April 11, 2015 Holy Matrimony
Emily Ann Stempkowski and Matthew Joseph Kiswardy
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. Emily and Matt, 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. In the joy of Easter Week and after such a long winter what we are truly enjoying as the beginning of spring! What I know is in my heart and in all our hearts this afternoon, and I hope you will hear this with depth and sincerity: “this is going to be something special.” Matt and Emily. We already see it. In the deep mysteries of his Providence, God is doing a great thing in you. He has a great plan for your lives, only just now beginning to unfold in a new way.
Thank you especially for selecting this reading from the Book of Tobit for us—truly a gift. It’s a story that isn’t always familiar to folks, but one of the key scenes is in the passage we’ve just heard. Tobias is the main character of the book, and he has just married his beloved, Sarah. And what we see here is this moment of their first night together as husband and wife, and the beginning of their marriage and the consecration of their marriage in prayer, kneeling in their home and offering to God thanksgiving for the life that they will now share and praying for his blessing and protection in all that is to come in their lives.
A wonderful vignette to illustrate what we would say here today, this afternoon, about marriage in general and your marriage in particular. That it is not simply a civil contract, but a Covenant not simply blessed by God but established by God. A relationship, a manner of life that comes into existence by him and in him and through him. A relationship that has social dimensions and legal dimensions for sure—but that is at its heart and as its foundation a spiritual relationship. By him and in him and through him. As Tobias and Sarah show us their prayer.
We say marriage 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 life to others, and that is the work you are called to do and that we acknowledge and celebrate today. Beginning at home, and then moving outward in wider and wider circles.
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.
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 Matt and Emily: we should all be taking off our shoes right now! (At least in our imaginations!) 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. Not because of what you are saying, but because we believe, 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 both of you, and for you together as one new person, one flesh, husband and wife—a new family. That’s the great and wonderful thing we celebrate. I don’t know what those plans are in the particulars. 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 at the beginning!
And now as Matt and Emily come to the altar to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, and to receive an assurance of God’s blessing, let us pause for a moment and bow our heads and in the quiet of our own hearts each of us offer a prayer of love and blessing for them—that they will be surrounded and embraced and encouraged and supported in every way, all the days of their lives.