Sermon August 30, 2015
14You shall not commit adultery.
“THE MARRIAGE VOW”
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
“Life is short - have an affair!” Most of us know this slogan because of the recent data breech of the Canadian-based web site, Ashley Madison. This web site was designed for people who are married yet want to have a sexual relationship with someone other than their spouse.
The web site had 39 million members spread throughout 53 countries. Until recently, the web site received 124 million visits per month. I imagine that number has dropped significantly. As we may also know, the email addresses and other personal data of the 39 million members were stolen and subsequently released to the public. Millions of people presumably have had to explain to their spouses why they were members of this so-called dating site. I came across a better slogan in light of these recent disclosures: “Life is eternal. Don’t have an affair.”
But, sisters and brothers, how are we to understand the seventh commandment? We need to understand it in light of human sexuality – a great gift from God – but a gift that is fraught with all kinds of dangers. As Ronald Rolheiser writes in The Holy Longing: “One of the fundamental tasks of (our spiritual journey) is to help us understand and channel our sexuality correctly. This …is no easy task. Sexuality is such a powerful fire that it is not always easy to channel it in life-giving ways.
“(Sexuality’s) very power, and it is the most powerful force on the planet, makes it a force not just for … love, life, and blessing but also for the worst hate, death, and destruction imaginable. Sex is responsible for most of the ecstasies that occur on the planet, but it is also responsible for lots of murders and suicides.” Rolheiser concludes: “Sexuality is the most powerful of all fires, the best of all fires, the most dangerous of all fires, and the fire which, ultimately, lies at the base of everything, including the spiritual life.”
That’s quite a mouthful! But I believe Rolheiser is not far from the mark. Human sexuality is a serious driving force in our lives – especially when we are young. And while its power might recede into a wiser perspective as we grow older, its allure never leaves us completely. The driving force in sexuality is the power that compels us to overcome our inherent aloneness.
Brothers and sisters, human sexuality is a sacred energy, but its sacredness is neither applauded nor appreciated in our culture. Is this not so? Sex is used to sell everything under the sun. Many of our movies for decades seem obsessed with sex. A recent example would be the movie,Trainwreck, which devalues long-term commitment for any sexual relationship.
Yet as the English commentator Henry Fairlie notes in The Seven Deadly Sins Today (by the way – I’m considering doing a series of sermons on the seven deadly sins): “If people now engage in indiscriminate and short-lived relationships more than in the past, it is not really for some exquisite sexual pleasure that is thus gained, but because people refuse to become involved and to meet the demands that love makes …
“The fact that one may go to bed with a lot of people is, in itself, less Lust’s offense than the fact that one goes to bed with people for whom there is never any intention that one will care (about them).”
Our young people’s culture is sometimes spoken of as “the hook-up culture.” We know that binge-drinking on our college campuses is one of the factors that leads to many misguided sexual “hook ups.” Something is amiss. Yet because most of our churches have failed to seriously and realistically talk about the power of human sexuality many of our young disregard any church’s ethical teaching.
Many people live together before marriage – more than half of couples who eventually marry. But statistics clearly point out that living together before marriage makes divorce more likely. I need to say something here – even though it might be misunderstood: I believe living-together, co0habitating without the legal and protective safeguards of marriage is, frankly, a cowardly choice.
I believe living together before marriage reveals a lack of courage to truly and deeply commit to another person. But the truths that really matter often can’t be grasped without hard learning involved. My beloved Beth and I took our marriage vows before we became one flesh. We did not have sex until we were married. This was truly the best possible decision for us.
But let me return to how our culture uses sex to sell most everything. Sex sells because we are all – no matter how happily married – no matter how satisfied we are in our families and in our other relationships – we are all in varying degrees lonely. This loneliness is part of what it means to live in an imperfect world. And I believe sexuality and loneliness are deeply connected.
Now we don’t usually hear this truth. We don’t usually share this truth with our young. This truth is not often proclaimed from our pulpits. I don’t believe we can unravel the reality of human sexuality without understanding the dynamics of human loneliness.
As the French spiritual authority, Jean Vanier, notes in his classic bestseller, Becoming Human: “Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart … (but) Loneliness … is essential to our humanity. Loneliness can become a source of creative energy, the energy that drives us down new paths to create new things or to seek more truth and justice in the world.
“Artists, poets, mystics, prophets, those who do not seem to fit into the world or the ways of society, are frequently lonely. They feel themselves … dissatisfied with the status quo and with mediocrity; dissatisfied with our competitive world where so much energy goes into things (that truly don’t matter).
“Loneliness is the fundamental force that urges mystics to a deeper union with God. For such people, loneliness has become intolerable but, instead of slipping into apathy or anger, they use the energy of loneliness to seek God … Loneliness opens up mystics to a desire to love each and every human being as God loves them.”
Let me state this last idea once again: “Loneliness opens up mystics to a desire to love each and every human being as God loves them.” Sisters and brothers, this and this alone, is the ultimate point of human sexuality. The ultimate point of human sexuality is to love each and every human being as God loves them. This is what human sexuality and loneliness are trying to teach us.
The problem with loneliness, though, is that it is a double-edged sword. If loneliness is not acknowledged and examined – it can push many into addictions and destructive behaviors. Yes, loneliness can be a force for good. Loneliness can propel us outward from the prison of selfishness and isolation. But loneliness can also push us into some dark and dangerous places. And – as we are now learning – loneliness is a profound and persistent problem among our elderly.
Let me return to what loneliness does at is best. At its best – its energy helps people expand outward from solitariness to becoming deeply connected with others and with all life. Take for instance, my love for my beloved Beth. This type of love is first and foremost meant to draw the two of us closer together. This love is first and foremost meant to break down the walls every person invariably builds as they grow up.
But as Beth and I become more and more intimate with each other – we become less guarded and more open with others. Our marriage is an ongoing class where we learn how to grow together and become more and more what God created us to be. This is the great preciousness of marriage.
And, yes, I know many marriages end for a variety of reasons. My own older brother has been divorced two times. And many spouses go to God before their time. But this should not discourage anyone from coming forward to the sacred altar to vow one’s life to another.
Commitment has costs, but the cost is well worth paying. Marriage may appear like a prison to some, but marriage gives us a lifeline to God. And marriage is the place where we can directly experience the truth that when we give to another, we also give to ourselves.
Let me end with some thoughts from an Irish writer Daniel O’Leary from an article I read some years ago: “In marriage, where human love is revealed to be divine love in disguise, we have a shining example of the sacredness of our humanity. (Marriage) is where people set each other free. (Marriage is where people help) release the creativity and beauty in each other’s hearts. (Marriage is where people) give permission to each other to be truly themselves...
“There is something (deeply) sacred about relationships … the world may not trust the churches, but everyone trusts genuine love because, however wounded we are in our personalities, we all have a sense of what (genuine love) means, and we all hunger for it. (And) it is in the agony and ecstasy of marriage, in the infinite heights and depths of human minds, bodies and souls that the mysterious potential of human love is played out.”
This is why, sisters and brothers, we are challenged by God not to disrespect marriage vows with the poison of infidelity – with the venom of adultery. “Life is eternal. Don’t have an affair!” Amen!
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth, Pastor
Rev. Millie Myren, Support Minister
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643