Soon, though, we’re driving along a tiny road through fields overflowing with ripening vegetables for which the island is so famous. Again it seems that every available space is being cultivated to produce some beautiful plant or flower. Besides being home to a famous Benedictine Abbey it is truly a garden spot. Reichenau Island is the perfect image of fertile ground.
No one here needs to be reminded of the tragic statistics -- they are only too well-known to us, and to some of us in a very personal way. I want to suggest that a lot of the difficulties married couples experience today come from the godless atmosphere of our culture of materialism, of ego-centrism, self-gratification. That kind of atmosphere is hardly helpful to anyone working on any kind of serious human relationship. In fact, I submit that many of the principles that drive our culture are actually TOXIC for human relationships.
Where can a married couple turn for some help? Where can two newly-weds find fertile soil for a lasting, happy marriage?
I suggest that we now return to that image of the fertile island of Reichenau with its abundant crops and fertile fields, and contrast it with the image of the moral wasteland that we inhabit in our present day culture. Materialism, ego-centrism and godlessness are hardly fertile ground for growing lasting relationships.
We heard some helpful ideas for counteracting these toxic influences when we listened to today’s Gospel reading from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, the “Beatitudes.” In these few sentences Jesus takes all the world’s treasured toxic tenets and poison principles and turns them upside down! He makes them into principles of life-giving wisdom.
Let’s look at just three of these beatitudes and see how they can point us toward a happy marriage even in today’s culture.
The first beatitude on the list reads “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
A world that praises fierce independence and self-sufficiency, (“I’m my own independent person beholden to no one”) seems to me to be a pretty toxic place to grow a relationship of mutual trust. We’ve all seen that marriages rooted in “me-first” are doomed from the start.
A marriage based on the humbling admission that “There is only one God and it isn’t me” is planted in fertile soil and will have every chance of flourishing and bearing fruit.
The second beatitude I’d like to consider this afternoon is: “Blessed are the meek.”
A world that rewards aggressiveness and in-your-face confrontations, competition, and pointing out the weakness of others is obviously a toxic place to grow a relationship of simple trust and mutual help.
But Jesus in the gospel proclaims “Blessed are the meek.” He’s not suggesting we should be doormats, but is calling us rather to have a realistic, healthy sense of our own frailty as creatures. This awareness of our own human weakness makes it possible for us to put up with the weaknesses and limitations of our spouse. A marriage based on that kind of humble self-awareness will have a good chance of flourishing.
The third and last beatitude I’d like to consider this afternoon is “Happy are you when you hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
A world that sees pain and discomfort as enemies to be avoided at all costs, that has a horror of any kind of unpleasantness for any reason, is a toxic environment in which to grow a marriage.
Jesus contradicts that toxic idea with “Happy are you when you hunger and thirst for righteousness.” There are things, he says, that are worth suffering for. There are times in a marriage when you will have to put up with unpleasantness, inconvenient demands on your time, disagreements, and illness.
We can learn a lesson from the flowers that fill the fields of Reichenau: Flowers don’t just happen. Weeds happen, but flowers demand a lot of work, a lot of tender attention. Those vegetable gardens require weeding and watering and work under a hot sun. But the hard work makes sense because of the goal: the bounty of the harvest or the beauty of the flowers. It’s like that with a good marriage, too: it requires constant attention and sometimes even hardship and inconvenience and self-sacrifice. But that’s part of the deal. It’s like raising flowers!
Let me make a closing remark about beatitudes.
In Old Testament a “beatitude” was in the present tense, as in, say, “Happy is the man who trusts in the lord because his life is filled with blessings.”
Jesus, however, does something extraordinary by changing the beatitudes into PROMISES. “You will inherit the kingdom,” he says, and you will be satisfied or comforted or filled. But not necessarily HERE and NOW. The beatitudes are promises from God.
This afternoon is a time for promises. Jesus is promising blessedness through the beatitudes, and promises to give you all the grace and strength you need to make a beautiful marriage.
And you, Emily and Chris, your solemn promises to one another are, of course, the heart of our celebration today.
As for the rest of us who are here to witness your wedding, we promise you that we will be there for you in those hard times that are bound to come. We promise to remind you of Jesus’ promises in the beatitudes that you heard today.
Finally, we pray that your married life will be as life-filled and fertile, as beautiful and abundantly satisfying as that little garden spot of Reichenau. We pray that the toxic tenets our culture will not touch you, but that you will have a life based on the beatitudes, a life together that is blessed with a love that is selfless, abundant, fruitful and satisfying, until the day when the Lord calls you home to be with him and to fulfil his promises, and when both of you and all of us will share the fullness of his joy and beauty in heaven.