Sermon for Special Service: A Celebration of Marriage
Fenny Bentley church, 25th July 2004
Marriage is rarely out of the news, in one form or another. There is the constant flow of articles on how to keep love fresh – one way perhaps being that of the actress Elizabeth Taylor, who – I read recently – has been married eight times. There is frequent discussion now of pre-nuptial agreements – which are about the arrangements you will make if your marriage breaks down. At present, of course, there is much coverage of the campaign led by Fathers for Justice – the fathers who are protesting about what they see as unfairness in the way that, if parents separate, the children tend to spend more time with the mother.
So much of what we hear and see about marriage in the newspapers and magazines, therefore, and on television, seems to be about the problems arising from marriage. And then on the other hand, there is the wedding industry. A wedding is portrayed in terms of one’s ultimate fantasy: it is the opportunity to make your dreams real, if only for a day, and to indulge in every kind of glamorous excess. But at a cost: apparently the average cost of a wedding today is over £15,000 (however, there was another web page for the average cost of a ‘nice’ wedding).
It is not surprising, therefore, that many people yearn for the things that marriage is really all about: stability, security, a safe framework for bringing up children – and the knowledge that you are loved and have the chance to show your love for your loved one until the day you die.
A marriage does, of course, go through phases. By this I mean that the first flush of romantic love doesn’t usually last indefinitely; and so love has to mature, become more long-term in nature – something which doesn’t always just happen, but we have to put effort into making it clear to our wife or husband that they are still the most important person in our lives.
There will be pressures on most marriages, especially when children come along. Children can bring a couple together, if they recognize that the focus of their attention and energy has now got to change – or drive them apart, if the arrival of children reveals underlying disagreements about who does what in the marriage, and how the sacrifices are to be shared. And we hear more and more today about how couples see each other less and less – the latest report said that couples see each other on average 78 minutes a day, or thereabouts. It has been said that marriage is for life but not for lunch – but we surely need to watch for the time when the balance has swung too far the other way. For if you don’t spend enough time in each other’s company, all the little day-to-day issues, the personality differences, the anxieties and hopes, are never fully aired, and you grow gradually apart until you may find that someone else – perhaps at work – has become closer emotionally to you than your wife or husband.
But for many people a marriage flourishes best if each of you can have the necessary independence of spirit while being rooted in a sense of togetherness. One person in the marriage should not be submerged in the life of the other, with no life of their own. There are many formulae for getting this balance right, but there is one which I would like to suggest to you today – which is as valid for those who are the beginning of their marriage as for those who have been married for many years. The suggestion is that you should aim to “plan together, play together, and pray together”.
- Planning together means, in the first place, talking to each other. Which may seem obvious – but some couples don’t find it easy. It’s as if they are moving through life on parallel tram lines. Couples have different ways of making sure that they talk to each other, rather than just sitting in front of the television together: sometimes a car journey is a good way of finding time to talk, or going out for a meal together. But it’s also all too easy to find, after a few years, that you’ve just drifted along – without really planning for the future, or thinking about how each of you can do all you can to help the other to achieve what they want to achieve in life, and what you can both achieve together.
- Playing together is not just something that children do. It is so tempting to let work and the daily round of chores fill all the hours of the day. And then we are exhausted, and we have given all our energy to things and people other than our wife, husband or children. So we need to put money and thought into doing things together that will give pleasure to the other person, not just taking them for granted and assuming that since they are around all the time they don’t need any special thought or planning (and if not, they may end up not being around all the time).
And then praying together. By this I don’t mean that you should necessarily get down on your knees together by the side of your bed. Prayer is often something very personal, and people often prefer to keep their prayers to themselves – even when their wife or husband is involved. Which means that the best way to pray together can well be to come to church together – when you each know that the other is remembering that God is our guide and our strength, and that there are times when we need that strength more than at others. It also means remembering in Church that God is the source of all love, and that if we listen to his voice he can show us how to love better and what we need to do to enrich our marriage and make it flourish. And of course in a marriage we should never cease from praying for each other – that God will bless our wife, or husband, and protect them, and lead them in his ways.
Today’s service is, at its heart, all about love, the love which comes from God. We can do far worse than to remember those words of St. John with which the marriage service begins, “God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them”. And so those three things - planning together, playing together, praying together - are ways in which we can turn our love for each other into a love which endures, and by which we can create – with God’s help – a marriage which is built on his love and not on human weakness.