Community Christian Church of Springfield

4806 E. Cherry
Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821 





Sermon

Either/Or

Proper  22      October 5, 2014
Community Christian Church of Springfield
Roger Ray, Pastor

Genesis 2:18-22  18Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner." 19So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.
21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.

Marriage scene from The Princess Bride

Thank you for indulging me that sixty seconds of classic video from the Princess Bride.  I'm almost certain that none of you can enjoy it quite as much as I do.  It has been my honor and sometimes it has been my challenging duty to preside over weddings since long before this now 27 year old film was first released.

Most countries now separate the civil contract of marriage from the religious ritual but here in the United States it is still most common to put the religious and legal together and often we try to see how much pomp and fabric and flowers can be pushed into a ceremony that the groom almost always begs me to make somehow magically short and the bride wants me to make it impossibly spectacular.   

But we presume that somehow God is a party to the marriage contract.  The traditional wedding language even insists that marriage was "instituted by God" and the officiant is to charge the couple and the witnesses to honor it and to keep it holy. Our government has passed any number of "defense of marriage" acts trying to make certain that it is always an institution in the hands of the God of early 20th Century Catholics and right wing Evangelicals.
At times in our history, we did not allow different races to marry and for the past several years we have debated whether or not same sex couples, who have lived a shared life for decades, should be afforded the legal benefits of marriage that are automatically extended to even a marriage that only lasted for 48 hours, such as one of the marriages of Britany Spears .... That holy and evidently intoxicated Las Vegas union that was dissolved in the light of day when everyone had sobered up.

Religious people have been protesting the steady march of progress towards marriage equality, insisting that same sex marriages will undermine their traditional heterosexual marriage.  But, of course, if the gay couple down the street getting married can undermine the marriage of Barbie and Ken, then, the simple fact is that either Barbie or Ken is gay and they have bigger things to discuss than the happy couple down the street.

I am pleased to be able to say today, that marriage equality has finally taken a giant step here in Missouri with Friday's decision by Judge J. Dale Youngs in Kansas City, ruling that our same sex marriage ban is not constitutional.

But we can give the traditionalists this much:  including same sex couples in legal marriage is a change in both our legal and religious presumptions about marriage.  But what traditionalists must finally accept is that there is no single Biblical or even legal understanding of marriage that has lasted for more than a few generations.

The preponderance of scripture supports polygamy and even concubinage.  And there are rules that were laid down in scripture to serve an ancient culture that we have found to be horrible for centuries.
In Deuteronomy 22, the Bible says that if a man rapes a young women who is engaged to be married, the rapist must pay a fine to the girl's father and then marry his victim. And if that sounds just crazy to you, you should know that this practice was just outlawed in Morocco in January of this year.

Religious rules and secular laws about who could marry, who could divorce, how many people you could marry at one time, have been constantly changing and the one thing that we can be certain of is that God didn't invent this institution.  We did, and as such, we have been tinkering with it, trying to get it right, for centuries.

The church should never be in the business of dictating specifics about such things but what we must not fail to do is to teach the kinds of ethics that apply to marriage and to child rearing, as well as to government, environment, and economics.

The church does not have the right to try to dictate who you can and who you cannot marry nor should we try to manage the gateway to divorce or re-marriage.  But we should meaningfully teach the kinds of character traits and principles that lead to successful marriage and family life.

Our wisdom reading this morning from Genesis poetically articulates, no so much a dictum as it is an observation.... The author of Genesis tells us that God observed the first person that God had created....now, to be completely honest, Genesis chapter 1 and Genesis chapter 2 were written in entirely different time periods and places so I want to step a bit carefully into this observation, but, if you read the creation narrative in chapter 1 of Genesis, you see God creating and creating and after each act of creation, the writer of Genesis said, "and God saw that it was good."
God made the light and the dark and saw that it was good.  God separated the land from the seas and saw that it was good.  God made the sun and the moon and saw that they were good.  God made the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and the animals on the land and saw that they were good.

But if you will allow me to read from chapter one to chapter two, the first time that God looks at something and says that it is not good is in chapter 2, verse 18:
18Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone"
And that is a stand-alone observation that has echoed through the empty homes and lives of many of us who have just never found a life partner.  It is not good that the man should be alone.... Or the woman for that matter.

There are worse things than being alone.... Specifically, being with the wrong person comes quickly to mind.  If you have some very good friends, some dependable family connections, some real community, being alone can be ok.  No one should be made to feel inadequate or damaged because they are alone but no one who has spent decades alone, as I have, would put up much of a fight with the Biblical narrative that says... yeah, sunrise and sunset... that's good.... Going to the ocean... that's good... seeing the birds, the fish, the wild animals.... All that is good... but it is never as good when you are seeing it alone.

I was married for the first half of my adult life.  It was a pretty miserable marriage.  She wasn't a bad person but we sure were not right for each other.  We tried... we did lots of counseling.  I even changed my educational path from earning a Phd in New Testament to majoring in pastoral counseling because I was trying to understand marriage, trying to make it work.

For the sake of decorum, I don't want to say much more about that failure.  I think that virtually everyone is the hero of their own novel and in almost every case when someone talks about a divorce, they describe themselves as a victim and that is almost never entirely accurate.

I did not expect, when I divorced at the age of 38 that I would remain single for so long.  It was not my plan to remain single.  I tried but like about half of the people in my generation, it just never happened for me.

I have had the honor of sharing my life with a wonderful daughter.  I have had educational opportunities that I did not deserve and for which I am profoundly grateful.  I have traveled more and seen more of the world than I ever would have dreamed to have been possible for a lower middle class kid from rural Kentucky.  I have been blessed with many wonderful friends.... A few of whom have found it within their ability to remain as my friends for years at a time.... Which is, apparently, no small feat.

But, and forgive me if you have heard this personal account before, but for me it symbolizes that split between what it means to have a charmed single life or to live in close communion with a life partner......

The first time that I got to go to London, I went alone to the British Museum and within moments I found myself standing in front of the Rosetta Stone.... That singular archaeological find that unlocked Egyptian hieroglyphics and made it possible for historians to finally probe the ancient history of Egypt.

I had known of its existence all of my life.  I knew why that it was important.  I had, however, formed an image in my mind of a kind of stone tablet..... which is not what the Rosetta Stone is.  The Rosetta Stone is a 1600 pound block of granite that stands nearly four feet tall.  When I saw it, I was stunned, amazed, and I turned to my left and to my right, wanting to say to someone, "Isn't this amazing?" but I was surrounded by a class of elementary students on a field trip and they were clearly bored with the stone and eager to press on to see the mummies in the next exhibit hall.

I have never felt more alone than I felt in that moment.  At our lowest points in life, having a committed life partner can dilute the pain and help us to bear up under great challenges.  But also, in moments of great joy, wonder, success, and discovery, when you don't have someone to share that moment with, then the event can be diminished or lost...... it is not good for the man to be alone.

I titled today's sermon "Either/Or" after the title of Soren Kierkegaard's book of the same name. It reflects Kierkegaard's tortured indecision about whether to marry and try to have a happy life, or to remain isolated and devote himself to the work of creating his life's great contribution of philosophical books.  In the end, he elected to remain single and, for the rest of his life, apparently suffered with the realization that he had made the wrong choice. 

The second half of verse 18 in chapter 2 of Genesis, after God has made the observation that it is not good for the man to be alone, says, "I will make him a helper as his partner." A more literal and, I think, a better translation says, "Let us make a partner who is fit for him."

Finding the right match is, however, a potentially great deception as well.  As a single adult who is often called upon both to do pre-marital counseling and pre-divorce counseling, I have been an avid observer of marriage relationships.

I used to ask young couples who were preparing to take their wedding vows if they could tell me about a couple they know whose marriage they admire and would like to imitate.  I stopped asking that question about ten years ago when couples stopped being able to describe a single marriage that they thought was healthy in a way that they would like to imitate.

There are, I am convinced, no perfect marriages.  There are, however, happy couples.... But their happiness is not predicated on the perfection of their relationship.  They are happy, from my observation, because they have learned to be patient with their partner's sometimes very irritating quirks.

They are happy, not because their partner is innocent, but because they have chosen to be more forgiving than resentful.  They are happy, not because their partner is flawless but because they have chosen to give up on the illusion that is perfectionism.

There are things that can kill a marriage.... Infidelity, physical violence, addiction or mental illness, cruelty to children, and fiscal irresponsibility.... Beyond those five, I get pretty impatient with people who give up on their marriage too easily.  If people only knew how much rage I feel inside when they say it, they would stop coming to me and telling me, "I'm not happy."

If you married the accountant for security but you spend all of your life dreaming of the life-guard at the pool... then you need to grow up. Those of us who have longed for the opportunity to build a meaningful partnership with an appropriate life-partner can get pretty testy with the "I'm not happy" crowd.

It is not likely to come as a surprise to many of you that my status as a long term single man may now be on the seriously endangered list.  It is been my singular good fortune to meet a woman who is not only very sympathetic with my spiritual views but who is also a very educated progressive and a stunningly attractive person who seems, even more stunningly, to be willing to tolerate my sometimes inexcusably intense character flaws.

Heather is the most amazing person that I have ever met but as we have tried to pursue a meaningful relationship across the 400 miles that separate us, we have both discovered that neither one of us is perfect.  You don't get to be middle aged without earning a few battle scars and developing some sensitive hot buttons that make the journey from the first date to the jewelry store and the altar more of a winding road than a straight path.

More important than the slow discovery of one another's flaws has been the way in which being in love has pushed me to become aware of some of my own flaws that had not been evident to me when I was holed up alone in my man-cave.  I remember hearing Scott Peck say that the only real reason to get married is for the friction....he and was only half kidding.

Being in a relationship with a really smart, strong, and self-confident woman has meant that I have had to do some real self-discovery.

Once intimidation and condescension have been shown to no longer be effective, I've had to become a bit more vulnerable about some things!

It is, of course, not all about the friction.  I have very nearly made a fool out of myself trying to root through the old attic of memories about how a man is supposed to court a woman.... I've gone through gifts of jewelry, theater tickets, dinners out, flowers at work and sending greeting cards with the lyrics of pop love songs, along with daily phone calls and late night texts.... I've been such an adolescent about some of these things that I was afraid that I was going to start having acne problems again.

But beyond all of the thrill and excitement of a meaningful romance, more substantively, if I may borrow the phrasing of a popular movie, what I find in this prospect of once more trying to enter into a meaningful marriage is that I have found in Heather, I have found in our partnership, something that makes me want to be a better man.  And that is the kind of relationship I could wish for everyone to experience.



Roger L. Ray, D.Min. 

Pastor
Community Christian Church
4806 E. Cherry Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up." (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Nobel Speech)
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