A message given
Sunday October 8, 2006
By Rev. Scott Summerville
BAPTISMAL VOWS (addressed to parents and/or sponsors):
Beloved, do you in presenting this child for holy Baptism confess your faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to all people? Response: I DO.
Pastor: According to the power given to you by God, will you teach this child to recognize and resist evil, injustice, and oppression, and to love the things that make for peace? Response: I WILL.
Pastor: Will you nurture this child in Christ’s holy church, that by your teaching and example (she/he) may be guided to accept God’s grace, for (herself/himself), to profess (her/his) faith openly, and to lead a Christian life? Response: I WILL.
Pastor: Members of the household of faith, I commend to your love and care this child, whom we this day recognize as a member of the family of God. Will you endeavor so to live that this child may grow in the knowledge and love of God, through our Savior Jesus Christ?
People: With God’s help we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.
PRAYER AFTER RECEIVING
Leader: Fed by this sacrament and nourished by the Spirit, go forth to serve God and your neighbor
in all that you do. People: We are sent in Christ’s name. Thanks be to God. Amen.
VOWS OF MEMBERSHIP
As members of Christ’s universal Church, will you be loyal to The United Methodist Church, and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries? I will.
And the people say: (Congregational pledge):
With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround you with a community of love and forgiveness, that you may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in your service to others. We will pray for you, that you may be a true disciple who walks in the way that leads to life.
(To those joining) As a member of this congregation, Asbury UMC, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, and your service? I will.
And the people say: We rejoice to recognize you as members of Christ’s holy church, and bid you welcome to this congregation of The United Methodist Church. With you we renew our vows to uphold it by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service. With God’s help we will so order our lives after the example of Christ that, surrounded by steadfast love, you may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.
______ will you have this woman to be your wife, to live together in a holy marriage? Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other be faithful to her as long as you both shall live? (“I will”.)
______, will you have this man to be your husband, to live together in a holy marriage? Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other be faithful to him as long as you both shall live?
Husband) In the name of God, I,_______, take you, _______, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
(Wife) In the name of God, I, _______, take you, ________, to be my husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
This is a place where covenants are made. This is a place where covenants are spoken and acted out with ritual and sign. Covenants are joyful and solemn commitments that we make to one another before God. Without covenants, life is simply chaos. Without covenants, we do not know what we can expect from one another tomorrow and the next day.
In the book of Genesis, in the first chapter, the story is told of the creation of human beings, women and men created together. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis a second and different story is told in which the male human is created first, and the female human is created out of the flesh of the male. For a long time that story was interpreted to mean that the female is subordinate to the male, secondary to the male, derivative of the male. That is one way to read the story.
Another way to read the story is to see it as a radical declaration of covenant, a covenant between two human beings so profound; it is as though the two were of one body, one flesh. Not one superior to the other, but instead the two becoming one in the most profound and equal partnership.
This sanctuary is a place where covenants are made and where covenants are celebrated and where we remind ourselves and challenge ourselves to live out the covenants we have made and to seek forgiveness and new direction where covenants have been strained or broken. This is a month in which many churches observe Children’s Sabbath. It is a time of remembering the needs of children and celebrating the gift that children bring. So it is fitting today that we hear Jesus’ words, some of the sweetest words he ever spoke:
“Let the children come to me. Do not hinder them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I say, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, shall never enter it.” And he gathered the children up in his arms, and he blessed them.
These beautiful gentle words from the Gospel of Mark are found immediately after words that are not gentle, words that to our ears may sound severe and harsh. They are Jesus’ words about the marriage covenant:
10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 10:4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 10:5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 10:7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10:10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 10:11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 10:12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
Here is what our United Methodist Church says about divorce: (this is a paragraph from the Social Principles of our denomination.)
God’s plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved and are concerned about high divorce rates.
It is recommended that methods of mediation be used to minimize the adversarial nature and fault-finding that are often part of our current judicial processes.
Although divorce publicly declares that a marriage no longer exists, other covenantal relationships resulting from the marriage remain, such as the nurture and support of children and extended family ties. We urge respectful negotiations in deciding the custody of minor children and support the consideration of either or both parents for this responsibility in that custody not be reduced to financial support, control, or manipulation and retaliation.
The welfare of each child is the most important consideration.
Divorce does not preclude a new marriage. We encourage an intentional commitment of the Church and society to minister compassionately to those in the process of divorce, as well as members of divorced and remarried families, in a community of faith where God’s grace is shared by all.
Why doesn’t United Methodist Church simply stick to the words of the Bible and say, “No divorce. Divorce and remarriage equals adultery – period.” Because it is our tradition to seek to be guided by the core spirit of the Gospel, Christ’s message of forgiving love and healing mercy, even if that means not always following the literal words of the Scripture.
I have performed hundreds of weddings in my lifetime, interviewed hundreds of couples on their way toward holy matrimony. The majority of these people were Catholic. They were coming for counseling and marriage with a Protestant clergyman for obvious reasons. The Catholic Church has policies that are much more restrictive when it comes to divorce and remarriage. Many Catholics find these policies so burdensome that they step out of their home church in order to find blessings for their marriages.
Covenants are not easy. Marriage is not easy. Interpreting the will of God is not easy. Interpreting the meaning of Scripture in specific life situations that easy. This is the month of Children’s Sabbath, and the truth is that the most important thing for the welfare children is the way adults maintain covenants. This is in some ways a delicate subject. Even in the life of a small congregation, at any given time, there are marriages in deep distress. There are families that have recently experienced marital separation or divorce. There are empty seats in the worship service, because families have split up and moved on.
We respect the privacy of individuals in their most intimate relationships. We do not expect someone to stand up at sharing and prayer time and say, “I am afraid my marriage is dying, I’m worried about what that means for me and my children.”
In the church there is often shame and secrecy that surrounds marriage and family conflict. There are fears that others may judge us in the church, if our marriage is publicly seen to be failing.
With full respect the privacy of individuals, we must allow greater space in the church for acknowledging and bringing healing where relationships are deeply injured or broken.
You may have noticed that in the statement I read about divorce from United Methodist Social Principles there is a reference to premarital counseling, and to postmarital counseling. This is an important acknowledgment that the church extends not judgment but pastoral care to individuals before marriage, during marriage, and also when marriage is in crisis or has ended.
I wonder whether the congregation is aware that the United Methodist Book of Worship now contains a liturgy for persons going through divorce.
This liturgy extends concern and compassion to women and men going through divorce; it extends concern and compassion to the children of families going through divorce and to the wider circle of the family and friends of individuals going through divorce. If you’re not aware of that, I want to make you aware of it.
And I want to encourage people in troubled relationships not to retreat into silence and shame. Do not think that you are alone. Do not think that you are not as special to God, because you have had troubles in marriage and relationship. Do not think that others have perfect relationships. No one has perfect relationships. Don’t feel obligated to share with others anything that is truly private and that is your business. That is your right. But do not be so private that you do not allow others to support you, to love you, and where appropriate to counsel you.
There is also a point of history that I want you to be aware of in relation to the severe statements of the Scripture about divorce. When Jesus was asked about a man’s right to put away his wife by divorce, he was addressing a culture in which women were totally vulnerable, where by a simple flick of the pen the man could disavow wives, divorce them, cast them out, leave them destitute and abandoned. Jesus knew that the Law of Moses allowed for this.
One aspect of Jesus’ teaching about divorce is that it was intended as a protection for women, against the hardness of heart of men who had the power so easily to destroy them.
As the church, we make and celebrate covenants. We believe in covenants. We live by covenants. We hold up our lives to the standards of the covenants that we have made, and we know that we are never perfect in fulfilling them; sometimes we fail disastrously in fulfilling our covenants. But as long as we have breath, and as long as the Spirit of Christ moves among us, we can look for healing and new beginnings, because the covenants we make are infused with the forgiving mercy of God.
I conclude today by reading from the book of worship of the United Methodist Church, a prayer offered for persons going through divorce. The words have a message that is broader than simply the issue of divorce; the words speak to us all:
God of infinite love and understanding,
pour out your healing Spirit upon ________________,
as he/she reflects upon the failure of his/her marriage and makes a new beginning.
Where there is hurt or bitterness,
grant healing of memories
and the ability to put behind
the things that are past.
Where feelings of despair or worthlessness flood in,
nurture the spirit of hope and confidence .
that by your grace tomorrow can be
better than yesterday.
Where he/she looks within and discovers faults
that have contributed to the destruction
of the marriage and have hurt other people,
grant forgiveness for what is past
and growth in all that makes for new life.
We pray for [other] family and friends,
for the healing of their hurts and
the acceptance of new realities.
All this we ask in the name of the One
who sets us free from slavery to the past and makes all things new,
even Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.