The Time of Their Visitation

A Sermon for St. Francis Anglican Church, Portland, OR.
August 20, 2017
Tenth Sunday After Trinity
Luke 19:41-47

 

Today’s gospel recounts an event in the week before the Jewish Passover.  It’s hard to imagine the excitement that surrounded the Jewish festivals at the time of Jesus.  Jews from near and far would travel for days if not weeks to Jerusalem.  They would sing Psalms of longing, joy, and liberation as they walked on foot, and tell stories of what God had done for their people while they rested along the road.  The journey itself was part of the ritual, and the expectation grew with each step up towards Mount Zion and the center of the Jewish universe, the Temple.

All of these people were there to celebrate their ancestors’ liberation from slavery so many centuries ago.  But Passover points forwards to the heavenly banquet as well as backwards to the liberation from Egypt.  The crowds of people would no doubt have God’s promises on their minds as well – promises of God’s visitation: God would return to once again liberate Israel and judge her enemies.  A restored Davidic King, and a broken Roman yoke.

This was, to say the least, a charged atmosphere, a powder keg ready to go off at the slightest provocation.  And in this kind of atmosphere, actions often speak louder than words.  Right before this passage, Luke has described Jesus’ triumphal entry.  Jesus approaches Jerusalem on the back of a donkey to shouts of “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”  Jesus’ actions speak of the long awaited liberation, and that He was the long hoped for Messiah who would make it happen.  The crowds recognized this and rejoiced.

 

Yet, the mood shifts drastically as we come to today’s passage.  The boisterous praise gives way to weeping.  Jesus weeps over the very city that the crowds had thought He was coming to liberate.  Jesus proclaims that Jerusalem – which literally means “the city of peace” – is blind to what would bring them peace.  Because of their spiritual blindness, Jesus prophesies, they face their own impending destruction at the hands of their enemies.  Jesus prophesies that the Roman legions will surround Jerusalem, lay siege, and dash the city to the ground.

The reason for this fate is that Israel “did not know the time of [their] visitation.”  The “visitation of God” is a kind of shorthand for God’s coming to save Israel and to judge the nations.  The Passover celebrated the past visitation of God in Egypt and looked forward to God’s future visitation at the end of the age.  The crowds that lined the road rejoiced because they thought they would see Israel’s restoration with their own eyes.  Jesus flips the script, proclaiming that Israel will instead face judgment, as the surrounding nations once again plunder Jerusalem and destroy the Temple.

After Jesus’ words, there is no doubt a long, awkward pause filled with confusion.  Jesus is acting out the symbols of liberation, but speaking the language of judgment.  No doubt, the disciples and the crowds have hurt, puzzled looks on their faces and questions in their minds – what does Jesus mean?  Why are we, Israel, facing judgment?

Jesus proceeds to the Temple, the center of Jerusalem and the heart of the nation of Israel.  Jesus enters the Temple area and begins to throw out the traders who were selling animals and exchanging currency.  As He does so, He quotes Scripture – “’My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of robbers.’”

There are two main interpretations of this ruckus which we call the Temple Cleansing.  First, the more traditional interpretation sees Jesus as cleansing the Temple from the traders.  The idea is that the traders are exploiting the poor or otherwise interfering with proper Temple worship.  The problem with this view is that none of the Gospel accounts actually say that the traders are doing anything wrong.  The word for “robber” does not indicate a swindler or a price-gouger, but a violent bandit or guerilla fighter.  Also, money changers and animal merchants were a necessary part of the normal functioning of the Temple, and no other sources from the time accuse the traders of foul play.

The second interpretation, which I think better fits the evidence, is that the Temple Cleansing is a prophetic, symbolic action, in a similar way to how the Triumphal Entry was a symbolic action.  Jesus has just proclaimed that Jerusalem would be destroyed in judgment, and He acts out that prophecy in the Temple, the symbolic heart of Jerusalem.  His actions would disrupt the Temple sacrifices for long after He leaves the scene, as the traders scurry around to gather their animals, count their coins, and restore order.  Jesus disrupts the sacrifices in the Temple to symbolize the coming time when its sacrifices would cease for good when Israel is defeated.

For Jesus, the Temple symbolizes Israel as a whole, just as it did for the prophet Jeremiah; Jeremiah had called the Temple a “den of robbers” because the Israel of his day had become corrupt, marked by injustice, oppression, and violence.  As Jesus has just prophesied, Israel still does not know the things that make for peace.  They have lost sight of their vocation to be the house of prayer for all nations, to be the light of the world, to be the embodiment of God’s justice.  Because of this, they will refuse to join Jesus’ movement of renewal, of true justice and peace, and instead will maneuver towards rebellion against Rome.

Jesus knew what the outcome of this rebellion would be.  Israel was expecting divine intervention to come to their aid, just as they did in Jeremiah’s day; surely God would act to save them from their enemies.  Just as in Jeremiah’s day, Jesus knew that God would not intervene to protect them.  By rejecting the Prince of Peace and choosing the path of rebellion, their fate would be sealed.  And so Jesus wept for the people He loved.

 

As we think through what this passage means for the church today, we should start with Jesus.  Jesus wept for the people He loved – the people who were confused, who rejected Him, who were placing themselves on the path to destruction.  Jesus was prophetic in the sense of predicting future events, in the sense of offering insightful criticism, but He was also prophetic in His love for the very people He was rebuking.

This is important to remember because by all accounts the church universal is struggling in its vocation.  The church is called to be one, and yet it is marked by schisms and discord.  The church is called to be holy, and, well, you don’t need me to tell you that we’re not doing so well with that either.  It’s easy to be critical in such an environment, and we do need good, healthy criticism to help us acknowledge that something is profoundly wrong.

But Jesus wept for the people He loved.  Now more than ever, we need a renewed sense of love for the wider church, including those parts from which we feel estranged.  We need a renewed sense of desire and longing for a church that lives up to its calling.  We need to take the small steps available to us that build towards that larger goal – to work towards unity in our own church and denomination, to work towards holiness in our own lives.

Most of all, what we need to do is pray.  Pray that the Holy Spirit may inspire the church universal to a renewed sense of vocation.  Pray that we may recognize how God has visited us in Christ.  Pray for vision of those small steps that are so easy to miss or ignore, that contribute to the larger unity and holiness of the church.

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And the Rock was Christ

A Sermon for St. Francis Anglican Church, Portland, OR.
August 13, 2017
Ninth Sunday After Trinity
Luke 
15:11-32; Corinthians 10:1-13

As the proverb goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.  Humans are creatures of habit, and we tend to pick up the habits of those around us.  For most of us, this means that the wider culture, our friends, and, perhaps most of all, our families have a profound influence on our behaviors and our desires.

Most of us have probably heard a parent say in exasperation, “I don’t know where Johnny gets it from.”  Most of us have probably tried to hold back a smile, because little Johnny just lied, and that parent has the most unbelievable fishing stories.  Or Jane threw a temper tantrum, and that parent cannot drive across town without threatening all sorts of bodily harm to other drivers.

In the movie A Christmas Story, you’ll remember the scene where nine-year-old Ralphie helps his dad replace a flat tire, drops the lugnuts, and shouts a four letter word.  The parents are horrified, and wash out Ralphie’s mouth with soap, demanding to know which friend had taught him such a vulgar word.  Ralphie had of course learned the word from his dad.  Throughout the movie to this point, Ralphie’s dad has been constantly muttering curses.  Like father, like son.

In today’s epistle reading, Paul makes the same point to the Corinthian church.  But Paul does not talk about the idolatry and immorality of Corinth’s culture, or the Corinthian church’s outside friends, or their physical families.  Paul, a Jew, reminds the Corinthians, a group of Gentiles, about Israel’s desert wandering.  Paul claims that they are the Corinthians’ “fathers” as much as they are his.

For Paul, the church is the people of the new exodus, the people liberated through Christ’s death and resurrection.  Because of this, Jew and Gentile Christians are all spiritual descendants of Israel.  And in the same way that we learn about ourselves by observing our family’s habits, so Paul encourages the Corinthian church to learn from their fathers, the nation of Israel.  Paul encourages the church to read Israel’s story as their own family story.

If our story is Israel’s story, then our baptism, our liberation from the slavery of death, is Israel’s liberation from Egypt through the sea, their “baptism into Moses.”  Our nourishment from God through bread and wine is the manna and water that nourished Israel on its journey.  Paul even goes so far as to say that the rock the Israelites drank from was Christ.  This does not mean that we should ask ourselves whether Christ was igneous, metamorphic, or sedimentary.  Paul is helping us recognize that God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – has always been at work to reunite the larger human family, to gather us at one table, and to eat with us as His companions and friends.

You may have noticed the curious way that Paul words this in verse 4 – “For they drank from the spiritual rock which followed them.”  Paul here is drawing from an ancient Jewish tradition.  Rabbis saw that God provides Israel water from a rock right after being freed from Egypt in Exodus 17 and also much later in Numbers 20.  And both times they name the place Meribah. “Obviously,” the old rabbis thought, “this must be the same rock if it has the same name.  Which means – of course! – that this rock must have rolled alongside Israel through the desert.”  Hence, “the rock which followed them.”

As God provided water and spiritual reassurance to Israel through that rock, so God provides for us through Christ.  But, despite the baptism through the sea, despite the spiritual food and spiritual drink, Israel rebelled against God and found themselves under judgment.  Israel desired evil, committed idolatry and immorality, tested the Lord, and grumbled, and they faced the consequences.

The people of the first exodus learned God’s power as He freed them from Egypt, but they did not entirely learn what it meant that the living God was now dwelling in their midst.  As the people of the new exodus, who have the Spirit dwelling inside us, how much more are we called to live in a way that reflects God’s holiness.

As Paul says, we are those “upon whom the end of the ages has come.”  We bear witness to the new age that Christ’s death and resurrection has inaugurated, and even now experience a foretaste of God’s kingdom when we gather for our spiritual food and spiritual drink.  At the same time, the old, dying age continues on with frustratingly little change.  Like Israel, we too must continue to face the trials and temptations of living in the old, dying age – and we too are prone to wander.

After this fairly dark, demanding passage, Paul offers us comfort in the last verse – “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  The words translated “temptation” and “tempted” in verse 13 mean either to tempt to do wrong, or to put through a trial, to test the character or integrity of someone or something.  There is some overlap here – a trial would not test our personal character unless we were tempted to give up.  Israel’s hunger tested their patience and faith, tempting them to grumble.

Paul’s words, then, apply as much to enduring illness and adversity as to resisting the urge to commit idolatry, lie, cheat, or steal.  We are not tempted or tested beyond our strength.  Not because of our great strength, but because of God’s provision; God is faithful.  In the words of a modern theologian, “God has given his people everything they need to worship him, to be his friends, and to eat with him.”*

That we are given “everything we need” does not mean everything we want.  Those “upon whom the end of the ages has come” will not always live lives free from suffering, free from adversity, free from injustice.  In fact, we are promised the opposite while the new and old ages continue to overlap.  We will encounter trials and temptations, and we will often feel overwhelmed, pushed to the brink.  But we have been given what we need to faithfully endure whatever comes our way.

He has given us Baptism into Christ, He has given us the spiritual food and spiritual drink of the Eucharist, and He has given us His Spirit to guide us.  We can be faithful because God Himself is faithful.  God Himself is in our midst as He was in the midst of Israel.

 

*Sam Wells, God’s Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics.

On Being Human: CRISPR-Cas9 in a Technological Culture

An essay I wrote on gene editing for a class.  I felt like I could expand it into an actual article, but never got momentum going.

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Share Your Faith as You Can, Not as You Can’t

A Sermon for St. Francis Anglican Church, Portland, OR.
July 16, 2017
Fifth Sunday After Trinity
Luke 5:1-11; 1 Peter 3:8-15

I imagine most of us have been there at one point in our lives.  We are eating dinner with family or a group of coworkers, and our faith comes up – maybe it’s an offensive comment, maybe it’s as simple as the question, “What are you doing Sunday?” – and we immediately feel uncomfortable.  We’re anxious, we start to sweat, our mind goes blank.  We’re uncomfortable in part because we believe that God matters – in our lives as individuals and in the life of the world as a whole – and so we want others to see that God matters too.

And since we believe that God matters in our lives, we are also uncomfortable because we feel that we are somehow on the line.  If someone rejects our faith, we feel that they are in some way rejecting us too.  Even if you haven’t forsaken all possessions or taken a vow to live in a monastery, if you are at all committed to Christ, then this isn’t an abstract discussion; you are personally invested – something of your intelligence, your integrity, your sense of personal meaning is on the line.

We are uncomfortable, and so we pause to gather ourselves.  We scratch our face, avoid eye contact, and mumble a quick reply hoping someone will change the subject.  We walk away thinking of what we should have said.  Later on, still thinking about the conversation, we wish we were more prepared, maybe even feeling a little guilty.

It’s no wonder that most Christians avoid sharing their faith – we feel intimidated, unprepared, and, ultimately, we just feel inadequate.  There is some truth to this feeling of inadequacy, and today’s Gospel lesson presents good news and bad news concerning that truth.  The bad news first: yes, we are inadequate, and we will never be able to adequately speak of God’s love in this life or sufficiently demonstrate His goodness in our actions.

The good news is that God does not seem overly concerned about our inadequacy.  He has decided to work through us anyway to share His love in word and deed.

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In Luke 5, Jesus has been travelling around Galilee – the lake of Gennesaret is another name for the Sea of Galilee – healing the sick and preaching the good news of the Kingdom.  It seems that Jesus has chosen to use an inlet on the sea as a natural amphitheater, but the crowds have grown.  So Jesus sees Simon Peter’s boat, and asks him to put out a little bit from shore in order to continue teaching as the crowds fill in.

Jesus sits in the boat and preaches: He “fishes for people” from Simon’s boat.  Not one to ignore a good, down-home metaphor, Jesus then asks Simon to put out a little further from shore and let down the literal nets.  Simon Peter answers with more than a little hesitation, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

It’s easy to forget that before the invention of nylon, fishing with nets occurred almost exclusively at night.  Otherwise, the fish can see the nets and avoid them.  In addition, fish tend to be more active at night and rest during the day.  So Simon Peter’s concern isn’t just that they had no luck before.  The ideal time for fishing had past with no results; what chance was there now?

Jesus may be familiar with woodworking, but He obviously doesn’t know the first thing about fishing, and He commands Simon, who is a professional fisherman, to give it one more shot after a long night.  No one feels great after working hard with nothing to show for it, and no “expert” likes getting advice from a novice.  Yet Simon lowers his nets in faith – despite the obvious, without much hope of success.

Simon Peter’s faith is rewarded.  Apparently a gigantic school of blind, insomniac fish happen to be passing by at just that moment – the nets are strained, their boat rocks, they signal wildly for another boat while they try to secure the nets, and even so the two boats almost capsize with the weight of the catch.  When it’s all said and done, Simon Peter, James, and John come away with hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars worth of fish.

As the flurry and excitement dies down, Simon Peter recognizes the significance of what happened: He falls down at Jesus’ knees,* and says “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  Earlier in the passage, Simon referred to Jesus as “Master,” and now he calls Him “Lord.”  The word translated “Lord,” Kyrie – you may recognize this from the liturgy – has a special significance for Luke in his gospel.  It has been used 30 times in the first few chapters, and every time it has been used to refer either to the God of Israel or to Jesus.  Through the word “Lord,” Luke is trying to identify Jesus as the God of Israel come in the flesh.

So in Jesus’ command over creation, in the fact that even the fish obey Him, Peter recognizes the divine power at work in Jesus, and he responds appropriately – with an awareness of his own inadequacy, he asks Jesus to leave him.

Jesus does not leave him, but commands Simon Peter to follow Him to become a fisher of people.  This is not a self-help message.  Jesus does not say, “Follow these seven steps.”  Nor does He say, “Actually, Peter, you are holy enough.” This is not a message about trying harder and not giving up – “Third time’s the charm.”

This is a message about our own inadequacy, but God’s intention to work through us anyway.

 

We too, are called to follow and imitate Jesus, and following Jesus includes inviting others to experience God’s Kingdom.  It’s important not to rationalize this away because we’re uncomfortable.

At the same time, it’s necessary to clarify what sharing our faith means and what it doesn’t mean.  Often times, I think we get uncomfortable about sharing our faith because we have some ideal that we think we have to live up to.  We might think that we have to have all the answers, or have a charismatic, outgoing personality, and so we get caught up in our own limitations.  Or maybe we think sharing our faith always involves striking up deep, intimate conversations with strangers, or that it involves awkward confrontations and accusations of sin.

A wise, old Benedictine abbot always counseled people who struggled with prayer, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”  “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”  His point was that you have to start where you are, and not with some ideal of how you should pray.

I wonder if we can’t also say, “Share your faith as you can, not as you can’t.”  If you’re the kind of person who has a few close friends, sharing your faith will most likely happen in that context – probably not in one conversation, but spread out over a number of years.  If your workplace is hostile to the Christian faith, sharing your faith may mean simply being a person of integrity there.  If you like reading, join a book club at the local library.  If you have extra time, volunteer for a worthy cause.  If you are going through a difficult season in life, recognize that your faithful perseverance is itself a profound witness to God’s presence.  And most of all, no matter what, pray – for wisdom, for opportunity, and most of all, for the Holy Spirit to be at work.

The point is to start where you are; to intentionally think through your opportunities and your personality, and not to let your inadequacy get in the way.  Chances are, that will still be challenging and uncomfortable.  But start where you are.  Share your faith as you can, not as you can’t.

 

 

*Tangential note – to my knowledge, there is no other example in Hebrew or Greek literature of someone falling at someone’s “knees.”  If someone was inventing this account or taking poetic license with details, they wouldn’t put “knees” but “feet.”  This detail, along with a few other markers, indicate that Luke’s account is likely based directly off of Peter’s own testimony of the miracle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ACLU, Religious Freedom, and the Laughing Atheist in the Corner

If anyone has talked to me much about politics, they know I don’t fit well into American political categories (American Solidarity Party, Red Tory/Blue Labour), and I’m not given to alarmism.  That being said, if trends continue, something of a crisis in religious freedom is on the horizon in America, similar to what’s currently going on in Western Europe.  Take a quick look at this statement from the ACLU; for what it’s worth, I’d see the ACLU’s position as representative of the majority of Americans to one degree or another.

So, let’s say a Unitarian-Universalist woman goes to a pharmacy to get a pill with abortive effects.  Based on official Unitarian-Universalist teaching, women have the right to access and use such measures as they decide.  The pharmacist is Catholic.  Based on official Catholic teachings, providing such a pill would make her complicit in a mortal sin.  If the pharmacist refuses, the woman can go across the street and almost surely get her prescription filled.

According to the ACLU, the pharmacist in this scenario is “using” religion to discriminate against women, and so could/should be sued.  This lawsuit, apparently, would not count as discriminating against the Catholic pharmacist even though she is being sued for nothing other than practicing her Catholic faith.  Notice as well that she is not even forcing her view on the other woman, just refusing to personally participate.

In this scenario, someone is required to face “discrimination” for their religious beliefs (if having to go to a different pharmacy counts as discrimination; I’m not so sure in this scenario at least) – either the Unitarian-Universalist woman will have to go somewhere else, or the Catholic pharmacist will risk a lawsuit.  This sort of conflict is the very stuff of a truly multicultural society – Religion A thinks Religion B is sinning, Religion B thinks Religion A is sinning by saying that they’re sinning, and the atheist reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the corner looks up to laugh at all the talk of sin.

At the very least, why can’t we negotiate this religious conflict and use some sense of proportionality (crossing the street vs. commiting a mortal sin)?  Why do we have to deny that there is a conflict at all, claiming that one party is just “using” religion as an excuse?  The ACLU’s position is in effect siding with Unitarian-Universalism, forms of atheism/agnosticism, liberal mainline Protestantism, etc., over more traditional religious beliefs and practices.

It seems like the ACLU is working with a highly individualistic and compartmentalized definition of “religion.”  But the belief that religion is an individual lifestyle choice that shouldn’t effect the services someone provides in the public sphere is itself a religious belief not shared by a number of religions.  Even the belief that there is such a thing as a “public sphere” that can be cordoned off from a “religious sphere” is itself a religious belief not shared by a number of religions.  The concept of “religion” is a lot harder to pin down, and “religious freedom” much messier in practice than the ACLU’s position allows.

The First Amendment was written with the naïve belief that neutrality is possible, and that such conflicts of religious belief were avoidable altogether or could be resolved by common sense.  In the context of the 18th century, such a position was understandable – there was for the most part a single religious spectrum in America from traditional Christianity to Deism, both poles sharing a broad ethical/political consensus.  As our country has become more religiously diverse and has seemingly lost all “common” sense whatsoever, this assumption of the possibility of neutrality has outlived its usefulness.  In fact, one could argue that the 18th century Christians and Deists had more of an ethical/political consensus than say the Presbyterian Church of America and the Presbyterian Church (USA) do today.  Unless a more robust public definition of religion is affirmed, those religions that don’t fall in line with the Western individualist and secularist consensus will come under increasing scrutiny and pressure in the years to come.

The ACLU’s response to the inevitable conflict between radically different religious worldviews is, with a certain amount of cynicism, to deny that there is even any conflict and to blame one side for “using” religion.  This sanitizes the arbitration process, sure, but at the cost of anything that can be called religious freedom with sincerity or integrity.  The process must be allowed to be messy, and we as a society must learn to make space for each other.  It may mean going to a different pharmacy even though it’s inconvenient.  It may mean supplementing your health insurance out of your own pocket.  It may mean going to a different bakery for your wedding cake.  Or, if you’re a baker, it may mean just baking the stupid cake.

If we want to talk about “using” religion, trouncing over other people’s consciences for the sake of making some larger political point is using people’s religious differences in the worst sort of way.  As far as Christians are concerned, we are called not merely to tolerance, but to hospitality.

The Law of Christ

Paul instructs the church in Galatia, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (6:2).  Protestant commentators, especially from the Lutheran tradition, often see this as a tongue-in-cheek paradox, as if inbetween the lines Paul is saying, “So, if you’re wanting to be enslaved to a law, go ahead and do this ‘law,’ foolish Galatians.”  These Protestants contrast heavily the Law and the Gospel of faith without works – interpreted as without moral obligations.  And if this was the only reference to the Law of Christ, then this would make a certain amount of sense.  Paul elsewhere speaks of the Torah, or Mosaic Law, as something of a stopgap, holding things down until Christ appeared.  At best, the Torah plays in Paul’s thought the necessary role of setting the scene and developing characters so that Christ’s entrance onto the stage of history makes sense.

There are a number of references to a “law of Christ,” “law of liberty,” or similar in several strands of the New Testament (e.g. Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:28; Jam. 1:25, 2:8).  There’s enough similarity in contents that it’s very possible that a core of moral teachings for the New Covenant was recognized in the earliest Christian communities – a selection of Mosaic Laws recognized as still binding, the teaching of Christ (perhaps especially the group of sayings collected in the Sermon on the Mount), the example of Christ, and the Church’s experience of the Spirit’s work in their midst (Acts 10).

This makes sense especially given how the gospels portray Jesus.  In each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus spends significant time discussing ethical issues.  In Matthew especially, Jesus is the New Moses, giving a new Torah in the Sermon on the Mount.   A key part of Jesus’ ministry is to form a certain kind of community among His followers with distinctive communal practices.

The New Covenant has a new Law but not a new legalism – as with the Mosaic Law, our salvation does not depend on our performance but on God’s graceful provision.  But we are called to live out the Kingdom of God in the power of the Holy Spirit, to let our light shine before others that they may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.

On Marriage as a Sacrament, 2

Marriage is a sacrament because it is a visible word of God, a word of grace and judgment.  To see marriage as a word of grace is easy for us; it fits easily with what we want marriage to be – an experience of feeling loved and in love.  It is harder to see marriage as a word of judgment.

When Paul discusses the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, he condemns the Corinthian church for divisions among them.  When they celebrate the Lord’s Supper, these divisions are not challenged, and so the Lord’s Supper becomes not a word of grace but a word of judgment.  The sign of God’s great act to restore creation, to reconcile humanity in Christ, becomes instead a sign of their refusal of this gift of reconciliation and continued division and hostility.  The body and blood of Christ, a sign of life, leads to illness and death for those who partake in an unworthy manner.

In a similar way, marriage is a sign of Christ’s love for the church, but we can partake of this sign in an unworthy manner.  In marriage, we are called to love our spouse as God loves us and to see our spouse as reflecting God’s own love for us, however imperfectly.  We are called to enter into a relationship in which each is challenged to grow and each demonstrates faithfulness.  Mutual faithfulness allows us to receive the challenge without feeling threatened, and the willingness to challenge each other keeps the faithfulness honest.

When we do not respect our spouse as another person of infinite worth, whose thoughts and experiences are worthy of attention and consideration even when they run against our own, we refuse this gift that reflects God’s love for us.  Without receiving the challenges to grow from another person’s perspective, our worst tendencies become cemented.  Without the trust to receive those challenges in good faith, affection deteriorates and we feel threatened.  We consume the other person in our own ego’s self-protective strategies, or we allow ourselves to be consumed.  Either way, the marriage is no longer a sacrament of Christ’s love for the church, but a sign of our own refusal of growth and life.