Don't Trust Your Feelings

What pivotal event comes to your mind when I say the date June 6, 1944? How about November 22, 1963?

During my years of ministry, I have noticed that people have different historic events that shaped their particular generation.

For folks who grew up in the Depression and watched Europe fall under the sway of fascist rulers like Hitler and Mussolini, June 6, 1944, signaled what Sir Winston Churchill called "the end of the beginning." It was on this day the allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches and the destruction of the evil Nazi regime finally began.

For most baby boomers, the turning point was that fateful day in Dallas on November 22, 1963. President Kennedy was struck down by an assassin's bullet, and the hopes and dreams of a whole generation came to a crashing halt.

Of course, when I look back over my own life, I am afraid that it is much harder to find events like those that formed my generation's historical consciousness.

Growing up as small children, we watched the events of Watergate unfold on television from Gerald Ford's selection as vice president to Richard Nixon's resignation and final wave from the helicopter door.

Yet, if you pressed me on a date when my life changed, I would probably say May 25, 1977. Does this day ring a bell for any of you? Well, this is the day that the very first "Star Wars" movie had its premiere.

All right, I realize it probably does not seem quite as impressive as the D-Day landings or the 1,037 days of Kennedy's Camelot administration. But as a highly impressionable 12-year-old with a passion for science fiction and fantasy, I had never seen anything like that first movie. The music was stirring, the villains were scary, and the good guys struggled against odds that seemed overwhelming.

Now the World War II generation would probably just say "Star Wars" was just an updated version of an old western. But there was something, something about George Lucas' vision that captured my imagination, and like the secret decoder rings of a previous radio generation, I couldn't wait to buy my first light saber.

Now if you have seen the original movie, you might remember a key scene when Alec Guiness is trying to teach Mark Hamill to use the force. Guiness' character, Obi-Wan Kenobi, says to Hamill, "Your eyes can deceive you, Luke. Don't trust them. Stretch out with your feelings."

Now although I still remain a big Star Wars fan even today, I have always thought that Obi-Wan's emphasis on trusting your feelings is misguided. In fact, his advice is part of the problem that many folks have keeping the promises and vows they make in marriage.

We are, no doubt, a culture that loves talking about our feelings. Turn on the television in an afternoon. There are a host of talk shows. There are books and a whole industry that has grown up around the business of helping people deal with their feelings. And I admit there is a power, a power that comes from the way we use our language to talk about the feelings that we have.

But I am not convinced that our feelings necessarily have a place in our discussion of the way that Jesus understood God's purpose for creating the institution of marriage.
It can be tempting in a culture that treats the marriage bond as something that is disposable to give into the language that people use to describe their feelings when their marriages fail.

"We grew apart. We don't have anything in common anymore. We still care about each other but are no longer in love." You and I have probably heard these and other justifications before from friends that have decided to seek a divorce.

But I have always suspected the real reason that many marital relationships fail is that people mistakenly equate their feelings with their commitment.

Let me say that one more time: We mistake the way we feel for the promises that we have made to each other as husbands and wives. If I don't feel like I am in love, then I must not be really committed to the other person.

Yet, the church's marriage service never asks people in their vows to say "I do" like you hear on some television shows. No, the church instead asks if they will promise to love, to honor, to cherish someone until they are parted by death. And this is quite different from saying "I do."

The "I will" implies that I pledge the totality of my life, my soul, my mind and my body to this commitment and to the other person. This is a commitment that exists apart from the way I might happen to be feeling at any given moment in time. This vow recognizes there are days that I might not feel like taking out the trash or driving the kids to ballet lessons.

But being married to your spouse is not simply a matter of whether I feel like doing the daily activities that are part of our life together. No, on a deeper level, the marital relationship gives us insight into both the creative and redemptive aspects of God's love.

This basic truth about the embodied nature of our life as human beings is captured in Jesus' own words from Mark's Gospel: "But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Before going further, I want to look closely at two important themes. First, it states that from the beginning of creation God created humanity as male and female. This was for Jesus the basis for our continuation as that marvelous creation that grew out of the love that God had for the world. And in marriage as husbands and wives, males and females, we share together in some sense God's own creative nature by bringing forth life into this world.

And this brings me to my second point about God's purpose for marriage, which finds expression in Martin Luther's Small Catechism. Martin Luther writes: "We should fear and love God that we may lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed, and each love and honor his spouse."

For Christians it is in the family bond, the marital relationship that we see God going to work to change each of us.

Teaching parents to give freely, teaching our children to receive without resentment, teaching us to live out a life of self-giving love in a way that mirrors in some respects the love and compassion of our God. Not only do we bring life into the world through Christian marriage, but the life that is entrusted to our care shapes the kind of lives we lead and brings us closer to that image of God that was formed and shaped from dust so long ago.

And while I know it might be tempting at times to listen to Obi-Wan and trust our feelings, there is an inherent danger in thinking that the promises of our human life should always bring us happiness or positive feelings.

I suspect that Jesus knows most of us are all too ready to settle for the pharisaic way of justifying our feelings. Remember what they said to Jesus: Moses the great lawgiver gave us permission to discard our wives if they become inconvenient, unattractive.

To follow this line of reasoning is to act in ways that dishonor the image of the Creator present in us and further makes a mockery of our promises as husbands and wives to each other.

This is precisely the reason we must be reminded that not all of our feelings come from God.

There dwells within all of us the capacity to do great harm to other people when we insist on getting our own way, when we place our own fulfillment first, and we desire the adoration and worship of other people.

Now, I realize that many of us at different times in our lives fail to meet the expectations that Jesus has expressed as part of the Father's will in today's gospel.

And because we fail at times to live out the vows that our lips might profess, this does not mean that God does not love us or that we are separated from the love that Christ gives us through the cross. This point must be made again and again for Christians because of our tendency to place God's law above God's grace and God's mercy. Let me say it one more time: There is nothing, nothing we can do in our lives or have done in our lives that can ever separate us from God's great love.

No, if anything, Jesus' words remind us that God wants our lives to be fulfilling and that our relationship as husbands and wives is part of the plan God has for us to share in a life of holiness and joy as part of God's creation.

A young woman once said to an angel, "Here I am, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word." Her promise to God changed the course of human history. And it is through vows like marriage that we too have a similar chance to embody the love and compassion of God to each other and to make each day of our lives a day that you'll always, always be remembered.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being. We humbly pray that you guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember we are ever walking in your sight through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.