July brings weddings. Becca and Helmut get married this month, and many of us (Katherine & myself included) remember anniversaries. We celebrate! But how far does our ministry of marriage reach? A bride-to-be who finds St Luke by googling “church” may show little interest in our worship services, but may think the stained glass windows are lovely. “This will do,” she says, and asks to arrange a wedding in our sanctuary. Do we accommodate her? If we do, will she be moved by our generosity and become a member of the congregation, a hymn-singing Lutheran? Probably not. For this reason, the Roman Catholic priest may have already declined her request, unless she and her fiance’ happen to be active Catholics. In the Catholic Church – as I understand it – marriage is considered a sacrament, together with baptism, confirmation, communion, anointing of the sick, etc…. Marriage assumes and builds on one’s Christian faith and relationship to the church.
Lutherans basically see marriage as belonging to God’s work in creation and society rather than God’s sacramental work. We confess: “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth,” and Luther in the Small Catechism explains:
“I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”
Did you notice the word “spouse” just after “food and drink, house and farm?” God “daily and abundantly” provides these gifts to people everywhere – even if human injustice blocks access. Just as the people of St Luke want to see the hungry fed, we also rejoice when people find access to the public and lifelong commitment and support that marriage provides. We’re glad to be a part of this work when we can, because we church folk also happen to be fellow human creatures called to love the neighbor as the self.
Before the supreme court rulings against DOMA/Prop 8, I received an email sent to all pastors of Reconciling in Christ congregations (see our welcome statement): “SoCalLutherans.com would like to list pastors and churches who are prepared to perform gay weddings once they are legal. Could we include you and/or your church on that list?” It was a delight to be able to say “yes,” and to have every member of church council give their “yes” as well. It’s one more opportunity to “extend God’s love and compassion,” as we say in our mission statement; to be a part of God’s “pure, fatherly and divine goodness and mercy,” as it says in our Catechism.
I don’t know that we’ll be overrun with wedding requests. It takes courage for a person to seek a same-sex wedding in the institution that’s been so actively opposed to this change, speaking of Christian churches in general. Christians in many places will rally to “protect the institution of marriage.” For me, the language itself gets at a fundamental disagreement. Is marriage an institution to protect from people, or an institution to serve people? I think of when Jesus’ disciples get accused of breaking the law when they pluck grain on the Sabbath day of rest, and Jesus replies: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.”(Mark 2)
“God made them male and female,” says Jesus in another place, referring to the story of creation. (Mark 10) But Jesus isn’t speaking against same sex marriage, he’s answering the following question: “whether it’s lawful for a man to divorce his wife,” thereby (in those times) often leaving her destitute. “No,” he says, “God made them male and female.” In other words, “you, the male, aren’t the only one in this marriage – the only one who matters. There’s another person here, a woman – created by God – who matters, who has rights.” It’s been said that this idea of mutual belonging and love in marriage – equality – originates in the teaching of Jesus and Paul (1st Corinthians 7). In all our ministry, I hope that God opens our eyes to the other person who is there, who may be LGBT. I pray that we can always be about the Gospel: the good news of God’s unconditional love for all people, the love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit who creates, sets free, forgives sin, binds us into one communion and makes us holy.