Monday, January 28, 2008

Can I Get A Witness?

As we know from countless Christian weddings Love is defined in I Corinthians 13. Our souls recoil in horror and our moral rectitude becomes questionable, since desiring to choke the life out of any minister who allows it is probably questionable. Our eyes bug out as the right reverend doesn't even bother reconciling the idea that while agape love is not jealous, there is a natural jealousy of erotic love. But wedding tradition will have its way with us,so let's make do.
In that passage we find a lot of what love is not but two words describing what Love is.
“Love is patient and kind.”
Now, please be patient with me for a bit.

It is not just that agape love and romantic love are not the same thing. In a wedding we are bound to find, not one or the other, but four kinds of Love. Saint Clive gave his remarkable Four Talks on them and the book version is worthy of your time. I had my future wife listen to his talk on Eros back in 1976 and we have now been married over 29 years. This is magical stuff. Pay attention.

At a wedding Eros or Romantic love is a bit obvious. The bride is ramped up to an unusual state of hotness. The music swells. The flowers run riot and smiles bedeck whomever with a faint whiff of sexuality. The ritual is festooned with unnatural aristocratic decorations and people move in paths they will never move again, because they are middle class. It is the honor that Eros receives from us. All of the peripheral universe disappears and the couple becomes the conclusion of the "most important romantic novel ever written".
The presence of friendship or Philia is probably more modern and it is a gift for which modernity should be blessed. In courtship/patriarchal societies of the past, the wise guidance of a certain number of goats struck a chord with the Fathers and, TA DA, a marriage! We allow friendships to develop and we like it more when a friendship has developed before vows are taken, just as we prefer that Eros develop before vows. At least Jacob wished it with Leah.
Moving on to Storge or Family love, a wedding is almost primarily this love. If nothing else, two families are joined, one family is made and "all their worldly goods" are cross given and endowed.
Much more can be made of this list of loves but let it suffice to say that these three are not, by Pauline definition, that which is "patient and kind".
What he defined, is Agape or Charity. We must now apply our way to some meaning.
What we see at a wedding, and as a congregation we witness, are the vows taken to so love in this fourfold way. "I swear," you say, "to be lover, family, friend, and neighbor regardless of our fate."
Now this is a pretty big deal. Possibly bigger than you think.
As many of you know, all Christian ethics derive from Love. Those that don't, give me a call.
Romans 12:8-10
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
If four loves are being vowed at a wedding, our witness of those vows, in varying ways, involves us too.
A bridal couple is a picture of us all and so we don’t just witness, we participate.
While many Christian weddings misapply the I Corinthians 13 passage, as many, gladly and correctly apply the Ephesians 5 idea that they are a metaphor of Christian charity, the patient and kind love. They are to be seen ultimately as Christ and his church and Christ giving himself up for her as the penguin-suited groom is to give himself up for the waxed and buffed bride. You, sitting in pew twelve, are called to witness both the mundane and the transcendent wedding. The "patience and kindness" that the couple vow to start giving each other is that which you all must witness, value and enjoy. You sat there and witnessed a monumental metaphor and it wasn't about them but about you and between you all and each.
Witnessing wedding agape is to witness where you stand morally, because you witnessed a picture of Christ and His redemption. Lots of portent there, my friend.

But the Romantic Love and Friendship Love that they have is private. Yes, private but objectively there or not and witnessed as there or not. The congregation does not participate actually or metaphorically but witnesses them as those who want its best expressed in them, and by its lessons, in you.

The Family Love is also all around on the wedding day. Each family is donating parts of themselves for this new family unit. The metaphor in Ephesians 5 is so dynamic and Christ-centered that the demonstration of it in the couple's attachment, service, and obedience is hard to move past. But the family they primarily but collaterally make, it too is a metaphor, and an important one.
Matthew 12:46-50
While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister, and mother."
If the couple exchanging vows have both passed from Death to Life, their creation of family calls out to the congregation to value the real family of the kingdom of Heaven and not just the new "Mr. and Mrs." in their home.

Weddings are not like another floor show, which for the cover charge of acquaintance and a gift, we can attend. They speak to and of us. What we witness is a set of grand loves which all touch us with some necessity. What we see we only see at perhaps 20-30 weddings in our lifetimes and, (this is of some moment), only for you lifetime.
The vows show us that this lesson is before our eyes only temporarily.
“till death do us part”
Christ agrees.
In Matthew 22:29-30
But Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

This message is for both you and and any besotted, charming couple standing before the vicar.
The wedding is the beginning of a lesson from God, witnessed by you all and vowed by the celebrants.
It is a lesson that best be learned for it ends for us all one day.
Matthew 22:36-39
"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

The life of complete holiness is preached at every wedding across the land.
The love on display on any wedding day seeks not its own but seeks its God above and seeks, in the believers, its family, and in all, its neighbor.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Who Are You?

Definitions, as I have pointed out before, are different than Circumstances. For the sinner, it is of some moment and relief that Christianity changes the definition of a man rather than his circumstance. The rest of the world's religions (and much of Christendom) stress the religious circumstances of the life they recommend. The New Covenant has made a man's nature different. He is redefined. Whatever his circumstance, Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free, his definition has shifted and he is now filled with the Holy Spirit. This is necessary to even call yourself a Christian for "you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him." Romans 8:9

Many churches give a list of circumstances (from wet the baby to walk the aisle) perhaps because the circumstances of a Christian's life do change. You can't change the definition of something without it changing the world the new being inhabits. This will be so much that, as St. James says "I, by my works, will show you my faith." He didn't say "I will create my faith."

The worldly mind takes this continuum between who you are and what you do and switches where the definition resides. "I'll make a faith," says he, " from my ritual to moral to cultural deeds and it will be the biggest, grandest Christian faith you ever did see." He thinks that the definition is made by the circumstances not vice versa. He looks at the change described by the apostles and falls into the same slavery that he came out of.

If a man is defined as a featherless biped and believes wholeheartedly that that circumstance is what makes him a man, two errors are eventual. One, a plucked chicken is a man and, two, if he loses a leg, he lost his humanity.
Applied, we see that someone who insists that a Christian will be defined by x-ritual observance and by x-cultural condition, the church will soon (and has been) cumbered with those who meet the external definition who have not Christ and some who have Christ will be left wondering, should they lose access to x-ritual, if they are Christians.

The Christ says, "You must be born again."
Let Christ make a new man of you.
"whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith." I Timothy 1:5