This week, Faith. Faith is a personal thing, it is to believe in a person, to believe in the best that a person can be. Christian faith is commonly thought to be about us believing in Jesus, but in a deeper sense it’s about Jesus believing in us. And faith begins with faith in God, faith that God has made us and that ultimately God has made each of us a masterpiece waiting to be unfurled. Yes we are all to some extent broken and soiled; but that is not what should define us. The Bible teaches us that each person is made in the image of God, and that we each have goodness infused deep into our soul, goodness that needs to be drawn out, forgiven out, loved out. You see I believe that God made us for living in community; and I believe that he built into each human being the prerequisites for making a marriage work. Not everyone will marry, not every marriage will work, but we all have the potential to make it work. I think that’s an important foundation that comes through faith, that God makes each of us capable of being married.
I think I shocked some of my friends recently by saying – marriages aren’t made in heaven. Perhaps I’d be better to say Marriages are planned in heaven; but built on earth. We have to do the work. But, but, but – we can form great marriages; we don’t live in a Godless universe where our relationships are an accidental add on to sex, God designed marriage.
Marriage lets us see deep into another person, and it is an opportunity to believe in that other person. To have faith in that other person, it is the most wonderful thing in the world to have someone believe in you, to have faith in you. Marriage is believing that your spouse will pass that test, that they will be able to succeed in their job, and be a great parent. It is to believe in ordinary things, like believing that the tree hut your husband has built will stay up, or that your wife will one day catch the 10 pound trout she has been dreaming of! But it is also to believe in psycho-social things like believing that your wife will overcome her tendency to alcoholism, that your husband will come through the depressive episode he is mired in. Faith is to believe in another person, not naively, but deeply; it is the opposite of cynicism. Contempt is poison to a marriage, but faith gives a marriage wings. I say this to you who have been married 50 years, as much as to you who will have been married 5 minutes. Every day you have to choose to believe in your spouse.
How do you believe in another person, how do you have faith? At its simplest it is choosing to believe and then sieving your senses; observing and storing away memories of your spouse when they are at their best and extrapolating those memories. Capturing moment when you see them doing; or hearing them saying; or feeling their kindness or sniff their goodness; taste their brilliance; and storing those away. So that when you come to imagine your spouse doing well, you have this reservoir of memories to draw out from. And then communicating your belief to your spouse and act on it. Trust them and believe in them, sometimes with the evidence and sometimes against the evidence. For example, if your partner decides she wants to take up golf, watch and encourage them, storing away memories of their success, and speak hope into their heart. Sometimes it’s about turning off our critical reasoning faculty, and just being a cheer leader. Now I’m actually not telling you to lie to each other, we can all sniff out a lie and they don’t count what I’m talking about is requires hard work and dedication; faith is about seeing potential and expressing hope. When God is dealing with our broken lives, he doesn’t pretend, he sees the good that is buried deep within every soul, and sees past our brokenness.
You might ask me? What if my husband decides to pursue something that he just isn’t any good at? You let him make that choice, and he will know if you are genuinely trying to see potential. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if he can’t sing a note; what matters is that he knows that you believed in him. And you know sometimes miracles happen.
What is marriage, why is it different to just living together. I have a very simple definition of the difference. Marriage isn’t a piece of paper, it isn’t an institution, it isn’t a legally binding contract, at its heart Marriage is a promise, and promises are the glue of relationships. It is a promise to love another person, and to spend your life with them. That’s why marriage relationships outlast living together relationships. Marriage is about a commitment to another person that far exceeds the convenience of today. The vows may vary, but the intention in a marriage is to care for and nurture and support and encourage and bless and give yourself to another person for as long as life allows. Christian marriage is a covenant not a contract; and let me draw a very simple difference between the two. In a contract the if comes first, if you love me and are good to me bring home some money and care for my children and keep me amused; then I will love you and be good to you and bring home some money and care for our children and keep you amused. But a covenant says, I promise you this day that I will love you and be faithful to you and give myself to you and I believe that you will do the same. In a covenant there is an if, if you do this or that then this will be the consequence. But it doesn’t start with the if. I think if we have a proper understanding of covenant, then if things go terribly wrong and we divorce; we are reminded that we don’t get to stop loving our partner, being kind to them and even believing in them; even though sometimes we may no longer be able to remain married or live with them.
Now this is the point where Paul talks about Christ and the church. You see Jesus was asked about divorce once and let me paraphrase his answer. “I just don’t get it, how can you talk about divorce, how can you consider giving up on someone, how can you stop loving them; I really don’t get it. You see I believe God hopes that our marriages will reflect Christ’s love for the church. Now of course that’s a crazy un realistic expectation. And he knows that. But he still hopes it. Now that’s incredibly good news – because it means that God will never give up on you.
I remember talking with my friend Andrew about preaching on divorce; and said we know there’s a bunch of people listening who just need to be told it’s OK. Your marriage has ended for whatever reason, and you can’t help feeling awful about the shattered dream – and you just need someone to say it’s OK. And it is OK. And then there’s a bunch of people holding on to your marriages by your fingertips, who just need someone to say, keep holding on, it’s worth it, this crisis will pass. And I want to say that too. Marriage is like a beautiful crystal ball, a wonderful thing, beautiful and very slippery, and if you drop it from a height onto something hard it will shatter. That’s the miracle of marriage, God entrusts us with carrying each other’s soul.
It’s a remarkable thing marriage, compared in the bible with Christ’s love for the church. Submit to one another Paul says; wives respect your husbands (our egos are fragile) and husbands love your wives like Christ loved the church. Paul tells men that leadership in a marriage means that we get to die to ourselves first, that’s the way that he subverts the first century idea of headship.
Faith, to believe in another person. To hope the best, to believe the best, to coax out the best of a person. But faith also adapts to crisis, to a sickness that takes something away, to a bad investment decision that leaves you broke, to a personal mistake that leaves you broken. In all of those circumstances faith is the greatest gift that your spouse can give you. To believe in you when you have lost belief in yourself, to help you start to put broken pieces back together. This week as I was writing this sermon I received an email from Promise keepers about a marriage resource they have just partnered with. I think that resource is worth checking out. You can see it on our programs page. The resource identifies four attitudes toxic to marriage – Contempt, Criticism, Stonewalling and defensiveness. I believe that these are 4 attitudes that are the opposite to faith, so it might be worth checking out.
Faith – to believe in another person, to draw out another person, to build up another person; these are not just the tasks of a spouse, they belong to a parent and a friend equally – but they are essential to a marriage. Amen.