Kevin Phillip Giza and Anne Marie West
John 17: 20-26
Anne and Kevin, I have a couple of words of appreciation to share this afternoon. On a personal note I want to say first a very sincere thank you to Fr. Frank for his very generous hospitality in inviting a neighboring Episcopalian from across the river to participate in this celebration here in St. Mary’s Church. A place that is especially loved I know by Kevin’s family, and where he grew up and as a boy served at the altar. A beautiful place, and a holy place, and what a privilege for me and I know for all of us all to be here today. And I would just mention that all our congregation of the parish of St. Andrew’s Church in the Highland Park neighborhood, spiritual home for Anne and her family for many years now, join in our prayers and celebration today.
And of course, Kevin and Anne, to say to you both: and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon--thank you. It is for us all a privilege and a joy to be sharing this day with you, to be with you as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart and mind and will, that today make you one in Christ, as husband and wife.
It’s a great day! Two wonderful young people, very much in love with each other, smart, creative, with so much energy, great friendship, kindness, and good humor. You’ve been thinking and planning about this day of your wedding and about the life ahead of your marriage--and now here we are. Congratulations to you, and with so many blessings showering upon you as you now step forward into this new chapter of your life together.
As the preacher this afternoon I want to thank you also for your wisdom and discernment in the selection of all these readings from scripture. They are so helpful, as we are gathered here in this place to witness this new beginning in your lives and in the lives of your families and friends. They do most of the necessary work for me today. Words of ancient and holy wisdom, opening up for us the mystery of God’s love in Christ as the foundation of our lives.
Communicating a message of deep hope: not just that this will be a wonderful wedding—though I know it is and will be, and not just that yours will be a wonderful marriage, though I know that will be the case also. But a message of deep hope about God’s love for us, and about God’s call to us to be transformed in that love. Knowing that in and through that love, centered in our Lord Jesus Christ, he has better things in mind for us all than we could ever ask for or imagine. A great word for a great day.
But to share just a bit more for you today, theologically and pastorally. In the passage from St. John’s gospel that Fr. Frank just read for us, Jesus talks about the deep unity, the “oneness,” of the Father and the Son, and how that unity is the source of glory that overflows, and that fills the world with the blessing of God’s love. That seems to me to be just perfect as a Biblical thought and theme for today.
The union of husband and wife in and through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony is a visible sign and reminder of that unity, a reminder of God’s love for us. That might seem a little abstract, I guess, but I think it is a truth that we all feel intuitively about marriage and family, maybe not always, but in the best of situations anyway—our own, if we are married, and certainly in the marriages and families of those around us. We might even say today that this is your vocation in marriage, what you might be called to and what you might aspire to: to be in your relationship with one another as husband and wife, and in the home and family that you will make together, a sign and reminder to all around you of God’s glory and God’s love.
“The glory which you have given me I have given to them,that they may be one, just as we are one.”
That is the prayer of the Son to the Father in this gospel reading. It’s a word for the Church, and both a word of judgment about our divisions and also a word of promise, a goal, a word expressed by Jesus that we might have that desire in our hearts as Christian people.
But I think it has a more particular application as well today. That we might understand that the love of God in the complete and intimate union of Father and Son is a template, a model, a design for a successful marriage: patience, kindness, generosity, unselfishness, growing in trust and compassion. You begin with that spirit in your marriage, the spirit of unity, of being not two but one, and then all that you are together overflows in wonderful ways. In ways we can only begin to imagine this afternoon. This is your new calling, your new vocation. We might say, you’ve been practicing for a while as friends, as fiancés-- but now the adventure begins in earnest! That’s how God calls you today.
In the midst of this I’m reminded that in the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite stories about vocation, about what it’s like when God calls, when he begins to reveal to us something more of the meaning and purpose of our lives. It’s one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. Young 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.” It’s a cross-roads moment, a turning point, a new beginning, in response to God’s call. And so it is Holy Ground.
Now, Anne and Kevin, we don’t need to take that literally. At least, you can keep your shoes on. But we would remember and take seriously that 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 your feet is consecrated, and made holy. You will always be two distinct and wonderful individuals. But there is something more today, something new beginning, the two made one in Christ.
That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing. The glory of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in divine unity. Overflowing with God’s love. And that’s such a great thing. Wonderful for us to be a part of—your friends and family, and all those people who will be a part of your life in the years to come.
The prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen here, in this one moment of a 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. The sacrament of marriage and the vocation of marriage. At work, at school, on the baseball field, at the breakfast table, with family, with friends and neighbors. Wherever your life takes you, Kevin and Anne, under your feet there is holy ground. God blessing you, and God blessing the world through you.
And it is my and our best prayer for you that in God’s love you will continue to experience his love and his blessing always, and that your life together will be a catalyst, an inspiration, for that sense of God’s goodness to be known by others. You are and you will be blessed, and a blessing.
~at St. Mary's Church,
San Juan Diego Parish, Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania