Monday, 24 December 2018

No Penguins at the Crib

Our nativity scene is nearly complete. Or is it? Are we in the scene? Do we allow ourselves to be invited into this scene & have our lives changed as a result? Are we engaging with what’s happening here?
I want to explore this by asking another important question: Why were there no penguins at the crib?
 (1) It’s not their habitat.
David Attenborough reminded us that the majority of penguins don’t live near the south pole but in warmer, even tropical conditions. So it is not that Bethlehem wasn’t cold enough
But whether in the tropics or near the south pole penguins love water of which there isn’t much in Bethlehem.
Apparently penguins evolved from creatures that could fly at one point but they enjoyed the water so much that they grew heavy enough to “fly” speedily through the water,up to 40 miles/hour, if I remember right. But this meant they grew too heavy to fly through the air.
This could be the reason that some of us stay away from the crib. It’s not our habitat; we got used to living our lives in a certain way and we would be entirely outside our comfort zone if we did not make sure that we kept the crib and all that at a certain, maybe ironical, distance.  And so we miss out – like the penguins.
But there may be another reason why the penguins were not there. I reckon if Mary had known about penguins, she would not have wanted any of these creatures anywhere near the crib. 
Thanks to David Attenborough we have learned one or two other s h o c k i n g things about penguins. I mention just one:
(2) Penguins are potential kidnappers. For penguins, as for humans, there is a great deal of effort and risk involved in producing offspring but unlike humans penguins stand in long rows together all having little babies at about the same time. When a baby penguin does not survive the parental instinct is so great in penguins that they will steal the baby from other penguins if they can.
[We should not blame them for this – they are animals that cannot but follow their instincts and urges. To be able to say ‘No’ to our animal urges is probably a particular gift to humanity.]
If penguins had made the long journey to Bethlehem, they would surely have lost their children and then they might have tried to steal the baby from the crib!
And this is another way in which we might miss out on what is happening there. If, in effect, we steal the baby and turn the nativity of our Lord and Saviour into a kitschfest.
Jesus did not come to remain a baby that decorates a tree but to grow up a man and be hung on a tree to suffer the consequences of our rebellion against God, to break through death to resurrection life and reconcile us to God. We do not celebrate the birthday of a good man who is long dead but of someone who is very much alive and wants to be part of our lives.
This Christmas. Don’t be a penguin. Be there. Let yourself be invited into the big story in which all of our lives have a place.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Locating the Holy Family

Ian Paul recently asked: Did Luke get his nativity history wrong? He highlights the overlap between the nativity history as told by Matthew and as told by Luke in spite of their great differences. Some see an irreconcilable contradiction in the geographical moves implied by Matthew’s account on the one hand and Luke’s on the other. Whether someone considers this a problem or not does of course depend on one’s view of the character of the Gospel stories in the Bible. My own view is that the Gospel writers are not telling edifying stories but giving an account of what happened. But I believe that they may well have done so with a greater latitude than would be acceptable today or is accepted by some readers.
The Framework  
·         Matthew gives no geographical reference for the pre-natal story. The birth is located in Bethlehem in Judea where the holy family also receives visitors from the East. The arrival of these foreign dignitaries alerts Herod to the birth of a rival king. This presents a threat to the holy family who flee to Egypt. After Herod’s death the family returns to the land of Israel, apparently at first with the intention to return to Judea but, having been warned against this, make their home in Nazareth.
·         Luke places the annunciation of the birth of Jesus in Nazareth, the starting point also of the journey of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, implying that both Joseph and Mary were residents there before the birth of Jesus. Both Mary and Joseph are said to have Judean connections. Mary visits her relative Elizabeth in the Judean highlands and Joseph as to be in Bethlehem to be registered. The birth takes place in Bethlehem, the purification eight days later in Jerusalem. “When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to their own town of Nazareth [or: to a town of their own, Nazareth].” (Luke 2:39)
The Difficulty
·         In Matthew’s account the holy family appears to move to Nazareth for the first time upon their return from Egypt a few years after the birth of Jesus. They did so because they were afraid of Archelaus.
·         Luke, by contrast, speaks of Nazareth as the home town of both Joseph and Mary and strongly suggests that soon after the birth of Jesus the holy family moved from Bethlehem to Nazareth, without going via Egypt.
Some aspects of this difficulty may be more apparent than real. If Mary and Joseph had connections to both Judea and Galilee, there would be nothing odd about abandoning a plan to return from Egypt to Judea in favour of settling in Galilee and there is nothing in Matthew’s account to suggests that the family had no connections with Galilee prior to their return from Egypt.
It does not seem to be too difficult to imagine a set of circumstances in which the broad outline of both accounts makes sense. 
A Scenario
(1) Joseph is a Bethlehemite not simply by virtue of descent from David but having grown up there and owning a plot of land to which he holds on for reasons of theology and identity even if it cannot support him economically.
(2) Mary may have been born and raised in Nazareth, although the fact that her relative lives in the Judean highlands suggests that she herself is of Judean descent and may have been a factor in getting betrothed to the Judean Joseph.
(3) Joseph moves to Nazareth for economic reasons. The massive building projects in Tsipori have created job opportunities, especially for people who can work with wood and stone. He does of course not enter into a modern employment contract and may have moved to Nazareth without a clear idea of how many months or years he might stay there.  While he now lives in the small hamlet of Nazareth, his home is still very much Bethlehem.
(4) The registration requires Joseph to move back to Bethlehem, at least for a while. There was likely some flexibility in the timing of this. Joseph combines this requirement with ‘bringing his bride home’, i.e. marrying in his home town.
(5) While they are in Bethlehem (not: upon their arrival, as in nativity plays), most likely staying with family but in crowded circumstances (“no room in the inn” being a mistranslation), Mary gives birth to Jesus. Eight days later they are found in the temple in Jerusalem.
(6) Having decided to stay in Bethlehem, a year or so later the holy family receives visitors from the East which leads to their flight to Egypt. Both Galilee and Judea were in the domain of Herod the Great and by then he had already even some of his own sons killed for fear of losing control.
(7) Herod’s death leads to the division of his kingdom. The holy family’s initial plan to return to the paternal home town which had come under the rule of Archelaus is abandoned in favour of settling in Nazareth, Mary’s home town, now under the rule of Philip the Tetrarch. The maternal home town thus becomes the family’s own town.
I am not saying that this is how it happened. But if it did, Matthew may have deliberately omitted any geographical reference in the pre-natal story to link each location at its proper time with a prophecy Bethlehem (2:1-6), Egypt (2:13-15), and Nazareth (2:23). Luke, by contrast, seems to offer geographical references for their own sake. From these emerge the connections Joseph and Mary have to both Galilee and Judea, connections in which Matthew shows no interest.
The remaining question
Luke 2:39-40 concludes the infancy narrative; in the next event Jesus is twelve years old. It is possible that Luke is telescoping events in Jesus’ life. Due to a phrasing which emphasises the fulfilment of the law, this makes it appear as if the return to Nazareth happened shortly after the visit to the temple. This impression is either correct, if the story of the flight to Egypt is not based on an historical event, or misleading.  New Testament scholars are not agreed on whether Luke deliberately omitted the stay in Egypt or might not have known about it.
For myself, I do not find it difficult or forced to see the various references to Nazareth and Bethlehem in the two accounts as in harmony with each other. It is only Egypt that presents a problem. But is is arguably not impossible to locate the Egypt episode, which given the chronology relating to Herod and Jesus would have been short, between Luke 2:38 and 2:39. Indeed, in a sense this too is a (typological) “fulfilment of the law” (“law” referring to the Torah). Given the likelihood that Mary was a key source for Luke, it does not seem very plausible that Luke would not have known about a stay in Egypt.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Good News for All Genders

God has made you uniquely you.
God knows you intimately, better than you know yourself.
God loves you and desires the best for you.
In Christ God took on human flesh for our sakes.
God knows intimately what it means to be human.
Jesus experienced hostility because he did not conform to expectations related to his identity.
Being ill at ease, not least in relation to our identity, is a normal part of being human in this world. Jesus came to make us at ease with God, with each other and with ourselves. We can begin to experience this here and now, while awaiting the new creation of heaven and earth in which there will be no illness nor sadness.
There is nothing you need to do or can do in order to make yourself more acceptable, loved, affirmed and welcomed by God. You do not need to have any gender issues sorted, nor anything else.
God asks you to put your trust in him and promises not to disappoint you in the end. Disillusionment is part of the journey of redemption; brokenness helps us to sympathise with others and to look forward to the completion of our redemption.
Sieh nicht an, was du selber bist in deiner Schuld und Schwäche.
Sieh den an, der gekommen ist, damit er für dich spreche.
Sieh an, was dir heut widerfährt,
heut, da dein Heiland eingekehrt,
dich wieder heimzubringen
auf adlerstarken Schwingen.
Non-metrical, non-rhyming translation of the first stanza of this beautiful hymn by Jochen Klepper:
Do not look upon what you are yourself in your guilt and weakness.
Look upon him who has come to speak (plead) for you.
Look what happens to you today,
today that the Saviour stops by
to bring you home again
on wings strong as of an eagle.

Affirming Gender Transition and Baptismal Faith

In a previous post I expressed unease about offering a divine stamp of approval on a person’s gender transition as a means of welcoming and affirming trans people.
Chris Newlands introduced the General Synod motion which called on the House of Bishops of the Church of England “to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition” with a story about someone who approached him wanting a liturgical rite akin to baptism, because they were not sure that God knew them under their new gender identity.* This is arguably a clear case of the cruelty of heresy. We want to reassure this person but doing so by means of such a rite runs the risk of reinforcing the heresy rather than refuting it, suggesting that the person really did need to be re-introduced to God.
Nevertheless, the House of Bishops responded by commending the liturgy for the Affirmation of Baptismal Vows as “an ideal liturgical rite which trans people can use to mark this moment of personal renewal” (GS Misc 1178). Such re-purposing of a rite that relates to Christian Initiation is apparently thought appropriate on the grounds that baptism is a suitable moment to celebrate our unity in diversity and has something to do with personal renewal and with being welcomed and affirmed by God and the church. But the mixture introduces several tensions. 
First of all, baptism stresses our unity in Christ irrespective of gender or ethnic distinctions or social class. It seems therefore problematic to highlight gender at this moment by affirming a person precisely with regard to their gender identity. The same applies for the Affirmation of Baptismal Vows. (Note that the church is not given guidance for celebrating a Baptism, an Affirmation of Baptismal Vows, or a Marriage service when one of the parties involved is a trans person but guidance for liturgically marking a person’s gender transition.)
The Guidance tries hard to maintain the integrity of the existing rite but it is difficult to amalgamate celebration of (acquired) gender identity with our identity in Christ without corrupting the rite. It may be possible to minimise this when such an Affirmation is made alongside other candidates in a main service but it will be maximised where a service is centred around the trans person whose affirmation is the reason for the rite being celebrated in this time and place.
Secondly, the Affirmation of Baptismal Vows is “intended for those who are already baptized and confirmed and who, after preparation and instruction, come to make a public act of commitment” (from the current rubrics). For a committed Christian “to re-dedicate their life and identity to Christ” in the context of gender transition raises questions about their dedication to Christ prior to this “serious and lasting change.” Is a service of re-turning to Christ really the most appropriate for those who have gone through the gender transition in close fellowship with Chris? And even if the re-dedication is not seen as a re-turning, does it nevertheless drive too much a wedge between before and after in terms of the person's discipleship?
And has the House of Bishop considered the possibility that people who have no Christian commitment may approach the church with a request for a service of celebrating their gender transition in the same way that some couples without Christian commitment approach the church for a marriage service? While this may be an opportunity to encourage people to explore the Christian faith, it would surely prove hard for them to do so in the right spirit if the question whether or not they can have a gender transition celebration service hangs on their decision to commit to Christ in a much more explicit, focused way than in a marriage service.
It is noteworthy that, departing from GS Misc 1178 as well as from the original rubrics, the new Guidance explicitly makes the service available to those who have not been confirmed with no expectation that confirmation would necessarily follow in due course. It also remains silent on the need for “preparation and instruction” prior to the public act of commitment. This makes it look as if the aspect of the liturgy which is to do with (understanding and) affirming the Christian faith very much takes second place to the affirmation of the gender transition.
Thirdly, baptism presumes a journey, a history of before and after. This may at first make it especially suitable for marking a gender transition which also knows a before and after. But the question is if and how the two transitions (from slavery to freedom on the one hand, from one gender to another on the other) are related. Is it possible, even necessary, in celebrating such a rite to equate living in the previous gender identity with living in rebellion to God, in darkness and in slavery? The implied answer seems to be: “The minister should be guided by the wishes of the candidate regarding the way in which past experiences may be mentioned or reflected upon.” But such matters are never private and personal in a way that does not impact on others because the rite, maybe reinforced by the trans person’s testimony, could well communicate to others in the congregation who are ill at ease with their identity that they are living in rebellion to God and need to repent.
The potential impact of the service on those who belong to the trans person’s history needs to be taken into account as well. “If members of their family are to be present, the minister will wish to be sensitive to their pastoral needs.” Indeed, especially if a gender transition is intimately related to the breakdown of a marriage or in other ways has profoundly altered relationships. This may prove difficult to do. The desire to affirm the trans person and the celebratory tone of the rite may well drive away any notion of sin on the part of the trans person although even the weakened, alternative form of the Decision still asks the candidate “Do you repent of your sins?”
A liturgy of thanksgiving for having successfully managed a gender transition or a thanksgiving service for the gift of an external gender presentation that corresponds to one’s internal gender perception would have posed much the same theological questions that were raised in the previous post but it would have avoided the issues raised here. Did the House of Bishops shrink back from devising a new liturgy in the belief that a service for marking gender transition would be more readily accepted if its existence was only acknowledged in the rubrics? Or were they genuinely excited about the Affirmation of Baptismal Vows as “an ideal liturgical rite” for marking a gender transition. unaware of the theological and pastoral issues this might raise for at least some clergy?

* Source: Ian Paul, On welcoming transgender people

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Gender Transition and Implied Narratives

There is some weird as well as wonderful material in Common Worship, the collection of the Church of England’s provision of contemporary language services. But I am not aware of anything within it that clearly teaches something which I do not believe. This may be about to change, making for interesting times. I refer to the Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition which is new guidance for parishes planning services to help transgender people mark their transition (see press release). So what is the story?
While not all gender nonconformity is rooted in gender dysphoria, gender transition is often painful and persons going through the process are in extra need of support. For those who have contact to their local church, it would be a huge thing to have their transition, their acquired gender and their new name recognised and affirmed by the church in a way that says “you are safe, you are welcome, we love you for who you are, and as God’s community we stand by you in your isolation and vulnerability” (using the words of one such person).
Questions for the church are (1) Can we “unconditionally affirm” trans persons in the sense of loving them as they are without communicating that they are only welcome and included if their gender identity conforms to their biological sex but without explicitly affirming the transition itself? 
(2) If it is not possible to affirm trans persons without affirming transition processes, does the church have the authority for claiming God’s approval of gender transition itself? 
(3) If the church can be confident in speaking on God’s behalf into such situations, can we offer the divine stamp of approval on every gender transition or would the church need to exercise discretion and distinguish between right and wrong transitions?
I see at least three alternative stories that one could tell: (1) Gender is related to biological sex and gender nonconformity is the result of confusion, rebellion or illness. Trans persons are to be loved and affirmed as persons but their nonconformity is not to be encouraged and is potentially a problem. This first narrative is painful for trans people but this does not prove that it is wrong. Some Christians believe that this is the story told in Scripture.
Deuteronomy 22:5 deals with the issue of cross-dressing, women presenting themselves as men and vice versa. The use of the phrase “abomination to the Lord your God” signals that this cannot be readily dismissed as irrelevant to the church.
The situation with eunuchs is different. Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibits men with crushed or severed genitals to enter the assembly of the Lord but does not use the word translated “abomination” and Isaiah 53:3-5 envisages the acceptance of eunuchs. The law is presumably meant to discourage the practice, while the promise affirms that this does not mean that eunuchs themselves are rejected by God. Jesus, in Matthew 19:12, differentiates between different types of castrated males: those who are eunuchs due to birth, those who become eunuchs because of social and political obligations, and those who voluntarily become eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.
The de-sexing of a eunuch is, however, arguably not the same as transitioning to a different gender and gender nonconformity is not the same as transvestism. The plausibility and truthfulness of this first narrative must but also deserves to be examined.
Another narrative: (2) Gender is a fluid concept at the interface of an individual’s identity and role expectations within society, loosely related to biological sex. The church has no mandate to validate gender stereotypes in general or specific identifications of individuals and welcomes all regardless of their gender or other identities and without making anything of those identities.
This ‘agnostic’ narrative has the advantage of making no controversial claims about gender which are difficult to justify. It is tolerant but it may be considered insufficient given that for many gender is a decisive aspect of their identity and especially so for trans people. Some Christians are in fact more confident about identifying male and female roles in Scripture but even if passages such as Ephesians 5:22-32 are read as role defining rather than encouraging Christians to live out existing roles in a certain way, they would not define the roles of men and women in general but specifically of husbands and wives. In my view, there is little about gender, separate from biological sex, within the Bible and one would need to turn to tradition or science for establishing gender roles.
The Guidance arguably binds the conscience of clergy to a third narrative, something like this: (3) Our souls (or minds?) are gendered in the same way that our bodies are sexed. Where there is incongruity between the gender of the soul and the sex of the body, it is the gender of the soul that should be affirmed and validated by the Church.
The rationale for this is presumably the conviction that it is impossible to welcome and affirm trans people without validating their self-identification. There do not seem to be any criteria for establishing someone’s gender objectively which would allow us to speak, e.g., of a female brain in a chromosomal male body. Consequently the Guidance must assume that every individual’s self-identification is true and healthy, given that a divine stamp of approval could hardly be given to something untrue or unhealthy.
This raises a number of questions in relation to anthropology and eschatology:
What is gender? Does the Guidance assume that there are typical ways of being a man or a woman which are independent of our biological sex, gender stereotypes which we endorse by validating someone’s claim to have discovered their true gender?
If so, are our souls gendered in the same way that our bodies are sexed?
If so, is congruity between the gender of the soul and the sex of the body desirable?
If so, should we encourage sex reassignment surgery and proclaim that a person’s resurrection body will correspond to the gender of their soul?
Are the options binary? The Guidance only speak of male-to-female and female-to-male transitions. It is not clear whether intergender, agender, demigender, genderfluid, pangender or culturally defined "third gender" identities are also to be affirmed.
I am concerned about being tied to a particular story (a) without any justification for preferring this narrative over others and (b) without any exploration of the impact that accepting this story has on other areas of our belief. This is without even talking about the use of the Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows in this context which for both theological and pastoral reasons I consider inappropriate in any case.
On a minor point, I note that Canon Law proscribes that a child brought to baptism must have at least one godparent of the same sex as the child and one of the opposite sex. I would assume that this must still be read as referring to biological sex but this could lead to intrusive questioning or to a situation in which a child has three godfathers or three godmothers. It would be useful to clarify what is and is not desirable and legal in this case.

Postscript: Matthew Lee Anderson offers a critique in Baptizing the Spirit of the Age in which he observes:
At the heart of the guidance is a prioritization of the “pastoral,” which effectively cordons the ceremony off from meaningful theological reflection. This leaves the guidance grossly underdetermined, reducing priests to cheerleaders for those on their way to a new sex.
Martin Davie, The House of Bishops and Transgender: Fifteen Wasted Years, castigates the House of Bishops for failing to answer key questions which had been raised in  Some Issues in Human Sexuality, the discussion document the House published in 2003, and for failing to offer an adequate theological justification for the position the House adopted then or now.

Monday, 3 December 2018

A Wedding Sermon on Soul Mates

Readings from Richard Bach, A Bride Across Forever and 1 Corinthians 13.

M and F, my research leave meant that I got to know you less well than I would have liked. Please accept my apologies in advance if I’ve got the wrong impression of you.
F – I think of you as in charge of the picture-perfect wedding. I relate to that. Not because I made sure that ours was a picture-perfect wedding. I didn’t. I won’t say more about that. It’s been over 25 years ago and I have been forgiven. But I am a perfectionist. I want things to be just right. Being a perfectionist has its good uses but it can be a real threat to any relationship. Love is patient, love is kind... it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
M – I see you as a man of patience and peace. I suspect that you don’t get easily upset; you’re prepared to give way. I can relate to that. People often see me as a man of patience and peace. But in my case the appearance does not always match the reality. And I sometimes forget that peace is an active thing. It’s not sitting back, avoiding confrontation. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. It is an active force.
True, patient, persevering love is what makes a marriage perfect. How do you find true love? Now, you may well think that is an odd question to ask on a wedding day. You have found your true love!
On the first of December my true love gave to me
seven bridesmaids, six usherers, five flower girls – two page boys,
two best men each with a ring to bring
and a still and a rolling camera.
If that’s not true love...
Seriously. Our first reading gave us a glimpse of what true love should give us:
keys to fill our locks.
When we feel safe enough to open the locks,
 our truest selves step out
and we can be completely and honestly who we are;
we can be loved for who we are
and not for who we’re pretending to be.
This is the enchanting part of the story that Dick Bach tells. The Bridge Across Forever: (subtitled: A Love Story) was published in 1984 and is based on his real-life relationship with actor Leslie Parrish whom he had married a few years before that. The couple were also the main characters of his next book, One: A Novel, published in 88. In the late 90s they divorced.
Fans were devastated to discover that this match made in heaven didn't manage to stick. But maybe they should not have been surprised. In 1970 Bach had divorced from his first wife – with whom he had six children which he abandoned along with his wife – on the grounds that he did not believe in marriage.
After his break-up with Leslie Parrish, he explained that lovers don't have to stay married forever in order to be lifetime soul mates.
I don’t know whether Bach thought of his third wife as another soul mate or whether it was a case of “Look, you’re not my soul mate – that’s wife number two – but you’re the one with whom I want to spend my old age.”
Bach didn’t just have a wrong idea about marriage. He also had the wrong idea about soul mates. So let me tell you the truth – as my wedding present to you. In a nutshell: You don’t find a soul mate. You become a soul mate.
If you fall for that lie that soul mates is about finding the perfect fit for you, there is a very high risk that further down the road you end up discovering that you have married the wrong person and that your real soul mate is this new colleague at work or this old school friend with whom you have reconnected. And of course that won’t be true either.
You don’t find a soul mate. You become a soul mate. It is a vocation; it is a commitment; it is something you need to work on day after day and year after year.
Love ... does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. Love is becoming a safe space for someone else:
When we feel safe enough to open the locks,
 our truest selves step out
and we can be completely and honestly who we are;
we can be loved for who we are
and not for who we’re pretending to be.
This is about who we are at the core of our being. Such love will overspill in hospitality. Friends outside your marriage will also be able to be more honestly themselves in your presence if you have love with integrity of the sort that creates that safe space within your marriage.  If you try to create your own little paradise just for yourselves, you’re walking away from love. Love ... is not self-seeking.
But the marriage is a unique, exclusive relation­ship, the place where a man and a woman are fully naked with each other. Shedding your clothes is the easy bit, baring your soul can be a lot harder.
Naked in body and soul we are vulnerable. This is why God tells us that fullest intimacy belongs inside marriage. What difference does marriage make? Marriage is meant to help define that safe space in which you can be truly who you are without getting hurt.
How is marriage meant to do that? Through the vows you make to each other in public. In effect, you commit to being a soul mate. This is the critical point. Being soul mates is not about perfect chemistry between two people, it is not about always being on the same wavelength, about feeling and thinking the same, pursuing the same goals.
Being a soul mate is about commitment.
·         I am there for you – whatever life will throw up.
·         I am for you – whoever you truly are.
I wish someone had told me more clearly when I got married that in ten years time I would be married to a different person.
I am now more than twice the age I was when I got married. The man to whom my wife is married today is not the same who looked at her adoringly in 1992.  And it’s not just the grey hairs...My wife, too, has changed – a great deal.
The thing is, if you believe that today you marry the perfect person, any change in that person is going to be a threat. And if you were to believe that being soul mates is about being perfect for each other, then you may well no longer think of your spouse as a soul mate when they change.
Then the critical question for true love will not be “Is my partner still my soul mate?” but “Am I still a soul mate, a safe space? Do I live by the promises I have made?
Will I actively pursue peace, even when things are not perfect?
Love never fails. This is both a challenge and a promise.
We are not called to be perfectionists, we are called to be perfect. Perfectionists try to make things perfect. But it is not the wedding day that has to be perfect or the time when you have children, it is you who have to be perfect.
Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect, says Jesus in his famous Sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5:48).
What he means is this: that our love must not be limited to those with whom we get on, those who are on our wavelength. Our love, that is our practical action in seeking the good of others, must embrace those from whom we are estranged and those who are hostile to us.
And I’m afraid there are likely occasions in a married life, when this becomes relevant – when your spouse feels like a stranger or even when you perceive them, rightly or wrongly, as hostile towards you. Then you must love. Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect who makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).
How do you find true love?
Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Or, as we find it in the Gospel according to Luke (6:36), Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
God alone always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres - his Love never fails. This is why he came to us in Jesus Christ who is ‘The bridge across forever’.
He is the one who loved those who are his so much that he laid down his life for them. He loved us when we were still estranged from him, he loved us after we had messed up He loved us with a love that made us right again and ready to come into God’s presence, the presence of love.
As you grow to maturity in love for another, may you also come to know God’s love for you in ever deeper ways. Amen.