1st Corinthians 13:1-8a, 13
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not
have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Love and the Things That Make Us Ill
“Love is our best friend, our helper, and the healer of ills that prevent us from being happy…”
That’s a great line from Plato’s Symposium.
I kind of like it because it talks about things that are ill, and you Sangeeta Patel, M.D. and you Steven Driver, M.D. specialize in things that are ill, yes?
Perhaps today, though, on your wedding day, both of you are a little ill. “Love-sick” is what we call that. Or some people use the delicate, non-medical term, “crazy.”
And, although you weren’t dating at the time, and maybe you weren’t even in love at the time, but your years apart probably drove you a bit crazy.
Which may have made you wonder if perhaps you loved the other person…maybe, just maybe, even though you both like to be right about things and, well, you can’t always both be right. Maybe, just maybe, even though politically you don’t see eye to eye, and one likes to talk on end, and one likes to cut to the chase…I’ll let you self-identify on that one…
Maybe, just maybe. Love. At the tip top of Machu Pichu, it was love. But it started long before then.
Love is a strange word.
Greek has four words for love. Sandskrit has ninety-six! Ancient Persian has eighty!
English, sadly, only one. When it comes to love, we are not so wise…
This 1 Corinthians passage is full of beauty and poetry and lifts this word “love” high up to the sky, putting it on a pedestal for all to see and admire and pine for…but English’s limited vocabulary doesn’t help us when we’re trying to figure out what to make of love. We mistake different sorts of love for one another all the time.
And sometimes here we mistake the object, Love, for the subject that we ascribe love to. Sometimes we think that the person next to us will somehow be the thing that cures all our ills. Sometimes we think the person next to us will be the thing that never fails us, who always trusts, hopes, and perseveres.
We sometimes begin to think that the person we wed ourselves to is, or must be, the perfect embodiment of this abstract, powerful force that we call love. But listen again to the passage from St. Paul: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Now, here’s the thing: I know that right now you’re a bit ill, you’re a bit love sick with one another, but if we take off those crazy glasses for a second, I’ll invite you to look at one another. Really look at one another.
And realize that the person you’re looking at is the one you love. They are not Love embodied. And for as much as you’re sick-crazy in love with them, they’re not perfect; they don’t have to be. You share your love, your perfect love, with them…even though they are not perfect.
Which means that sometimes this person will boast a little bit and that will be annoying. Will be impatient. May be a little too proud for your temperament at one moment or another. And they might, one day after a long shift, come home and be hot on the handle and easily angered. And they might make a mental check-list of wrongs, and that list might come up at your next argument.
And sometimes you might fail one another. Yes, they don’t tell you that when you’re going to buy your wedding dress or buy your tux, but as a ten year veteran of the marriage mobile, let me assure you that sometimes we fail one another.
And in those moments, I don’t want you for one second to think that somehow because that person you love, because your relationship, has moments of imperfect anger, of impatience, of envy, and even of doubt, that you’re not in love. You are. Love is not about butterflies. It’s about sticking around after the butterflies have all flown away for the winter. Because they will come back…love is about enduring it until they come back.
You love this person you’re holding hands with today not because they are the perfect embodiment of Love, but because the love you share finds its perfection in being shared.
That is why, I think, the Apostle Paul notes that faith, hope, and love remain after all things, but that the greatest one is love.
Because you can have faith all by yourself. You can hope all by yourself. But to love…
Love requires something to love. Someone to love. It’s why Christians hold that Christ is God’s love letter to the world. He’s love with skin on. A physical someone embodying God’s love.
But this person, for as much as you’re in love with them, is not the perfect embodiment of love…and you don’t need them to be. They never have been, and yet you found yourself in love, anyway.
The call is not for them to be perfectly patient, but for the love that you share to be patient…even when you’re not. Patient enough to last through the moment of impatience.
The call is not for them to be unfailing, but for the love that you share to be unfailing even when you fail one another. Unfailing enough to last through those moments when you let each other down.
The call is not for them to be perpetually calm, but for your love to be the calm that makes it through the storms of relationship woes. For your love to be the silent binder that holds you together in those moments when you fear you’re drifting apart.
Or, as Plato notes, the call is not for the person to be perpetually well, but for the love you share to heal one another when you are ill.
That is love.
So, Sangeeta and Steven, it is clear you both are quite ill. That’s my diagnosis. Ill without the other person.
And today we begin a life-long process of healing.
May the love you share be perfect as God is perfect, may it be unfailing, and may you know that the saying is true: though you may have faith alone, and hope alone, the greatest of all the virtues is love, because love requires two. And with love you get kisses.
Now let’s get you two together and seal it with a kiss.
November 2nd in the church is actually a special day…I mean, other than being your wedding anniversary for the rest of your life.
November 2nd in the church is what we call All Soul’s Day. November 1st is All Saints Day, where we celebrate formal saints like St. Peter and St. John and St. Perpetua…and the names just get weirder from there.
But on November 2nd we remember anyone who has died in God’s grace and, since Lutherans don’t really distinguish between formal saints and those who have died in God’s grace, we remember everyone together.
And so I think it’s appropriate that on today, November 2nd, Ms. Caitlin Peterson Moore marries Mr. Matthew Stuart Schaff because today I’m also remember your mom, Caitlin, on this All Soul’s Day. A beautiful soul who loved you dearly, provided your middle name and your reddish hair, and who would have loved a wedding date close enough to Christmas to be part of the festivities, but not so close as to take over the day.
And it’s important today to remember those who have gone before us because, in many ways, that gives us quite a bit of comfort entering into this state of marriage. It is certainly true that this has never been done before: this Matthew Schaff has never married this Caitlin Moore before.
But, then again, it has happened a million times over throughout history. The weddings stretch themselves far into the past here, with all the saints who have come before us dotting and lighting the way.
The journey is new for you two, but the path is well worn.
And, the funny thing about a path well worn, is that we may assume that it’s easy travel then. But, it’s not. In fact, to be married, in many ways, requires saintliness. Because you must deal with one another in particular ways for the rest of your life, and such open commitment also takes some honest assessment: this is tough.
Beautiful, but tough. Like all good things in life.
Like my grandfather’s hands, who I’m also remembering on this All Soul’s Day: beautiful but tough.
Like practicing medicine, I’m sure you’d agree Matthew: beautiful but tough.
So then, how do we navigate this well worn path that is beautifully tough?
Jesus says in this part of John that love is never so great as when someone lays down their life for the other person.
If there was ever an accurate description of married life that walks the well worn, beautifully tough path, this is it.
Because it means, Matthew, that you put aside your agenda for Caitlin. For the rest of your life.
And Caitlin, it means that you put aside your agenda for Matthew. For the rest of your life.
It doesn’t mean you roll over for their every wish. It doesn’t mean you bow to their every command, or what the other one says, goes. Trust me, people will give you all sorts of advice on that: happy wife, happy life; “yes dear” is the most important phrase, all of that.
Those, I hope, are jokes. That doesn’t work.
Instead, let’s think about what Jesus is saying here. If you, Matthew, give up your agenda for Caitlin, and you Caitlin, give up your agenda for Matthew, what we arrive at is a position where a brand-new agenda for how you walk this path can emerge. It’s one where neither of you lead the other, but where you walk side by side, keeping in lock-step with one another.
It’s like the Hemmingway piece you chose for today, the ability to be together and trust that the other is watching out for you. That is, essentially, what being “lonely together” means. When we are alone our agenda is primary on the docket. Being lonely together means that you don’t have to worry about your agenda, only about the other person’s, because you’re confident the other person is worrying about you.
That’s walking together down this beautifully tough path.
And it’s walking in such a way that you meet obstacles together, head on.
Truly, there is no greater love than this.
And now it’s time to promise such love to one another with a vow. Are we ready? Are we ready to join the company of saints who have walked this road before us, who have tken this vow, too?
6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8 and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.
On Just Where We’re Attached and Counting the Cost of Risks and Uncertainties
As actuaries, you two should know a little bit about what’s going on today.
You know, the risks involved in marriage.
After all, you guys are paid to predict risk…what’s your prediction about today?
My father told me this story when I was a little boy, and it’s just stuck with me, and I’ve said it before…so you may know it, too.
It’s a story about risks.
He said that ancient map makers were excellent drawers. And they’d plot out the known world as best they could, adding little shapes and flourishes here and there. And as they drew the waves out to sea, they’d often times add a menacing sea serpent out there.
They’d draw a dragon.
And at the edge of the known world, where they didn’t know what else to draw or what else to put, they’d have these little dragons and next to them it would say, “Beware all who go here. There be dragons.”
In trying to plot the unknown, the only thing they could think to do was warn people not to head there. So they tried to scare them with dragons. It was too dangerous, so why try?
And although people have been getting married since civilization has organized itself…heck, even the Biblical text for today has Jesus talking about people getting married, so we know it’s old…this is still a brand new voyage.
Because there has never been a voyage of Nathan and Monica.
It may seem to many that marriage is a known quantity, one where you can accurately predict the risk. In fact, we have lawyers who profess that they can predict marriages and risks and the amount of money to put on them.
But they’re wrong.
Each voyage is different. If there’s one thing I’ve tried to stress with the two of you as we’ve met over the last five months, and as we’ve gotten to know each other over the last year, it’s that there has never before been a “this.”
Those lawyers are wrong. This kind of risk is the one of uncertainty, it’s the risk of the unknown because it’s never been tried, so it’s a good thing you two are actuaries.
You predict the risk of the unknown.
It’s one of the reasons, by the way, that we say in the vows “for better or worse, for richer or for poorer.” Those aren’t just words, you know. That’s a vow. A vow that tries, to the best of it’s ability, to cover all the risk, all the bases.
It’s a vow that says, “Come hell or high water, come dragons or sea serpents, I’m sailing with you.”
Still want to do it? Because that’s a tall order, such uncertainty.
I think then, before we go further, let’s take some wisdom from Jesus today. In this passage from Mark that you’ve chosen, he’s pretty descriptive. He describes behavior. A man leaves his parents to make his home with someone else. We call this marriage.
But he does provide one piece that is not just description, one piece that is new and original.
He says, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”
So, I wonder, just where are we joined?
I know couples, maybe you do too, that are said to be “joined at the hip.” That is, they are always together. I don’t know about you, but I find those couples generally annoying. Sometimes you don’t want to talk to two people, right?
I don’t think Jesus is talking about being joined at the hip. Part of sailing together is trusting the other person to take the wheel while you go do other things for a while.
I know couples who seem to be joined in the head, always completing each others sentences and thoughts. That makes for boring conversation; we should be a bit different. And you two are different people…this is good.
I don’t think Jesus is talking about that.
I know couples who seem to be joined at the heart, only making kissy faces at each other, and never being able to not hold the other person’s hand or touch them or…yeah, that just makes everyone uncomfortable.
I don’t think Jesus is talking about being joined at the heart, either. That’s just sentimentality.
I actually think that Jesus is talking about us being joined in a way that defies any sort of explanation. It’s kind of the same way that you describe why you’re in love in the first place. Sure you can say, “It’s his eyes,” or “It’s her sense of humor.”
But ultimately, when you’re pushed for an answer, you’re in love because that’s just what you are. It’s part head, part heart, part hip…but not wholly any of those.
It’s wholly something else…kind of like God is wholly something else.
I think Jesus is saying that in marriage God’s joins us in a way that we can’t really define…and that’s why we can’t easily be separated; that’s why no one should separate us. Because you can’t really see the point of connection…there are just too many.
It’s in that invisible, mysterious place that God always works and moves.
In that place of uncertain high risk.
So, Nathan and Monica, actuaries extraordinaire, you two are about to be joined together in an uncertain way that is uncharted, may contain dragons, and most certainly is risky.
But unlike your profession, in marriage your job isn’t to analyze the risk. You’re job is to just keep sailing into the uncharted together, through the dragon waters together, through the risk together.
Because you’re joined together after today. And what God has joined together, let no one, or no thing, no uncharted waters, no dragons, no risk at all, separate.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.
On Corners and Tenacious Love
If we were to look in the corners of our houses, I imagine we’d find some quite…surprising things.
We realize this fully as we prepare to move from one house to another. When my wife and I moved after our son was born, we lifted up the box spring of our bed to expose the hard wood floors underneath the bed.
At least, that’s where hardwood floor used to be. Instead what we found, to our horror, were orphan socks whose partners had long been thrown away, dust balls the size of tumbleweeds, books we thought we had lost and never read, and one slipper neither of us had ever remembered owning and neither would claim.
The corners of our house are often the place where things pile up, collect dust.
And yet, in Ephesians, we have the corner of our house being lauded and lifted up because, as the writer says, Christ is the cornerstone of the house, that upon which the whole structure is built.
And that’s a funny thought, actually.
Because I imagine most people think that the structure of marriage is built upon love…and yet you two have chosen Ephesians to lift up as the text read today.
And it’s wise to do so.
Because, for as much as we want to laud and lift up love…and we do, of course…love does not make a good cornerstone. Because when love collects dust, like the corners of our houses, it begins to crumble a bit and its integrity is brought into question.
And despite what we might want to believe about ourselves or our world, love does indeed collect dust. Overtime it can become stale. Overtime it can become orphaned, as it may feel itself drifting away from the thing it desires. It can become something of a memory, one no one remembers or wants to claim.
And that can even happen in marriage.
I cringe just as much when people tell me they are getting married because they’re in love as I do when they tell me their families are forcing them to marry. Neither eros nor coercion make good cornerstones…
Love is certainly a major part of it; don’t get me wrong. But not in the way most people think it is.
To use a phrase from your other voice today, from George Macdonald, “It is by loving and not by being loved that one can come nearest to the soul of another.”
So much of love seeks after its own fulfillment. But in Christ we see a love poured out for humanity, not seeking for itself, but genuinely for the other. And in that seeking, people are brought together.
George Macdonald hits upon a truth that is so deep it takes years, perhaps even a lifetime, to figure out. In Christ we see the love for the other without the ulterior motivation. And that love, that model of Christ, must be the cornerstone of the marriage home.
Because that kind of tenacious love, the love that seeks after loving the other person even when it doesn’t want to, even when it feels orphaned, even when it feels dried up, even when it feels like no one will claim it back, that is the love seen in Christ…and that is the love needed in marriage.
Because, as I said in our sessions before today, marriage is not the thing you do when you’re in love. You kiss when you’re in love. You make out and hold hands and flirt when you’re in love.
No; marriage is that thing that keeps you together until you fall in love again. It’s that vow that says to the whole world, “I will seek after loving you through the best and the worst of all that is to come.”
And that is the vow of God to the world as seen in Christ.
And if you both do that for each other, there is no need to worry if your desire to be loved will be fulfilled. It will.
So, Meggie and Zachary, social workers extraordinaire (even though Meggie is the more social worker of the two of you) let us lay the foundation to this marriage house upon the love shown through the Christ.
It is a sure foundation of love that will seek and seek and seek to love the other. May you two do the same.
Love in the Winter, Too
I love this Song of Solomon text you two chose for today. In fact, it was one of the texts used at my own wedding.
It’s romantic and sweet and sugary and all the right things you intend to have on a wedding day where you’ll romantically kiss and tell one another sweet things (like “Get me more champagne”) and eat sugary cake. It’s almost so sweet that it makes you want to puke, right? I mean, if I didn’t have a sentimental side…and I’m SUPER sentimental…it’d be like that.
But it’s supposed to be. It’s a love poem where one lover entreats the other one to come and follow them because it’s now spring and things are blooming and wild animals are in a love dance around one another: foxes and turtle doves and…
And surely that’s part of love, the part that makes you want to puke. Butterflies in the stomach and thoughts of springtime when everything is blooming and fragrant and beautiful, just as you two are beautiful today.
But one of the things that it’s important to lift up, and one of the things I want to lift up today, is that marriage is not the reflection of a spring-time love.
The reflection of a spring-time love is a first date. The reflection of a spring-time love is a first kiss. The reflection of a spring-time love is that time when you first hold hands and giggle and smirk.
Marriage, on the other hand, is a reflection of love that intends to last the seasons.
All of them.
People often tell me that the reason they get married is because they’ve fallen in love. That is not adequate enough, I’m afraid.
Falling in love is not enough. I fall in love with things all the time: fads, newfangled gadgets, things I believe I can’t live without. There was this one time I fell in love with Whitney Houston music, and we can all guess how that went.
We marry not because we fall in love, but because we know that our hearts are temperamental things. They latch on to this and that at one time or another.
And marriage, the marriage vow, is one that reminds us, those of us getting married, that no matter what temperament your heart is in, you’ve promised to be with this person.
I know we say that marriage is the thing that we do when we fall in love. But I truly think that marriage is that thing that keeps us together until we fall in love again.
Because the winters of love are the times when we need the marriage vow more than ever; not just the spring time.
It’s one of the reasons that I’m happy you picked this poem by Roy Croft for today. Croft’s poem is beautiful and rich and never once does it say, “I love you because your soooo attractive, and sooo wonderful, and sooo awesome.”
Instead it repeats over and over again, “I love you because of how you make me be. I love you because of how you affect and change me. I love you because…well…you’re you.”
And right now your love is in spring, and it’s beautiful, and it’s wonderful, and Song of Solomon speaks to that.
But your love will be in winter, too, one day. And in that time, remember this Croft poem and your vows. Remember that you’re married not because of the butterflies in your stomach, but because the other person has promised to keep and hold you whether the butterflies are present or not.
That is the promise of marriage. That is what you vow yourselves to, today.
So, shall we make such promises? Will we love one another in the winter as well as the spring?
Then let’s seal it today. And may your love last all the seasons of this earth, but especially the winters.
So, it is clear to me that you two love to tell stories. Because as we sat together over the past few months you told me, and yourselves, some wonderful stories that will help you in your new life together.
But I also know you love to tell stories because I found your “wedding website.” Yes; I did some internet stalking with the help of your family members, and I found your stories…the ones you don’t usually tell your pastor.
And in between Steve’s minor felony of stealing bar stools and Kate’s suspicion that Steve was stalking her as he magically appeared at her home at 1am and secretly entered his number into her cell phone–behavior, by the way, that indicates either mental instability or being lovesick (often the same thing, yes?), it is clear that the story of your life together will prove to be interesting.
And we can’t wait to hear the story unfold.
But we should also be wary of stories, sometimes.
People today are going to give you lots of advice based on their stories when it comes to marriage. They’ll tell you to “listen to your heart” or to “do what you think is right.”
All kinds of stories.
But I’m hear to tell you to, to remind you, really, that your heart will sometimes tell you stories that just aren’t true.
As the old adage goes, the heart is a “fickle thing.” You know this already because our hearts fall in love with things all the time, and often these things don’t prove to last. They’re fads. Like skinny jeans. And we realize that these fads aren’t all they’re cracked up to be because if you get the skinny jeans on you sure won’t get them off again because, well, they’re purposefully made too skinny! And they don’t fit well!
And your heart may one day tell you that this union here doesn’t fit well anymore. And it may want to go off on a new fad. It’ll tell you that story; don’t trust it.
And, believe it or not, you head will tell you stories, too. It might tell you that none of this makes sense anymore, especially on those days when nothing makes sense anymore. A little secret that I often tell couples newly married is that almost every fight you will have boils down to this question: “Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?”
That’s your head telling you that you don’t know one another anymore. It’s a story; don’t believe it.
Because, and this is deep truth, what has brought you two to this day has not all been head decision or heart feeling. The realization that your life is better lived together is one made of a weird mix of head, heart, spirituality, and a good dose of mystery.
In fact, if I were pressed to locate where this feeling is located, it wouldn’t be in your head or your chest, but rather it is found in your guts.
In ancient Greek the word for “guts” or “bowels” is splanchna. It’s that place where you ache when you’re presented with something so real that you can’t make sense of it with your head because it defies logic and your heart only reluctatnly gets on board because it knows that this truth is much deeper than any emotion known to humanity.
It’s that mysterious place where we see, if only for a moment, what divine love for humanity might look like. In Genesis God creates the world not out of necessity, but out of pure desire, willfully bringing another life into the cosmic equation (much like you are willfully bringing each other into your own equations) not because it makes sense, and not out of the lust of the heart, but because life is better lived together.
This fact, that true loved defies the logic of the mind and the emotion of the heart is exactly why the apostle Paul in the Corinthians reading you just heard uses all these impossible adjectives to describe it: patient, kind, un-envious, not boastful.
To the mind that doesn’t make sense because we know love makes us impatient and envious and boastful and…it doesn’t jive with our experiences.
To the heart this all just seems impossible.
Hence why we need Divine help in the endeavor of marriage.
So, for an example of a story that you can listen to in marriage, today I offer you two.
The first is an ancient story. It’s the story of a God so in love with humanity that God creations “just because.” Because sometimes you will be in love together not for any logical reason, but just because that’s what you are. That ancient story counter-acts the stories your mind might tell you.
The second story I offer you will counter-act those times when your heart might tell you this isn’t a good fit anymore. And that story is the one you’re about to do in just a moment: your vows.
Married couples should print off their vows and put them on the fridge. Because our vows are a story in and of themselves. They are the story we promise one another for how we will be together. We tell one another, and the world, that when our heads and our hearts tell us something different, we’ve promised this. Only this.
And our vows keep us together until we make sense again; our vows keep us together until we fall in love again.
So, Kate and Steve, as two who are writing a beautiful story together, let’s bind that book with a vow, that story that will now weave it’s thread through the future of your whole life together.
My advice to you both is to forget most of what you hear. There is no magic bullet; no mystical key, no perfect advice.
Instead, I want to give you two a challenge.
And I want to give you a challenge instead of advice because, well, I know you. And if there’s one thing I know about you two, it’s that you’re both super competitive.
You are. And this is a good gift to have, mind you.
Competition can lead us to do great and adventurous things in life. It can lead us to move to Chicago on our own to start a professional life that has momentum.
It can lead us to hit holes-in-one on the golf course-from the blue tee, of course.
And competition, a competitive attitude, that stick-to-itiveness is so important in marriage because, well, you’re choosing today to run this race of life with another person, and people are the worst.
No; trust me. I deal exclusively with God and people, so I’m a bit of an expert. People are the worst.
And see, when people come together in marriage it’s all puppy dog smiles and unicorns and rainbows…
And you’re in love. You’re so in love. As well you should be.
But please notice something.
See, I know you’re in love now. Of course you’re in love now.
But will you mindfully stay in love?
In the movies we see wedding scenes where the couple always says, “I do.”
But not today.
Today I had you say, “I will.”
“I do” is all about the present. Do you love each other? You do; of course you do. But will you? “I will” has a future to it.
Because soon the present of puppy dog smiles and unicorns turns into a real puppy that you two bought on a whim who now chews up your high heels and you find yourselves arguing over whose Idea it was to get it anyway. And the magical unicorn turns into unicorn stickers that little hands have stuck to the walls and by God you can’t get them off and who has time to be in love with someone else when all you’re trying to do is survive…
Will you love each other then? That’s what I’m interested in.
I’m going to tell you a marriage secret: every fight that a married couple has boils down to this question, “Who are you and why are you in my house?”
Marriage is this beautiful statement that, despite people being the worst, you’ve decided that the race of life is better run in tandem, better run together. And your competitive natures can help here.
Because if we listen to the wisdom of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, we know the answer to the question, “Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”
Who are you? You are one. You are one flesh, now.
You are bone of the same bone, flesh of the same flesh, as Genesis says.
You are united together and now are charged with the keeping of that unity. You must run the race of life together.
And so I want to give you a challenge; spur a little competition in this competitive couple.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and you do) is to run the race of life with one another, but to never, ever win.
Your competition will be to be the best at keeping pace with the other person.
And when one or the other of you doubts that they can go on, or doubts that the other will continue to run with them, you’ll be there to say, “I will.”
“I will run with you.”
“I will carry you when you can’t run anymore.”
“I will let you carry me when I’m at my end.”
Your mission is to be the best at the “I wills” of your race together.
And do I think you’ll take the challenge and succeed in this race?
With God’s help and grace-you will.
Song of Solomon 2:1-7
I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
2As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among maidens.
3As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
4He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his intention toward me was love.
5Sustain me with raisins,
refresh me with apples;
for I am faint with love.
6O that his left hand were under my head,
and that his right hand embraced me!
7I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the wild does:
do not stir up or awaken love
until it is ready!
Do Not Stir Up or Awaken Love Until It is Ready!
In some ways this day is pretty improbable.
Two people in the golden years of life are, stereotypically I’d say, looking for comfortable living, relaxation, long days, easy friendships.
None of the things that marriage brings…at least, not easily.
Marriage is a total disruption of the ease of living alone. This is the price that we who are in committed relationships pay for having loneliness abated.
And some days in the married life, as you both know, loneliness seems not all that bad in comparison to the headaches of merging your life and your story with someone else.
That is a tongue-in-cheek statement, of course. Well, sort of.
Because the truth is that marriage, at any age, is difficult work. Ben Affleck, actor and producer, received a lot of flack recently for claiming in an Oscar speech that his marriage with actress Jennifer Garner was tough work.
Those throwing barbs at him obviously have either never been married or are delusional.
Marriage is work. It’s good to say so. It’s good to know.
And it’s good that it’s work. Because only those things that are difficult are truly worth doing, yes?
And doing at any stage in our lives, at any age.
And you two, unlikely friends of childhood who found one another again in these days, you two have taken the words of the poet we just read in Song of Solomon to heart. The last lines of that poem are so beautiful and full of truth.
“Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!”
And for you two, it appears that love has taken some years to awaken. But how beautiful it is that it is here.
Because love that is premature acts immaturely. It’s all butterflies and puppy dog smiles and things that fleet and fly away and don’t last.
And love that is too mature is too tired to do much of anything. It takes the beloved for granted.
This is, I think, one of the reasons that the Scriptures tell us that God “makes all things new” in a number of places. Because God is always refreshing God’s love for humanity, always bringing it to life in a new way at the right time.
And the prudent steward of love follows that advice and tries to act on it as well.
And I think that you are. Do not awaken love until it is ready to be stirred. And today, it is. It is stirring. It is ready.
So, before God and one another, are you willing to proclaim this love that is stirring inside of you that has seen now as the fit moment for proclamation?
Beautiful. Wonderful. Poetic. Godly.
Let us profess this love today in front of these family, these friends, this God, this love that has taken years to germinate and is finally blossoming, a love that is stirring now, the right time.
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
On Pins and Needles
Today we’re on pins and needles, right?
I think that’s funny because, well, Heidi: you work with pins and needles. Feet, legs, arms, forehead, cheeks…you put needles most everywhere to get things flowing correctly.
I remember my first acupuncture treatment, and at the end there was a little drop of deep deep red blood, toward the end of the circuit, and you said, “Hmmmm…how long have you been holding on to that?”
Crud, gunk, inner-unrest cleared away.
I also think it’s funny, though, because just a few days ago Justin, you put on Facebook that you can no longer say you aren’t nervous for the wedding. You’re on pins and needles.
And I know you’re nervous about the plane trip…though you needn’t be. In fact, you may need some pins and needles to get rid of that anxiety…
But I also think it’s funny because somehow love always turns us back to giddy children when we least expect it. No matter how long we’ve been together, those stomach butterflies always fly.
But the problem with pins and needles, the problem with butterflies (at least, real ones), is that they only last as long as they do. They fade, both in nature, and in our nature.
And so marriage can be thought of, I think, as a wonderful tool for those people who know that they have deep love for one another, even past the butterflies.
At the declaration of intention you told one another something very profound, and it bears repeating. I asked you if you will honor one another, will love one another, will cherish one another.
And you both answered, “I will.”
Notice how in the movies you always hear the bride and groom saying, “I do.”
But I’m not going to let you get away with that, and I’m not going to let you get away with saying “sure” like you tried to yesterday at the rehearsal, either! Because, you see, you’re on pins and needles. You’ve got butterflies in your stomach. And each pin and needle is circulating your love to cause you to be in love now. Each butterfly is whispering love notes saying you’re in love now.
Do you love and cherish one another now? Yes you do. Of course you do.
But will you? When the gunk of married life, melding your stories, routines, annoying little habits that you could put up with when butterflies were present, that are now huge pains, will you still love and cherish one another when all that crud settles back in?
“Will” implies a future. “Will” implies an intent. You can end “I will” with an ellipses because it’s future leaning, future leading, it moves forward…
Past pins and needles.
Past the butterflies that only last for a season.
Because, you see, the beauty of marriage is that it keeps us together past the butterflies until we fall in love again.
And that kind of love, the love that lasts past it’s supposed shelf-life, that’s the kind of love that Jesus is talking about in this John passage. As Jesus is getting ready to make his final physical leave from his disciples, he bids them to bear fruit that will last. Fruit that lasts past the expiration date of pins and needles and butterflies.
Today, here, we’re pledging one another fruit that will last.
So, will you? Will you remain in the love that you pledge here today?
Some days you’ll want to remain in it, and some days you’ll want a return policy.
But that’s where the love of God can come into play.
Because, you see, that person next to you is a loved child of God. And in the those moments when you disagree wholeheartedly with them, to the point of not even being sure you want to be with them, let God’s love for them be your love.
And let marriage keep you together until you fall in love again.
That’s what it means to remain in love. That’s what it means to bear fruit that will last.
That’s what “I will” means.
So Justin, past the pins and needles, will you love Heidi?
So Heidi, past the pins and needles, will you love Justin?
Then lets do this! And let’s seal the promise with the only good thing that pins and needles ever leads to, kissing.
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.* 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
So, I know, Bryan and Molly, that you’re competitive, but this is a little much, OK?
Did you really have to win the award for being married on the hottest day in May?
In all honesty, of course, I know you both are quite competitive spirits, and that’s what draws you to one another in love. You love the spirit in the other person, the spark, the fire, and the drive that comes from that.
And Paul in this chapter of Romans is speaking directly to that here. Did you hear it? “Love one another with mutual affection,” he says, but then he takes it one step farther and I think you’ll like this, “outdo one another in showing honor.”
So, for the next 60 or so years, your competition then is to outdo the other in showing honor. Honor to your spouse, honor to God, honor to this new thing that you’re embarking on here called marriage.
And that is no easy task, mind you. What in just a few moments you’re going to pledge yourself to the other in a totally radical way; in a way that will be joyous and try you in new ways. Paul speaks of that, too. “Rejoice in hope,” he says. And we’re doing that now, rejoicing in the hope that starts today, the hope that we have for your love, for your relationship, and for the lives you touch.
But Paul goes on, and here is where it gets rocky.
“Be patient in suffering.” Now, of course, in a marriage we’re not talking about physical suffering, although there will be times when you, Molly, will be patient with Bryan as he suffers from illness; and you, Bryan, will be patient with Molly in the same way. That’s the whole “for worse” part of the wedding vows.
But there will be other “suffering” moments of sort in your marriage. Like when Bryan doesn’t empty the dishwasher like you asked, Molly. Or when Molly leaves her curling iron on and you burn your hand while you’re brushing your teeth, Bryan.
And don’t be fooled, those moments need much patience, too.
And we get that patience, many times, be going with Paul’s next advice: persevere in prayer. Because, in all honesty, we give thanks that while he didn’t empty the dishwasher when you wanted to, he loves you, and we say a prayer of thanks. And we give thanks that while she didn’t turn the curling iron off, we have the privilege of sharing a life together, and we say a quick prayer of thanks…before unplugging the iron.
That’s a fire hazard, you know.
But Paul’s advice goes one step further, and this is a true testament of love. Paul says, “extend hospitality to strangers.” And this is important to remember because, while you think you know someone, you don’t really know them until you live together. And you make wake up one day and think to yourself, “who are you and why are you in my house?”
Being completely serious.
We change overtime; all of us. The people we are today are not the people we are in twenty years. And so our love must grow, and adapt, and make space for the people we are going to become. We must welcome the stranger of twenty years into our lives, just as we’re welcoming each other today.
And this, Molly and Bryan, is what it means to love and honor one another in a marriage. It’s not about butterflies and kisses, although you certainly should and will have those. It’s about opening your life up to the possibility that someone else will enjoy you as much as you enjoy yourself…and that you’ll enjoy another life even more than you enjoy yourself.
It’s about hope, and patience, and hospitality to the stranger, and of course, prayer.
So, Bryan and Molly, that’s your assignment for the next 60 years. Outdo one another in hope, and patience, and hospitality, and prayer.
And consider don’t consider the vows the starting point, because then Bryan will get a head start. Instead, consider the blessing the starting point, the blessing of a God who has taught you how to hope, who has unending patience, who welcomes all, and who is worth our prayers.