Genesis 1: 26-28; Colossians 3: 12-17
Wow. Good afternoon everyone! Family and friends . . . . It is so great to be here today, as we are witnesses and participants in this wonderful celebration of Christian marriage. Maribeth and Brad, I would simply personally and I know speaking for everyone here today, and with truly a full heart, express my and our deepest thanks for including us, for inviting us to be with you as this new page is turned, a new chapter begun. When we began planning for this day in earnest last July the story was all summer sunshine, and it seemed kind of distant to think about a snowy December afternoon. But here we are, soon to be a new year, and a new beginning. The Church in the season of Advent, which is a season that looks in two directions. To remember the great things God has done for us, and most especially of course as Christmas is coming in the first Advent, the birth and life and death and resurrection of Jesus. And to look ahead to the great things that God has in mind for us. For each one of us in the future days of our lives. For you in your marriage. And to the Second Advent, the great New Creation and new beginning, when Jesus comes again.
So today, for you. Lots of memories, and hopes and dreams and plans for the future. Before the service today we lit the candle in the chancel here as a memorial to Maribeth’s brother-in-law Dell. It says “the Buck Stops Here,” and on the illustration you can see that it’s appropriate to the antlered deer season! Made me smile. That memory is a very tender one I know for all this family—Debbie, Audrey, Dell. All the family. It reminds me today most of all of how important family is. How the circle for both of your families today is expanded, how your lives now are richer and deeper.
I’ve known you both for quite some time. Maribeth of course since you were just a kid. And Brad, for quite a while too. Two very kind, thoughtful, compassionate people. Nice sense of humor. And strong in so many ways. Not that anybody has asked me this question in so many words, but I just want to let you know that I approve! You guys are great for each other, great with each other. So it has seemed to me as we have had some of our conversations about the issues and challenges and possibilities of married life. The two lives come together, and you can’t help but think, “this is going to be something special.” In the deep mysteries of his Providence, God is doing a great thing here. He has a great plan for your lives, only just now beginning to unfold.
You both spent some time and gave careful thought to the selection of the readings from Scripture to be read and shared at this service, and it was a gift for all of us to hear them. I want to pause just a moment over this brief passage from St. Paul’s letter to the new Christians of a small congregation in the town of Colossae, which was located in a part of Asia Minor that would now be a part of Turkey. It’s a congregation that Paul was instrumental in founding and clearly a group of people who were dear to him, much loved. We don’t know too much about the context of this particular letter, but apparently word had come to him that there were some theological disputes that had begun to cause conflict and division in the congregation. Paul addresses the issues at hand, but then in the third chapter of Colossians he goes on to talk about Christian life and conduct in community, to describe what it means to live together as Christian people, even when there are serious differences. As there are always differences, whether in a large community, or even in a community of two.
Paul lifts up what perhaps we could call a recipe, a model, a roadmap, the deeper themes of what we are and what we can be at our very best in Christian relationship. We have a non-profit here in Pittsburgh that assists people as they get ready to join the workforce called, “Dress for Success.”
And so that’s what this is about. A lot of attention always paid to wedding gown and bridesmaids dresses. This about “dressing for success” in all the years to come after this day: Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience; bear with one another; forgive one another. Clothe yourselves with love; let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts; be thankful; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs to God. Doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Thank you especially for selecting this reading for us—truly a gift. A great recipe for all of us to keep close, and meaningful that you have shared it with us today. We might almost say that sharing this reading with your family and friends is the first step, the first example, of the work you are being called to do in your marriage from here on out. We say this is a “sacrament” because in marriage you two become outward signs of God’s grace and love. He is going to be using you to communicate his love to others, and that is the work you are called to do and that we acknowledge and celebrate today.
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 here today. 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 Brad and Maribeth: 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 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 it’s a privilege for us to be here with you.
And now as Maribeth and Brad come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, Karen and Peter are going to play a lovely piece of music, the hymn tune “Slane.” I associate with the words of the prayer: “Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart; all else be nought to me, save that thou art—thou my best thought, by day or by night, waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.” Let us pause for a moment and bow our heads and in the quiet of our own hearts offer a prayer of love and blessing for them—that they will be surrounded and embraced by love and blessing all the days of their lives.