Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sermon for Epiphany 2C

Weddings are strange and wonderful things. I didn’t last at the first wedding I attended. A Roman Catholic friend of my family named Noreen Gentile, was married in Sacramento, California, when I was about five years old. I don’t know if I got noisy or restless, but I spent most of the service with my grandmother in the car outside. What I remember was disappointment that I didn’t see the couple get married in what I was sure was “the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Goat!”

Since I missed that one I looked forward to the next wedding, when my brother married when I was 14. I was too young to be a groomsman but the young men who stood next to my brother made sure I participated in the reception by giving me champagne, quite a lot of champagne. I haven’t seen the wedding pictures for years, but a 14 year old boy falling down while dancing with a bridesmaid is not a pretty sight. And I didn’t see the Holy Goat either!

Then in Melbourne 5 years ago, when I was the chaplain at RMIT and part of the ministry team at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, a couple of of young people asked if I would preach at their wedding. Here’s some of what I said:

“In spite of all the predictions on the future of marriage, any marriage; people get wed in the face of God and a gathered company, because it’s reminder how good and deep and wonderful love can be. Because you’re taking it with the most serious and realistic expectation there is! What we see at a wedding is two people pledging to tie a knot to live and die together, to deepen their day to day experience of life with one another as sign and sacrament and mystery; in sickness and health, riches and poverty, life and death: All the good and bad of it. To pledge to be living in the very midst of that cauldron that Jesus tells us about in the Beatitudes: to be poor in spirit, meek and mourning, hungry and thirsty, needy and deeply human; and blessed, happy, loved, stewarded, inspired by God in an ongoing mutual ministry.”

And I think this is not just true of husbands and wives, but of all relationships; not only the bride and groom but their families and friends too. Look around at any wedding and see the web of people who are destined to meet frequently from there on; at other birthdays, baptisms weddings and funerals far into the future. So not just a man and wife, but all of us called to the cauldron of community, to take up the yoke of learning to live together, whether church or work of club or community. To take up the task of trying to love God and our neighbor, and realizing that it is the same love.

But whether wed spouse, friend or tennis partner, workmate or lover, it can be complex. As I told Mark and Sue five years ago, “there will be moments when your partner starts to tell that certain story one more time, gets a certain look, utters a certain phrase, wakes in a particular mood, falls into a peculiar trait, and you think, ‘there they go again!’ You don’t always have to like it, but you must always do your best to love them then and there!”

Some 30 plus years ago, I realized that a guy I talked to in a class, an english grad student in California, who I had an occasional beer with, had turned into a some kind of good friend. Over the years, friendship turned to honoring, and caring and sharing successes and failures, and the death of parents, and loves that didn’t last, and a deep and surprising regard and respect for the fragile gifts of the other. I spent New Year’s Eve with him and his wife last year, and we’ve gotten old together and I bless God for that.

Going back to the wedding sermon: “Love is, as they say, a many splendored thing, but love will break your heart, exceed your expectations, expand your world, slay and resurrect your ideas of what life and commitment and community and God are all about; and that’s just on a slow week! But the deeper truth is that, whether friendship or marriage, these partnerships in expectation and demand will fill your world with the most precious kind of flesh and blood holiness.”

That is why we say that marriage is a sacrament and perhaps friendship is too. And that’s why, in the second chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus, the word of God, goes to a wedding. He honors relationships, and it isn’t easy. He comes with some friends, and his mother comes by and leans on him for a favor for the wedding party: “They’re out of wine, can you do something?” They’re out of wine, meaning their friends didn’t bring enough to share, and they’re in the middle of a long party, and it’s going to end quickly and badly, unless someone does something and... Can you do something?

God can do something, In the Gospel of John particularly, God shows up doing some very odd and wonderful things. There’s a great one-liner in the first chapter of John, “In the beginning was the Word... and he came to pitch his tent with us.” The word became flesh and lives with us, the word of love becomes flesh and blood and goes to a wedding reception, the word of God’s presence in the world gets asked by his mother if he can do something for a wedding that’s going lopsided. And he does.

There are empty jugs for a religious feast, he asks that they be filled with fresh water, and suddenly there is wine, fine wine, better than they started with, better than they could afford, better than you could hope form saving the best for last.

Here’s an aside. A priest once said when he did pre-marital counseling, he’d talk about the marriage, and he could see the couple thought he meant the wedding day. They’re thinking a one day event, he’s talking about a whole life commitment. Jesus comes for the wedding party, but Jesus stays for the relationship, because Jesus is a sign of the wedding, the marrying together, the covenant of love between God and this creation, this God-made world. Here is God pledging to pitch his tent in the middle, to stay near for the whole process: the wedding, the baptism, innumerable, birthday parties, and tennis matches and cold winters, and misunderstandings and times when there’s not enough patience or money or hope. God in Christ is there with us.

When God comes to the party, each one of us is called to look to our wives and husbands, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, tennis partners, work mates too, those we love a lot and those we love a bit less; and see that God has pitched his tent there too. And we are called to look to all those places with the hope of God’s presence in our hearts.
As I said to Mark and Sue five years ago:

“Your promise to each other in God’s sight [and that is close to our promise to God in our baptism as well] is a sign for us as well, a promise and a hope that we can live life more deeply, risk more, care more, belong more, to each other, to the world, to God. And we are here to celebrate that, as well as to pray for you, support you, love you, always, and especially here and now when you are serving as a sacrament before us, a sign of God’s love.”

To be a sign of hope in love! That takes us back to the reading from Isaiah we heard earlier, of God’s vision for Israel, which we see in the life of Christ: God’s vision for the people he loves and the places where he pitches his tent: listen to the poetry:

“You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord... you shall be called My Delight Is in Her, and your land Married; for the Lord delights in you, and your land shall be married. 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.”

For Christ our God has come to the marriage feast with the wine of rejoicing in the midst of human relationship. So come let us adore him. Amen.

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