Festival of the Christian Home
By Pastor Dennis J. Alexander
United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 14th, 2006
Responsive Reading – “What is Marriage?”
Marriage is a promise made in the hearts of two people who love which takes a lifetime to fulfill. Marriage is a relationship created by God involving two persons who love and who commit themselves to live together, support each other and grow in their capacity for caring throughout their lifetime. Marriage is not merely living for each other; it is two uniting and joining hands to serve God & God’s purposes in the world.
“Foundations of Family”
I John 4: 7-21
Families, like people, fish, flowers, and snowflakes are wonderfully and frightfully different. Where the family is concerned, there is no one form that has divine approval!
The most common marriage pattern in the Bible is polygamy; a union of one man and as many women as he could afford to keep. The classic example of this was King Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
The two primary Christian figures in the Holy Scriptures, Jesus & the Apostle Paul, never married and remained childless.
The way Jesus and his disciples lived offered a new model of family, one not based on biology, but based on religious kinship.
There are a number of Biblical examples of same-gender devotion; including Ruth & Naomi and David & Jonathan.
Modern sociology teaches that no particular family form guarantees success; rather how a family functions on the inside is more important than how it looks on the outside.
Therefore we need to ask ourselves: What are the timeless Biblical values that matter in all human relationships? What are underlying, necessary qualities of a relationship that the Bible points to? What is the essence that makes a family?
I believe the Bible points to these underlying, necessary qualities that form family:
First, the qualities of love & faithfulness!
Relationships that are known for their self-giving love, offering themselves without any guarantees, opening themselves up to risk, vulnerability, and sacrifice.
Relationships that show patience and kindness, that are not arrogant or rude. Relationships that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Celebrating a love that never ends.
Relationships that seek faithfulness, not perfection; those that foster loyalty, allegiance, and steadfastness; ones that often use the words “I’m sorry” and “Please forgive me.” They understand – “that to be human is to make mistakes”. It’s not that we will never fail, but our love counts the most when we are do it wrong & need to mend the brokenness.
Secondly are the qualities of commitment & responsibility
Relationships are called to make sacred vows & promises, to exercise trust and accountability. We share both reward & consequences together. We’re in it for the long-haul, until death do us part.
Thirdly, strong families have a spiritual core
We were created by God and called by God to be together. We have a spiritual purpose and center. Marriage is not merely living for each other; it is two uniting and joining hands to serve God and God’s purposes in the world.
This spiritual core forms an anchor which holds us in the storm. It offers us guidance as we journey into the future. It holds us tightly in the mystery & uncertainties of life.
Fourthly, the Bible affirms equality in our relationships. We form unions of mutual partners where we are free to be ourselves.
My favorite Mother’s Day story isn’t about Anna Jarvis & Grafton, West Virginia, St. Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church, International Mother’s Day Shrine, white carnations, and the national holiday established in 1914.
In 1919, the all-male US Congress passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting the women of this nation the equal right to vote. But there was little rejoicing, because now it had to be adopted by 36 all-male state legislatures out of 48 states that existed at the time.
As the battle for equal rights made its way through the states, it all came down to the state of Tennessee. It was the last state to consider the measure and it had to pass in Tennessee or the amendment would fail.
On August 18, 1920 the Tennessee State Legislature gathered to vote on the proposed 19th Amendment. The legislators were bitterly divided. As they entered the chamber to vote, each legislator wore either a yellow rose indicating he was in favor of the Amendment or a red rose indicating he was opposed.
A motion was made to table the matter, if tabled; the 19th Amendment would fail within the whole US. The vote to table was a tie. Which meant they now had to vote on the Amendment itself. Those who had worked so hard for women’s equality needed one vote to win, but it seemed hopeless.
Harry Burn was the youngest man in the legislature. He came from a rural district where most of the people were against sufferage. He walked into the chamber wearing a red rose in his lapel.
Yet that morning, Harry’s mother had handed him a note before he left for the state house. As the roll call vote on the 19th Amendment began, Harry read the note from his mother:
Vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt. I noticed some of the speeches against. They were very bitter. I’ve been watching to see how you stand, but I haven’t seen anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy. With lots of love, Momma”
When it came time for Harry to cast his vote – he stood and voted in favor of suffrage & at that moment the 19th amendment to the US Constitution became law and granted every woman in America the very same right as a man to vote.
When asked why he did what he did: Harry Burn said: “I know that a mother’s advice is always safest for a man to follow.”
On that day when Harry Burn listened to his mother & turned the course of US history, it ended 72 years of painful struggle over the principal that a woman had the same right as a man to vote. Neither Susan B. Anthony nor Elizabeth Cady Stanton who had started the debate & who had given their lives to the struggle were still alive – neither one ever had the privilege of freely casting a vote.
When it comes to marriage and the family, the Bible has a single ethic. It’s the ethic of love. Love expressed in faithfulness, commitment, responsibility, equality and faith.
We judge not by the various forms which the family can take, but we judge by the fruits that the family bears.
Does the relationship create an environment of love?
Do the family members love one another and act responsibly?
Does it further the creation of a loving and sustaining community beyond itself?
Families are ever changing.
On this Mother’s Day, 2006 – we can report these changes across America:
- The large number of single-parent families.
- The traditional nuclear family makes up less than 25% of the nation’s households.
- Couples are putting off marriage until later in life.
- They are having fewer children per family, and despite the fact that both parents are working, yet there is an increase in the attention paid to each child.
- Fathers who live within the family are spending more time with their children as hands-on-dads.
- Adoptions by single people make up over 1/3 of all adoptions in the US.
- A child today can have four parenting adults including blended parents & non-custodial parents.
- As people are living longer, more extended & intergenerational families are enjoying life together.
- Non-traditional families provide safe, stable, supportive, and nurturing environments in which children are being raised.
God calls persons into life-long committed relationships which demonstrate the values of love, faithfulness, responsibility, spirituality, and equality. To such relationships God offers a sacred blessing.
It’s not outside form or biology that makes a family; rather it’s the quality of love exhibited in the relationship. Indeed, it is always a beautiful thing to honor & celebrate when love has found another love!