Benediction Online

Sunday, October 13, 2013

True Love

John 15:9-17

A sermon preached at the renewal of vows of Brian Spolarich and Alan Kiste.

What a wonderful treat and honor it is to be here today to witness Alan and Brian renewing their covenant vows to each other and getting legally married!! It’s the first gay wedding at St Benedict’s when I have been able to say “according to the power vested in me by the State of California…” So this is a particular joy – the opportunity given to us to celebrate and to embrace Brian and Alan’s commitment to each other, and to get involved ourselves. For going to a wedding is no longer a spectator sport. In a few minutes I’ll be asking y’all “will you uphold and honor this couple and respect the covenant they make? Will you pray for them in times of trouble and celebrate with them in times of joy? And I expect you to mean it when you say “We will.”

We are becoming increasingly aware of the interdependence of our common life as the human species and also the web that connects all the parts of our planetary and interplanetary system. None of us exists in isolation, even though we may feel cut off and alone from time to time. That web of connection means that Alan and Brian’s relationship is not just something for the two of them to enjoy privately behind closed doors but is a gift to us all and one that we get to cherish and nurture and respect, so that it may be a gift to the whole world.

In the gospel reading we heard Jesus talking to his disciples in the final hours before his death. He’s talking about love and relationship, and he says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Since he was about to be killed we often think “no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” is about martyrdom, or about some great heroic action, but I want to suggest that it’s rather more mundane.

Jesus’ death was an important demonstration of his love, but it was the culmination of a life lived out of love; it was the logical conclusion of his earthly journey – anything else would have been against his own integrity. Jesus’ love was lived out in all the small everyday ways that humans show their love. He has been called the Love-Maker because his way of living was itself a new way of loving. God’s love is shown to us in Jesus who was a demonstration of how we can live in oneness and harmony with the spirit of life.

His entire life was lived in service to others. His basic orientation was one of loving service. Jesus’ life was lived for his friends and for the strangers who came to him for ministry. This is the model that we are called to follow. We are called to live our lives in loving mutual service to our friends and in hospitality and service to all those God sends to us. Christian marriage has both those aspects; mutual love and service to one another and loving service to the world. It is for mutual love and nurturing, it is for challenging the areas where we need to grow - it is not for circling the wagons and keeping everyone else out.

My spouse, Jill, was nine during the Bay of Pigs crisis in the early sixties. Fearing the worst, her father built a bomb shelter in the backyard. It was just big enough for their family and supplies. Jill was concerned about the neighbors who didn’t have a bomb shelter – what she asked her mother, would happen if the Grishams came by and wanted to come in too? “Oh,” her mother replied cheerily, “your father will shoot them.”

That is not a picture of living your life in service to others! But it highlights the dilemma of balance. Inadequate self-care is not loving others. Every couple needs to nurture their own relationship and look after their family both given and chosen, as well as serving the world around them. I know that this is something that Alan and Brian have already learned, and I trust that as a community we will continue to honor their relationship by respecting the times when they need to say no in order to provide the balance they need. At the same time, I know that as they continue to grow and mature together, they will continue to find new ways to find fulfillment in hospitality and service to those around them.

Laying down our lives for our friends is first and foremost an inner attitude. It is a continual process of living generously and open-heartedly, focusing on that which builds the common good, rather than on that which divides; sharing our resources and living lightly on the planet rather than acquiring newer and bigger toys, and making sure that we are okay even if it means shooting our neighbors!

A successful marriage is one in which both partners are constantly learning how to live more generously, giving of themselves more deeply and passionately, and so a happy marriage becomes a powerful symbol of God’s love for us. In the covenant between these two men we see a reflection of the covenant that is possible between God and humanity in which both flourish in mutual love and friendship.

We think of God as a Trinity of three persons, Creator Word and Holy Spirit engaged in an ongoing dance of love and joy and creativity. My prayer for Brian and Alan is that their marriage will always be a Trinity – an ongoing dance of love and joy and creativity with the Holy Spirit as their dancing partner.

And now as we continue the blessing of their renewed vows to one another, let us take today as an opportunity also to re-commit ourselves to living lives which dance out of love and are a gift of ourselves to our world.


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