September 22, 2012 Holy Matrimony
Bernadette and Heiskell, 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, family and friends, as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart, that will make you one in Jesus Christ, as husband and wife. It has been a special privilege and great joy for me to get to know you through this time of preparation and anticipation.
The author of the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes says that for everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven. You are two mature people with the richness of life both before you met and now in the story of your life together, and the foundation and blessing of family, and the blessing of children. You’ve both known in life the kinds of ups and downs that are a part of life for pretty much all of us, and today there is this turning of a page, the beginning of a new chapter. I know you come to this evening with love and with sincerity of heart and intention, and it certainly is my prayer that this new beginning will begin a season of hope and fulfillment for you and those you love.
The first lesson that you selected, from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, was a word that Pastor Paul wrote back in those very early days of the life of the church to a congregation that was experiencing some real growing pains. The small group he had founded years before had become larger, and with that change came differences and disagreements and sometimes arguments and fights and the danger of division. And certainly in this 13th Chapter, which is so familiar, he offers what we might call a recipe for healing, for reconciliation. Patience, kindness, gentleness, a forgiving spirit, sensitivity to the needs of others. A good word for the Church of course in any time or place.
But over the centuries Christians have heard a deeper word here about how we live our lives all the time. Not just in the church, but also in our homes, and in our families, in our neighborhoods, among our friends, in the places where we work.
I’m thankful that you chose this reading for us to hear this evening, and I would indeed hope and pray that the recipe of Love that Paul writes out for us here will be something that you will come back to again and again all the days of your life.
You know, 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, about a calling to a new way of life-- in a way kind of like this moment. In that story 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 Bernadette and Heiskell: 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 individually, and for you together as husband and wife as you will live in you family and in the circles of your friends—all the lives you touch. That’s the great and wonderful thing we celebrate. I don’t know what those plans are, exactly. None of us do. But he is beginning to reveal them to you now in a new season of life, in this evening.
Again, thank you both. 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 Bernadette and Heiskell prepare 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.