Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Artist's Masterpiece

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
- Charles Caleb Colten

If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
- John 14:15-17

I recently played a wedding reception.   I was asked by the bride and groom to play a couple of songs by their favorite singer/songwriter.   So I charted the songs, studied his strumming patterns and vocal phrasing and began rehearsing the songs.   I didn't want to give the couple a carbon-copy ("I'm making copies!") but, on the other hand, I wanted to maintain the original integrity of the songs and intent of the artist.

It didn't sink in until a few days before the wedding that, in a way, what I was doing with the songs was analogous to what they would do with their marriage.   By God's grace they would become a faithful interpretation of the author's original masterpiece.

And isn't that what marriage really is?  At its best it is the clearest example of the covenant (unconditional love) God has made with us in Christ.  After all his grace is certainly the only hope for sinners joined together for life.   Without grace we're at the mercy of our inability to look past one another's shortcomings, weaknesses, annoyances etc...

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven--for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little. - Luke 7:47

Christ taught that the actuation of true sacrificial love (read: costly love that requires forgiveness) is evidence that one has been forgiven.   Grace (distributed vertically by God), like that shown to the "sinful woman" in Luke's narrative (Luke 7:36-50), imbibes the forgiven with the supernatural and altogether counter-intuitive power to love (read: love at a cost) others bending that grace out horizontally.  Without this kind of love, sooner or later, any marriage is headed for dire straights.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 
- Ephesians 5:25

Marriage continues to have an indelible impact on my life driving me more deeply into the arms of a savior who forgives me and reconstitutes me spiritually when I recognize how impossible it is for me to follow Paul's direction (above).  Only in the power of The Spirit can I return to Megan as a forgiven man with the power to love her like Jesus has loved me.  

In all marriages there is the ever-present temptation to ask the question "is she/he giving me what I expected when we got married".   Janet Jackson famously sang, "what have you done for me lately?".  Is this not the modus operandi in most marriages?  Sooner or later, a spouse examined under the unbearably bright light of expectation will inevitably be found wanting.

Next comes bitterness and resentment.   Once this takes root, only two roads remain.   The first leads to divorce and the second leads to a quiet acquiescence on the part of one or both partners to the painful reality of a loveless marriage - "I do not love her (or she just doesn't love me) and that's just the way it is".

What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” 
- Mark 10:9

But if the master created the masterpiece which our marriages are meant to emulate, The Gospel must deliver hope to couples exhausted by their inability to love one another well.

So often "the perfect marriage" seems just beyond our reach...and that's because, this side of heaven, it is!   Taylor Goldsmith of the band Dawes, beautifully illustrates this reality with his song Moon in the Water.  He describes his initial experience with unrequited love (read: heartbreak) where he learns that love is more than something to be "attained" or "mastered".  Instead, it is something so immense and perfect that one must continue "fishing for" or "swinging for" it's reflection in the hopes that someday he/she will reach the ideal.

After 10 years of marriage this could not ring more true for us.   The perfect marriage is undeniably that which cost the groom everything; my sacrificial love is, admittedly, shoddy by comparison.  THE act of love never to be perfectly copied but merely imitated is the love made absolutely manifest in the cross of Christ.    Jesus' bruised body and shed blood became the bread and the cup which nourishes all those who have been left heartbroken by life and (what so often passes for) love and have come face to face with their hunger and thirst.

To continue with (my reading of...) Goldsmith's metaphor, the love of God in Christ Jesus is the love which all who enter into marriage must reach towards.  Yet, in it's infinite wisdom, God's plan goes a step further.

In our reaching/swinging for this perfect love we become exhausted and frustrated arriving at the crossroads where all who are truly broken in Spirit finally arrive.   "I cannot, so He must".   I have become powerless to manage my life.  HELP! I need somebody!

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 
- Psalm 51:17

Thank God then that Christ Jesus' strength begins in the midst of our weakness.   He loves us more perfectly than we with our best intentions could ever hope to love one another.   The Perfect Marriage between Christ and His church is already consummated in the heart of the believer.    It is there that The Spirit has made his home and it is there that love like this is made perfectly possible.....

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.  For we know in part and we prophesy in part,but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.  For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 
- 1 Corinthians 13

Christ's Blessings,

P.S. For your listening pleasure....

This Week

* New Wednesday AM Book Study - Grace in Practice by Paul F. M. Zahl - get your books here!  Chapter 1, Grace in Theology tomorrow at 7am - 2 American Center, 5th Floor (Ritcheson Law Firm)

Next Week...

* Monday Men's Lunch at Dakota's - 12pm - Chapter 5 of Tempted and Tried