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Marriage and Messiness - April 23, 2017

Romans 12:9-12
1 Corinthians 13: 4-8

Don't those passages just give you the warm fuzzies? I've done a fair number of weddings over the years and 1 Corinthians 13 is always pretty popular. It's sweet and charming and all the things love should be: patient, kind, generous, persevering, hopeful, and never-ending. It's a good passage to read and to hear when love is in the air. But, it can be a little bit annoying if you're in the middle of a fight or you've just been upset or let down by your significant other. When you're ready to slam doors, or walk away, or dump the dirty clothes all over their side of the floor you don't want to hear about how love isn't

envious or boastful or rude. Ok maybe you do, but I don't. Not that I ever want to do any of those things. ;)
It's a good passage to read, not just when we feel love, but when we don't. It's a good passage when we need a solid reminder of what not to do in order to foster love. It's a good passage when we are bitter and resentful. It's a good passage when we're ready to give up. We need to be reminded of how to love well, over and over again.
We'd like to believe the movies and think there's a perfect marriage out there. There has to be some trick or formula to getting it right all the time. But the reality is marriage is messy and when they tell you it's "hard" they're kind of sugar coating it all.
As I read through the scriptures for the story of a couple to highlight, there were a number of possibilities...though no one really had a flawless moment of love, acceptance, and forgiveness to point to. Even the couples in the Bible struggled and had messiness in their lives. Being among God's people didn't protect them from that. One of the couple's with the richest story is Sarah and Abraham. I read through Genesis marking their story and those two faced a lot together. I couldn't narrow it down to just one moment, or just one story to would have been unfair to them. The richness of who they are is highlighted in their ups and downs. They start out with a lot of years behind them before they even come together as a couple, then Abraham is called to be God's leader and Sarah to give birth to the generations that will outnumber the sand on the beach...a notion she laughs at. They struggle and struggle to get pregnant and finally recruit Hagar to have a son for Abraham, a decision that Sarah later regrets. –She and Abraham went to Gerar where she played coy— and Abraham pretended Sarah was his sister, which only got them in more trouble down the line. They continued to try for a baby of their own and finally Sarah got pregnant and then she kicked Hagar and Ishmael out. And then there was the time Abraham felt called to sacrifice Isaac and took him up on the hill in obedience to God, only to have his son question what exactly was taking place up there. And it wasn't long after that Sarah passed away.
This couple went through it—the ups, the downs, a few more downs—they were stretched in their commitment to each other and to God. And they aren't the only couple like that—not in the Bible or in the modern day. I think most of us would like to think that if we are called by God, and faithful to God we will be exempt from facing trials, but that's simply not the case. We all face challenges.
So what is our hope? Why do we even bother to get married? Well, I think the hope is that the love we share will continue to make us better as individuals and as a couple and that we'll find peace and joy and comfort in our relationship. And it can be easy for that to fall apart...that's why marriage takes constant have to talk about how you're feeling when all you'd really like to do is slam doors or drive away. You have to be forgiving when forgiveness isn't deserved. You have to show love even when you don't feel loved. You have to laugh at the trivial stuff that gets your goat. You have to remember that you too are wonderful and loveable and incredibly flawed. Sticking with it requires a lot. Divorce is a testament to how hard it is—life together isn't successful on a whim. And when you risk the greatest vulnerability and openness, you're likely to get hurt—by a breach of trust, by infidelity, by a betrayal, by trauma, by unmet expectations. And sometimes those hurts become insurmountable.
I don't say that to be a nay-sayer about marriage—I believe in it. I stick with and work on mine because it's worth it. But I also want us to be honest, it's hard. They tell you that when you're young and engaged..."Marriage is hard" but nothing really tells you how hard it is until you walk the journey together and you face financial struggles, or a major illness, or the loss of a parent, or struggle with infertility, or lose a job, or move away from family—"hard" doesn't even begin to describe those realities. And if you are married or have been married or live in a committed partnered relationship, I'm not telling you anything you don't know...I just want us to be honest about it all. Because if we pretend it's all roses and chocolates and cuddling on the couch, then we set ourselves and those who look to us as an example up for failure.
We'd like the world to think we've got it all together, and really, we shouldn't be airing our dirty laundry out for everyone to see, that violates trust and often creates some irreparable harm, but we do need to be able to own our imperfections. So, we're going to do a little exercise together. It's easy to look at another couple and think they've got it made, or they haven't struggled like you have, but there's a whole lot that lies below the surface that we don't all talk about on a daily basis.
For our exercise, I'll ask that if you are married or partnered, or if you have been, and you're able that you stand up. And I'm going to share some situations and if it's true for you and your significant other, you should sit down. And once you sit, if there's another that's true, if you raise your hand so that we can visually bear witness to what we face as couples. Now, these things relate to what we fight about...some of us call it fighting. Some of us call it quarreling, or a discussion, or an argument, or a disagreement, or a squabble, or yelling...whatever we call it, it's the thing you do when there is tension and dissent. Now, stand up, and when I say something you've "fought" about, I want you to sit back down.
· How to load dishes into the dishwasher
· Which way the TP goes on the roll
· Putting the toilet seat down
· Dirty clothes that don't make it to the hamper
· How fast or slowly you drive
· Where to spend the holidays
· Whose turn it is to take out the trash
· The temperature for the thermostat
· Who will get up with the baby in the middle of the night
· How much money you spend
· How much time you'll spend with your in-laws
· How you parent
· How much you work
· Who is more stubborn
· What show to watch
· What car to buy
· What amount of debt is reasonable
· How you communicate your wants or needs
• Is there anyone left standing?

The point is, none of us is immune. None of us, as couples walk through our relationship without struggle. Being a couple is hard. It was hard for Sarah and Abraham, and it's hard for us. We're two different people trying to come together and make life work. We fight over big things and over little things—almost to the level of ridiculous sometimes.
I really like being a couple that has it all together. And every time I get ready to preach on marriage, I get a good dose of humble pie to remind me of just how human and broken I am. Every time. It's not always a battle for the ages, but there's always something that comes up between Rick and me the week before I share on marriage. Always. This week, I don't even remember what it was...I think it dealt with parenting and Rick and I got into it. Ruth was nearby and she said, "I don't really like it when you and dad discuss like that." I laughed out loud because what we were doing was hardly "discussing". And I admitted, I wasn't really a fan of "discussing" like that either. We stopped "discussing" whatever it was and went to different rooms for an hour or so and then came back together and made the morning, for a hug and "I love you."
We struggle, like any couple, I don't want you to dare believe that just because I'm a pastor my marriage is somehow easier than anybody else's. But our covenant to love one another, to forgive and be gracious keeps us striving for better communication, for a deeper affection, and for laughter through it all. Hopefully, for each couple, it's worth the effort, because we are better with our partner because we find laughter and joy when we are together. Because they bring us peace. Because despite all the fights, they still love us and we still love them and we find ways to make it work. Because we don't want to do life without the other. Because they've seen us at our worst and choose to stick with us anyway. Because in being open and vulnerable we are shaped and transformed by the power of love to become better in who we are. So we stick with it.
There may not be any perfect relationships, in this room, or in the Bible, but there are certainly ways to be better in our relationship—and that's when we follow godly wisdom and advice. When we live the words of Romans 12 or 1 Corinthians 13, we become closer as a couple. Listen again to Paul's words to the Romans:
9 Be sincere in your love for others. Hate everything that is evil and hold tight to everything that is good. 10 Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself. 11 Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. 12 Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying.

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