A New Beginning
Read these odd quotes:
"I wish all people were like me, but each has a particular gift from God: one has this gift, and another has that one. I’m telling those who are single and widows that it’s good for them to stay single like me. But if they can’t control themselves, they should get married, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion." "I don’t have a command from the Lord about people who have never been married, but I’ll give you my opinion as someone you can trust because of the Lord’s mercy. I think this advice is good because of the present crisis: Stay as you are."
"But if you do marry, you haven’t sinned; and if someone who hasn’t been married gets married, they haven’t sinned. But married people will have a hard time, and I’m trying to spare you that." "I want you to be free from concerns. A man who isn’t married is concerned about the Lord’s concerns—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the world’s concerns—how he can please his wife. His attention is divided. A woman who isn’t married is concerned about the Lord’s concerns so that she can be dedicated to God in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the world’s concerns—how she can please her husband."
"But if a man stands firm in his decision, and doesn’t feel the pressure, but has his own will under control, he does right if he decides in his own heart not to marry the woman. Therefore, the one who marries the unmarried woman does right, and the one who doesn’t get married will do even better. A woman is obligated to stay in her marriage as long as her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry whomever she wants, only it should be a believer in the Lord. But in my opinion, she will be happier if she stays the way she is."
Believe it or not, these are scriptures, all found in the New Testament. In chapter 7 of 1st Corinthians, the apostle Paul does his best to give advice to the church in Corinth on whether or not the people should get married. His cynicism shines through pretty clearly. Paul himself was a celibate man who never married. He is careful in this chapter to state that he is only offering his opinion, not a command from the Lord. But Paul does have a point. Marriage is not and should not be for everyone. While it seems like a logical step that every person should take in life, it really should be a sacred commitment made for the right reasons by two people who are deeply in love. Paul is essentially saying that, "unless a person burns with passion, they should stay single." I love the phrase "burn with passion". That's not just a sexual statement, but a type of love reserved for two people who truly want to share life together.
When I sit down with engaged couples for pre-marital counseling, I show them these scriptures. I also ask them, "why do you want a Christian wedding, in a church?" I honestly want to know if they are merely getting married due to cultural pressure and the tradition that each generation has followed, or if those two people burn with passion and they truly want to build a relationship with each other that reflects the relationship between Christ and the church. I also want to know why they have chosen a church instead of a tavern or hotel or courtroom to have their ceremony. I warn them that getting married in a church isn't some magical act. It won't ensure that their marriage is automatically going to be more successful. Like any commitment, what two people do as Christians committed to the bonds of marriage makes all the difference.
A wedding is a joyous occasion, but also a stressful one. And marriage is not for everyone. Some people prove unable to truly keep their vows to one another. Yet, most people, at one time or another, test this sacred water. Just like our practice of the faith, people must grow in their relationship. Signing a contract and promising to make a commitment is not the same thing as what happens next, when the commitment must be lived out in very real ways. What makes a marriage truly special is when people realize that their wedding day is the least important day of their marriage.
This church has had the joy of performing weddings for countless couples for generations, dating all the way back to the 1850's. At the same time, this church as hosted the funerals for one or both partners who were married here. Partners who spent their adult life committed to each other in that bond of marriage, raising their kids in the faith, and seeing them too make the same commitments to Christ and their spouses. And whether a person takes the "plunge" or follows Paul's advice and chooses not to marry, we are each called to a relationship with Christ, as Christ's body, that reflects the same passion a married couple is called to. In that sense, baptisms reflect our wedding day, while the communion table reflects our ongoing commitment to that relationship. How are we growing in our commitment to Christ? Did we expect our day of baptism to be all the magic we needed to make that relationship work? How are we growing in love, and growing in the grace we receive from Christ as we live out our Christian commitment?
These questions should constantly cause us to re-evaluate our commitment to the faith. What are our priorities in life? Are they pulling us away from our commitment to Christ? What other relationships, distractions and financial burdens aren't actually as important as we are making them? How do we re-commit ourselves to our baptismal covenant, our vows that we promised to live out when we made this commitment? While marriage may not be for everyone, this sacred commitment is. We are each called to grow in faith, and live out our baptism each and every day. How we do that makes all the difference. For those who are single, how does your life reflect your commitment to Christ? And for those who are married, how does your marriage reflect the same love and commitment? Consider this question each and every day.
Finally, I would like to congratulate Tom and Ali Razo, and Brock and Kentessa Doyle on their new journey together. May their marriages reflect this love, this commitment, and this sacred journey that we all can take with Christ.