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Forty Years
August 15 and 16, 1998

LUKE 12:49-56

Forty years ago on this very day, Ellie and I were married at the altar of Ellie's home church, the church in which she was baptized and confirmed, Trinity Lutheran Church, Stillwater, Minnesota. We hope you will celebrate with us by coming to our Open House this evening, anytime between 5:00 and 8:00.

Forty is a significant number in the Bible. I didn't realize how special forty was until I took the Concordance, read every verse which contained "forty", and consulted The Interpreter's Bible Dictionary. In the Bible, forty is a symbolic and sacred number. Forty was used as a round number to designate a fairly long period of time. Forty years is the approximate length of a generation.

Isaac and Esau each married when they were forty years old.

It rained forty days and forty nights after Noah built the ark.

Moses was forty years old when he killed an Egyptian soldier who was beating a Hebrew slave, an event which ignited the miraculous Exodus from Egypt.

Moses was on the sacred mountain, Mt. Sinai, for forty days receiving the Ten Commandments.

Moses trained and prepared the slaves forty years in the Sinai wilderness before entering the Promised Land.

King Saul reigned for forty years.

King David reigned for forty years.

King Solomon reigned for forty years.

King Joash reigned for forty years. Forty years was a sign of divine favor.

Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness following his baptism.

And, Ellie and I were married forty years ago today! Whew! Ellie says our forty year marriage can be summarized in the word "adventure." It began with Ellie receiving my proposal by mail. I was a missionary in Japan at the time, and we didn't even think of telephoning across the ocean in those days. Our kids tease us that the proposal letter probably began, in good Minnesota fashion, with a commentary on the weather! Last year Ellie ran across the letter and, sure enough, it began with a weather report! The proposal, a trifle obscure, was in the last paragraph! After all, I didn't want to rush in! I wanted to soften her up first!

What an adventure Ellie had coming to Seattle to meet my plane. My folks and my sister decided to drive and they invited Ellie. She had only met them two times, but with faith, only six weeks before the wedding, she went with them from Minnesota to Seattle via Santa Cruz and San Francisco, pulling and living in a 13; travel trailer.

The next adventure was on the honeymoon when I took a wrong turn and we ended up in a city dump, rather than the Gunflint Trail!

Then we moved to Evanston, Illinois, where I went to Garrett Seminary on the campus of Northwestern University, which is on the shore of Lake Michigan. Ellie taught Business at Evanston Township High School. My classmates were wonderful people, the best in the world. They love God, life, and us; and we love them.

Our first summer we drove to Rocksprings, Texas, where I substituted for the Methodist minister while he and his wife went to the Holy Land. What an adventure! Rocksprings, population 1,000, is the center of Angora goat country. There also was a congregation 40 miles away which met in a schoolhouse. The Baptist and the Methodist ministers alternated Sundays and revivals, and as it was the Methodist's turn, I preached a week-long revival. There were no converts, however, as all the ranchers were either Methodist or Baptist. The revival ended with a goat barbecue! We also watched a roundup.

On the fourth of July, Rocksprings held a Rodeo. It was the Methodist minister's turn to give the Invocation. I didn't know whether to pray for the crowd, the cowboys, or the animals! The hotel, which had the best restaurant in town, was in dire need of waitresses so Ellie, who had been a waitress for nine years during high school and college, volunteered. Needless to say, she won the gratitude of the hotel owner and the hearts of the townspeople. Those Texans are wonderful people, the best in the world. They love the Lord, life and us; and we love them!

For one of my field education credits, I served as Youth Pastor at the Methodist Church of the Redeemer, formerly Catholic, which became a black Methodist congregation in inner city Chicago. What an adventure! There were no night meetings because no one went out into the streets after dark! Some of our members sang in a Gospel Choir. We were invited to a concert one Sunday afternoon in a Baptist Church. We were surprised by the nurses that were on duty to care for the overly enthusiastic! We were the only white folks there, and one of the choir members teased us for weeks that he watched Ellie's eyes get bigger and bigger. Those Chicago African-American Methodists are wonderful people, the best in the world. They love God, life and us, and we love them!

After I graduated from seminary, we returned to Minnesota where I was appointed to a rural parish and four churches. What an adventure! I preached the same sermon four times-- three times on Sunday morning and once more at night. Even I was sick of the sermon the fourth time around! One Sunday morning, it was snowing heavily but I set out in my little Volkswagen. I encountered a blizzard, not realizing it was a snowplow until I hit it! I can still see the driver scratching his head. Our three sons were born in Minnesota. Jack and Tim were born in a 15-bed hospital. Each cost $75, including the doctor's bill! Craig cost more. He was born in Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park. Minnesota Methodists are wonderful people, the best in the world. They love God, life, and us; and we love them!

Two Eye, Ear, Nose and Throat specialists told me I was developing chronic laryngitis because of sinus trouble, making it difficult for me to preach and sing, so I began looking for a warmer climate. When Dennis Nyberg, newly appointed to Palo Alto First, asked me if I'd like to go with him and serve as the Minister of Education, we jumped! When I told Ellie, her response was, "You're going, aren't you?" He asked me June 1. We flew to Palo Alto to be interviewed on July 1. Our furniture left August 1. We drove cross country, pulling a travel trailer, arriving in Palo Alto September 4.

What an adventure! We thoroughly enjoyed the Black Hills, Yellowstone Park, but when we left Salt Lake City, drove across the Great Salt Desert, entered Nevada, and drove and drove and drove, the kids got quieter and quieter. When we drove through Winnemucca, we looked at the Casino on the left side, and the Methodist Church across the street. I said to the family, "Winnemucca is in the conference; we could be appointed here someday!" Now, I'm sure there are wonderful people in Winnemucca, the best in the world; but we almost turned around and went back to the green grass and the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota.

One of the many highlights of our adventure in California was a four month exchange to St. Lucia, Australia, a suburb of Brisbane. We exchanged houses, cars and congregations. I was pastor of two Uniting Churches, a former Presbyterian and a former Methodist. What an adventure! I enjoy driving, and I don't like to drive on the same road twice! The first two Saturdays we were there we drove out into the country sight-seeing. When I told the congregations we had driven a 200-mile round trip, they were flabbergasted. 200 miles is nothing to us Californians, but evidently not a common adventure for Aussies. They decided we really wanted to see the sights so, without telling us, they organized our Saturdays. People began inviting us to go with them on short trips. We did not know until we were ready to leave that it had all been organized. One Saturday they hired a bus, and we all went on a trip! Those Australians are wonderful people, the best in the world! They love God, life, and us; and we love them!

What an adventure we are having in California. All three boys were educated here, and all found perfect mates. Three darling granddaughters, the best in the world, have blessed the family. I have been appointed to Palo Alto twice, Manteca, Modesto and now Merced. And, the people are wonderful, the best in the world! They love God, life, and us; and we love you!

Did you notice the irony of the Scripture lesson read today? For most sermons, I use the lectionary which is a list of suggested Scripture lessons. The Gospel lesson for today is quite startling, especially when describing forty years of marriage! Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but division!

"From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:

father against son and son against father,

mother against daughter and daughter against mother,

a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law."

Strong words! Startling words! Was Jesus anti family? Was Jesus against family values?? No, the point is: Jesus must be first in all relationships. When only one in a marriage is loyal to Jesus, then there is division. But, when both husband and wife serve Jesus, where Jesus is first, then there is harmony. When Christ is the center of a family, with everyone in the family devoted to Christ and loving God, then there is harmony. Then there is unity. There is focus for the family. There is joy. Jesus, others, and you, in that order of priority, spell joy.

Forty years in Bible days was a long time. But, ask any forty-year-old, ask any couple celebrating forty years of marriage, forty is but a wink in time, especially when you catch the spirit of adventure and discover people who are the best in the world, who love God, life, and you; and you love them!

© 1998 Douglas I. Norris