A Wedding Homily
Mark 10:6-9, 13-16
God at Work
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Mark 10:6-9, 13-16
God at Work
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
When the church board of this congregation, known as the vestry, gathers for its monthly meeting, there are a pair of questions we always address. Each vestry member has an opportunity to respond to them. The questions are: first, How have you seen God at work in the church since the last time we met? and second, How can we contribute to this work? Taken together, our answers to these questions set the tone for the entire meeting. We come to recognize that God is at work in our congregation, and that our task is to cooperate with what God has under way.
A church is a community that sees itself as a sphere where God’s grace is at work. But a marriage is, or should be, another community that sees itself as a sphere where God’s grace is at work. And so there’s a pair of questions that I want to offer to all married persons, and especially on this day to Rick and Atala, as they come here to have their marriage blessed. These are questions that cannot be answered once and for all, but needed to be reflected on from time to time. The first question is How have you seen God at work in your marriage lately? The other question is How can you contribute to this work?
This pair of questions bear witness to what marriage is about. In the Christian understanding, marriage is not simply a project undertaken by the couple. It is a relationship in which God is involved. Indeed, it is a commitment that was God’s idea in the first place. God is involved in a marriage, active, working graciously to make it work as a source of life for the couple, their family, and their community. A marriage is one of those primary places where God endeavors to make divine love visible through relationships between people.
But just how is it that God works graciously in a marriage? Today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel reveals two ways in which this happens. From this teaching by Jesus, we can conclude that marriage to meant to be a lifelong relationship, an unbreakable union. We can also conclude that the way into God’s kingdom is by becoming a child, whatever that may mean.
This call to faithful marriage and childlike faith may sound like a pair of rules, but we miss the point if we hear them as rules and nothing more. Rather, this pair of rules points us beyond rules to something far greater. They point us to God graciously at work in a marriage.
What a relief! The couple are not alone is making their marriage work. They have available to them all the mighty power of God, offered to them as a wedding gift.
The Good News behind this gospel teaching is that it’s by God’s gracious action that a couple remains united in a living relationship for ten or twenty or fifty or seventy years. Were it all up to human beings, the divorce rate would rise to one hundred percent. But God wants to work in every marriage, to make it an experience of grace.
The Good News behind this gospel teaching is also that by God’s gracious action, couples united in marriage can become increasingly childlike, and thus more and more fit for the kingdom of heaven, that way of life in which God’s authority and mercy are freely acknowledged.
This brings us to one of the secrets of life. There comes a time when we are undeniably adults. In our society, or at least portions of our society, the trappings of adulthood can include some of the following: a real job, a mortgage, some level of formal education, a reasonably reliable car, and an appropriately serious demeanor. A massive and subtle process takes place as we grow up that makes us want to acquire at least some of these tokens of maturity, and to feel satisfaction by doing so.
But once we have achieved a reasonable level of success and stability, and want to catch our breath and enjoy our accomplishments, lo and behold, another developmental task confronts us. Having become certified adults, we discover (if we’re lucky) that we must become children again. For some, this ungainly experience resembles climbing many rungs up ladder, only to discover that it is leaning against the wrong wall. So we must become children again. The first time around was a matter of nature and necessity. Each of us entered the world as a baby. The second time is a matter of choice, or better yet, of deciding whether or not to cooperate with the grace of God oozing into our life in the most unlikely places.
This becoming a child again is no bed of roses. It can be hard to let go of major league adult-size toys like power and money and stuff and control. It can be hard to become a beginner again, a neophyte, when we’ve worked hard to establish an exterior that is thick, protective, and jaded. It can be hard to cultivate the natural sense of equality apparent in children when for decades we’ve been absorbed in some form of the game called “Beat the Other Guy.”
Were it all up to human beings, the failure rate at becoming a child again would soar up to a hundred percent. The sole reason for anyone’s successful at this is the grace of God, a sheer gift, unmerited and undeserved.
Not everyone is called to marriage. But for those who are invited into this state of life, marriage is a place, a sacred space, where this developmental task of entering childhood again can happen. The grace God shows us in marriage can move us beyond many things. It can move us beyond the limitations of our upbringing. It can move us beyond the restrictions of society. This grace can even move us beyond the foolishness of our own mistakes. Working in marriage, God can graciously move us to a new childlikeness, which is necessary for participation in God’s kingdom.
And so the divine humor is at work. We grow up, and we become young again. We are old enough, mature enough to marry, yet marriage is there to help us become children again, able to bend down and pass beneath the low lintel of the doorway into the kingdom of heaven.
Look sometime in the newspaper at the photos of couples celebrating fifty or more years of marriage. Often a current photo is placed beside a photo from that long-ago wedding day. Sure, the couple is a lot older than they were before, but look some more, and in many cases you will find something noteworthy. What this pair testifies to is a lifetime spent together, but to something else as well.
The first photo features a young couple. The bride is beautiful. The groom is handsome. They are proud adults, making a serious commitment. Now look at the second photo. It features an old couple. By conventional standards, they don’t stand out. But look more deeply into the picture. You may see a gentleness in the second photo that is absent from the first. The old couple isn’t busy being adults. Grace has led them further than that. They have become children again. Their marriage has worked.
Atala and Rick, the relationship into which you have entered, and which you come to have blessed this day, is more than a contract between you. It is a covenant between you and God. You are leaving yourself open to divine grace working in your marriage. The path you have chosen is one of life-long union that will lead you to enter as children into the kingdom of heaven.
Consider two questions, not only now, but throughout the years to come:
• How have I seen God at work in my marriage lately?
• How can I contribute to this work?
Consider these questions, and another pair as well:
• How have we seen God at work in our marriage lately?
• How can we contribute to this work?
Keep asking these questions and answering them. You will find not only that your marriage was blessed on a day many years ago, but that your marriage has become a blessing, an experience of God’s grace, that continues to illuminate your life.
• Copyright for this sermon 2008, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals,” (Cowley Publications).