I live in Salem, Massachusetts. For those who do not know, Salem is the unofficial Halloween capital of the world. Just yesterday my fiancée Emily and I were taking what we thought would be a leisurely stroll through a street bazaar in the downtown. We ran into what seemed like an unending mass of humanity which is typically only witnessed on Halloween night. The place was mobbed. Vendors sold things ranging from vampire fangs to beeswax candles and just about everything in between. In the middle of it all was the obligatory October in Salem street preacher. The gentleman was in jeans and a maroon hooded sweatshirt standing atop a black metal step ladder. His Bible was firmly gripped under his right hand. Emily and I were forced by the size of the crowd to stop, and we were both stopped in front of the preacher. I was able to see up close the very worn gold leaf edges of his portable King James Bible. Like many October street preachers in Salem he was warning the crowds of the evils of witchcraft and the need to avoid being lured and caught up by the imbibing caresses of sorcery in all its guises.
It was fitting that the man was standing at a crossroads, that is, Essex and Central streets. He would look up to heaven occasionally and then down at the crowds. He had an earnest and heartfelt desire to deliver the tourists in his midst out of the snares and deceptions of the adversary. A young family of four walked by him. The children had their small faces painted. One as a ghost, the other as a pumpkin. An elderly couple walked by. Both had warm coats on. They both had Peabody Essex Museum stickers on their lapels, and both leaned in to whisper something to themselves. Finally the crowd let up and Emily and I were able to go on our way through the streets of a supposed Sodom and Gomorrah. While I don’t usually agree with what the October street preachers have to say, or with the manner in which they say it, more often then not they preach on a somewhat universal idea— they preach on being mindful of God and on his desire for humans to repent and turn to the Lord. While I may disagree with what they wish people to turn from, a universal and ancient message is there. Somewhere in the middle and at the back of my mind I began to interact with our text from this morning.
The Gospel from this morning speaks about marriage. In fact it speaks about Jesus’ teaching on divorce. While this is certainly an interesting theological point to ponder, my heart is drawn to something else within this teaching.
What is a marriage? What is it exactly? I ask this question not only as a man who within the year will be wed to his fiancée, but I ask it also as a fellow Christian, as a follower of Christ Jesus.
What exactly is a marriage? I shall like to step back, if I may, from the concept of human marriage, that is of the joining together of two in holy matrimony, and instead look at what marriage is. What is represents, and what it calls for. What it doesn’t mean, and what it serves to do.
Peeling back the human concern, the human and human joining what is it in its basest definition?
The Gospels tell us that within a definition of marriage there is a presumed air of permanence.
In the concept of marriage there is a steadfastness, a loyalty on the part of humans when entering into it. Steadfastness, loyalty.
The co-mingling of marriage. The separate being made whole. The separate being made one. Conjoined and commingled.
A marriage then is not done in isolation. It is not done without the main precedent of stability, and of loyalty, and steadfastness at its very core, at its root.
Again, removing the human and human marriage idea here for a moment let us ask,
What are the things to which we are wed? What are the things which we marry, the things which marry themselves to us. These things which we attract or are attracted to?
To each of us in our own time comes marriages. Some of us marry our work, some of us marry a self-created image of ourselves. We marry a concept of how we should look and how we should live. We wed an inauthentic self.
Some marry a particular philosophy or outlook on life. Others marry the concept of avoiding commitment. They marry an idea which at its root is anti-marriage.
We all interact with the concept of marriage, in all its forms, then, because we are social beings. We live out marriages daily. Sometimes these sorts of marriages last for minutes, some last for years and years.
There is still another thing which a marriage, whatever it may look like, requires. It calls for giving up a part of ourselves. Marriages call for a reliance on something outside of just ourselves and to a commitment to something outside of ourselves. When two things are made one they are a new creation. The two things wed are subject to a new balance, a new way of perceiving the world, and everything in it, and a new way of perceiving self.
It’s a quest which we all possess— to become one. The question is to what do we want to become one with?
We can allow for a marriage to work, to self, to philosophies, and still to more things, to less beneficial things. We sometimes directly or indirectly wed ourselves to the evils of the world. We can allow ourselves to be molded to and combine with something which clouds and obscures our gaze, and confuses us.
We can combine with things which we cannot look up from — are gazes stop at it. And why? Because the idea of marriage is strong. The striving towards unity is so strong. The want of it is so innate and deep that it can have adverse effects too whether we discern them or not.
You can also be within a horrible marriage you can’t look up from. Whether one is married to another or to another thing or concept or idea, some combinations we have in our lives have adverse effects.
What purpose does marriage serve? For what reason is it considered holy and Good, this concept of marriage. The action of marriage, the use of marriage, the living out of marriage it all points to one thing.
To the end. It prepares us for the end. It gives us a foretaste of our end with God.
The commingling with God we all here have a reasonable hope for. A longing for. To be deified. To one day be brought up into the fullness with God sharing in His permanence, His loyalty, His love, His steadfastness which is before ours and above our own always.
As humans we are social creatures, beings who like to be in the midst of community in all its forms. We share in fellowship with our fellow creatures and with God and all the communion of saints above. This melding of the two — ourselves and fellow beings is good and righteous in God’s sight.
We are social beings, beings who are to stand in communion with all of the created order. We are ordained in our own ways to become both partakers and givers within this world. Daily God prepares us for the things to come in this world and in the next.
Our Father in heaven does not usually accomplish this through force, or through wrath, or through a want of myopic obedience, no but instead our Lord does it through those daily interactions with our fellow man, with our fellow citizens of this world. Through those small and large marriages, those wedded parts of our selves working in our lives.
Daily are we brought to a knowledge that we are but extensions of God in the world. We are brought to wonder and to think on this plain fact by those interactions, those encounters with other created beings who too share so much with us. We share in brokenness, in grief, in struggle, in mental wresting, and in a shared humanity.
God brings us to a knowledge of his hand at work in the world not through wrath or retribution but through a clear and simple fact— we are designed to interact, and we strive for wholeness.
In our very design and through our striving we meet with many wedded moments, some good, some bad. In the end all of it prepares us for awakening to God, to turn even more fully towards him.