Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sermon on Sunday

Having decided to do less last time I posted, Lorna and I ended up doing the sermon at church on Sunday! We felt God was really calling us to speak - the topic was Love especially in marriage. It was really rewarding that a number of people talked to us afterwards and said how helpful they found it. God also taught us a great deal about our relationship and how it needs to change (we need to do less!!). We realised that we were just treading water, but not really communicating as we were always worrying about the next thing. Things are definitely improving since we had that conversation, and we suspect that God intended for us to near our breaking point to learn the lesson.
For those interested, here's the sermon in full:
I feel it in my fingers, I feel it in my toes, love is all around us, and so the feeling grows…love lifts us up where we belong…all you need is love… The world is obsessed by love, it’s in every film we see, every song we hear, every soap opera plot we follow. The web is full of chat rooms and dating websites all promising to find you The One. And yet, 14 in every thousand marriages end in divorce, 53% of those breaking up families with children under 16. There has been an increase in the number of divorces every year for the last four years– what are we as a society missing? why do so many people end up heartbroken? I – we - think it’s because the world has sold itself a lie – the Hollywood version of love and marriage is a perversion of what God has in mind for us.

Popular culture tells us what to wear, what to eat, what to say, what to do, where to do it…and increasingly what to think. TV, radio, magazines and the internet bombard us with standards to reach, behaviour patterns to follow and role models to aspire towards. One of the biggest pressures is to be part of a couple, and the Hollywood blueprint goes as follows;
1. find the right person – out there somewhere is your one true love, and fate has a plan to get you two to meet. You will know them because you will meet them in awkward or unusual circumstances, a thunderbolt will strike and the sexual attraction will knock you sideways. For girls, this person is likely to be Hugh Grant.
2. fall in love – this is usually marked by becoming a completely different person, making wild decisions and throwing caution to the wind. No attention should be paid to common beliefs, interests or hopes as LOVE should be enough to conquer all of that. Its at this point that you will magically start to have mind blowing sex – unassailable proof that this is the Real Thing.
3. live happily ever after … until you split up. Once you’ve been together a while the relationship deepens, as will the lure of alternative suitors. At this point, cracks may start to appear. Several patterns can develop – “we grew apart”, “he doesn’t understand me” or “I love him, I’m just not in love with him any more”.
4. relationship ends – at this point it is usual to repeat steps 1-3.

However, our culture isn’t entirely honest with us about the danger of this kind of behaviour, and its by no means this simple. When people enter into marriage, two become one. When marriage breakdown occurs, it’s very hard to disentangle the mesh that binds the partners, and the pain can be agonizing. These wounds are slow to heal and often leave scarred emotions. Every story is different, and in some cases it is difficult to see how a relationship can continue. There may be people who have suffered abuse and find it difficult to recover and forgive, there may be people who cannot forgive themselves. There aren’t any easy answers – certainly none we know of, but God loves us and hates to see his beloved children in pain. Jesus is called a Counsellor, a Prince of Peace and through His Spirit He ministers to us when we ask Him.

The subconscious message sent to us by the Hollywood formula is a dangerous one – that we as individuals should make ourselves number one priority in any relationship. If our needs are not being met – regardless of anyone else involved we should move on to another more pleasing situation because, at the end of the day, “we’re worth it”.

I don’t believe that this “Hollywood formula” is a fair representation of God’s will for us. Song of Songs shows us that God fully intends us to have passionate, romantic relationships with the opposite sex. From the word go, Adam saw that Eve “was good”. God fully endorses marriage – Jesus was moved to perform a miracle turning water into wine to honour one couples wedding, so strong were His feelings of joy and support for them!

The difference between the Hollywood approach and the approach I believe God wants us to adopt is what He expects from the would-be husband and wife. Its not a passive process – cupids arrows aren’t enough. God tells us in His word exactly what He thinks a good marriage needs, and it’s a lot of hard work. Our reading from Ephesians clearly states that husbands are expected to love their wives the way Jesus loves the church. Let’s think about that – Jesus became man, died a humiliating and painful death and rose from the dead to save us from sin ….. it’s the ultimate expression of how much He loves us. He literally gave up His life for us. Thankfully, none of us are likely to be in a position where we would be asked to take so huge or literal a step. But the premise stands. God expects us to serve our spouse, to put them first before our own well being. As Christians we are expected to Love God and Love our neighbour as ourselves. Paul tells us that by loving our spouse, we fulfil both aspects of the latter commandment. A spouse is not only the closest neighbour that we could have, but more than that, marriage joins two people into one – so loving our spouse is akin to loving ourselves. Paul parallels the way Christ loves the church - a love that inspired the ultimate sacrifice, with how He thinks a husband and wife relationship should be.

So, this love he asks us to show one another is a sacrificial love. 1Corinthians 13 tells us in no uncertain terms what He means – Love is patient, Love is kind, does not envy or boast. It is not proud, rude, self seeking, or easily angered – it keeps no record of wrongs. Love delights in the truth, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I don’t know how you feel, but I find that quite an intimidating list of expectations, but Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit, enabling us to love in this way. His death washed away our sin. That leaves us pure, like the bride in the reading –that loving sacrifice leaves us “radiant with holiness” and free from obstructions to Him.

What we’re being sold by popular culture is infatuation. Great while it lasts, but if we allow ourselves to believe that’s all there is then we will miss out on the true nature of marriage. Love is central to all relationships – even those which seem to contradict the tenets of our faith. Paul also talks about how the relationship between slave and master should be founded on obedience and mutual respect. This is pleasing and therefore worshipful to God. So we learn that injecting Godly love into our earthly interactions is an act of worship to our maker.

Not all of us are married and that might not be the sort of relationship that God has planned for you. If we can learn to love the way God intends then all our relationships – especially the most important one of all – our relationship with Him, will succeed. Let me leave you with a quote from a Romanian prison guard during the communist era. He is describing his experience of Christian prisoners “…if we cut off their tongues and forbid the Christians speech, they love with their hands and their feet and with their eyes, they love always and everywhere until their last respiration. Does anyone know how to take out the power of love from these stupid Christians?” I think that’s proof that once we know God’s love, it’s impossible not to express it and that’s what marks us out as Christians.

If we can learn two things from what we’ve said, let it be these:
1. Love is a choice to put another first – it permeates all relationships, not just marriage.
2. Love of God is of paramount importance as through this He teaches us to love others.