince of Peace in all of this?

I would like to share with you a Christmas story. To me, it is one of the most inspiring, one of the most hope-filled stories about the birthday of the Prince of Peace. It is the story of the Christmas truce.

It was December 24, 1914 – the first Christmas of World War I. In preparation for Christmas, German troops in the region of Ypres, Belgium began decorating the area around their trenches. They placed candles on trees and sang Christmas carols, the most notable being Stille Nacht (Silent Night). British troops in the trenches on the opposite side of the “No Man’s Land” responded by singing English carols. The German and British troops continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, troops from both sides met in the No Man’s Land, shaking hands, exchanging Christmas greetings, and sharing small gifts of whisky, jam, cigars, chocolate, and the like.

In the silence afforded by the absence of artillery fire, recently-fallen soldiers were brought back behind their lines for burial. This was an opportunity for proper funerals, as soldiers from both sides mourned the dead together and paid their respects to fallen comrades and fallen enemies.

The unauthorized Christmas truce spread to other areas of the battle lines, with similar exchanges of Christmas greetings and gifts, and jointly administered funerals. There are even reports of football (soccer) matches between the British and German troops. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night. But in some areas, it continued until New Year’s Day. Sadly, the British commanders, upon hearing of the unauthorized Christmas truce, were, to say the least, not pleased. They vowed that no such truce would be allowed again. In following years of the war, artillery bombardments were ordered on Christmas Eve to ensure that no such cessation of combat would occur again. Despite their best efforts, some friendly encounters between enemy soldiers did occur, although on a much smaller scale than the Christmas of 1914.

The powers that be just didn’t get it. But the average soldier in the trenches, the soldiers on the front lines, did. Even though they were at war with one another, those enemy soldiers understood the meaning of Christmas. They understood that Christ is the Prince of Peace, and, at least for one day, it was far more important for them to share that understanding, to share their faith, to share peace. For one day, they were not British or German. They were not enemies. They were brothers in Christ, brothers in the service of the Prince of Peace. And for that one day, they lived as if the good news proclaimed by the angels at Bethlehem 1,900 years before was actually true.

The angels announced the birth of Jesus not to the Roman occupation or to the local Jewish authorities, but to the shepherds. The Roman and Jewish authorities would not listen to, much less believe, that the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, was coming into the world. Such a One would undermine their authority. But the shepherds would listen. These common folk would know the significance of this event, and would know how to live into the new reality being born along with this child.

The angels announced the birth of the Prince of Peace not to the British and German commanders directing military strategy in Belgium during World War I, but to the soldiers on the front lines. The commanders would not follow the orders of this Prince. The presence of such a One would undermine their goals to win the war at all costs. But the soldiers on the front lines heard the message. They knew the significance of Christmas as the birthday of the Prince of Peace, and, at least for one day, knew how to live into the reality that was born along with this child.

The angels announce the birth of the Prince of Peace to us this day. We can learn a lot about the meaning of this significant event from those soldiers fighting on the front lines in Belgium. For that one day, they saw not enemy, but only friend. They dared to see the Christ in each other. They dared to see in each other the one who comes to bring peace. How different would the world be now if that Christmas truce lasted more than just one day? How different would our world be today if we followed their example in our lives, in our own relationships, in our own conflicts? How different would our world be if we did not just celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, but actually lived as if the Prince of Peace reigns?

It is not enough to merely gaze upon the child lying in the manger. Yes, the child is beautiful and worthy of adoration and worship. But that is not nearly enough. For this is no ordinary child. This is the Prince of Peace. This is the one “who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to [all the Earth], ‘Your God [, the Prince of Peace,] reigns” here and now.

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

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Outside the Box

Advent 3 – Year A
Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:4-9; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Sunday, December 16, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

Mark Twain once said, “A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.”

In today’s Gospel reading, we find John the Baptist struggling with his own expectations. He questions if Jesus is the One who is to come, the Messiah. This is a change from his previous position. Not long before he was arrested, John was at the River Jordan, preaching about the coming of the Messiah. This was the part of Matthew’s Gospel that we heard last week. And then, in the midst of this scene, Jesus shows up, requesting to be baptized by John. (Apparently back then, you weren’t required to go through classes to prepare for baptism.) John initially objects, saying “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Mt. 3:14) To which Jesus replies, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (Mt. 3:15). Only then does John consent.

In his statement of objection, John is acknowledging Jesus’ superiority, that he is the Messiah about whom he has just been prophesying. And John’s initial inclination is confirmed by God Himself. As Jesus comes up out of the water, “the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’” (Mt. 3:16-17).

But now, seven chapters later, John is uncertain. There is a part of him, buried deep within his spirit that senses that Jesus still might be the One. But at the same time, there is a touch of doubt. So what’s happened in these intervening seven chapters that has caused John to doubt, or at least, to question, his messianic prophesy regarding Jesus?

Following his baptism and his subsequent temptation the desert, Jesus has formally begun his public ministry in Galilee. He has called his disciples and has begun ministering to the people. He has been teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, healing the sick and the lame, casting out demons, restoring sight to the blind, restoring hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute, and even raising the dead. Not only that, but he has also given his disciples the authority to these things, as well. He has preached revolutionary sermons, the most notable being the Sermon on the Mount. He has reinterpreted the law and given radical new instruction on conduct and prayer. He has even been known to fraternize with tax collectors and sinners.

The news of Jesus’ activities has reached John the Baptist, and now he doesn’t know what to think. Just before he baptized Jesus, John was talking about the coming Messiah. Remember these words from last week’s Gospel lesson? “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:11-12). That’s what a messiah is expected to do, isn’t it? But wait! That’s not anything like Jesus. What Jesus and his disciples have been doing are deeds of compassion, not of fiery judgment.

In short, Jesus does not quite live up to John’s image of what the Messiah should be. In fact, it’s not just John the Baptist. Jesus does not live up to the messianic expectations commonly held by any of the Jews of his day. He is not living up to the image of the great warrior king who will deliver his people from the hands of the oppressors.

Yet, there is still something about this man. Despite what John expects, there is still something inside him that seems to say Jesus might just be the one John has been looking for, the one whom John has been preaching would come. But what he thinks he knows about the Messiah and what he senses in his heart and soul just don’t mesh. Troubled by this disconnect, John sends his own disciples to Jesus to find out first hand if Jesus is indeed the Messiah. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

But Jesus’ response to John’s disciples’ questioning is not what John would have expected, not what John or his disciples was looking for. They wanted a simple “yes” or “no.” Instead, Jesus gives a poetic response, invoking the prophet Isaiah: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus is saying that they should not trust in mere words. Anyone can say the words. Anyone could say, “yes, I am the One.” Rather, he tells them to trust what they have observed. Look around and decide for yourself. Trust your hearts. Through his response, Jesus expects John to recognize that Jesus’ acts are a fulfillment of Scripture, most notably the prophecies of Isaiah, which we heard in our Old Testament lesson.

But what’s more important is what Jesus does not say – what Jesus implies in his response. He’s saying, “John, John, John. You just don’t get it, do you? You’ve bought into this whole set of Jewish messianic expectations, but that’s not how God works. Just look at Scripture. Look at the history of our people. Ya gotta think outside the box!”

John and the other Jews of his day fully expected that the Messiah would be a warrior king. He would be someone who would ride in on a valiant steed, conquer the enemy, liberate the people from their oppressors, and then start cleaning house – sitting in judgment over the people as they confessed their sins against God and sought repentance. And those who did not live up to his expectations would undoubtedly be punished for their failure to live according to God’s law.

But God, through Jesus, offered a different model of Messiah. This Messiah would not be a warrior king who executes fiery judgment. No, this Messiah would be a compassionate servant who brings healing and wholeness to all who seek it. This would not be a Messiah who would ride in on a valiant steed, but rather one who would arrive riding a lowly donkey. This would not be a Messiah who condemns, but rather would be one who embraces. This would not be a Messiah who destroys, but rather would be one who gives life. This would not be a Messiah who preserves the lives of a chosen few, but rather would be one who gives his life for the sake of all.

Because of this, there is another very significant way in which Jesus did not live up to the messianic expectations of John. Jesus was executed. And not just executed, but crucified – the most horrible and painful form of execution available. But despite this, he proved himself Messiah in that he was resurrected. Yet one more example of how the Messiah operated outside the box. Because of his death and resurrection, we live in him. Because of his death and resurrection, we are the Body of Christ. Because of his death and resurrection, Christ lives through us because we live in him.

Because of this “outside the box” approach in which Christ continues to live through us as his Body, we are likewise called to live outside the box. In his earthly ministry, Jesus proclaimed the good news of the kingdom, healed the sick and the lame, cast out demons, restored sight to the blind, restored hearing to the deaf and speech to the mute, and ate with tax collectors and sinners. He gave his disciples authority to likewise. As his Body, we are called to do the same. We may not have the same skills for doing this that Jesus did. After all, Jesus had a slight advantage that we don’t. He was the Son of God. So, all the more, we need to be creative, to think and act outside the box.

How do you feel called to live as the Body of Christ? Is it by feeding the hungry? Giving shelter to the homeless? Healing the sick? Proclaiming the good news of the kingdom? In this broken world, there is so much need for doing the compassionate deeds that Jesus lived for, and died for. As the Body of Christ, we are given the job of continuing those deeds. Maybe not in the same way Jesus did them, but in our own way. And there are certainly plenty of opportunities, if we are just open to them.

A couple weeks ago, at the Sunday evening TaizĂ© service for UCLA students, we were reflecting on the meaning of Advent. After I gave my reflections on Advent, I invited the students to reflect on what Advent means to them. To a person, they all talked about how Advent is about meeting the Christ in other people, about seeing Christ in the other, about responding to the Christ in others. While they didn’t know it, they were echoing the words of St. Benedict, the founder of western monasticism, who write in his Rule for his monks that they were to greet all their guests and one another as if they were Christ. Without specifically saying so and possibly without even really consciously knowing it, these students had made a profound theological connection. Advent is about anticipation and preparation for the coming of Christ. But Christ has already come. He was born 2,000 years ago. He lived. He died. He was resurrected. Because of his death and resurrection, we live in him; we are the Body of Christ. Because of this, we are to live as Jesus lived, doing deeds of compassion. Because of this, we must constantly be in an Advent mindset – prepared to meet the Christ in others, in the other who is in need of compassion. For as Jesus admonishes, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Mt. 25:40).

As Christians, we live in a perpetual season of Advent. For us, no matter what calendar says, it’s Advent. Every day presents us with opportunities to anticipate the coming of our Messiah. Every day presents us with opportunities to prepare for the coming of Christ, because Christ comes to us every day in the guise of our fellow human beings. And every day presents us with opportunities to be the Body of Christ, ministering to the other with deeds of compassion. Sometimes that’s easy to do, sometimes it’s a challenge, and more often than not, it means we have to be a little creative in how we go about it. After all, living the Gospel means thinking and living outside the box. And that can certainly lead to unexpected results. Just ask John the Baptist.

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

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Blessing of Civil Marriage

Blessing of the Marriage of John and Mai Swartwood
Song of Solomon 2:10-13; 8:6-7; Colossians 3:12-17
Saturday, December 8, 2007 – St. Alban’s, Westwood

It is appropriate that John and Mai should choose to have their marriage blessed here at St. Alban’s. After all, this is where it all started. This is where they met. This is where they fell in love. And now, after entering into the bonds of marriage in the ritual and tradition of Mai’s native Japan, they have chosen to complete the process by seeking blessing of that marriage in John’s Christian tradition.

In that tradition, we turn to holy scripture as a guide for marriage. Today’s Scripture readings speak of the important qualities required for marriage, particularly for Christian marriage.

The Old Testament reading from the Song of Solomon speaks of the romantic aspects, of the passion and the desire that is embodied in a loving relationship between man and woman – of the passion, desire and love that bring a man and a woman together, that have brought John and Mai together in the bonds of marriage. Such passion and desire are necessary for love to blossom and grow, and are necessary for marriage to occur. And passion and desire are necessary for a marriage to last. Those marriages that do last are filled with romance, with passion and desire that enrichen the relationship, and make it always fresh and always new. But the romantic alone does not a marriage make – at least not a marriage that will last.

Today’s New Testament reading from Colossians speaks of the other part that is needed for a long-lasting marriage. 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, John, have already found through your faith in God and in Christ, and which you seek to share with Mai. Paul admonishes, “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 experienced 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.

John and Mai, keep these words always in your hearts and your minds, for they will provide you with what you need as you embark on this journey 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.

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

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