Love’s Overflowing (for Jason and Ben)

Beach pic
Grateful to be invited to preach by the present rector of All Souls, the Rev. Jadon Hartsuff, the following is a homily offered at the marriage of Ben Hutchens and Jason Gottschalk on August 5, 2017 at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. 

One day last week, I was walking down the sidewalk in front of my church, thinking deep thoughts.  All of a sudden, “whack!” I was drenched.  A huge fan of water had smacked me in the face as the sprinkler made its rotation in the church garden. Its timing could not have been funnier because at that exact moment, I had been thinking about St. Bonaventure’s image for God:  God as “Fountain Fullness.”

As Fountain Fullness, God is energy, and movement, and power, always in flow.  God the Father empties into the Son, who gives through the Spirit, who flows back into the Father.  Endless movement, self-diffusive, giving, sharing, and overflowing. It’s all a little like this day.

If we don’t already feel it, before the end of this service, we all might feel a little bit wet—(not because it’s so humid outside and Jason and Ben insisted on getting married in August) but because of the overflowing Fountain Fullness of God in this place.  We get it through the music.  We get it through the scriptures.  And we get it through Ben and Jason.

We knew there would be music, and there’s music even behind the words that don’t have music.  When we heard the reading from Song of Solomon, who else could hear the setting by René Clausen? I missed most of the Colossians reading because I was singing Lee Hoiby’s “Let this mind be in you,” based on similar words.  Likewise, as the Gospel was read, as I was humming Tallis’s “If ye love me,” which is based on the Gospel of John just one chapter earlier.

But what goes out of bounds, overflows beyond expression is the Mass setting.  Mozart was outsized everywhere he went, and so it only makes sense that for a wedding like this, there would be music that is big, bold, and full.

The great 20th century Reformed theologian Karl Barth used to begin his day listening to Mozart. “It may be,” he wrote, “that when the angels go about their task of praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille, they play Mozart and that then too our dear Lord listens with special pleasure.”[1]  Barth loved that Mozart praises God and gives thanks for creation, but doesn’t try to settle inconsistencies in creation or answer all the great questions of the universe.  Instead, Mozart describes the world as it is—the muddiness and the messiness; both the maddening and the mundane.

“What occurs in Mozart,” Barth wrote, “is rather a glorious upsetting of the balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall, though without disappearing, in which joy overtakes sorrow without extinguishing it, in which the Yea rings louder than the ever-present Nay…”[2]  God reminds us through Mozart of God’s Fountain Fullness that includes the better and the worse, the richer and the poorer, sickness and health—flooding all of life with God’s loving presence.

The Fountain Fullness of God seeps through the scriptures.  It’s amazing we’re allowed to read Song of Solomon in church, but the reason we’re allowed is probably because so few people actually read the whole book and know the context.  It’s about love out-of-bounds.  It’s about passionate, erotic love between two people who are unmarried, perhaps of different races (certainly different cultures), and of different ages.  Jewish and Christian scholars who get embarrassed about the incarnational aspects of Song of Solomon suggest that it’s all really an elaborate allegory for Christ’s love for us, his Church.  Well that may be, but few people I know have a prayer life with their God that is that HOT.

The Gospel itself overflows the bounds of traditional thinking as Christ says once again, “Keeping the law, following the commandments, going through life as though checking off a list of moral do’s and don’ts is completely missing the point.” “This is my commandment,” he says, “that you love one another as I have loved you.”  That means being willing to serve others.  It means honoring the child, the outcast, the sinner, and the ones society has decided are expendable.  Loving one another as Christ has loved us means sacrificing for others, giving up things, giving up time, and giving up self.

God’s overflowing, Fountain Fullness is evident in today’s music, and it flows through today’s scriptures, but finally, it shows itself particularly in the love of Jason and Ben, a love in which God invites us to witness, support, and uphold; through which God blesses us, nourishes us, and quenches a bit of our thirst for God’s love.

We represent people from every aspect of Ben and Jason’s life.  Perhaps some of us know one of them better than the other, but in each we have known God’s presence, God’s strength, God’s laughter, God’s pain, and God’s beauty.  All of that only increases today.  God’s Fountain Fullness flows mightily through their lives and into ours.  Sometimes it buoys us.  Sometimes it soothes.  And, it must be said, that there are probably one or two people who, because of religious upbringing or other limitation, are taken by surprise by the strong love of a couple.  Love between two men splashes them in the face, and it stings like water in the eyes. But they’ll get it one day.  God’s love moves through eventually, like a tidal wave, like a tsunami, like an ocean that will not be stopped.

Many of you know that the marriage service for same gender couples in the Episcopal Church is based more upon the Sacrament of Baptism than it is upon the old marriage rites of the church.  We are freed from rituals of property exchange and the preservation of a family line at all costs. No longer is one person given to another like a sack of potatoes.  No longer is one simply to obey the other.  And no longer is the church attempting to limit the flow of God’s love. But “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon 8:7)

In the waters of Baptism we die with Christ to sin and we are raised with him to new life. In the sacramental rite of Christian Marriage, the two streams are brought together and made more in God that their love might continue to overflow, to refresh, and encourage love in others.

I close with a dog story.  In my neighborhood there is a park with an enclosed dog run.  Inside the fenced area, the dogs love to play and smell each other and run around.  One of the dog owners usually checks the water bowls, so that hot, tired dogs will take time out to drink.  Well, the other day, I let our dog April run wild and I filled the two metal bowls with water. No sooner had I done so, that Toby, a little black lab, come directly over and using both paws, dogpaddled the water out of the bowls until they were dry.  Delighted with himself, Toby then ran off to join the other dogs.  I put more water in, and guess what?  Toby noticed me out of the corner of his eye, came back and again, enjoyed every second of splashing all the water out of the bowls.  We kept our game going for a few more times, and then I gave up.  Toby understood water is to be shared, to be flung around, to be used for joy and fun and to get others wet.

Ben and Jason, keep splashing the waters of your love.  Make a joyful splash this day and always, so that all who encounter you will be drenched in God’s deep and never-ending love.

[1] Karl Barth, “A Letter of Thanks to Mozart,” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1986), 23.

[2] Karl Barth, “Mozart’s Freedom,” in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 1986), 55-56).

About John F. Beddingfield

Rector of The Church of the Holy Trinity (Episcopal) in New York City on East 88th Street between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.
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