Sermon for 10-10-10: “Love and Marriage, Part 2”

October 13, 2010

Sermon Text: Ephesians 5:25-33

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It’s very appropriate that the band performed this beautiful love song by the Beatles as we continue with Part 2 of our “Love and Marriage” series. As you may have heard already, Friday marked the 70th birthday of John Lennon. I remember when I first became aware of Lennon. I was ten years old around Thanksgiving 1980. I was listening to Casey Casem’s American Top 40 countdown show on Z-93 when he played a song that I instantly fell in love with. It went like this: [play the first few bars of “(Just Like) Starting Over,” concluding with “Let’s take a chance and fly away somewhere…”].

If you were alive and old enough to remember the song, it’s hard hear it without thinking of what happened within just a few weeks of its release. It still makes me sad. But inasmuch as we can hear it, let’s think about the song with this bit of history in mind: Lennon and his wife Yoko were separated from one another for a few years in the ’70s. Lennon’s life was a wreck. But the two of them reconciled in 1975, had a son, and Lennon retired from music to stay home with him. The song sounds deeply autobiographical. In fact, the album from which the song comes, Double Fantasy, tells the story of marital reconciliation—at times in an uncomfortably honest way.

But this song rings true to me. I like it in part because there are so many pop songs about falling in love and breaking up; how many are there about a couple committed to saving a broken marriage. “We have grown,” the singer says up front. Indeed, we grow and change as people over time. As I said last week, the person we marry today won’t be the same person five, 10, or 50 years from now. We won’t be the same person. But personal growth doesn’t mean that couples have to grow apart—or if they do grow apart for a time, it doesn’t have to be permanent.

One friend of ours freely jokes that she’s been married for 20 years—and she’s been happily married for about 14 of those years. The unhappy years were somewhere in the middle. She can joke about it because she’s come through on the other side of marriage problems, and her love for her husband is stronger and their relationship closer and more intimate than it was before. If you’re going through a difficult time in your marriage, I want you to consider the strong possibility that if you stick it out, that love, which brought you and your spouse together in the first place, can be renewed, reborn, and rekindled. Like the song says, it can be just like starting over—only this time it can be better than before.

“Sticking it out,” though… That takes commitment. One psychologist friend who specializes in marriage therapy says that he believes that commitment is about 60 to 70 percent of what a couple needs to have a successful lifelong marriage. I take that to mean that commitment must be at least as strong as love when it comes to making a marriage. I believe—and the church teaches—that divorce should be a gracious option of last resort for couples who can’t reconcile their relationship. Some marriages can’t be saved. But I also believe that divorce should be rare among us Christians. And when we look at the divorce rate in this country, it’s hard not to believe that we’re not getting that message; that we’re missing something; that there’s something we don’t understand about why we should remain committed to one another.

There are plenty of good and practical reasons to avoid divorce. Divorce at its best is incredibly painful, harmful to children, and emotionally exhausting. But in today’s scripture, Paul gives us a deeper reason for staying committed enough to work through our problems and strive to make marriage last a lifetime. See, more than simply giving advice to husbands and wives about marriage, as it’s usually read, in verses 25 to 33 Paul goes beyond that. Christian marriage should say something about God’s love for us as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” But then he goes on: “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church”—applying what? Applying the example of marriage between husband and wife to the saving relationship between Christ and the those who are united with him by faith.

Out of love, a man leaves his father and mother to be joined to his wife and the two become one. Similarly, out of love, God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, leaves his Father in heaven in order to be joined to humanity, so that the two—Christ and his church—become one.

This scripture tells the love story between God and humanity, Christ and his church—and our marriages ought to tell that same story! Through marriage, we bear witness to the enduring, steadfast, patient, and forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ, from which no force in the universe or in the spiritual realm can separate us. Our marriages should be a living embodiment of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to stick together because—in spite of our sin, our failures, and our shortcomings—Jesus sticks with us.

We want to stay committed to one another in marriage because it’s nothing less than our responsibility as disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s part of our witness. But… it’s not just commitment for sake of commitment. That would be miserable: “I made this promise to stay married ‘until we are parted by death,’ and I’ve got to keep it.” It’s a commitment also to making the marriage better. As I said last week, if you’re not as happy as you want and deserve to be in your marriage, do something to fix your marriage. Don’t buy into the lie that marriage is just that way. That’s the devil talking! Don’t settle for a marriage that is less than what God wants it to be. We’re disciples of Jesus Christ! We believe that through the Holy Spirit we can change. We have hope! After all, the heart of our Christian faith is belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Can the same God who brought Jesus back to life not also bring our marriages back to life?

Commitment is critically important, but so is love. The ancient Greeks had a slightly better handle on understanding love than perhaps we do. In English, we have only one word for it; the Greeks had four. All four four of these kinds of love are essential for building a happy and successful lifelong marriage.

There is eros, which is romantic love—the fiery, passionate, and sexual kind of love. Eros is the kind of love you feel when you “fall in love.” It’s that kind of love that, when un-returned or unrequited, will just tear you up inside. It’s the kind of love that can leave you feeling lovesick or heartbroken. But when two people share it, it’s surely one of God’s greatest gifts.

There is philia, which is the love that characterizes friendship. I have someone that I usually call my best friend—my friend Mike, whom I met at the Baptist Student Union at Georgia Tech back in 1988. I love hanging out with him. We have much in common. But the truth is that my real best friend, the person who I most enjoy hanging out with, confiding in, talking to, sharing my hopes and dreams with, is Lisa.

The third kind of love is storge, which means affection. Storge is cooking a favorite meal for your spouse—just because you know it’s their favorite meal. It’s doing a load of laundry. Completing something on a “honey-do” list. It’s the little things we do to make one another’s life easier. It’s soothing and comforting one another. It’s literally and figuratively offering a shoulder to cry on. It’s looking at our spouse in the middle of some mundane activity and saying, “I love you.” You ever do that?

Then of course there’s the kind of love most identified with Jesus—the love spoken about in 1 Corinthians 13: agape. This is Christ-like love. Well, Paul describes it best: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” As followers of Jesus, we are all on this path of learning to love one another with this kind of sacrificial, other-oriented, other-directed love. As we grow in our faith, this kind of love will grow within us.

Well, all this sounds kind of lofty and theoretical. What does science tell us about building and maintaing successful, lifelong marriages? What are the cold hard facts? The good news is that there are some! Researchers tell us that there are five ways to keep a marriage strong and healthy.

If we do these things, we will be fostering the kind of love I’m talking about. The first is communication. Talk to one another—about everything from what’s going on with your bank account, to some problem you’re having with a family member, to a humorous anecdote that happened at work to something that your child said or did. Be open about everything. Keeping secrets from one another is potentially very harmful.

The second is companionship. This means that you enjoy being together—hanging out, running errands, going to a movie… A few times recently I’ve seen Gary and René Wilder on the Big Creek Greenway riding bikes, exercising together. One of the most positive changes that Lisa and I have made in our marriage recently is that we go to concerts together. For too many years of my marriage, I shut Lisa out of this most important hobby and interest of mine. I didn’t know I was doing it; I just didn’t think she was interested. So we share that now, and that’s brought us closer together. This is the kind of love we talked about when we talked about philia.

The third way to keep a marriage strong is affection. Touching, holding hands, hugging, cuddling. Using pet names for one another. Psychologists tells us this is often the first thing to go when couples start having problems—and the lack of affection reinforces the other problems and makes them worse. This is what we talked about when we talked about storge.

The fourth way is physical intimacy. Sex. It should be a regular and important part of your married relationship, as we talked about last week. Researchers say it’s not about frequency or technique. Like the old Nike ad says, “Just do it.”

The fifth way to build and maintain a healthy lifelong marriage is share a common spiritual life. The fact that you worship together in church is good. Praying together, talking about your relationship with God and your spiritual life. Sharing this spiritual bond relates to agape, Christ-like love.

O.K., I get it… Love in all of its manifestations is an essential and necessary part of a happy and successful marriage, but love is the problem. “I’m not feeling the love anymore. It’s not there. And that makes commitment a lot harder. It’s easier to be committed if you feel love. What do I do about that?” I heard Everybody Loves Raymond actress Patricia Heaton say something that relates to this on NPR a few weeks ago. She said that she has found that when she’s acting—on stage, on TV, or in movies—and she’s playing the role of someone who is in love with someone, she actually begins to feel in love with that person. Even though she knows intellectually she’s just acting. I’m not sure how I would feel about that if I were Heaton’s husband… But she used that to say that if you want to be in love with someone, act in love with someone. And I see her point. There is a little bit of “fake it ’til you make it” going on. But that’s O.K., because that’s part of what commitment means. Heaton’s point is that your feelings often follow your actions.

I’ve discovered a painfully funny blog written by Stephanie Drury called, “Stuff Christian Culture Likes.” Drury is herself a Christian, but her blog often pokes gentle and loving fun at various things that many Christians and churches often do. She had a blog entry recently on “PDA via Facebook status.” She means the tendency of some Christian husbands and wives to post status updates like, “I’m going on a date with my husband. He’s such a hottie! I love him so much!” Stuff like that. She calls it “nauseating.” Maybe it is a little bit, but I actually kind of like it! If nothing else, it reminds us husbands and wives that we are supposed to be in love and act in love with one another. And why not? Only people who are unmarried get to act in love with each other? That’s what our culture teaches us. No—act like you’re in love and see what happens. Try it! You might find that those original feelings of love will return. You know, just like starting over.

Prayer:

Eternal God, you have so consecrated the covenant of Christian marriage that in it is represented the covenant between Christ and his Church. Send your blessings upon those of us in this congregation who are married, that they may keep this covenant and grow in love and godliness together. Enable all of us, both married and single, to love with a kind of love that is patient and kind; that is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude; that is not irritable or resentful; that does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth; that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who embodied this love through his life death and resurrection. Amen.

See Lynda D. Talmadge and William C. Talmadge, Love Making: The Intimate Journey in Marriage (St. Paul, MN: Syren, 2004) 51-55. The “shared spiritual life” comes from more recent research, as told to me by co-author William Talmadge.

2 Responses to “Sermon for 10-10-10: “Love and Marriage, Part 2””


  1. I love your blog! It must have been a suggestion after my latest blog about Methodists. I am so glad I found it.

    I’m looking at seminaries for next fall and recently visited Candler. If I move to the Atlanta area, I will have to visit your church. Meanwhile, I’m happy to have found your blog.

    My husband left me in April, followed by a quick divorce 3 months later. I absolutely love your sermons about marriage.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Heather! (And sorry to hear about your marriage ending so abruptly. That sounds awful.) I loved Candler. I’ll be happy to try to talk you into going there if I need to. For me, it was an easy decision: They were local, UMC-affiliated, and they offered me a scholarship. But I ended up getting a lot more out of it than I imagined I would.

      God’s blessings,

      blw


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