This is the second week of our series Celebrating Marriage as a gift of God. We are using the metaphor of a three stranded chord, with Faith, Hope and Love as three strands that contribute to a solid marriage.
I’ve been mindful this week of so many couples getting married, but also of our single members and our widows and widowers. I want to talk today about a Hope that can inspire the way that we live out our relationships; but I want to say God has an equal hope for those who are living as singles as much those who are married. Hope that comes from being loved, hope that we can love and care for those around us and hope that we can lead meaningful lives in God’s family.
By Hope I want to talk about three levels of hope and hopes; hope for a relationship to be a great relationship; hope for a marriage to anchor an extended family; and thirdly hope that a marriage might be a place of nurture and encouragement that allows a couple to serve God’s Kingdom in the world. The challenge is that in some ways it is easier for a single person to serve God’s Kingdom, you can be more focused. The Apostle Paul advocates the single life saying – an unmarried person is concerned about the Lord’s affairs, how can one please the Lord; but a married person is concerned about the affairs of this world – how to please one’s spouse! This is an important question for those getting married and those who are married; do we hope for a great marriage; do we hope for a great family; but do we also keep alive the hope that together we can serve the Lord.
Hope within marriage is forward looking; it starts with hope for your relationship and what you can achieve together. It’s a hope that together you can build a marriage of intimacy, kindness and trust. In the bible we are presented with the hope of glory, that one-day God will make all things new and justice and peace will rule over all the earth. That hope is intended to help us live positive lives even during difficult times and in distressing circumstances. To the early Christians that hope allowed them to care for plague victims even at the risk of their own lives; but don’t worry I’m not suggesting that marriage is or should be like the black death.
The first level of marriage is a great friendship and a great romance. Caring for your spouse is not selfish, it is a way to learn to be selfless. Hope for a great relationship is a hope which I encourage couples to hold onto. Frequently the difficulty of living with another person, means that couples give up on intimacy –I don’t just mean sex, I mean the idea of letting another person close to your heart and mind and soul. And so for couples I encourage you to share your hopes of what your marriage can become. Will you be a husband who buys his wife flowers at least once a month? You can be a bit strategic about that, you can have a calendar reminder, or a standing order with the florist; as long as your aim is to make your wife feel loved. Wives might decide that the thing that they would like to build into their marriage is a special lunch on a work day once a week or once a month, or a romantic weekend every July. Song of Solomon encourages us to devote time and effort to our lover. These things have to be planned and carried through. Hope provides a dream of what could be, as opposed to resignation to patterns you have fallen in to. Hope doesn’t says my husband can change, it says I can change.
For my single friends I encourage you in the same to have a hope and vision of how you want to live your life, How will you care for yourself, What friendships will you nurture. Couples need single friends, and singles need couples as friends as well.
Hope for a family. As young love grows a couple’s hope may encompass more than themselves, they might hope to have children and to bring them up with love and a broad range of experiences, sporting, cultural, faith and academic. Hope might map out a plan about how you want to bring up your family. But as Helmuth von Moltke said no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, so as soon as you engage the real world things will change. But that doesn’t mean don’t have a plan, just have a flexible plan.
Some of the things that a couple might hope to sow into their family are Faith, integrity, hard work, compassion and fun. And you can’t teach this stuff you can only model it. I loved taking William to Vanuatu with me. I love that Karen is going to the Philippines with Jono next year, and I remember Lucy coming with me to a family wedding in Wairoa one Easter, where we drove 5 hours there and 5 hours back mostly on Saturday. I don’t need to tell Lucy that family matters, she knows.
Sometimes children come quicker to a couple than expected, I know my mother fell pregnant on her honey moon, which she was not expecting. I have many friends who have found it difficult or impossible to conceive, or who have suffered miscarriage and the loss of a baby, each has found other ways of building a family and sharing their love. I read the book Sully earlier this year about the pilot who ditched his jet in the Hudson river and everyone survived. He wrote about how he and his wife couldn’t conceive, they tried fertility treatments and IVF, but nothing worked; eventually they adopted 2 beautiful daughters. What stuck with me was what he learned – He learnt to adapt and not focus on “if only”; He learned to accept the hand that life dealt him no matter how hard it seemed; and he believes that that attitude was crucial when he lost both engines, he didn’t spend time in wishing things different he just got on with what was and saved 155 lives.
I love the quote it takes a village to raise a child, and so our hope should not just be for nuclear families, but a rich tapestry of relationships that enfold our children, men and women in different circumstances who love and sow into the next generation. I love being here at St Petes and having men like Len and George and Jon to be like a step-father to me and women like Leigh and Barbara and Irene who are like second mothers to me; and our wonderful KIC and Youth leaders who help raise my children. Part of hope in a marriage is to build a great home, but not in isolation a home where biological and foster and adopted children and brothers and sisters contribute to each other’s lives.
And thirdly a marriage can be more than your romance and your family, God hopes that marriages will contribute to the wider community, as couple do things together, and support each other to make a difference in this world. God’s Hope is that your marriage can make a difference in other people’s lives; and funnily enough that can give a strength to a marriage like nothing else. We are in this partnership – not just for ourselves, but for the sake of our children and the sake of our community and world. That can often be harder for a couple than it is for single person. I know people in marriages who struggle with feeling held back from all they want to do by their spouse. My encouragement to couples is, set each other free to fulfil our hopes. If your partners hope is in education, then let them be educated, if their hope is in family, then let them pursue that, if their hope is in a business or enterprise – then help to facilitate that. But ultimately our goal should be to find God’s hope for us as a couple and try to fulfil that. I’m not just talking about going off to the mission field, (although that can be part of it) God’s hope for your marriage might well be that you both contribute to the best little medical practice, or that you be the best educators, or that you run a very successful business. My encouragement is to keep seeking God’s vision – God’s hope for you.
Now I want to pause and warn you about two opposite risks. One risk is that a couple can become self-absorbed, and it’s all about us. Lovely trips, lovely meals, the sort of things that go with a honeymoon but some couples just become self-absorbed and never so beyond themselves. But I think the opposite is sometimes true in Christian couples – it’s all about the Lord. And we don’t want to be selfish and so sometimes we almost neglect each other. It’s easy to end up never having a proper holiday and just getting exhausted. Marriage involves a promise to care for our spouse and that means spending some money and time on them. Sometimes with the children and sometimes without them.
I believe as the church we should promote and seek to support marriage as the preferred intimate relationship in our community. As the writer of Hebrews says Marriage should be honoured by all. In God’s plan marriage marks the start of an intimate relationship, the coming together of male and female in a marriage commonly producing children, the lifelong bonding of a couple and the lifelong journeying together. I encourage my daughter to look for a man who will love and respect her. I know that marriages aren’t perfect, and that many of you or our family and friends will end up in different relationships, but let me unpack a little of what I see as the beauty of marriage for families. There’s a complementarity, marriage brings together the two great expressions of humanity – male and female. Men and women parent differently, women will frequently have a greater concern for the immediate comfort of a child, and men generally will have their eye on a longer term-goal. The beauty is that those two styles complement each other. When there is a loving male in the household girls are statistically less likely to engage in risky early sexual activity, in fact there are some studies that suggest that with a biologically related male they are likely to go through puberty up to a year later than girls in a household without a biological father present. Boys respond well to having a dad in the household, and girls thrive with a mum in the household. Interestingly in a blended household if the couple marry the children are statistically safer, because step fathers and step mothers are committed to the family not just the relationship.
So what about Gay Marriage? I guess we all have different views, informed by our Theology and our experience. So today I thought I’d just pose some questions. If you are a person who experiences strong same sex attraction, is it helpful to know that some Christians believe there are alternatives to entering a gay relationship? If someone is going to live in a Gay relationship isn’t a promise to long-term faithfulness within that relationship better than uncertainty? Given that men and women parent differently and that naturally it takes a man and a woman to produce a child – is there a difference between gay marriage and gay adoption? And then back to the basic question. Given that in a plain reading of scripture homosexual relationships are banned for Christians; is that something God has set down for all time, or was that part of a first century world view?
I personally take a more conservative approach; but I encourage you to reflect on these sort of questions. This is one of the great questions of our time, and I have become convinced that Christians should show a willingness to graciously enter conversation about these questions without being defensive nor defamatory. I believe that it is offensive to respond to such questions with, Oh no here we go again.” You don’t have to be judgemental to have a view.
Hope, to believe that our lives can be of value in God’s Kingdom. Hope should be at the centre of a marriage – hope for what God can do through us; the same as it should be at the centre of a single person’s life.
Hope for family, God has arranged for the birth of children to be the common outcome of a marriage; but our world needs couple who will foster and adopt and step parent children as well, we need second fathers, and aunties and a village to raise our children. We need to keep before us a hope for what our nuclear family might become like, and a hope for what our extended spiritual family can be like. We are all poorer without interaction between singles and couples, blended families and extended families; God intended spiritual family to be a rich tapestry of relationships; with marriage as one of the important building blocks.
And finally just for couples – what sort of husband do you hope to be; what sort of wife? Because it is not too late. It is not too late to learn from the past and begin to rebuild and refresh your marriage. Hope my friends, hope to strengthen, to learn, to reach for. Hope for a better marriage and then go about making it happen.