Wedding hype is out of control. Bear in mind that I love officiating weddings. But if you believe that your wedding day is the most important, special day of your entire life, and you will do anything to make it awesome, your likely risking disappointment. Here is my advice after 250 weddings – don’t get caught up on the spectacle. Focus on relationships you want to nurture. Most important, be glad if you avoid disaster. Every family has crazy examples:
- A bride’s mother got trashed at the reception. She showed up at the honeymoon suite wearing only a bath mat. She threw up in the trashcan and then climbed in bed with the bride and groom.
More common wedding challenges are negotiating already frayed family relationships. How do you incorporate the ex-spouse who is parent to the bride or groom? Should the birth-father walk the bride down the aisle or the step-father who has been primary parent? Who says the father should walk the bride anyway? What do you do with the parent who wants a huge show-off wedding, when the bride and groom just want a simple celebration mostly with their friends and close family? Who makes the invite list? Who gets a “plus-one” invite? Which friends are in the wedding party?
Don’t sweat finding the right DJ, cake tastings, and the dress. The real challenge is negotiating all the pre-existing family conditions. That is where the biggest pre-marital counseling issues lay. When couples thank me for a great wedding, its seldom because they thought the ceremony was so great, it’s because I helped them deal compassionately with the family brokenness. Weddings are all about who is out and who is in. There is a need for inclusion, but you don’t want those who have done damage in the past. This can be a time of healing or further division.
Jesus knew about weddings. He got into a spat with his mother about changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana. If you think your mother is difficult to deal with, imagine if she really was the blessed virgin Mary? This wedding story in Matthew boggles the mind. It is a royal wedding, so you would assume everyone would want to be there. But many on the invite it off. Makes you think they don’t take the king very seriously. You get a hint that this is not a normal situation when people beat up and kill the messenger. It makes zero sense that the king would walk away from the preparations to gather and army and crush the resistance. The fatted calf is slaughtered and there is no refrigeration.
We are encountering the anachronistic strangeness of the Bible here. Matthews Gospel wasn’t written for us, it was written for second generation Christians who still saw themselves as Jews, but the gap was widening between them. The author already knows about the brutal destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE, and the ending of the power of the Temple and chief priests. This is not a simple parable like the Good Samaritan or Prodigal Son, it is an historical allegory about Israel. When the institutional authority collapses, especially in war and conflict, how do communities reform and rebuild? First, there is a blame game. Whose fault was it? So often there is a fracturing between those who want to re-establish the old order and others who want to build something entirely different. Jesus started as a Jewish reformer, like many of the prophets before him, but his martyrdom spurred a revolutionary impulse that ultimately lead to dividing into Jewish and Christian factions, with centuries of acrimony to follow.
Here is where Matthew gets interesting. The King decides nothing will derail the wedding reception, even recalcitrant guests who won’t RSVP. New instruction go out. Go out into the streets and invite everyone. And the servants bring back the “good and the bad.” It’s an extravagant welcome. No matter who you are, no matter where you are on life’s journey you are welcome at this reception. This fits with the Gospel message of inclusion. Jesus eats with sinners, welcomes prostitutes, protects and adulterer, praises foreigners. Matthews Gospel says a new reality is now present, exclusivists of the status quo have failed, a new inclusive community is taking its place.
If this was easy, Matthew would not have to write about it. Would a person who sees themselves as a religious or political conservative feel comfortable in our church? It’s not a hypothetical question, and may affect your family. Recently, I noticed a Facebook check-in at our Sunday service. The thread showed pictures of Jonathan Edwards, an appreciation of the beauty of the sanctuary, and then they said, “We are praying for revival for this church that has fallen face first into liberalism.” Pictures from our bulletin were posted, bemoaning gender neutral language in the doxology, and the only thing masculine about the church was the firm handshake from the women greeters (a common taunt against Northampton in general!) That Sunday the “Be The Change” moment focused on Outward Ministries and the visitor was appalled that the acronym LGBTQ was mentioned in church.
They thought our entrance sign, which says, “In this house, we believe God is Still Speaking, no human being is illegal, science is real, water is life, BLM, Kindness is everything..” was straight out the Democratic platform. Our cultural divide is baffling. When Nixon was President, he signed the Clean Air Act, it was assumed that everyone drinks water, thinks science is a good thing, and kindness is a virtue.
Some people were liking the post, adding a crying face emoji, and one odd comment that they could not come to a church like this without wanting to pull a Cromwell. I wondered whether to respond or leave it alone. I don’t expect to change peoples’ minds arguing on Facebook, but I also don’t just let this negativity hang there without response. So, I wrote:
We are grateful to anyone who spreads the word about who we are, even if they don’t like us. Since you did not tell the whole story, I’ll fill in a few details. First Churches is a growing church with many new believers coming to us. We have strong biblical values, lots of children and young families, and we do our best to serve our community. We financially support 30 children going to school in Haiti, serve meals at the homeless shelter, and host 10 recovery groups, a food pantry, a Spanish speaking church and a weekly meal for 80 people every Sunday night. I’d say these are things Jesus wants us to do – make disciples and feed the hungry. If you were expecting a rendition of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sorry to disappoint. That sermon played better in Connecticut than here the first time around. We think his better sermon was “Heaven is a World of Love.” You should read it some time. (I confess that last line is a little dig. I’m human.)
I received the following response:
Hello, and thank you for responding! Regarding the bulk of what takes up your time as you described in your comment, you are doing a wonderful job. We were greeted very warmly by many of the group, and did indeed feel consummately welcome to the gathering. But, you included “strong biblical values” in your comment, and that’s where we part, as you are fully aware and would expect.
Next came several paragraphs about sin, a quote from the Book of Revelation, a paragraph admonishing me for leading my “church” (quote marks his) away from the Bible and this final word:
Again, we got nothing but warmth and kindness from the people in the pews. Thank you, again, for responding, I really appreciate it!
In our polarized environment, this is cordial even if slightly annoying exchange. I didn’t expect to change anyone’s mind, but I hope that anyone reading our exchange could at least see that we are a “church” of human beings, sincere in our beliefs, and desiring to be kind and welcoming. Culturally and politically we lean left (we are probably centrist in Northampton) but we are here to follow Jesus, explore the Bible, raise our families, and be kind to those with whom we disagree. Be we are not giving up our values, or our desire for justice.
Will conservatives be comfortable in our church? Of course not! We had people leave years ago when we became GLBTQ affirming, and more recently for supporting immigrants and having a “Black Lives Matter” sign. I had a beer with the person, and I’m sad they are gone. But we live in a polarized world, and other people whom I also care for would leave the church if we did not stand for inclusion of all people.
Our nation is as polarized as the Civil War timeframe, and there is very little space in the middle. I’m not a middle of the road kind of guy, and Jim Hightower once said, “There is nothing in the middle of road by dead armadillos.” I am the kind of guy who cares about the safety of armadillos. I care deeply about bridge-building, and civility and kindness and respect.
In a sense, we are in the state of perpetual wedding planning. Like every good wedding, celebrate what is most important, the people and ideals we care about. Seek to be inclusive, and don’t miss the chance to reach out to heal the rift. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but do remind people that bad behavior can ruin the wedding. If you are going to the wedding come whole-heartedly, with all your heart mind and soul. And just maybe we can do better than avoid disaster, and spark a lifetime of love.