November 21, 2015 Holy Matrimony
Katherine Anne Jones and Robert Scott Hess
Tobit 8: 5-8; St. John 15: 9-12
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. Katie and Bob, 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.
Here in Pittsburgh, as you know, we live at the source of one of the great rivers of the North American continent, as the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela gives birth to the mighty Ohio. Perhaps that is a fitting image or symbol for us today. Two fabulous people, gifted, accomplished, intelligent, fun, real maturity, a wonderful shared sense of humor. Flowing into one great new river for all the years ahead.
In the midst of all the complexities of work and travel and the busyness of the season I’ve really enjoyed the chance to get to know you in our pre-marriage conversations, and then yesterday at our rehearsal to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know some of your friends and family as well. And not that anybody has asked me this question in so many words, but I just want to let you know that I approve of your marriage! It seems like a very good idea to me. You guys are great for each other, great with each other. In ways that we can see, and in deeper ways—and simply to say that in the deep mysteries of his Providence, God is doing a new thing here, and I think an important thing. He has gifted you, each of you individually and then in what you are together, as your lives are synchronized, we might say, and we are only just now beginning to unfold.
Here in Pittsburgh lots of people went down to the point last night, with the annual “Light Up Night” and all the festivities of the season. For me, I think those fireworks were for you, and with the cheering and songs of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, there are fireworks over us and around us today, in great celebration!
During the last month or so you both spent some time, and we did together, to give 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.
The reading from Tobit, and the story of the marriage of Tobias and Sarah. This touching moment as their marriage begins with a prayer. Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s the National Council of Churches ran an advertising campaign with billboards all across America, with the slogan, “The Family that Prays Together Stays Together.” Maybe that saying is still familiar to some. And wisdom in that.
Married people are not clones of each other, of course. And often the differences of interests and perspectives and life experience are so valuable, as you learn from one another and grow in appreciation. One spouse may never learn to love football, and the other may never truly appreciate Italian opera. But we learn and grow. But what Tobias and Sarah do for us is to invite us in marriage to find and explore a deeper unity of spiritual life and prayer. And as they began their marriage in prayer, I would simply commend that invitation to you and to all married couples here today.
The reading from St. John’s gospel is also I think well-chosen for us today. These very tender words of Jesus: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: abide in my love.” And I would simply lift up the last few words : “love one another, as I have loved you.” And as we hear those words here in lovely old St. Andrew’s I hope our eyes might be lifted up to see what we call the great Rood Beam. “The Rood” is an Old English word for “the Cross.” And we are reminded that the love of Jesus that we are called to follow in our lives and in our marriages, is not so much about how we “feel,” and what we “get” in our relationships, but about what we have to give, to share, to offer. Not about our winning, but about figuring out how we can lose so that the other can win! (And if both husband and wife keep working at that project you have to be pretty creative sometimes. Like when people race to pick up the check after a nice dinner out, before the other can get to it. Rushing ahead to open the door. “After you.” “No, after you.”)
There’s a prayer that we sometimes pray at the end of services here at St. Andrew’s that is called the “St. Francis Prayer,” because it sums up in a very simple and beautiful way the insight into Christian life that St. Francis communicated both with his words and in his life. It begins like this: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” Perhaps you’ve heard that prayer. I think it’s the perfect prayer for a wedding day. And in the second half of the prayer, these words: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love.” Because it is when we give that we truly receive. It is when we have forgiven others that we are truly forgiven ourselves. And it only when we die to ourselves and to our own wants and our own self-centeredness, that we truly begin to know what it means to live, both here in this life and for eternity . . . .
This the sign of the Cross. Really the heart of the Christian message. The One who died for us, and in that death opens the door to forgiveness and grace and new life. And with that sign over us, here is the word of Jesus for you, with all the richness of his blessing: “love one another, as I have loved you.”
So thank you for selecting these readings for us—truly a gift. A great word for all of us to keep close, and meaningful that you have shared it with us today. We might almost say that choosing and sharing these readings with your family and friends is the first step, the first example, of the vocation of your marriage. The Church says that marriage is “sacramental”, and at least part of what that means is that in marriage you two become outward signs of what Scripture has to say to us about God’s will for all our lives . . . about God’s grace and love. He creates and establishes marriage, and he invites you now as you enter into marriage yourselves to this work and ministry-- inviting you day by day to a life shaped according to his purposes, that you will be equipped to communicate his love to others. A great blessing, an exciting adventure of a life. That you would know our love and prayers and support today and in all the days ahead.
And now as Bob and Katie come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, let us pause for a moment and bow our heads and in the quiet of our own hearts offer our prayers of love and blessing for them—for today and for all the days of their lives.
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