We See in a Mirror, Dimly…

This may be my favorite passage of Scripture. I cannot tell you how many times I have read it at a wedding, sending these ancient words out over a bride and groom staring back at me nervously, and behind them a buoyant congregation, faces smiling through tears of joy.

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly…”

The words come toward the end of Paul’s at once devastating and heartbreaking letter to the troubled Corinthian church. The overriding tone the Corinthians convey is pride, a self-satisfaction that has divided them into communities of the like-minded. And so it is left to Paul – not known for humility himself – to remind them that the beating heart lying at the center and at the end of all things is love. Without it, we are nothing. Forget it, and we are reduced to the clanging symbols of ugly division and incomplete faith.

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly…”

I think these words should be posted above every entrance to every church in the nation, a reminder that after we have sung all the hymns, prayed all the prayers, made all the pronouncements, preached and heard all the sermons, and read all the passages, our primary posture before God, one another, and God’s beloved world should be humility,

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly…”

I am thinking about these words today as I prepare to lead a workshop for my presbytery on Christian Marriage in the Presbyterian Church (USA). I’m thinking about all those couples who have heard these words read as they stood in front of the sanctuary. I’m thinking about those who long to stand in that place and hear the words spoken over them, but cannot. And I’m thinking about those of us being called to discern for our own day what God intends marriage to be and do. I see faces of friends, colleagues, beloved children of God, standing in different places, believing different things, tempted to separate, yet longing to find common ground.

In the midst of it all, Paul’s words describe the reality we feel.

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly…”

The world is rapidly changing. In just this past week, a federal judge struck down a same sex marriage ban in Texas, the Republican governor of Arizona vetoed a controversial bill that would have empowered people to refuse service to same sex couples based on religious conviction, and a new survey was released showing a majority of Americans support same sex marriage – a huge shift in just ten years. 

I believe if these trends continue, same sex marriage will be legal in all fifty states in 10-20 years and will have widespread cultural acceptance across both political parties. 

The question for those of us in the church is how we are going to respond to these realities. How will we address these changes in our theology and practice of marriage? How will we respond to gay and lesbian people who are members of our churches, who come to us asking us to bless their marriages? How will we respond to same sex couples who join our churches, sing in the choir, volunteer in the missions and ministries of the congregation, and seek to be part of us in every way? What is our call when children raised in the church come back home to it later in life with their partners, asking to be married?

These are not hypothetical questions. These are the very real pastoral situations that are already happening in the seventeen states where same sex marriage is legal. This reality is what drives the efforts this summer at our denomination’s General Assembly to redefine marriage, enabling PCUSA pastors to perform these weddings in states where it is already legal. And this reality is what frightens a great number of church members who believe such a change will alter a beloved institution and create more chaos in a world that feels to have gone already badly awry.

The discussion has the potential to divide us even further. But it doesn’t have to be this way if we remember,

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly…”

If you are tempted to dismiss the people opposed to the re-definition of marriage as ignorant, or hate-filled, or out of touch, remember that they are part of the body, their concerns are heart-felt and have the weight of a rich and ancient tradition behind them, they are motivated by love for their brothers and sisters, and

“We see in a mirror, dimly…”

If you are tempted to dismiss the people in favor of the re-definition of marriage as faithless libertines, or biblically uninformed, or against the gospel, remember that they are part of the body, their concerns are motivated by real-world experience, and they are motivated by love for their brothers and sisters, and 

“We see in a mirror, dimly…”

I think the vast majority of Presbyterians are sitting on the edges of their seats, listening for a word from God, torn within themselves about the right direction to take, hoping to discern gospel in the clamor of so many competing voices. They could do worse than hear from us, before we say anything else – 

“For now we see in a mirror, dimly…”




4 thoughts on “We See in a Mirror, Dimly…

  1. What a well-written piece. Thank you. I fear for us as a denomination. I love my denomination, but I believe we are all God’s children…equally. Anyone in my congregation or outside my congregation who comes to me wanting God to be involved in their covenant relationship of marriage in a place where it is legal, it is difficult for me to say I cannot, out-of-hand. That is part if the vow I have taken as a PCUSA pastor, and I have honored that vow by saying no, but it has come at a cost. I fell as though I dishonor God each time.

  2. I fear it would undermine the humility you suggest here if I told you just how excellent this piece is. Beautifully written, it also offers a helpful reminder to all of us that there may yet be more than we know. Thank you for these words.

  3. I welcome homesexuals into the fold. But not out of acceptance of their lifestyle but out of hope they find a better way. I tolorate their choices as i hope people tolorate my failures and sins.

    The thing is, our priest and preachers who keep losing flock keep turning to the hope that a new progressive way forward by ignoring pretty concrete does and dont’s simply because society as a whole seems to accept to ignore them. So when the masses start turning against many things that the bible says is wrong and start turning indignant when “bible thumpers” start condeming them because those people see the hypocrasy of those who condemn while stuffing skeletens in their closet. But to have leaders of a church attacking those who at least try and live by the word and try to sharpen each other by holding each other accountable. People do not want to be held accountable and being a christian is about being held accountable by God. What i keep hearing from a lot of church leaders is that accountability is now hate and intolerance. But preachers will provide long prayers at a cost and Jesus will flip over the changing tables

    Long story short, i love all people. I want people to enjoy the glory of God’s gift. I hope that i am worthy of thay gift and that i tried to help people find love even out of differences but i refuse to be told that acceptance and love are the same thing, they are not. church leaders imo feel business decisions and hopeful marketing to a the public based on man’s progressive view of today’s society and try to justify it by attacking those who think one way as haters hoping to attract others that don’t care what even the most inclusive church is offering them

  4. An excellent message – thanks for the call to remember that those who see God as the definer of marriage parameters are still part of the Church – in fact they are the vast majority of the World-wide Church. I trust our concerns are heart-felt and I know they do have the weight of a rich and ancient tradition behind them, I am motivated by love for my brothers and sisters. We all see through life dimly as we seek to serve God in response to grace.

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