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Saturday, May 30, 2015

What If Marriage Was A Sacrament?

Oh, wait...  How ironic is that?

Now, let me be clear, so as not to cause any confusion.  In the Church of the Nazarene, as an official position, we recognize two sacraments, baptism and the Eucharist.  To be a Nazarene, you do not have to recognize marriage as a sacrament, but I'd like to make a case for why we should.

Let's take a look at Matthew 19:4-6.  These are the words of Jesus when asked specifically about divorce, and I don't want to take them out of context, but I think there are some relatively important points about marriage, in general, that can be discerned from these words:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (NIV).

I think, in our current culture, that a lot of people get really wrapped up in what people are doing in this passage, and, perhaps a lot of people get wrapped up in what people are doing something in this passage.  These are important details to work through, but I'm not sure they are nearly as important as what God is doing here, particularly if we actually believe that God does something when we practice the sacraments.

In marriage, God joins two people and makes them one.  And, come on, this is not even figurative language here, friends.  I'm pretty sure if you're old enough to be reading my blog, you know how this works.  Jesus uses the word  flesh, or the Greek, sarka, in this passage.  It is the same word used for flesh in John 6 when Jesus instructs the disciples that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, which, sounds somewhat like a foreshadowing of the first Eucharist, if you ask me.  It's the same word used for various negative references to living according to the flesh, living according to human nature or living according to what the body wants.  There are a lot of beautiful literary references in Scripture that walk us through metaphors and hyperbole and narrative, but any way I look at this one, it means flesh.  I can't seem to get around it.  With the consummation of marriage, God literally fuses the flesh of two people together.

But here's where it gets a little bit dicey.  This is not temporary!  Scripture doesn't say, "So they are no longer two, but one flesh, and then a little while later they're two again, and it's kind of a cycle that you just have to get used to."  No, Scripture says that once these two people become one flesh, joined by God, no one is supposed to mess with that.  There is no going back.  This is a permanent deal.

But, oh my goodness, have we ever messed it up!

Homosexuality is a hot button issue right now, and in a comment from my May 28th post entitled, "With Much Wisdom," Bryan said, "The Church of Jesus Christ has shunned and condemned the gay community for far too long. All sexual sin needs to be addressed, not just homosexuality. How many divorces are happening in the church because of a variety of sexual sins by those sitting in the pews every week?"  (Bryan also asked some more excellent, specific questions, but in order to give them all ample thought and time I am breaking it down a little bit.) 

Wow.  This is a comment that needs to be addressed.  Let me share something personal, because people like stories, right?

My family is pretty special.  I used to be more legalistically leaning, though, and my definition of special has changed over the years.  Let me explain what I mean.  I used to think that one of the defining things that made us special was our family make-up.  Phil and I were both virgins on our wedding night.  For crying out loud, I was 17!  Is it really that hard to get to 17?  But I digress...  We have been married for almost 18 years, and we have five children.  All of our children are ours, together.  There are no step children.  There are no previous spouses.  There are no children born outside of marriage.  Neither of us has ever had sex with anyone else, ever.  Aren't we awesome?  By pretty much everyone's standards of sexual purity, we're it! 

Let's say I found myself in a room filled with a randomly selected cross section of adults.  As sexual sins were listed, people were asked to sit down if they had ever participated in these sins that are destroying the "institution of marriage" (I'm sorry, but I hate that.  Institution?  Really?).  You could run down a pretty good sized list.  Homosexual acts, premarital sex, extra marital sex.  I just shared my story!  You know I'm going to be the last one standing!          

But then, here comes Jesus, again, turning the whole thing on its head.

Matthew 5:28 "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman (or man) lustfully has already committed adultery with her (or him) in his heart" (NIV, parenthesis mine).

Oh, crap.  I just sat down.

How perfect can we get it, friends?  Who gets to make the judgment call?  For a long time I thought it was me, but as you can see that's not the case, and I think, maybe, we've got the whole issue wrong.

Bryan also asked, "How should the Church respond to the impending ruling from the Supreme Court on gay 'marriage'?"

Marriage is a covenant relationship, but as a church we have given it to the government and connected it with civil rights.  I'm not sure marriage has anything, at all, to do with civil rights, but I am sure that we, as the church, have absolutely no business taking civil rights away from anyone.

I'm all about semantics, and so I'd like to suggest that maybe we need a new word.

If marriage is a legally binding piece of paper that says that two people have decided to love each other for as long as it is convenient, and most ideally forever, and that they can share benefits, raise their kids together, have full privacy and visitation rights in the case of illness, file taxes jointly, and have a wedding, and a reception, with a cake, then I can't really find a reason to stand vehemently in the way of anyone looking for this kind of contract.  People are looking for equal rights (which we have established in this country on a political, not religious, basis, which is not really a good topic of conversation for this particular blog, because I'm not a very good patriot).

If the church would like to reclaim marriage as a sacramental covenant, then I think we have to recognize that we will have to change our language.  Think this through, please.  When does the government ever get involved in the administration of baptism or the Eucharist?  If the church wants to adhere to Scriptural requirements for the sacramental covenant of marriage, we can do that, and no one is going to get upset over it any more than I get upset when I can't partake in the Eucharist at a local Catholic church, because I'm not a member (OK, this kind of makes me upset, but I'm not going to create a scene or anything). 

But let's still be careful...  Returning to my earlier words, who really has it all together?  Can any of us create the perfect scenario in which our own marriages are safeguarded from every potential evil?  I don't know.  Maybe those of you reading this are actually much better people than I am.  That is certainly well within the realm of possibility.  But I can't do it on my own.  I need God to do something in marriage.  I need marriage to be sacramental, and I need it to be ongoing, too.  Let's not confuse marriage with the wedding.


Thursday, May 28, 2015

With Much Wisdom...

Ecclesiastes 1:18 "For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief" (NIV).

I usually include this reference in High School graduation cards.  One of these days I'm probably going to stop being invited to open houses and graduation parties.  But the words ring true.

It's not that I want to discourage anyone, not at all.  If you know me, you know that I couldn't stop learning even if I tried, and I have tried on a couple of occasions.  It never ends well.  But there is safety in the comfortable.

Sometimes, when I look back on my journey so far, I wonder if it isn't more compassionate to leave people where they are.  I know a lot of really good people who love Jesus and follow what they learned as children and never ask the hard questions.  They're happy.  Maybe they're even becoming the people God intended for them to be all along.  Heck, maybe they've even become those people.  Just because I'm never going to arrive doesn't mean it has to be that way for everybody else.  And so I am trying to learn what it means to love gently and leave people where they are, if they're where they need to be, or even if they're where they think they need to be, because this cannot be forced.

But there is a part of me that cries out, sometimes rather desperately, for relationships with people who want to know more, who want to become more, who are OK with living a life of sorrow and grief if that means it won't actually be as meaningless as the teacher indicates...

There have been times in life when I have wondered if these people exist.  They do.  They have been slowly finding their way into my story over the past decade, and a few weeks ago one of them finally said, "You need a new blog, one about theology," and then she proceeded to ask questions that are only going to be answered by a theologian.  She doesn't want to become one, herself.  That's not who she was created to be.  But she needs answers, and somebody ought to try to offer them.

So, here I am.  The truth is, I don't have all the answers, but I love the questions, and if people will ask them, I'll search for the truth they need.  Thankfully, I know a lot of people, who know a lot of people, who know a lot of people, who are much smarter than I am, so, perhaps, it won't be that difficult to work together to serve the people who want to know more... who want much wisdom... who aren't afraid to ask...

Start asking...


Sunday, May 24, 2015

It's Pentecost Sunday...

Acts 2:1 "When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place" (NIV).

It's Pentecost Sunday, and I am decidedly not together in one place with... anyone. I read Acts 2, this morning, and had what might be the most irreverent Pentecost Sunday thought ever. I considered if getting drunk at 9:00, this morning, might not be a bad idea. No doubt impractical, since there's not a drop of liquor in this house... never has been... but these are difficult days. Sometimes I have wanted to have something that alters reality just enough to get through another week, another moment...

Acts 2:3-4a: "They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit" (NIV).

It's Pentecost Sunday, and I am in desperate need of fire...

Acts 2:18 : "Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy" (NIV).

It's Pentecost Sunday, and to prophesy... to speak truth... it feels more like a curse than a blessing, these days, but I know it's not. History tells me it's not. Experience tells me it's not. Scripture tells me it's not. Reason? Well, three out of four ain't bad, right?

Acts 2:46-47: "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved" (NIV).

It's Pentecost Sunday, and it's just the beginning. Better days are coming... again...