Being Willing to Love

fullsizeoutput_2eA homily offered at the marriage of Shane Davies and Dale Lewis on December 9, 2017 at All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.  The scripture readings are 1 Samuel 18:1b, 3, 20:16-17, 42a, Psalm 98, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, and John 15:9-12. 

In just a few minutes, Dale and Shane will make vows.  Shane will be asked, “Will you live together in faithfulness and holiness of life as long as you both shall live?”   And he’ll say, “I will.”

And then Dale will be asked, “Will you live together in faithfulness and holiness of life as long as you both shall live?”   And presumably, he’ll say, “I will.”

Then the questions come to us.  “Will all of you here gathered uphold and honor Shane and Dale and respect the covenant they make?”  Our response: “We will.”

And then, a final question: “Will you pray for them in times of trouble and celebrate with them in times of joy?”  And we will thunder forth another response, “We will!”

I will.  They will.  We will.  There’s a lot of “willingness,” this afternoon, if you notice.  And even though all kinds of qualities bring us to this day–maturity, decisiveness, generosity, patience, and fortitude.  Willingness has to be highly prized among them.

On October 6, 2013, Dale and Shane met.  It was on that day that this church offered what is called an “Instructed Eucharist,” a slowed-down version of what we do in church with explanations throughout.  Afterwards, there was dinner and a discussion.

Dale was willing to be a part of this church and this program that sought to welcome and invite newcomers, regardless of whether they prayed like us, looked like us, or believed like us.

Shane, too, was willing.  He was willing to try a new place, a new way of thinking and looking.

And so, in many ways it was willingness—to be open, to explore, to risk—that allowed Dale and Shane to meet in the first place.  And willingness carries them still.

We get hints of this quality of willingness in today’s scriptures. In the first reading, we get a quick view into the relationship between Jonathan and David.  Jonathan, we’re told, loved David “as his own soul,” and “as he loved his own life.” They made a covenant to one another and promised fidelity.  Jonathan was willing to risk his relationship with his father the king, with his standing in the royal household, and perhaps his life, for the love of David. David risked his life being as close to Jonathan as he could, for as long as he could.

Willingness is the context for the beautiful anthem we just heard. It’s based on words from the Song of Solomon, “Set me as a seal.” Again, the theme of willingness runs throughout as the poetic language of the scriptures describes a kind of love willing to bear the heart, willing to share love, willing to break social taboo, and willing to wage everything on love. [If you’ve never read Song of Songs or Song of Solomon, get a Bible, or read it online.  It’s hot stuff.]

St. Paul chimes in, as well, with his First Letter to the Corinthians.  There he basically qualifies as a fellow believer, a fellow struggler, as he talks about his own reluctant willingness to grow up, to move beyond childish selfishness and to begin to be open to other people, to wisdom and insight for other sources, and finally, to the way of God’s love.

For Christians, Jesus is the Way of love.  And Jesus relates his way of love to following the commandments of God.  But he doesn’t get caught up on rules and regulations.  Instead, Jesus basically says, “Be willing.”  Be willing to let love guide you.  Be willing to love and to be loved.

The course of love between Dale and Shane, the course of love that leads one to love others—all might seem like it’s just the natural flow of things.  But really, Dale could have easily gone on by himself—unwilling to risk, try something new, or let someone in.  Shane could he easily gone a different direction—unwilling to explore a new faith perspective, a new friend, or a new direction in life.
Instead, their openness has brought them here, with us, today.

Willingness is that ability to stop for a second and just suppose—maybe I don’t have all the answers myself.  Perhaps I could let down my guard with this person.  Just maybe there’s something ahead I haven’t even imagined.

Willingness is cracking the door open—to possibility, to love, and to God.  Willingness is unclenching a fist so that the hand can be relaxed, open in a new way.  It’s an open hand that can then actually hold or be held by another.

This marriage is celebrated in the Season of Advent, the time when Christians prepare to hear again the Good News of Christmas—that God was willing to come into the world in the form of a helpless little baby to show us what love looks like.

And so, Dale and Shane, my prayer for you is simply that your willingness will continue.  Be willing to risk, willing to grow, willing to screw up, willing to say you’re sorry, willing to get up again the next day and fall more deeply into love.  Be willing to turn your lives and your love over and over again to God.

As Dale and Shane make their vows and we offer our support, let us also vow to be more open, more available, more attentive, and more willing for God’s love to live in us.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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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