Sermons

Homily: The Wedding of Evan Holmes & Stasia Lizanich

Texts: Ephesians 4:1-3  +  “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII,” by Pablo Neruda  +  “I Want Both of Us,” by Hafez

The poet Hafez describes the Great Love we are gathered here to celebrate with an image so absolutely fitting for this moment that I want to read the first line again:

I want both of us to start talking about this Great Love as if You, I, and the Sun were all married and living in a tiny room.

Logan Square Comfort Station: The site of Evan and Stasia's wedding

Logan Square Comfort Station: The site of Evan and Stasia’s wedding

Reading through the order of service for the wedding, and imagining us all hearing those words in this space, my imagination kept catching on that phrase, “a tiny room.” What a tiny room this is, and still large enough to hold you, and your families, and this marriage that has already begun. Isn’t it extraordinary how much life can fit into a tiny room?

Of course size is relative. I grew up in central Iowa, a land of spacious yards and long driveways, thinking I lived in a modest home because there was only one bathroom for the four of us to share in our three bedroom house. But to my sister, who’d spent the first five years of her life as a foster child in a one bedroom apartment with five other people on a military base in Bangkok, Thailand, our home was a palace. She must have thought we were extraordinarily wealthy, which we were, relatively speaking. Size and wealth both being such relative terms.

So it seems that any room might be considered a prison or a palace, and what seems to make the difference is the spirit you choose to cultivate within yourself and the purpose toward which you put that room.

For the apostle Paul, writing to the Ephesians from the confines of a prison cell, the tightness of his quarters doesn’t seem able to constrain his purpose.  Recognizing that his audience is composed of people with different backgrounds and different gifts, he encourages them to remember that their differences exist in order to serve the unity of the greater whole to which they belong.  Paul is convinced that, having been united with God through their baptism into Christ Jesus, the purpose of Christian community is now to join God’s eternal work of reconciling the world’s deep divisions and restoring the bond of peace. To accomplish that purpose, he calls the community at Ephesus to cultivate a spirit of humility and gentleness, patience and love.

That kind of unity, the unity that reconciles deep divisions, is the hard and joyful work of marriage — in which a mystical, spiritual reality becomes more real through careful attention to mundane details.  That’s why I love your pairing of Pablo Neruda’s love sonnet with Hafiz’s ode to household labor.  Neruda speaks to the unifying power of love with the kind of poetry we might expect from the Gospel of John as he imagines that in your love “there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep it is your eyes that close.” But Hafiz draws us the roadmap for getting to that kind of sacred union as he locates the holiness of love in the everyday tasks of life, “helping each other to cook, do the wash, weave and sew, care for our beautiful animals.”

The truth is no matter how large or small your home, no matter how much or how little money you have, marriage is a tiny room. Whether that rooms ends up feeling like a prison or a palace will have everything to do with how you attend to mundane facts of the other’s holy presence in your life. Over and over in the years to come, your marriage will keep you in close quarters with each other’s differences — differences no less profound than the ones that troubled the church in Ephesus, differences no less contentious than the ones that characterize our own neighborhood here in Logan Square. You already know about the differences that drew you to one another, and you are beginning to discover the differences that will challenge you as you make a life with one another, differences that at times will make the bonds of marriage feel tighter than any tiny room. In the face of such deep and abiding difference, the hope of unity rests in your commitment to treating each other and your own selves with great humility, gentleness, and patience so that love can flourish.

IMG_0886Of course it is easy to commend these virtues to you, and perhaps it is easiest of all to commend them to you on your wedding day, when you’re already inclined to believe in and hope for the best in yourselves and one another. The challenge lies in practicing these habits of the heart once the fancy clothes are back in the closet, the flowers have wilted, the photos are in their album on the shelf and the rings have become tarnished. When you begin to count the days since he last did the dishes, or she did the laundry; when you lie awake at night listening to the sound of the other’s breathing, and all it does is keep you awake.

What are the habits, the disciplines, for maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” when those days come, as they inevitably will?

It is my conviction, based on my own faltering experience, that in those moments we find that unity is actually best preserved by remembering the diversity, the difference, that drew us together. In our most difficult moments, when we cannot agree on how the money will be earned, or how it will be spent, or where we will live, or even why we fell in love, the path forward depends on our ability to turn away from our futile hope that our loved one will someday become just a little bit more like us, and to turn instead toward wonder. To wonder who this mysterious other is, this enigma of body and spirit who exists like a plant whose bloom happens inside, out of sight, so that we can only intuit but never conclusively know when they are blossoming.

To give up the confidence of knowing for the humility of wondering is some of the hardest work we will ever do, especially in this world that so deeply trusts and values confidence, intelligence, even belligerence. And we won’t get it right away, in fact, we will go to our graves not having ever gotten it all the way. But if we can be patient with ourselves and one another, if we can be humble about what we know and what we are still learning, if we can treat each other with exceeding gentleness, then we might create the conditions for something beautiful to bloom in the tiny rooms of our own souls and wake to discover that after many meals have been cooked, and clothes washed, and melodies woven and stitched together, and children and elders cared for, that we have figured out how to live together with God in a tiny room that we cherish more than any palace ever built.

This is our hope for your marriage, Evan and Stasia, and for all the rest of ours as well.

Amen.

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Sermons

Homily: Sunday, May 27, 2012 — The Wedding of Timothy Hager and Nicole Hill

Pablo Neruda (1956)

Texts:  “Love Sonnet XVII,” by Pablo Neruda; Mark 10:6-9,13-16

“Love Sonnet XVII,” by Pablo Neruda

I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,

or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:

I love you as one loves certain dark things,

secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom and carries

the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,

and thanks to your love the tight aroma that rose

from the earth lives in my body in darkness.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where

I love you directly without problems or pride:

I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love

except in this form in which I am not nor are you,

so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,

so close that your eyes close with my dreams.

The Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10, Verses 6-9, 13-16

6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

There all all sorts of moments when you feel your age, you know what I mean?  I’m sure that for Tim and Nicole today is one of those days.  You are no longer simply your parents’ children or your classmates’ friends, you are now becoming married adults.  That’s a new identity to slip into and, in time, fill out.

The same is true for your parents, who may understand cognitively that they aren’t losing their children today — but there is still something happening in this rite of passage that feels simultaneously like both a gain and a loss.  That’s honest, and fair enough to say, right?

But, and not to make this all about me, but kind of, yeah — this wedding is making me feel my age.  And I do mean this wedding and not just weddings in general.  When I first got here to St. Luke’s, where I’ve had the privilege of pastoring for the last six years, I was all of 33.  I didn’t feel all that removed in age from my parishioners, many of whom were in their early to mid-twenties and early thirties as well.

The first time I really understood my age in relation to the people I am pastoring may have been while quoting lines from the 1994 movie Reality Bites, which I saw during college, and then fielding the question, “that was Tina Fey, right?”  No.  It was Janeane Garofalo.

This generational divide between those of us in Generation X and those, like Tim and Nicole, in Generation Y came up for me again in preparing for today’s wedding.  Gen X, like those characters in Reality Bites are constitutionally snarky.  We are inherently suspicious of tradition, ritual and sentimentality.  Our version of public displays of affection is gentle mockery.

Not so with Generation Y.  Far more likely to adopt and espouse the values of their parents, Generation Y is described as being more trusting of authority and institutions — like, say, marriage.  Generally more optimistic and hopeful than their older counterparts, Generation Y embraces the value of cooperative efforts and brings a generally “can-do” attitude to both the home and the workplace.

I’ll just offer here as an aside that I realize I’ve completely left those of you who are Baby Boomers out of this conversation.  I know that’s very hard on you.  You’re not really used to being an aside, but just wait… it’s coming.

So, it may be hard for you to imagine this — me being a man of the cloth and all — but when I first read the selections Nicole and Tim have chosen for their wedding, a part of me just rose up in silent protest.  “So they are no longer two, but one flesh” — are you kidding me?  My generation was predictably reading Kahlil Gibran at every wedding, with his

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love…”

No Pablo Neruda, that one.  Never the consummate abandon of

“I love you directly without problems or pride:

I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love

except in this form in which I am not nor are you,

so close that your hand upon my chest is mine…

I wanted to cry out, “stop!”  But then I read on, listening for the voice of divine wisdom in the continuing verses of Mark’s gospel where the story unfolds,

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.  But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

It’s not immediately clear why Jesus goes from talking about marriage to talking about children, though in both cases he is teaches those who would listen something about the nature of family.  This provides a key as well to understanding what Jesus is perhaps imagining when he speaks of the kingdom of God.  Rather than imagining the reign of God in political or military terms, Jesus invites his audience to imagine the reign of God as being the kind of place where the small, the powerless and the overlooked will feel completely at home.  The kingdom of God to which Jesus invites us is the realm of love.

Which is why this is actually a truly perfect image for Nicole and Tim this afternoon — not just an image for their wedding, but for the marriage that stretches out before them.  “Truly I tell you,” we might paraphrase, “whoever does not enter into love as a little child will never enter it.”

I want to be careful not to romanticize the nature of little children here, but having recently become a godfather twice over in the last year and a half, I’ve been watching how little children enter into love, or even just how they seem to enter into life, and I do think they have something to teach us about how to enter into marriage.

Firstly, as I watch my godchildren at play, there are utterly in the moment.  They can be crying from hunger or pain one moment, but in the next they are laughing at the sight of bubbles or locomoting forward to pet a doggy.  This seems to come naturally to them, though not to us.  The wisdom children offer us as we enter into marriage is this:  don’t let yourself get stuck in any one moment of your life, and don’t keep your partner trapped in any one moment either.  Things will be said and done that will hurt, you will hunger for things in your relationship that seem to be missing.  Then time will pass, and so will many of your hurts and hungers.  Let them go, don’t drag them into each new moment.

Secondly, I see in my godchildren an amazing honesty.  When they are hurt, they cry.  When they are tired, they rub their eyes.  When they are happy, they smile and laugh.  This may not be much of a challenge for the two of you, since you’re members of Generation Y.  I know that, for my generation, we crafted a certain kind of mask to wear over all our feelings that looks an awful lot like boredom.  The problem is, no one can read what’s going on behind the mask.  Or perhaps they can, but they shouldn’t have to.  When you are hurt, tell each other.  When you are tired, ask the other to slow down.  When you are happy, laugh together.  Do this as often as you can stand.

Finally, at least so far, my godchildren seem to be approaching life with hearts wide open.  Passing bouts of stranger anxiety aside, they seem to believe that people are trustworthy, that they will be held — not dropped, that the next meal is on the way, that all the kisses on the forehead and goo-goo eyes and sounds are sincere.  Try your best to keep on believing this.  We’re all too intelligent to think that this will always be true, but — and this is the hard part — without belief it is almost never true.  The conventional wisdom is turned on its head, you actually have to believe it to see it.

That’s all the wisdom I have to offer you this afternoon, to bless you with on the day of your wedding.  And, like I said at the beginning, it’s mostly for me.  These are the challenges of my generation.  As I’ve gotten to know Tim and Nicole, I already see a couple who talk openly with both head and heart; who understand their pasts without clinging to them; who bring all the hope and optimism of their generation to bear on their budding marriage.  So, knowing you to possess all the wisdom of children, with the added blessings of age and experience, what remains is for us to lay hands on you and bless you as you go forward from this moment, which is what we now shall do…

Amen.

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