Thursday, January 22, 2009
Marriage as a Sacrament
Over at my two most visited blogs Stand Firm in the Faith and the Anglican Continuum debates are going on over marriage in all its forms (natural, civil, sacramental)and the question of annulments and how to determine if a marriage is valid, that is to say truly sacramental, or not. Printed below as a sort of companion piece is a sermon I recently wrote for a wedding. It was an unusual wedding in my opinion, and one that pointed up the theological confusion of our times. I warned the prospective couple that by including me in their ceremony they risked making their marriage a sacramental one. They understood well the meaning of sacramental marriage much to my surprise. So I preached at their wedding the following sermon which I imagine was somewhat troubling to the congregation, but heartily endorsed by the couple.
Marriage is a simple thing, and the simple things are very hard.
My sermon today is a charge to the two of you, and no different than a bishop giving a charge to men newly ordained to the priesthood. You are on a mission from God now. You are responsible both as a couple and as individuals for everything you do, or fail to do in this marriage. You are taking on a great responsibility to firstly God, and secondly to each other. It is an indissoluble union between the two of you, made for solemn service to God, one another, the Church, and humanity.
“It is not good that the man should be alone,” we read in the book of Genesis. So we know that marriage is for mutual support and comfort, and if God wills it, for the procreation of children, but we also must understand that Christian marriage is a thing that demands service, sacrifice and loyalty.
It is a great instruction to us that God has continually taught us through Holy writ, that the Kingdom of God is like unto a marriage. The many parables that Jesus told, using marriage as a simile for the Kingdom of God, lift marriage out of the realm of the secular and into the realm of the divine. Most of us are familiar with those parables, and we remember that Jesus did his first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana in Galilee, and also his reply to the scribes and Pharisees about the nature of marriage and divorce. Jesus told them, when they recounted that Moses had given them permission to divorce in the event of adultery, that single exception was given because of the hardness of their hearts. So the inference is that someone who puts away a spouse for such a cause has a hard heart, and also such a divorce is not pleasing to God.
The Old Testament also speaks to us of marriage. It speaks in a brutal and frank way with a demand for absolute fidelity, even when the other partner has grievously sinned. I am speaking of the Book of Hosea now. Hosea’s wife, Gomer, was anything but a faithful wife, but God made it clear that he was to not only forgive her, but to seek after her even to the point of buying her out of slavery when she ultimately put herself in that position, and also to raising the bastard children that she tried to pass off as Hosea’s. That is an incredibly high standard for this world, one that the vast majority of us would never even think of trying to live up to.
So what is God’s point? Well, He wants each one of his children to be just like Jesus, that is to say perfect, like the Father Himself, And God is always faithful, and God always keeps His promises, even when we don’t keep ours. When God enters into covenant with us we make certain promises to Him and Him to us. When we fail to keep our part of the covenant God does not divorce us, He continues to be faithful. If both parties to a marriage can keep troth in this fashion, then a strong Christian marriage has been established. One that serves the husband and wife, that serves God, serves the Church and also the entire community of humanity. But even if only one manages to keep troth, than a great spiritual work has been accomplished in the name of God, one that brings great spiritual benefit.
My charge to you is to remain loyal and true to each other and to let nothing stand in the way of, or affect your faithfulness to one another. God requires this of you. If you can accomplish this then you will have obtained an object with great spiritual rewards, a blessing for yourselves, the Church, and the larger community, an ensample of Holy living and a great witness to the power of God, who remains faithful and true come whatever.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.