When you plan a wedding (or at least as my fiancée and I plan ours), you dream about ways to love and include the people that you love and include in your daily life. For us, both together and individually, it is among the most important days of our lives. So, naturally, we want to include everyone we can. Any dream I had about a small wedding was shattered as our spreadsheet of names and addresses quickly ballooned far beyond my original expectation.
Our guest list lacks nothing in size or diversity. It accurately reflects the different worlds we have walked and lived in. There are people who have known us since birth and others who met us a few months ago. I’m sure there are still others we have yet to meet who will ultimately make the cut. There are teachers, farmers, techies, Republicans, Democrats, old, young, whites, blacks, hispanics, gay and straight, believers and unbelievers. We love all of these people, but we also know that does not mean they love each other. Nevertheless, for one day we will all break bread, drink and be merry, together. Part of the reason we want our people at our wedding is to affirm a commitment to living life with them as friends, despite our differences. We want them to know that there is a place for them not only in our lives, but more importantly in the Kingdom. We want them to come as they are.
Modern Christianity in the West, as I have grown up with it, has not done a good job with the “come as you are” idea. We write songs, books and sermons extolling that message, but all of those seem targeted at the same kinds of people. It’s easier for these particular people to come because so many of those that came before them looked, loved, and lived like them. I know this from my own experience and also by what my friends, especially the non-Christian ones, have told me over coffee.
“Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.”
(1 Cor 7:18)
I think about our invitations like a call. We know who our friends are because they’re our friends. We aren’t inviting them to celebrate because they are good people, or because they think the same as us on certain issues, or because they have their life together in a way that we find attractive. Some of those things may be true of certain people, because they are what we initially bonded over in our relationships. Primarily though, we invited them because we love and have been loved by them.
For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)
(1 Cor 7:19-21)
Paul illustrates what I think Grace (my fiancée) and I are trying to do in his letter to the Corinthians. Moreover, this is what Jesus wants us to do with our whole lives, not just our joyous occasions. Anyone, slave or freeman, uncircumcised and circumcised, is welcome into a relationship with Christ because the visible state of holiness is secondary to the spiritual state. Now, I don’t take this as justification to openly live in sin. Paul’s other writings clearly show that’s not what he is getting at here. What I take him to be saying is that Jesus, the Lord, is preeminent over every measure we may use to define a good life. He is the measure, the ultimate standard by which we analyze our lives.
For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
(1 Cor 7:22-24)
In light of this, then, to be God’s does not mean we are required to change first and then ask to be loved. We are loved unconditionally first and change in response to that love. Our response, or part of it, is then to love others in the same way, with the same hope. This is the vision for our wedding. That our friends, whom we love so dearly, would know and glimpse a greater love; a love that preempts their sin and has the power to free all of us from enslavement. So that, in the end, we will all remain with God, together.
Stanton Coman works in the not-for-profit sector and is a graduate of the 2015-2016 Capital Fellows Program in McLean, VA