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God’s Love, Marital Love

By Charles Rush

June 27, 2010

Tobit 7:12,c,b

The morning worship service on June 27, 2010, included the wedding ceremony of Christ Church members Elizabeth Jefferson and Robert Petrus.

am ever surprised by pursuit of romance and love. It has quite a mystique. I had a guy in my office that was rather sheepishly trying to explain to me why he was about to get married for the third time. He started fumbling for words, so I said, “you represent the triumph of hope over experience”. “Yes sir, that is my story” he said a couple times.

Scripture believes deeply in marriage, but it has precious little to say about it. The older I get, the more it seems to me that the love that you learn to give and receive in marriage is about as close to God’s love for us as we humans get. The love that we celebrate in marriage may be best single metaphor of God’s love for us. It is the root of what we mean by a committed love, a faithful love, a profound covenantal love. Bob and Liz, it is what I hope for you, and for the rest of us to remember why we got married in the spiritual sense too…

One of Jesus’ most fundamental images: “The Kingdom of God is like a wedding feast…” It is full of that joy, expectation, anticipation, as the Bible says, ‘The fat things of life’. And in the Gospel of John, the very first miracle that Jesus does is at a wedding, turning water into wine, a symbolic story that Jesus brings the best wine, as the psalms say of wine, it maketh the heart glad. And so it does.

Because there is something wonderful about finding the key that opens the door. Plato taught us that God must have created us in pairs before the foundation of the earth and then separated us at the beginning of history. That is why, he said, it seems like we are searching our whole lives for the other half that will complete us. The wonderful line from the movie Jerry Maguire. He is trying to describe the exhilaration of falling in love and he says, “You complete me.” It is that click that just happens. You can’t conjure it up, and God how we wish we could sometimes. You can’t control it. It just happens. She is totally different. I think he might be the One. You are just thrown off your game in the good way we all want to be thrown, like the movie with the wonderful title, “Swept Away on a Bright Blue Sea in August by and Unusual Sense of Destiny.”

All of a sudden, you are different, the whole world is different.

In one of his novels (The Second Coming), Walker Percy has a character in the last third of his life that has reached a stated of benign resignation. He is full of mid-life ennui. And he has some real setbacks. His spouse has died, his children are grown and away. His life has a predictable routine to it and he has decided to stay mildly lubricated through his afternoons and evenings and learn to enjoy the modest pleasures that might accidentally bump up against him in his controlled and banal suburban world. Spiritually, he is in neutral gear, brining in a diluted solution of alienation. Some of you know what he is talking about. You don’t know how it happened, but it does occasionally.

Then she comes into his life, quite out of the blue. Suddenly there is a bounce in his step, suddenly life takes on a new purpose, suddenly there is color, and he starts savoring the taste of the world. He starts to experience some of the wonder of the world in her presence. He starts caring about her, starts thinking about her situation, really becoming involved in her world- and he finds that is suddenly living outside of himself and willing to start new adventures that were anything but boring and predictable. And they do start some new adventures.

Way leads to way, and the two of them make romantic overtures towards one another, a tentative and wonderful chase. There comes this moment when they are alone, they looking at each other and Percy writes, “Kissing her was like rounding a corner and coming home”.

What a wonderful phrase. That is the moment when elation turning into deeper joy with everything that we’ve ever known and everything that we ever hoped for in that notion of ‘coming home’. That is a wonderful ‘wow’ and we all want to drown in that. It has a beautiful expression in every age. Bob and Liz are giving a wonderful expression of that in this chapter of their lives. I remember thinking that when I saw you both read poems by Elizabeth and Robert Browning, what a wonderful expression of that deeper joy in this phase of life.

Bob gave me this print of a painting by Renoir. He and Liz went to see it together at the Clark Institute in Williamstown, Massachussets. Somewhere right around the time they viewed this painting together, it went click, for the two of them. You can’t conjure it up. But it is an irrepressibly good thing.

That is what God wants for us. God wants for us to find our compliment, to know the joy of fulfillment, to unlock the manifold expression of our passion. As Jesus used to say, I came not that you might simply live but that you might live abundantly. And we hope for you, Bob and Liz, that abundant joy. The Kingdom of God is like the joy of a wedding feast”.

At some point in a great marriage, you realize another dimension of love that is just like God’s love for us. You read this line in the Pslams, “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust, my shield, my salvation, my high tower.”

Most of the hero’s of the Bible find themselves in some very risky situations, like Moses before Pharoah, like Ruth as an exile in a foreign country, like Jesus before Pilate. And they draw upon this trust in God that gets them through, this sense that God is ‘with them and for them’, that come what may, they will be able to get through it- great and awful. “The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want”.

Kate and I know a couple that had been dating for a year or so and they were pretty serious, I believe they might have even been engaged. She had a moment of insight into her husband-to-be. They had been hiking in New Hampshire and got to a deep falls and stream near the end of the day, so they decided to hop in the gushing stream for a swim.

She wades in first, loses her footing right away, slides in the whitewater, starts downstream fast. She only had time to make eye contact with her boyfriend and make one of those unguarded expressions of genuine fear, before she goes under and slides across the stream.

Her head pops up and she sees her boyfriend diving right after her into the whitewater. This side of him she had never seen.

She bounces this way and that, eventually finds a rock to stabilize herself. She looks back through this white water and sees him. He is swimming with that kind of resolve when not getting there is not even an option. I mean chopping some water, his head bobbing in and out of view.

At one point, she sees him look up to find her, mid-stroke. The expression on his face… In that moment, in a completely unguarded moment, she knew- she just knew- that he loved her more than he loved himself. She knew that with him by her side, somehow, someway, it was always going to be okay. He would be a support. She could trust in him and she did. She had could have faith in him and she did. Of course, I only heard that story many, many years later, after he became a truly sturdy man in many ways, and their relationship had solidity. But knowing that you can really count on people, that they will be your strength and your refuge, that is important in getting to a deeper level.

That is why we make those vows: ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’. Being able to be counted on as a support, some times that is all that we are going to get in the challenging situations that life will present us. But it turns out, that being supported by a deeply loving spouse, is almost all we actually need.

My brother and his wife had a great marriage until she died too young. Back in that period when we all had teenagers, his wife said something to him that really blessed him. And what a good time to say it. Few of us have great marriage years during the teenage years.

She was out of town and called him in the middle of the night. It was like 2 or 3 in the morning. He’s like, ‘what’s up?’

“I can’t sleep”.

He’s like “And?”

“I just wanted you to know that the only time I can really sleep is next to you.”

He’s like, “Honey, that is sweet… can, can you hold that thought… til dawn?”

But, whatever that magic is that gives your spouse the ability to really relax, to be at peace, we hope that for you. God’s love does that for us. It grants us a security and a courage to be at peace in the midst of genuine conflict and threat. And God’s love only gets delivered in and through you and me. We can be that strength for each other. We can provide that trust. We can grant each other real rest.

The Psalm says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul… Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil. For thou art with me. Your rod and staff they comfort me… Surely… goodness and mercy will follow me, all the days of my life.”

Great relationships have a sturdiness to them like that, come what may… We hope that for you that security, that strength, that sturdiness.

Finally, God’s love is healing for us. We just get better and we hope that you have a healing love for each other. We sing a song at funerals when we are just flat, sometimes leaden with grief, and the refrain reminds us that God’s love will heal our sadness, God’s love will heal our worst moments. It says, “God will lift you up, on Eagles wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun.”

This love heals us of our wounds. Some of the most elevated passages in the Bible are these hopes in Isaiah. Like chapter 43 “Remember not, simply, the things of old, or consider the way things used to be (when we were broken); for behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not see it? I will make a way through the wilderness; I will make rivers in the desert.”

“I will smooth out the road before you”. I will take the broken stuff from your past and around this, we will build a new foundation. We are breaking you out. It is time for the new you to emerge. What a great hope.

One of my good friends and I were together, a few years ago, when one of his teenagers came in the room and proceeded to throw a tantrum, a tantrum that was ballooning by the minute. He was even through the whole episode and kept on principle. You know, there is that part in every parent that is ready to throttle our kids if they don’t shape up… But he didn’t go there, stayed calm, cool collected and it wasn’t easy. Teen leaves room. I say, “Man, that was impressive, staying so calm and collected.”

He was quiet for a while. “Oh, he said, “that’s not me, that’s my Robin (his wife) ”. And then he said, “You know, when we got married, most of what I brought to the marriage, were things in me, things from my family that I had to transcend in myself before I could ever become anything. I had an explosive temper. I was controlling and critical. Then I’d go off and I had no control switch for me… The truth is, I have no idea why my wife was as patient as she was at helping me understand this and change it in me, but she was and I am just grateful.

The truth is, if I hadn’t changed those things in me, I never would have been able to achieve any of the other things that I’m known for today. She didn’t have to heal me but she did. I didn’t even know to ask a woman to heal me like that when we were younger, but she did. And now, most of my best stuff, is really her.”

That is what we do on our best days. And we know that those real changes are some of the most difficult personal transformations that we will make. They are not easy to go through. And we have to do the actual work ourselves, not even our spouse can do that for us. But there is an outrageous hope and promise in marriage because we know, that on our best days, we can inspire each other in a healing way, in a healing direction.

God’s love says “I will lift up your former devestations; I will rebuild your walls; out of the ruin, I will establish a cornerstone for a new foundation.” What I love most about the perspective of scripture. It doesn’t really talk about getting it perfect the first time; that is not the point because we are all broken and we are all works in progress. The beauty is the healing, restorative power of love we have for each other. We can pick up the pieces and make something new, something beautiful. As even the notorious cynic Jack Nicholson put it in one of his movies, “You make me want to be a better man.”

The healing option, the growth option, it is on the table in every chapter of our life. That is always what God wants for us because we never are finished. We are always in a state of transformation. Joy, Sturdiness, and healing… We hope that you learn to love each other, even as God loves each of you. It is a great adventure up ahead.

And as you go, May God bless you and keep you. May God make his face to shine upon you. May God lift up his countenance upon you and be gracious unto you. May God grant you peace. Amen.


© 2010 Charles Rush. All rights reserved.