Sunday, 21 July 2013

Wedding Sermon

From the Lesson: And now these three remain; faith, hope and charity, but the greatest of these is charity. (1 Corinthians 13: 13)

In 1940, the island of Malta was defended from the might of the Italian Air Force by three outdated Gloster Gladiator Biplanes from the Fleet Air Arm. Some wag had named them Faith, Hope and Charity. In faith and hope they daily joined battle with the overwhelming onslaught from the Italians, and daily were patched up and somehow kept flying. By the end of 1941 Faith was dismantled, Hope was no longer able to fly, but the parts salvaged from both kept Charity in the air, though now supported by modern Hurricanes and Spitfires. There is an interesting lesson for us all in that. Faith may waver, hope may fade, but it is love that keeps us going and often saves the other two. 

The 17th Century poet, theologian, philosopher and traveler, John Donne, wrote that 'no man is an island, entire of itself' and in one sense, he is right. None of us is complete on our own, we are always at our best, and sometimes at our worst, when we are in partnerships with one another. Yet, at the same time, we are all unique, individual, one of a kind, there is only ever one of me, or of you.

We are the product of our genes, our parents, our family relationships that form and make us through childhood, and to that must be added our experiences, every bump and knock, every painful rejection and every joyful acceptance. Every little triumph at work or at school, and everything we learn - or don't learn - from those with whom we interact on life's journey leaves its mark and influences the way in which we respond to every challenge, to the manner we tackle any task, to our choice of career and to each other.

What attracts two people to each other? A scientist may say it is the pheromones, a psychologist will say it is conditioning, a romantic may say it was Cupid and some may say it was 'fate'. As reader's of Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels will know, it is probably all of those things, since there is a large element of chance involved in everything. It never fails to astonish me how quite often a casual encounter or conversation can lead someone  into a change of direction that completely alters their lives, and this is often true of successful and long lasting relationships.

According to Pratchett's philosophy, meeting each other and forming a lasting relationship is a million to one chance. And, as we all know, million to one chances come up nine times out of ten. Sometimes I have to admit he may have a point. Whether we call the meeting and the subsequent development of any relationship, be it marriage or simply lasting friendship, fate, chance, kismet or destiny, no relationship survives without mutual respect, consideration and the effort to make it work. If we do not make the effort, we cannot expect the other person to take the trouble to make it work either.

Donne's famous 'Mediation' spells out how we are all part of a greater whole, yet, function within it as individual components. That is especially true in a marriage, where both halves of the partnership must work together, share each others triumphs and tragedies and sometimes even 'carry' the other. Our language has, in recent years, been impoverished by the loss of the original meaning of the word 'charity' - the non-erotic form of 'love' that neither asks for reward, nor expects it, is always giving and in a real 'marriage' is always mutual - though it may take the day off occasionally. 

All of humanity lives with three key elements in our lives and relationships. The first is faith. We put our faith in many things, religious, scientific or ideological. Some of us fly aircraft where the entire airframe is attached to the rotating wing by a single bolt, and place a great deal of faith in the quality of the steel, the process of making it and the resistance to metal fatigue. We all have hope. We hope for stability, for love, friendship and fulfillment in our careers, our lives, our relationships. Hope is sometimes what lifts us through the difficult times and drives us forward to meet the challenges, climb the next hill, walk the difficult path or take the rickety bridge across the chasm. 

Finally there is love. Often we take it for granted, we shouldn't, but we do. Yet, as St Paul, a much more famous author than I, wrote, love is the greatest of all our human experience. When we love, we are at our spectacular best in everything.

So, as the small outnumbered and outgunned fighters defending Malta, were used to support each other and keep one flying, remember these three things. Keep faith in one another, even if in nothing else. Keep your hopes for each other, your family and yourselves, and let your faith in each other, and your hope for each other, support and maintain your love for each other.