Sunday, March 25, 2012

The One Whom You Love: Homily for a Same Sex Marriage Ceremony

Sean and Gregg
I’ve performed several hundred wedding ceremonies in my three decades of liberal ministry. The larger portion by far involved couples outside the two congregations I’ve served.  Unless, asked, I don’t formally counsel the couple; but in an initial interview, I frame the event for them by drawing on insights I’ve cobbled together through the years. I may, in the actual ceremony, offer a few words formally known as an “admonishment:” that a declaration of marriage is a serious but not solemn undertaking.

I tell them that a marriage ceremony contains symbolic elements that connect to the medieval Catholic Church and cultures of Europe.  I explain how the ceremony evolved into the generic Protestant outline I follow. 

I never neglect to mention that a wedding ceremony is a public event, with the invited guests serving as proxy representatives for all of society.  Society has a vested interested in committed relationships for the sake of its own survival.  A marriage is foundational, a conservative element in our larger society.  So the words spoken on the couple’s behalf, as well as the words they say, have additional importance for the perpetuation of society.

Early on as a minister, I fell under the influence of an analysis called the Natural History of a Marriage.  In the light of this analysis, I sometimes caution the couple, in a loving way, of course, that they may be getting married for a cluster of wrong reason. In the throes of peer, family, and cultural influences, as well as the intoxication of early love, neither has a true sense of the other, yet.  So one day, when the proverbial honeymoon is over, one or both will wake up one morning, and find they married a figurative stranger.  Then, whether its seven months or seven years, the real work of creating a deep relationship will begin.  Here, I toss in a little of Martin Buber’s notion of an I/Thou, subject/subject relationship, when each part of the equation accepts the other in her and his fullness of being—as subject (or complete person) and not an object.  When this occurs, the Eternal Thou—God—is realized.

In more recent years, I might tell a couple not to expect each partner to first and forever fill all the needs of the other.  The mere expectation is a recipe for failure.  No one person can fulfill another person’s needs.  I interject what Joseph Campbell called the myth of marriage, that the myth exists outside each partner; and a marriage succeeds when the couple first commit to the myth they share before committing to one another.

Anecdotally, the ceremonies I perform generally result in enduring marriages.  Only a few that I know of have led to divorce.  This probably measures the relatively mature and thoughtful persons who seek me out, wanting to begin their life together with the sort of a personally meaningful ceremony properly conceived as a religious ceremony.
From what I understand, the state’s involvement in issuing so-called marriage licenses resulted largely from nineteenth century lobbying by evangelical Protestants, eager to impose their moralism on society.  Through the nineteenth century a preponderance of marriages were what we now call common law.

Same sex marriage continues to be a controversial issue in the so-called, ongoing culture wars.  I come to Gay Marriage with some experience, as well as wide ranging knowledge of the evolution and meaning of marriage.

I favor same sex marriage as a matter of civil rights, including equal opportunity and protection, under the Constitution.  Btu even more I favor it for intimate, relational, and social reasons, which my longtime companion Ecclesiastes has helped inform.

My standard wedding meal blessing draws from Ecclesiastes, an ancient Old Testament work:  “Enjoy life with the one whom you love all the days of your life.  Whatever your hands find to do, do with all your might.  Eat your bread with gladness, and drink your wine with a merry heart, because your God has already approved what you do.”  [adapted]

Long ago I adapted the word “wife” to the phrase “the one whom you love,” to include the woman as well as the man.  Now, as I’ve come to realize that love, straight or gay, come from the same impulses and has the same results, I’ve expanded my public intentions in saying “Enjoy life with the one whom you love, all the days of your life.”

A public ceremony (wedding) and a civil contract (license) together give a love relationship meaning and imprimatur, plus legal status, no less or more for a same sex couple, as for a heterosexual couple.

Today, we come together to perform a religious ceremony, a wedding of two souls.  Susan and Lori have already entered into a legal covenant—a marriage in the State of Iowa.

As in most relationships that continue and mature, their initial meeting was serendipitous.  Initially, there was attraction but reluctance, too.  The wayward course of their togetherness gradually surmounted the impediments and transformed the difficulties.  And they become one in that mythic sense they proclaim and affirm today.   Central to their growing relationship are their respective faiths.  Each has her own understanding of God; yet together they have reached a common faith that the Divine works through their individualities and their togetherness, as God’s Providence works through the larger world.

This afternoon before us gathered here and the world, Lori and Susan proclaim not only their love for each other, but also for the overarching Love of God.  The foundation of Susan and Lori’s marriage is surely their mature love for and seasoned devotion to each other.  Yet they freely and faithfully proclaim that the source and strength of their marriage is a shared faith that God loves and sustains us all.  They will embody that love in their dealings with one another and take that love into the larger world of which they and we are all a part. 

Joseph Campbell declared that a true marriage results from the recognition and more importantly the practice that the couple commits henceforth, not merely to one another’s welfare, but to a transcendent relationship the marriage itself, informed and accountable and accountable to God’s Abundant Blessing.

There is no doubt that this couple is Blessed by their love, and in this hour and in all their time together they stand under  the Blessing of Creation, especially as that Blessing is affirmed and proclaimed by an d made real by their Church and embodied in the living community of believers that creates their Church.

As the old Puritans proclaimed: marriage is a little church within the Larger Church, each formed and sustained by the Love of God.

Blessings of Divine Love on us all.  But in this auspicious hour, blessings most of all on Lori and Susan.

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