Made for Relationship

18
May

A sermon preached on May 18, 2008 based upon Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; 2Corinthians 13:11 – 13; and Matthew 28:16 – 20, on the occasion of the reaffirmation of wedding vows on 40th anniversary of Michael and Anna Weiss, entitled, “Made for Relationship”.

When Anna and Michael asked me about the possibility of renewing their vows within the worship service itself, I said, “I’ve never done that before, but sure, why not? Sounds like a wonderful idea.” And I discovered, as is often the case, that when you listen to the Bible stories from new points of view, you hear them in interesting, new ways, which is exactly what happened when I listened this week from the perspective of thinking about wedding vows.

The lectionary for this Sunday included the first chapter of the Genesis, which most of us have heard it before.

Just for the record, so you’ll know where I’m coming from, I don’t take these creation stories literally, in the sense of this is how it all actually, historically happened. And these stories often talk about God in such a way that it’s easy to picture God as the old man with the white beard. I don’t think that’s so either, although it can be fun some times to picture God this way. I do, however, think there is truth in these stories. They invite us to ponder spiritual truth through the vehicle of our imagination.

Genesis 1 takes us back to a time before everything was, and there was nothing but darkness and chaos. You can think of God as being at that moment the ultimate single person. (You could say single “guy”, but you could just as easily say single “gal”, because the story tells us that when God made us in God’s image, God made us male and female, so God is both male and female.)

So the single life wasn’t so bad. Pretty calm. No troubles. Why did God want to go and stir everything up?

Driving to school this past week, my son Bobby with his capacity for deep thoughts began imagining what it would be like if there wasn’t anything at all. It gave him the willies. I think maybe nothingness gave God the willies too.

In one sense, God didn’t have to create anything since God is free to do whatever God chooses. In another sense though, God had to create. Since God is by nature good and creative, God’s creative goodness required the creation of good stuff. God wouldn’t be true to God’s self otherwise.

You could say that single guy/gal God needed an “other” to relate to. So God started off creating. First night and day, then earth and sky, then dry land and ocean, and then fish and birds and all the other animals.

Things were going pretty good. God was on a roll. Sometimes, though, you got to know when the time has come to back away from the table. Some will argue that God had reached that point. Evidently though, there was something about what God had created up until that point that although certainly good, simply wasn’t enough from God’s point of view.

Take ducks for instance. God could have created ducks and kicked up his heels and enjoyed those little fellas, and watch them do all those ducky things ducks do. The thing about ducks, though, is that they don’t really have any of what we could call “freedom.” God designed ducks to quack, to take to water — the whole duck routine — and there really isn’t any way a duck isn’t going to do those duck things. It’s called “instincts”, this programming. Ducks can’t help but do what they’ve been programmed to do.

And frankly, God found these purely-programmed creatures unsatisfying in terms of relationship.

So God moved on to God’s crowning creation: God made us human beings in God’s image and likeness, which is to say that we human beings have some measure of freedom that is like unto the freedom that God has. We have instincts, yes, but we also have this capacity to go beyond our instincts — to choose something other than what our instincts dictate to us.

Evidently once God created us human beings, God’s need to be in relationship was satisfied. It was very good, God declared. So God kicked up God’s heels and rested.

In a way what you have here in Genesis 1 is the first marriage. God gives up the single life in order to be wed to us human beings. There was no wedding — no ceremony.

Apparently God didn’t think that was necessary. God assumed everything was understood. So we just started off cohabitating.

God comes off a little naïve in that first marriage, not unlike us human beings in our human marriages. God doesn’t seem to realize what God has gotten God’s self into.

Now the most tangible, concrete expression of the freedom that distinguishes us from the ducks can be seen in every two year old child. It is that adorable capacity to say, “No.” “No!” “Ain’t gunna do what you want me to do.” “No’s” in relationship can be very, very frustrating, but the thing about the capacity to say “no” is that it makes the “yeses” all the more significant. Magnificent really.

In Genesis 2 we hear about what happened when the honeymoon was over. The human beings start exercising their capacity to say “No.“ The serpent shows up with what sounded like a better offer, and metaphorically speaking, the human beings start sleeping around.

It all goes down hill from there. You can almost hear God saying, “I should have left off after creating the ducks.” The next few chapters of Genesis read like the legal briefs put forth by God’s attorney in divorce court. It records the various ways that human beings were negligent in fulfilling their spousal responsibilities.

Finally God has had enough. “This was all a terrible mistake. What was I thinking? Good riddance to those trampy human beings.” God files for divorce. God’s temper gets pretty nasty, making it rain for 40 straight days.

But afterwards, you get the feeling that God feels bad about what God has done. The single life just won’t hack it for God. Being good, and by nature a lover, God needs to be in relationship, and not just with some instinct-driven duck, but with human being with our confounding capacity to say, “No.”

And so God tries again with the handful of human beings who have survived the flood. If you look up Genesis 9, what you will find there is the first wedding ceremony. This time around though, what was implicit is made explicit. God formally makes a covenant of marriage. God takes vows: “I’m gunna love you forever,” God declares. “I promise to never, ever destroy you.”

This time around God enters the marriage with more wisdom and realism. God now knows how absolutely infuriating we human beings can be. God knows that God will get angry, and be tempted once more to make those rains fall forever.

So God puts a signal in place to safeguard the relationship. When God feels tempted to start throwing things, when God starts getting those rain storms revved up, a rainbow will show up in the sky. Why? So that God will see the rainbow, and remind God’s self that, “Oh yeah, I promised never to do this again.” And God will put down the lightning bolts and go out and take a walk in order to cool down.

Interestingly, at that first wedding ceremony, God doesn’t even bother to require human beings to take vows. God seems to know we won’t keep them, so, let’s not even pretend that we will.

*****

Interestingly, back in the garden story, shortly before the honeymoon ended, God, recognizes that the solitary human being thus far created needs a flesh and blood companion, a helpmate, a partner. “It’s not good for the man to be alone.” The story in Genesis 2 arises from a separate tradition from the one in Genesis 1, and in this story, the animals get created after, not before human beings.

It’s a humorous scene. God creates the animals one by one and asks the human being, “Do you think this thing could be your help mate, your partner?” Lots of these creatures certainly appear capable of being fairly helpful: you know, the dog, for instance, or the cow, or the horse. But none of them have what it takes to be the man’s partner. The companion. The lover.

Finally the woman is made, and as the man’s equal, she is a worthy partner, because she, too, is free. Interestingly, it is the woman’s ability to say “No” which makes her capable of being the man’s partner. Unlike the animals, the woman is not under the man’s dominion. (Those religious traditions that say women are supposed to be submissive to men — what they’re essentially saying is that the man should have married a duck.)

****

So here we are. We weren’t made merely for ourselves, to exist in isolation. We were made for relationship: with God, and with one another. And relationships aren’t easy.

David read for us a lovely little scripture reading from the end of Paul’s two letters to the Corinthian Church, in which Paul encourages his readers to “agree with one another, live in peace… Greet one another with a holy kiss.” It’s easy to miss the fact that Paul is addressing people who have been at each other’s throats, saying “No” to one another a great deal.

In the end, it’s all about learning how to live in peace.

One important form that our lives sometimes get lived out in relationship is through marriages. Human marriages mirror that first marriage between God and human beings. There is the honeymoon period that draws the couple together in the first place, where the spouse is imagined to be the perfect partner, where all that is said between the couple is only “Yes, yes, yes!”

But eventually every honeymoon comes to an end. The “No’s” start showing up. “No! I don’t want to do what you want to do!” “No! I don’t see things the way you do!”

And along with the bombardment of “No’s” comes the clear implication that there is something wrong with us — something hard to live with, which inevitably has some truth to it.

Eventually comes the thought, “I’ve made some terrible mistake. What was I thinking?”

At this point, some marriages end up in divorce. Other couples stay together, but only in a kind of pretense of marriage, without any true love or life present.

Others plow on, finding the grace to pass through the more difficult times, discovering a deep sort of joy, learning essential lessons along the way regarding humility and the need to face one’s own very real flaws — one’s own sin and darkness. They move beyond the fairy tale and forge a much deeper, stronger kind of love than the enchantment that originally drew them together.

This morning we have celebrated one such marriage, that of Anna and Michael Wiess, forty years in. Thank you, Anna and Michael, for providing the rest of us with the example of your love and covenant faithfully kept. And thank you, God, for being here throughout, sustaining this love.

On that mountain in Galilee, Jesus promised, “I am with you always to the end of the age.” This is a promise we can trust.

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