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Love and Torture: A Wedding Homily

December 16, 2014

Laura and David were married at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on Saturday, December 13th. This is the first part of the homily I addressed to the congregation, based on the passage from the Letter to the Hebrews the couple had chosen for their wedding day. The scripture passage mentioned, among other things, mutual love, prison and torture. This in the same week the Senate released its report on the U.S. torture of prisoners. 

Hebrews 13: 1-6

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all…. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’

Laura and David have selected a passage from scripture that puts their love in the context of our commitment as people of faith, to love one another. The love which is unwrapped in this passage, is not simply between lovers or even between friends. It is a love that extends beyond kin and beyond familiarity to embrace the stranger in need and the prisoner who is being tortured. It is a love that knows not to place things before people; money before relationships.

It is a passage that reminds us that love is always and everywhere contextual, by which I mean it is lived out and lived out in a given time and place. How fitting that Laura and David’s scripture reminds us to remember those who are being tortured in prison this week. To remember, as if we ourselves were being tortured.

Now for goodness sake you all may be wondering, why are we talking about torture during a wedding sermon! Please stop ruining this once in a lifetime moment! Can we please get on to the part of happiness and joy? But what Laura and David have offered us is an opportunity to look at the strength of love as a resource by which we face all that we must face – as individuals, as couples, as families, as nations. They are a couple whose love does not protect them FROM the world, but rather whose love opens them up TO the world. And that world is as harsh as it is beautiful, is as painful as it is hopeful.

This passage from Hebrews points us to a love that is for all seasons – a love that does more than simply weather the worst. It is a love that is able to go to the very heart of wounds, our own, others’, the worlds, and heal them – not through magic, but through our own risk to care and feel and stretch toward one another.

When this passage is read in church, typically we leave out one verse. And we leave it OUT because to leave it IN means we’d have to deal with it and it reads rather awkwardly to our 21st century sensibilities – it discusses honoring the marriage bed and warns that God will judge “fornicators and adulterers.” And well that language makes us all a little uncomfortable. But I’d like to put it back in for a moment, because this verse underscores (albeit in negative language) something very life-giving. It insists that our sexual relationships must also promote the dignity, equality and well-being of one another. We are invited to love in all dimensions of our lives – our personal, familial, sexual, economic, and social lives, we are to love in ways that are compassionate and just.

To embody such love requires courage. The word courage comes from the French word, coer – or heart. It requires heart-strength. You remember in the Wizard of Oz, that the lion is given a heart as a sign of his courage. For to be courageous means to face the world with empathy – to cry and suffer and laugh and wonder – to dare to feel; to refuse to insulate oneself from pain or from joy.   It involves risk – the risk of vulnerability with one another and with the wider world. Courage is not about shutting down but about opening up. It means willingly removing unnecessary defenses.

Yet with that vulnerability comes the ability to discover what is most fully human in ourselves and to touch what is deeply human in another. David and Laura are people who are willing to risk. They are large-hearted. And they they leap, intellectually, emotionally, relationally toward, always toward the other and toward God – whose very name is Love.

David and Laura love ideas – they hunger to find words for that which is inchoate, they tenaciously go at difficult puzzles (mathematical or psychological). And they are passionate – whether directing that intensity toward making cheesy delectables in the kitchen or making music together or asking huge questions of life and society of faith and purpose. Encountering them, one is overwhelmed with their joie de vivre, their delightful mix of introverted ebullience. Yet they also embody this reservoir of stillness, which has an enormous capacity to draw out from others what we hope for, that invites us, in turn, to leap toward them.

The homily continued, but the rest does not need to be shared here…

Thank you Laura and David for this opportunity to link the kind of love you share with the kind of work we must do to build a world we can all live in. You are an incredibly fun couple, and since one of your other readings was a passage from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I could not resist this image … as a suitable end to this post.


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