"Love That Lasts" is based off the teachings of Rev. Adam Hamilton and his work "Love to Stay." This sermon uses his teachings as a framework, working my own stories into the mix. I'm grateful for Rev. Hamilton's work and hope you are as blessed as I am with this series.
Clothe, Bear With, Forgive May 20/21, 2017
Scripture: Colossians 3: 12-13
Today we are continuing our sermon series on marriage and relationships called “A Love That Lasts.” So far we’ve looked at God’s desire to place us in community, with partners that build each other up and encourage each other to fulfill God’s dreams for each of us. We’ve also looked at the differences between men and women and asked the question, “How can I be the person he or she needs me to be?” Last week we delved into some difficult topics as we considered habits that hurt and habits that heal. Today we’re going to look at perseverance and how we can stick to our commitments when the going gets tough.
I was scrolling through Facebook Thursday morning when I came across a post from one of my former campers at church camp. In big bold letters (and with a few expletives), he asked: WHY IS EVERYONE I LOVE GETTING DIVORCED??? I didn’t pursue a conversation with him, but I could sense his mixed range of emotions: fear and anger, disbelief and confusion, pain and abandonment. And although we might not ask the question in the same way, we still ask the questions. Why isn’t this easier? Why are there so many struggles? Is this what marriage really looks like? Why can’t I fix this? And like my young camper’s parents, these questions seem so daunting that at times it feels easier to just walk away than to travel the much more challenging road of perseverance. But if we want to build a love that lasts, we will need to learn the art of perseverance.
One of the questions I like to ask my pre-marital couples on the night before their big day is this: What do you think will go wrong tomorrow? They spend so much time planning their big day and making sure everything is perfect that they never give much consideration to what could go wrong. But something will go wrong. Something that was not planned will happen, and it always does. And understanding this ahead of time ensures that the couple will be prepared and not caught off guard. The night before our wedding, our worship leader lost his voice, and we were left with a new singer whom we had never met, let alone heard. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least. I’ve done weddings where the unplanned events have been a crying baby, a technical difficulty, a forgotten line and a malfunctioning air conditioner. Regardless, at the end of the day, a new relationship had formed and I still had the privilege of saying, “I now present to you Mr. and Mrs…”. Every wedding I’ve ever done has been beautiful, but never perfect.
I don’t ever anticipate a wedding without a hiccup or two, and that’s ok because no marriage is without its hiccups. Sometimes we get fooled by classic tv relationships like the Brady’s and the Walton’s, but the truth is that there is no such thing as a perfect relationship. We don’t always see eye to eye and we’ll usually find ways to annoy each other. And when we bring our unique traits and habits into a relationship, fighting and disagreements are bound to happen. In our recent only survey, 40% of you said you have conflicts at least once a week with your significant other, but 75% of you indicated that your conflicts are mostly minor. Healthy relationships are not conflict-free relationships, but instead are relationships committed to two things: understanding why you’re fighting (and usually we don’t have to look to hard to find these reasons: money, communication, expectations, being close-minded and judgmental, etc.) and figuring out strategies to reconcile when fights happen. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this on our own.
God’s Word is rich treasury of strategies that help us persevere thorough relational difficulties and tough times. In our reading from today, written by the Apostle Paul to his congregation at Colossae, we hear these words: “12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
The first word of advice Paul gives us is to clothe ourselves as God’s people. I most cases, there is nothing we can do to change another person. Only God can transform a person from the inside out. But we can play a role in determining the type of people we will be. It’s not unlike choosing the type of clothes we wear. Sometimes we spend a lot of brain power thinking about our clothes and shoes, especially if we think our clothes will express who we are and how we want to be known. But what about our character? Even more than our clothes, our character speaks volumes about our identity, and the type of character we cultivate will transform the way we handle challenges and conflicts. Paul leaves no stone unturned when he calls forth the identity of a Jesus-follwor. You are God’s people. And as God’s people, we should clothe ourselves with traits such as compassion, kindness, humility and patience. Another Scripture puts it this way: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. This isn’t saying you have be Jesus, but rather it’s an invitation to allow God to grow in you life-giving habits, behaviors and new ways of thinking, being and doing. What type of person do you want to be? Do you want be compassionate? Humble? Kind? Those are traits necessary to build a love that last.
The second word of advice we see from this passage is the phrase “bear with.” This has in mind words like patient and longsuffering. When we take our vows and say, “For better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health,” this is commitment we are making. We are committing ourselves to another person who is unfinished product, just like you and are incomplete products. My daughter Reagan pulled a shirt out of her drawer the other day that says, “perfectly imperfect,” and I think that’s an appropriate way to describe each of us. We are wholly imperfect people, and as partners and spouses, we have to recognize those imperfections and remember that God is not done with us, nor is God done with him or her. Besides that, we are constantly changing. And the world is constantly changing, which means our love has to be flexible enough and strong enough to weather all the changes we anticipate and those we don’t. Most of us have prayed something like this in our lives, “God, please give me patience.” It’s really a prayer after God’s own heart (and one God doesn’t mind answering) because God is forever patient with us. Patient with our shortcomings, with our failures, with our habits. Scripture says that God is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Yet despite our infuriating and frustrating choices and behavior, God loves us through them. That’s what we’re called to imitate. If you were to ask long-married couples the secret to their relational success, I’m positive cultivating patience would be at the top of the list. Maybe this is an area of your relationship where you struggle. If that’s the case, ask God to help you see your friend or your spouse the way he does and to give you a heart that desires to bless, lift up and encourage.
The third and final piece of advice for building a love that lasts is cultivating a habit of forgiveness. At some point in your relationship, you will either be hurt by your partner or cause your partner to experience hurt, but that doesn’t have to be the end of it. There is real healing power in the act of forgiveness. When we acknowledge that we’ve created hurt in someone and when we forgive and release someone from his or her guilt, something truly beautiful takes place. There is real power in saying the words “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you,” and most of us could stand to say them a bit more. It’s often said that forgiveness sets two people free: the one who has caused hurt and the one who can’t move on because of that hurt. Guilt and resentment are like large boulders that weigh us down, and they can turn relationships into prisons. Both need to be set free and forgiveness is the way to do that.
One such couple that practiced forgiveness were the Fishers. Herbert and Zelmyra Fisher were married for 86 years, and in 2010 the Guinness Book of World Records acknowledged them as the world’s longest living couple. In their 86 years together, they saw a lot of ups and a lot of downs, even though they tried to love God and love each other as much as possible. But their downs were never allowed to last too long. In 2010, the Fishers answered questions on Twitter about the success of their marriage. Here’s what they said: “Remember, marriage is not a contest. Never keep a score. God has put the two of you together on the same team to win. Learn to bend---not break. That sounds a lot like the words of 1 Corinthians 13, the gold standard of love and every couples hope-filled intentions: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast. It is not self-seeking and keeps no record or wrongs.” That’s a vision for a love that lasts. Are you carrying around bitterness and resentment that needs to be let go? Have you done something that requires forgiveness? When you repent and extend forgiveness (how I interpret the Fishers’ advice of bending but not breaking), you will begin to experience the healing power and love of Jesus.
We’ve been saying all along that marriage is hard work. Learning to bend, which requires a certain level of humility, vulnerability and compassion, is certainly harder than breaking. But it’s possible through God’s grace. You might be asking, “How can I do this? How can I become a person who loves in spite of his habits? How can I get over her choices and behaviors? How can I learn to forgive? We do this through a life-long process called sanctification, where the Holy Spirit works in us and forms in us spiritual fruit and godly characteristics. By asking God to give us strength and desire, and allowing God’s Spirit to make us new, we can learn to clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness, bear with our spouses through the tough times and forgive one another when we are hurt. And in doing so, we will build a love that lasts. Amen.