Making Us Holy

September 1, 2013                Making Us Holy                     2 Corinthians 5:15-21


September 11, 2001.

We only have to hear that date for all kinds of feelings and thoughts and images to be conjured up.  Some dates have that power.  Significance.  Memories.

It was on that day, that day that made a huge impact on our country and our world, that Patrick and I were traveling back from our honeymoon.

A mere 10 days before September 11, Patrick and I stood before our friends and family and made a promise to each other and to God to remain forever faithful to one another.  That was exactly 12 years ago today.  September 1, 2001 is etched in our memories as a day of celebration, the beginning of a journey.

Our wedding day was such a joyful day.  I was stressed out the days leading up to it, but all the preparations were complete when our wedding day rolled around and I was able to just soak up that special day.  It was a day to praise the God we had both chosen to give our lives to, a time to celebrate the love he had given us, and I remember how significant it was to have all our friends and family gathered in one place, supporting us in our commitment to each other.

That night we began our honeymoon travels and on September 2, 2001, we arrived at our honeymoon destination—Berlin…..Ohio.  Yes, that would be the little town just east of us!!  So if you’ve ever wondered whether or not God has a sense of humor, we’re living proof that yes, he most DEFINITELY does!!!

Here we were, having a wonderful time in Amish Country OH, with no idea that less than 6 years later, we would, for one, be pastors…and for two, be pastoring together in the town next door to where we honeymooned.

We didn’t spend any time in Millersburg on our honeymoon, but we did travel 39 W, driving right past Millersburg Mennonite Church as we headed to Mohican State Park.

When Patrick proposed to me, we were kneeling in prayer on the steps of the platform at our church in VA.  We had no idea then what our future would hold.  Looking back, it’s quite fitting that Patrick proposed to me at the front of a church, as we are now ministering together as husband and wife co-pastors.

God does work in mysterious ways!

So, because we’re celebrating our anniversary today, we thought it would be fitting to preach together and focus our sermon on marriage.  We recognize that not all who are here are married, and we hope that those of you who are single will relate what we have to say to the significant relationships you have in your life.

One message we hear from our culture about marriage is that we will not be truly happy, or fulfilled until we find “the one,” and it is “the one” who will complete us and give us our “happily ever after.”

Another, conflicting message we hear from our culture is that marriage is the end of freedom.  I’m sure all of us are familiar with the ball and chain image (and Patrick, you can just keep your comments to yourself!)  Gone are the days when we get to hang out with our friends, spend our time however we want to, work on our projects….  We’re now stuck doing whatever the other person tells us to do.  What a boring existence, to be with one person for the rest of your life….

So, are those the only two options?  Really?  It’s either utter bliss or endless boredom?

The thing is, our culture gets it wrong on both counts. Marriage isn’t about our happiness—whether you think marriage will provide eternal happiness or endless boredom.

Neither one of these are the message we get when we read about marriage in the Bible.  Marriage is about companionship, raising children, provision, sexual expression, and mutual care.

But there’s also a deeper, more significant purpose underlying all this and it’s summed up in verse 15 of the passage Brooke read:

“Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

This is what we all were created for—to live, not for ourselves, but for Christ.

(Patrick) Living for Christ is difficult in a world that sells us all the myth that happiness can be bought, or found, or that there’s a specific key that will unlock all the riches of a full and happy life.

The key can be a spouse, or a product like clothing, or a substance like beer, or an activity like sex.

Buy this, or consume that, or have a marriage that looks like this; these are the messages we get from the world…and then when the initial buzz wears off, we find out that there’s still an aching deep within us that has not been touched.

And if we’ve bought into this myth that there is a special key to happiness, then it’s easy to discard the key we’ve tried, and pick up another.

We might take the clothing to save and serve, and purchase a different outfit.

OR we might stop attending church A, and begin attending church B.

Or we might end our marriage, or our friendship…and look to someone else to provide whatever it is we perceive we lack.

All of this has ‘us’ at the center, right? because only ‘we’ can judge whether something is working for ‘us’.

But as the scripture says, “Christ died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”

For those of us who are married, God can use our marriage to help us grow in this. There are the times we see things differently than our spouse and the temptation is to dig in our heels and refuse to compromise.  Or there’s an area of ongoing conflict and when we talk about it with our spouse, we speak accusing words, blaming it on them instead of trying to understand their perspective.

One fairly insignificant example from our life…I have a not-so-secret desire to buy a nice, big, flat-screen TV with all the bells and whistles, and a satellite TV service to go with it. I’d love to put it right in front of my favorite chair, and tune in to watch the Hawkeyes play on Saturdays (you heard that right, you can keep your Buckeyes; some of us prefer to watch real football 🙂 ), and I’d also love to watch some NFL on Sunday afternoons.

It’s like one of these ‘keys’, and on some days, I really start to believe a nice TV would give me true happiness.

Christine knows the truth though, that having a nice TV just isn’t a priority for us.

So when it comes up and we disagree about whether or not to buy a TV, I could let this really stick in my craw. I could get angry, and in the worst case scenario, I could even divorce Christine because I want a TV so badly, and I could see her as standing in my way; I could see her as an enemy on my path to personal happiness.

But that wouldn’t be reconciliation.

That would be an extreme example of living for myself.

(Christine) When two people make vows to each other before God, they promise to be faithful to one another, to stick with it, to put forth the effort it takes to sustain a relationship.  They’re making a commitment to stay together, no matter what life hands them (I say this with the understanding that abuse or infidelity is never acceptable, and professional help ought to be sought out if this is your reality.)

For Patrick and me, this journey of marriage has been full of fun and humor, misunderstandings and frustrations, adventure and monotony, angry moments and intimate moments, incredible blessings and heartbreaking pain.

As many of you know, Patrick and I have gone through years of infertility.  We’ve longed for a child for many years now but continue to live in that very difficult place of unfulfilled desires.  Infertility is a significant life crisis and is the cause of much isolation and grief.  And for some, divorce is the end result.

With any divorce, the reasons two people choose to end their marriage is not easily explained–it is complex and multi-layered.

There are all kinds of crises that can affect marriages, sometimes tearing the couple apart, causing the relationship to grow cold, or strengthening the love between them.

Our experience with infertility had the potential to tear us apart or at the least, cause a chasm between us.  There’s no doubt that it caused great stress on our marriage, but through the experience we have been aware of how much deeper our love for each other has grown because of going through this crisis together.

We were in a place of utter loneliness, and many times all that we had was God and each other.

And because of that, our relationship with God and each other became stronger and deeper.

Whether or not you’re married, you have your own crisis that you’ve walked through or are presently walking through.

In these times of crisis, you always have a choice:  To reconcile, or not to reconcile.

(Patrick) In the 2 Corinthians passage, Paul writes “…in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

Marriage provides the perfect place for this kind of reconciling to happen.

Christine and I came together 12 years ago. We’ve literally had to reconcile with each other hundreds if not thousands of times since that day.

Reconciliation is the only way we’ve been able to stay married for the past 12 years, and reconciliation will be the only chance we have at staying together in the future, too.

That’s God’s heart…reconciliation.

Not just person to person, but humanity to God.

Christine hasn’t been the perfect wife over the past 12 years (and you better believe I haven’t been the perfect husband)…she hasn’t met all my needs, she hasn’t been the key to my happiness, and we haven’t experienced the ‘happily ever after’ line that’s part of all the fairy tales.

We’ve found ourselves reconciled to God and to each other many, many times.

But that’s not a weakness; in fact its richer and stronger and healthier all around, to let our lives be re-imagined in the reconciling light of God our Father.

So, how do we reconcile, whether it’s with a spouse, or a friend, or a family member?

It starts with admitting when you’re wrong and being willing to say you’re sorry. If you’re not the one in the wrong, maybe just admitting that you were hurt by something, acknowledge the pain, or the discomfort, or the anger…but choose a moment when the other person can hear you.

Remember, it’s not a bad thing to seek out counseling to help you work through difficulties with your spouse, or with a friend, or even with someone who’s passed away. Sometimes we all need a little help coming to terms with the pain that we carry.

Reconciling means having a forgiving heart when your spouse makes a mistake or causes you pain.

It ‘s speaking words of kindness and love to one another instead of using words that tear down.

 In the foyer, there’s a brochure rack on the wall with pamphlets on different topics.  There’s one called “dealing with marital discord.”  Take one home with you and read through it.

(Christine) Patrick and I recently started a book called “Sacred Marriage,” where the author tells us that God designed marriage not to make us happy, but to make us holy.  It’s been helpful to get us thinking about what marriage is for.  It’s easy to just exist as husband and wife, without having any real clear purpose.  We’re being reminded again that the way we relate to one another as husband and wife can be an example to the world of Christ’s unchanging love.  As we stay committed to each other no matter what comes our way, we are modeling to the world not a key to happiness, or a path to fulfillment, but nothing less than the heart of God for reconciliation.

Our marriages are an avenue for God to form us more into the image of his son, Jesus, learning what it means to give ourselves selflessly to another.

So, what message is the world receiving from your marriage?

What is your life saying about reconciliation and forgiveness?

As we forgive one another and work toward reconciling our relationships when they are broken, we proclaim to the world the reconciling work of Christ, who died so that this sinful world could be reconciled with him.


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