Sunday, February 19, 2012

"A wedding sermon for the Last Sunday After the Epiphany"

Preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 19, 2012

Everybody, this is a celebration! And in that, this Sunday is no different than any other Sunday. Here at Christ Church Cathedral, every Sunday is a celebration. We celebrate that life is a great gift from God, but even more than that we celebrate that we are more than just our individual selves. We celebrate that in Christ we are joined together in something greater than ourselves. We celebrate that in loving each other as Christ loves us, we become something more wonderful and powerful than we could ever be by ourselves ... the Body of Christ living and giving ourselves for the life of the world.

So this Sunday is a celebration because every Sunday is a celebration. But you might have noticed that there is something just a little different about this celebration. This Sunday, we are celebrating that as a part of our life together, Chloe Hollett and Brittney Rickard are giving themselves to each other in a specific covenant of love. And we are here to witness and bless this sacred union.

Now let me press pause here just for a second and say a few words about that phrase: "sacred union."

One of the things we learn from the Gospels is that there is always a gap between who Jesus is and what his followers are able to understand and do. We are always playing catch-up with God. It's human nature. Jesus holds up a beautiful vision for humanity ... a vision of total reconciliation of all people to God and each other ... and we always seem to fall short. We learning. We're growing toward Christ's dream for us, but we're not there yet. Fortunately, Jesus is infinitely patient with us even as he is urging us to dream and love bigger and deeper.

And so, when we talk about the covenant Brittney and Chloe are entering into today, we use the term “sacred union.” We use that term because as a church that has vowed to stay together and work out our salvation with humility, fear and trembling, as a whole body we aren't at the place yet where we can call this what it really is. And of course what this covenant really is … is marriage. I know it's marriage. You know it's marriage. God knows it's marriage. But as an Anglican Communion and certainly as the state of Missouri, we aren't all there yet. And so we’re living in this place of tension. Tension between believing that this is marriage and wanting to call it marriage … and also believing that God dreams for us to be in just as deep and holy relationship with people like our sisters and brothers in Sudan and people a lot nearer by who believe just as passionately and very differently.

And so we listen to St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians that for the sake of loving everyone into God’s dream for creation, that sometimes being right is less important than staying in relationship and loving.
So for now, for now … we wink and call it a “sacred union.” And when we leave this place and go out as Christ’s body in the world, we will continue to work hard for the day when we won’t have to play these word games that frankly are pretty insulting and beneath all of us. When we leave this place and go out as Christ’s Body in the world, we will continue to work hard for the day when the church and the world are able to just see love as love and leave it at that. And we pray that Christ will smile at our desire to love our sisters and brothers who believe differently from us more than he weeps at our foolishness.

But since in this room, we all know what we're talking about, for the next few minutes, I’m going to call it as I see it and refer to what Brittney and Chloe are about to enter into the way I believe God sees it, too … which is as a marriage.

Brittney and Chloe, I have said this to you before, there is no more appropriate place to give yourselves to one another in marriage than right here, right now. And it has everything to do with the Gospel reading we have just heard.

This morning's Gospel is a great story. It’s one of those stories that just paints vivid pictures in our minds and draws our memories and imaginations to some of the most important moments in our lives … or maybe to moments we dream of but have not yet come to pass.

This morning’s Gospel is the story of a mountaintop experience. And I hope every one of us has had at least one of those. Peter, James and John follow Jesus up to a high mountain apart, and there they have an amazing vision ... something they will remember for the rest of their lives. They have an experience of God, an experience of love and wonder unlike any they have ever had. It is wonderful. It is beautiful. It is made for Hollywood.

And it's also one more thing ... it is completely unreal.

It’s not unreal like “Oh, that didn’t really happen.” It’s unreal in that it is completely unrelated to the reality of life. And Peter, James and John know this. They know this because they have just gotten a taste of what reality is and what reality has in store for them.

Ever since Jesus called them, they have been on a whirlwind tour, following Jesus, healing people, casting out demons, tangling with the Pharisees and hearing Jesus talk about this amazing wonderful thing called the Kingdom of God.

But just before they started hiking up this mountain, everything changed. That’s because Jesus asked Peter a question, "Who do you say that I am?" And when Peter gave the right answer, "You are the Christ, the Son of God'" Jesus didn't just give him a gold star and move on to the next healing. Jesus said, "OK … that’s good. But now I’m going to tell you what that means … and you'd better buckle your seat belts because it isn’t pretty. Me being the Christ means I’m going to undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and only after all that will I rise again. And if you're going to follow me, you'd better get used to it. It's going to be real and it's going to be hard.”

This conversation happened right before Jesus, Peter, James and John went up the mountain in the story we here this morning. And so it's no wonder that Peter wanted to stay on that mountain. It’s no wonder that he says “let’s build three tents and just live here.” Not only was it wonderful and amazing and joy-filled, but it was completely unlike the life he knew was waiting for him down the other side of that mountain. But what we hear in this Gospel story is what we all know. That we can't stay on the mountaintop, no matter how much we want to or how wonderful it is. Our life is led down the other side of the mountain. And it is real. And it is hard. But it is no less wonderful … because Jesus walks with us and we walk with each other.

Most weddings in our society look a lot like the scene on that mountain. They're straight out of central casting. Couples spend tens of thousands of dollars creating something that is absolutely beautiful, absolutely wonderful and absolutely unreal. There is no way the marriage can ever resemble the wedding because no life, no marriage is like that. It is completely unreal. Completely unrelated to the reality of life.

But not this one. Chloe and Brittney, when you give yourselves to each other in marriage in a few minutes, you do it not in some staged unreal event that has nothing to do with the reality of life. You are doing it right in the middle of our life together. You are doing it right here, right now, in the middle of our weekly come-as-you-are gathering of God’s people. This Sunday is like every Sunday. Together we bring our joys and struggles, triumphs and tragedies, all the wholeness and brokenness of our lives and lay it on this table with Christ. And it is not picture perfect. It is messy because we are messy and because life is messy.

You see, the essence of what we all do here each Sunday and what the two of you are vowing for each other is the same thing. We’re all baptized into Christ’s body, and so we all are bound to each other in -- and I mean it when I use this phrase -- we are all bound to each other in a sacred union. Brittney and Chloe, you bind yourselves together in marriage today not as perfect people but in all your beauty and messiness because you believe that in offering your lives to God through loving each other that your lives will have new meaning. Well that’s what we do, every Sunday. We all come together in our beauty and our messiness because we believe that it is in offering our lives to God together that those lives have their meaning.

Brittney and Chloe, you bind yourselves together in marriage today because you believe that in this sacred union you become a whole that is so much greater than you are individually. Well that’s what we do, every Sunday. We all come together around this table believing that in loving each other as Christ loves us, we become something more wonderful and powerful than we could ever be by ourselves ... the Body of Christ living and giving ourselves for the life of the world.

Now you have chosen to live this out in a specific, intimate way … but even that is not just for your own mutual joy but for the building up of this whole community. Marriage is never just about the couple. Marriage is always about the whole community. Brittney and Chloe, as we have talked about before, there is nothing you are about to stand up and vow to one another that you haven’t pledged a hundred times before in a hundred different ways. The difference is that you’re doing it here in the midst of your community. Your marriage will be a part of our baptized life together. And that’s why you aren’t the only ones who are taking vows today.

A few minutes ago, I asked you all a question, “Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in this covenant?” And you answered in a wonderful loud voice -- and let's just say it again right here:

“We will!”

If there is a key moment in this entire liturgy, it is that one. Because there we affirm that this is not just about Brittney and Chloe but about all of us. We are all invested in each other’s lives. We are our sisters and brothers’ keepers. It is up to all of us to support, encourage and hold up a standard of loving health for all our relationships. And so when Brittney and Chloe’s marriage is going great, we are going to be there to celebrate with them. And when they hit some rocky patches and are tempted to drift apart, we are going to be there to remind them of the vows they have made and the love they have for each other and we’re going to push them back together. And they are going to do the same for each and all of us.

And in the everyday messiness of all of our lives, we’re going to do what those disciples did … walk down the mountain into it and through it. And just like those disciples, we don't do this alone but together and with Jesus in our midst. And we know that together we are stronger then we ever could be apart. We know that as we give our lives away, life has infinitely more meaning than it has kept to ourselves. We know that in loving as Christ loves us, we become something more wonderful and powerful than we could ever be by ourselves ... We become the Body of Christ living and giving ourselves for the life of the world. AMEN.

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