Bill and Sally were an older couple pondering marriage. They were both widows, but both were also still in relatively good health and likely had a lot of years left to live. Their relationship had started as friends with the idea of companionship. Yet, over time, they had fallen in love. They were both reluctant to move in that direction. Both had pledged they would never marry again and neither wanted to upset their children. Nonetheless, after lots of prayer, talking with their families and thinking it through, they found themselves moving closer to the decision to become husband and wife.
One day at lunch, however, Sally decided she needed to come clean. If they were going to get married there was one demand that Bill had to grant and if he couldn’t then Sally knew in her heart that marriage was out of the question. So with great courage, Sally looked Bill in the eyes and said what was on her heart, “Bill, if we are going to get married, Tippy has to come too.”
Tippy was Sally’s beloved poodle. He had been her daily companion over all these years. At the same time, Sally knew that Bill was not a dog person and he certainly wasn’t a house dog person. In response to her demands, though, Bill surprised Sally with the words, “Of course, Sally, Tippy is part of the deal.” (Derived from Timothy Owings’ story in Drowing in Shallow Water: The Hope of Colossians for Today’s Culture)
I like that story because of what it tells us about both Bill and Sally. In many ways it is a bit silly, but, at the same time it has a level of depth to it that is worth our hearing and learning from. On the one hand, Sally understood that she came with some extra baggage. There was a part of who she was that did not completely square with Bill’s interests or desires and she had to be honest about those and name them. So with humility, Sally had to be willing to say “Bill, this is who I am”. On the other hand, Bill had to recognize that loving Sally meant loving all of Sally even the parts that were not his first choice. So with love, Bill had to acknowledge that he was willing to accept Sally as she was, Tippy included, not as he wanted her to be.
In his translation of Colossians 3 in The Message which we heard read earlier this morning, Eugene Peterson offers a captivating way of hearing the first sentence of verse 15. There he translates Paul’s words to the Colossians this way, “Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing.”
I love that. For one it reminds us that the life of faith is not about “going off and doing our own thing”. We need each other. And, we need each other even in spite of how hard it can be to get along with each other in the midst of our many differences. Peterson also translates Paul as saying that the way we achieve community is by living “in step” and “in tune” with one another. In other words we have to learn how to live out the human dance which is always about perfecting the art of responding well to the actions of the other. How do we do this?
Again, as we said last week, it happens as we put on the clothes of our baptism and as we resist the worn out clothes of our old lives that are always tempting to return to and to put back on. But further, I think there are two of these articles of clothing that can serve us particularly well in this human dance if we give ourselves over to them. They are the clothes that Bill and Sally wore in the story that we began with today – humility and love.
When it comes to our own lives, we must live into our relationships with humility about ourselves. All of us come with rough edges. Few people like everything about us. We all have flaws, wrong ideas and behaviors that are annoying. The more we can see ourselves as others see us and thus name those things and be aware of those things the better off we are in our attempts to dance with others.
At the same time, as it relates to others, we must live into our relations with love toward the others in our lives. To love someone is to love them as they are not as we want them to be. To love someone is to accept them with their flaws not only when they can meet our demands.
To live in tune and in step with each other we must always slip on humility about ourselves and wear love toward each other. When we do, we will find that we have the most potential to live together, not alone, but in a community dance in tune and in step with one another.
One of the great American Dancers was a woman named Martha Graham. Graham was honored by the Kennedy Center, danced at the White House and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Martha Graham once said this, “dancing with the feet is one thing, dancing with the heart is another.”
Dancing with the feet is one thing. But dancing with the heart, guided by humility and love, well that is something all together different. Amen.