Saturday, August 29, 2009

August 29, 2009

Holy Matrimony

Mallory Elizabeth Fisher and Benjamin Larry Cowell

[Exodus 3] Canticles 2:10-13, 8:6-7;
Colossians 3: 12-17

Mallory and Ben, what I want to say first to you, is thank you. What a great day this is! It is for us all, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this moment with you, to be with you as witnesses and as supporters and cheering fans as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart, that will make you one in Christ, as husband and wife. It has been a special privilege for me to get to know you--actually beginning before your formal engagement--and through all this time of preparation and anticipation.

You are two remarkable young people: smart, funny, talented, deeply in love with each other. Rooted and grounded in Christian faith and life, with a rich and joyful relationship with Jesus Christ, knowing him as Lord and Savior. With great families and a wonderful circle of friends.

And with such a romantic story. Just about love at first sight at the end of your college years, deepening friendship, and then the night of that proposal (did he get down on one knee?) on a bridge over the Seine, in Paris, the City of Lights. (I’m sure some of your friends may be a little annoyed with that, as you set the bar really high for future proposals. “That was nice, but it wasn’t Paris!”)

In any case, now here, this great day of your marriage. Congratulations to you, as I know your friendship and deepening relationship have been rich in so many ways, and as I know that the story that is yet to be told of the life and family you will share as husband and wife will be a great one, and rich in blessing for you and for many others. As it already is.

The first lesson that you selected, from the Old Testament book of Canticles, or the Song of Solomon, is a wonderful and very appropriate reading for this day. It is a love song, through and through, a poetic expression of the deepest passion and compassion of the human heart, as we know that in our deepest and most intimate relationships, and as we would understand through that, that we are for at least a brief moment in this world catching a glimpse of the deep love, the passion and the compassion, that is at the heart of God’s life, and that we are all ultimately destined for.

This day, the commitments you bring, the words and promises, speak about who you are today, and also about who we are all destined to become, God’s hope and intention for each one of us since the beginning of the world.

Many waters cannot quench love, no flood can sweep it away; if a man were to offer for love the whole wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. The rarest thing of all, the most precious, the most fragile, the hardest to find and the easiest to lose, yet somehow also the most durable, the most patient, the most forgiving, the most welcoming.

As we come to this day, in this celebration, I would like to ask all of us here in our imaginations—not literally, but in our imaginations--to take off our shoes. (If we all would do that—please just close our eyes for a moment and imagine ourselves taking off our shoes!) Here’s why: and it’s not to get more comfortable, though maybe in our imagination that’s nice too . . . .

In the Old Testament Book of Exodus, chapter 3, there is one of my favorite stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, a moment of transformation-- in a way kind of like this moment. Moses is working for his father in law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him. He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out. He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame. (I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.) “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy Ground. That’s my point.

This is the moment when God tells Moses about his plan for his life, how from the day of his birth he has been shaped and prepared for the mission to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and across the Wilderness and into the Promised Land. God speaks into this world, into our lives, and what was an ordinary place is now made sacred by that holy word.

And Mallory and Ben: in the vows and promises you make today, in God’s sight and in the presence of these friends and family members, the ground under our feet is consecrated, and made holy. Not because of what you are saying, but because we believe, and certainly why in our tradition of the Christian family we call marriage a sacrament, that God’s word is being spoken to you now. We can imagine that burning bush, right here, right now. That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing and purpose.

The prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen in this one moment of your wedding, but they go out with you into your marriage and life together, from this day forward, and will be around you and under you and with you all the days of your life. He has great plans for you, for each of you, and for you together as husband and wife and family. That’s the great and wonderful thing we celebrate. I don’t know what they are. None of us do. But he is beginning to reveal them to you now, in this moment this afternoon.

And so, Mallory and Ben, my word of pastoral advice for you this afternoon, as you go forth into this great marriage, is actually one you’ve already heard, and that you have shared with us in selecting the second reading we’ve heard today, from the third chapter of the Letter to the Colossians, which is St. Paul’s very tender word to this new Christian community, to talk about the character of life as it is shaped by the message of the Gospel. And what I want to highlight or emphasize is simply the first part, the first few words of the 16th verse of that chapter. Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” That’s it, and that’s my prayer and my word of advice for you. A little marriage counseling to begin with on Day #1.

That like Moses, you would each continue to have eyes and ears and minds and hearts open to God’s word and presence and direction. Through the prayerful reading of scripture, by continuing to share in Christian fellowship, by attentiveness to what God may be doing and saying in the situations of your lives and your life together: the challenges and the opportunities that will continue to unfold. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” at the heart of your marriage, and I know there will be an abundance of blessing for you and for others for many years to come.

Again, thank you. May God bless and keep you with joy all the days of your life together. It’s going to be, and already is, a great story. And now: friends, as Ben and Mallory come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would ask that we would all bow our heads for a moment and in our own words ask God’s care and blessing for them.

Bruce Robison

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