This sermon will be different. It is a trip down memory lane, memories of two marriages. You might even hear it as eulogy. You might hear it as a story of contrasts. Most of all, my hope for you, is that you will understand it as a story of love, forgiveness and trust.
To begin: This is a quote from the book entitled The Falls by the novelist Joyce Carol Oates:
“Maybe love is always forgiveness to a degree.”
I think today’s story of Peter and Jesus is a story of love, forgiveness and trust. Peter loved Jesus and trusted him enough to risk walking on water just because Jesus called him to come to him. Jesus loved and trusted Peter enough to offer him the opportunity and then embraced him when Peter’s courage sank. Peter was willing to risk his fellow sailors’ mocking either because he’d try such a stunt as walking on water or because he didn’t succeed. He loved Jesus that much that he risked his macho. “…love is always forgiveness to a degree.” Jesus never held Peter’s doubt against him. Peter loved Jesus enough to give anything a try because he trusted him. They simply loved one another.
It was seven years after my husband’s death that I was really able to say to myself: “I’ve got this now. Finally I am not so broken of heart that it grips my soul so intensely that I am in pieces. I’m getting to be whole again.” At seven years out from Bob’s death from cancer, I could see that never would I not miss him, but now I was becoming a life again. Part of this growth of my character and my strengthening was, as I see it now, a new perspective of our life together.
No marriage is perfect. Ours wasn’t. Yet as the years away from it had/have increased I realize how much good there was between us. For instance, I can honestly say that on the important things that bonded us, like a commitment to the children and their welfare, a commitment to financial stability including jobs we both endured, mortgage, health insurance, life insurance, bill payments on time, Bob and I were always on tract with one another. But in all that commitment to those things that grease an easier existence in the world, we lost affection for one another. My fault probably more than his, maybe not. But somehow in the seven post-Bob years to my ‘ah-ha’ moment to where I now could endure life and even grow in selfhood, I had learned what I basically knew but didn’t acknowledge . And that was: within all the discipline of governing our life style we were loving, caring for each other and that is, in its way, was – is – an affection to each other too. I learned that I could first identify my faults and then I could forgive myself. I learned I could forgive Bob and myself for the fatigue that our marriage had experienced. I learned in time that we HAD done the best we could do under all the demands of our lives. I learned to forgive him and me. And I truly believe it wouldn’t have taken him anywhere near seven years to forgive me, if he even would have found me lacking at all. He was that kind of guy.
Trusting that the other — whether the other is a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent, an in-law, a friend — is trusting that he or she and you can take risks together. But the love part of the relationship shines most dazzlingly when forgiveness is needed and given.
I lost a friend ten days ago. Donald was snapped out of life at the mere age of 98. He was a psychologist. His wife and the mother of his daughter, died in 2001 when I was in seminary. They had shared their home with another man, Tom, about 18 years younger than Donald, for many years when I met the three of them when I was wooing – or hoped I was wooing – the Diocese of West Virginia to accept me as possible fodder for ordained ministry. My Bob had retired and I was still working near Washington, DC when we bought a large fixer-upper on two and a quarter acres in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Ruth, Tom and Donald allowed my husband to live with them for several weeks right after Bob and I took ownership of our new place and when it was not possible to live in the house until Bob got some basic work done like deconstruction and cleaning. Ruth, Tom and Donald knew me but they hardly knew Bob at all and yet they welcomed this stranger to live with them.
Tom was quite open to us about his sexual orientation. But the question Bob and I pondered was who his partner was. Now West Virginia in 2000 was not San Francisco 2017 regarding such matters. I dare say that West Virginia 2017 is not close to San Francisco 2017 either. So it was puzzling to us and kind of a mystery. Then one day it hit me. Tom and Donald were partners. Bob said, “Naw.” But, yes, we eventually learned that they were and that Ruth had continued to live with them once the decision was made that they would move in together. As a married woman I could not fathom how she was able to be there. I certainly could understand her stepping aside for them but not continue as part of the household.
Ruth’s health, both mental and physical, was waning. I would go visit her on the weekends after I retired and was then in seminary – yes, I had managed to woo West Virginia! One day she shared this with me. Ruth quite simply said: “I thought the two of them deserved to be together. They were creative people who thrived together.” She didn’t want to stand in the way of their happiness. Later, I spoke to Donald about what she had said, and he told me, “I would never have left her. She was terribly scarred from her mastectomy and would have had a difficult time finding someone else.” So the result was that the three of them worked out a relationship that worked for them. I know that there were times when it was difficult. Tom could be rather bossy Ruth would say. But Tom could fix and build anything and was a brilliant real estate investor. He was an asset without question. He shared Ruth and Donald’s love of theatre and music and they had many trips to Europe and Canada, as well as within the US, to operas and theatre and concerts. Ruth reached across the waters of a storm to her husband Donald with one hand and, with her other, to Tom and she drew them together. And she stepped out of her wife role and let Tom be co-partner in the household. And when Ruth passed away, having been lovingly cared for, not by Donald her husband who wasn’t able to attend to her, but by Tom who took most loving care of her every need, no matter how personal, Ruth left her housemates Tom and Donald to a life together of a miraculous near sixteen years as a two-some. Love and forgiveness and trust. Ruth and Tom and Donald loved one another, forgave each what needed to be forgotten, and trusted that life would work itself out.
Relationships are funny things. They are extraordinary in their complexity. It is when we do reach out to one another and draw the other to ourselves in love, forgetting the forgettable, and trusting the other then we find we can do beautiful things beyond any expectation. We need only to look at our Gospel story today to discover that: because who could have known that that reach across the water of the rough sea when Peter accepted Jesus’ challenge that that act of friendship, need and trust was part of a journey that would bring Christ to the world with Peter as the Church’s first ringleader! Love, forgiveness, and trust. They are inexorably intertwined.