A memorable Aussie wedding….hay bales, hot summers day and a really diverse crowd sitting in a circle in the ‘bush’, (including heaps of people from the open meals they run at their church). This was the rant that I gave at Phil and Leanne’s Wedding early this year which was based on their 3 chosen texts and some Hauerwas reading I’d been doing via Gordon Preece.
A Taste of Marriage and Discipleship: Phil and Leanne’s Wedding Homily
1 Cor 13:1-13 : “Love Is…” ; Matthew 5:1-10 “The Beatitudes” ; Matt 9:9-15 “The Call of Levi”…
As I have gathered with Leanne and Phil we have thought and spoken and prayed about what this event means for them. It is captured in the three readings we have heard today about which I want to speak very briefly
Stanley Hauerwas, the rather grumpy American theologian, says.
“The wedding day does not mark the beginning of a new family. It is not a whole community of two but a particular kind of grace filled friendship within the fellowship of the church.”
“Interpersonal intimacy is not the foundation and purpose of marriage. Although communion between husband and wife is considered the centre of marriage by the mainstream Church, this focus is a well meaning mistake. The practices of common life in the church and the virtues of discipleship are the foundation and purpose of marriage, which then form a fertile place for the cultivation of interpersonal intimacy.”
(Matt 5-7, 18:15-35, 25:31-36)
The first foundation is stated as the practices of common life in the church. Community is an important value for Phil and Leanne. Our first reading was from I Corinthians 13 on the nature of Love. Its a traditional wedding reading with a poetic flow that can easily wash over us when we are feeling romantic at weddings. Ah Love is this, love is that….. We rarely hear at weddings that this chapter comes in the midst of a whole lot of chapters where the apostle paul is desperately trying to hang together his community in Corinth that is being torn apart by the forces of the world around it and tearing itself apart with egos, competing egos power plays, spiritual, economic and sexual abuse. Some things never change in the church!
BUT It is in this context that we hear these statements about love. Phil and Leanne, Marriage and the promises you make today are not simply for each other, they hang communities together. They connect you with the generations of family from which you come, they connect us with the earth and the forces of nature through sexuality and the economic life of our household. Food and sex. Unless these forces are understood within vows of fidelity to the values of love they can easily, like in Corinth, become desturcitve and exploit others. I know the community around Ascot Vale and ‘The Cave’ have sought to be a community who lives a life faith, hope and love, together. Like in Corinth this is hard. You know how hard and messy community. Your promises today strengthen communal bonds between your families, your biological and you spiritual one.
The second foundation is stated as the virtues of discipleship, which means to follow in the way of Jesus. Nowhere are these virtues more clearly stated than in the beatitudes that we heard read today which come at the start of Jesus’ seminal ethical teaching, the Sermon on the Mount. It presents a starkly different way of thinking about success, an alternative way of seeing reality. It suggests that those who are poor, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who are persecuted are the measure of success, are those who are truly blessed in our world.
For our dominant culture this is madness. Wishes of Poverty, mourning, meekness and persecution do not feature a whole lot in blessings for the couple at weddings. Neither do close up photos of washing each others feet feature in many bridal magazines but Phil and Leanne have chosen this as a symbol of their marriage. Jesus command to serve each other. While the wedding industry and their glossy magazines give us one vision of what it means to be fully human; Prince and Princess for a day. Christians believe if we want to know what it means to be fully human we must look to God who comes to us as a persecuted Jewish child. A God who suffers, who does the servants work of washing feet. Jesus shows us that we find life when we give it away. And that is what you are doing today, whilst you maintain your own individuality, there is a death of sorts as you give parts of yourself away in order to serve each other.
Our final reading captures the emodiement of these values. A call of discipleship story where Levi, a corrupt, dodgy tax official for an oppressive empire, at the invitation of Jesus, interrupts his business as usual, and leaves the office and invites to his own table the poor, the indebted, the sinners of his own day. It is a table of diversity, peace and reconciliation which is controversial to the disgusted religious people of the day who like much religion have a vested interest in defining who is pure and who is not, who create and exploit the divisions that exist between people.
The final image is one of ditching the religious fast for a wedding party and celebration. Jesus loved a good wedding, so much so he saved one by turning water into wine when the grog ran out. He used the imagery of weddings in his teachings, as in this one to help us imagine what a world of peace and justice could be like.
What makes this a Christian wedding today is not me quoting theologians, prayers, songs, or bible readings. These are words. For something to be Christian, the Word must be made flesh.
What inspires me about you both is that these words are made flesh in your life and in your relationships, in the way you party, in who is invited. You’re lives and vows bear witness to the gracious hospitality of God who invites us each of us to the table.
Marriage is a means of grace, a sacrament of the church. just as the prodigal son tries to make his way in a distant land. Most of us try to make our marriages work on our own, But grace has a hold on us and we need only turn our lives towards God and take our place at the table in worship. This view of marriage is almost unthinkable in our age of self reliance, but the heart of marriage in the Church is the grace that we do not make or break our loves by our own will. Marriage is a gift.
Phil and Leanne, what you do here today, and in many ways how you do it, what we as your community witness and participate in, is a window into the hope and healing and love that Jesus has offered to all…..A feast of reconciliation. A Great Banquet where many are invited….The Marriage feast of the Lamb! Thankyou and may these truths taste good at the table of your life together.