On Staying Open to Making Memories

1610931_10100182003605519_8476306772582429630_nMarriage of John Stuart Fauquet and Joseph Papa

Richmond, Virginia

May 24th, 2015

On Staying Open to Making Memories

This is about my 40th wedding as an officiant, or serving in some official role.  I learned at wedding number 6 that wedding reflections, sermons, homilies, what have you, should be three things: short, witty, and touching.

No one is here to see me.  They’re here to see you two.  Or at least Joseph’s hair.  Or the pony.

As with everything I do, I’ll shoot for two out of three.

And as I was thinking about today, I realized that, JS, we’ve known one another longer than we haven’t known one another.  We’ve been friends for longer than we’ve not been friends.  Memories came flooding back for me of those crossroads in Startown, North Carolina.  We met when we were 12 and instantly bonded over our apathy toward the Atlanta Braves.

And I remember hanging out at our houses, with a bunch of these guys here. I remember listening to Boys 2 Men and All 4 One and a bunch of other R&B bands with numbers in their names for hours.

I mean, the memories kept coming.

By the way, this is where I was going to include a reference to the play Cats, when talking about memories, but I was advised by someone I trust that it would say more about me than I want to say, so I won’t…

And two years ago when you introduced Rhonda and me to Joseph, I had this feeling that one day Joseph and my family would be able to say that we’ve been friends for longer than we haven’t.

And, judging by our age, we just might make it…I look forward to that future.

And when I tell my sons, ages 2 years old and 4 months old…who I wish could be here because, really, they are party animals…especially that younger one…he’s up all night.  When I tell them about this day, and about all the remarkable things about today: celebrity singers and musicians, a pony, and the amazing love between their Uncle JS and their Uncle Joseph, I am happy to say that the least remarkable thing for them will be that they live in a country where their Uncles can marry and enjoy the full rights and joy of marriage.

And I give thanks to God for that.  I can’t wait for that to be a distant memory for all.

And today I can’t help but remember your mom, JS.  She would have loved this. Joseph: she would have loved you.

And, like me, she would have loved your Twitter feed.

And it is not lost on me that she should and would be the one standing here.  It is a great honor for me to fill this role for her.

But enough remembering the past; let’s start imagining the future.  Because that is what we’re leaning into today, and every moment I guess.  And as you lean into the future after today, JS and Joseph, you do so declaring for the world that “you are more when you’re together than you are when you’re apart,” as the song goes.

But I will warn you that it won’t always feel that way.  Intellectually we know this, but in this moment, as the butterflies…or ponies, I guess…are fluttering about in our stomachs we can’t imagine life without the other one.

But sometimes you will.  And that’s just honest.  I mean, one of the reasons we get married is not because we will always feel like we’re in love.  Life has a way of playing with our minds and emotions and causing all sorts of disruptions in us.

One of the reasons, maybe the primary reason, we marry is so that we’ll stay together until we fall in love again.

I was reading Business Insider this week—it’s where I get all of my relationship advice—and they had an article about what makes for a good relationship.  Seriously. It was in Business Insider.  Because, that makes sense, right?

Anyway, don’t read the article because I’m going to summarize it for you because I think it’s true: what keeps us together in marriage isn’t that we’re always in love, it’s that we’re always open to the possibility of loving the other person.  It’s that we’re interested in looking for their love and giving them love and being loved and leaning into that possibility.

And there’s no advice anyone can give you to make that happen. No trick.  That openness must be from inside.  And it’s an openness that comes from embracing not just the exciting parts of life, but also the boring parts of life.  You lean into the boring in marriage, and that doesn’t sound exciting, but trust me, it’s a great adventure.

Robert Frost’s poem “The Master Speed” is one of my favorites, much better than that trite one about a fork in the road and choosing the unbeaten path.  I generally assume there’s a reason a path isn’t well traveled; it’s probably boring or has bears or leads to Old Navy or something.

But “The Master Speed” is a great piece of work. It’s about married life, and in it Frost claims that the lovebirds, the married ones, know a secret: “master speed.”  And it’s basically the supersonic speed where you realize that the mundane is sacred.  That the beautiful is ordinary. Where standing still together means more than moving quickly when you’re apart.

Indulge me for just a moment with it:

No speed of wind or water rushing by

But you have speed far greater. You can climb

Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,

And back through history up the stream of time.

And you were given this swiftness, not for haste,

Nor chiefly that you may go where you will,

But in the rush of everything to waste,

That you may have the power of standing still

Off any still or moving thing you say.

Two such as you with such a master speed

Cannot be parted nor swept away

From one another once you are agreed

That life is only life forevermore

Together wing to wing and oar to oar

Although I can’t imagine either of you being ordinary, in marriage you will, you must find the beauty in the ordinary, the power of standing still, the master speed.

Every ordinary moment has an infinity of meaning because you are choosing to do the ordinary together moving forward.

Open to one another forever. Together.

And that, my friends, is what makes memories: being open to having them made.

So, Joseph and John Stuart, let’s make a memory together. Wing to wing and oar to oar.  Are you ready?


Sometimes You Don’t Know You’re Built on a Rock Until the Storm Passes

May 22nd, 2015

USCG_Tillamook_Rock_LighthouseMatthew 7:24-29

Everyone who hears my words and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house upon a rock.  The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell—and great was the fall!”  Now when Jesus had finished saying these things the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

Sometimes You Don’t Know You’re Built on a Rock Until the Storm Passes

I’ve presided over a number of weddings in the last five years, and have preached at many more, and I can’t remember ever preaching on this text for a wedding.

A fun challenge.

I guess one of the challenges with this text, and I think also with marriage, is how much advice we get around it all. Mindi’s heard me say this at a million weddings: I hate marriage advice. And let’s be honest: Jesus sounds a lot like he’s giving advice here.  Except that he’s saying it in the past tense, so it’s kind of like a passive-aggressive piece of advice, or like when you’re looking at a job application and it says, “The successful worker will have…”

Sure, hind-sight is 20/20, but when we talk about life like we should have known what was going to happen, we sound rude and snobby and, well…I don’t want to say Jesus is being snobby here, but when he says, “The successful person will have built their house on rock…” it kind of sounds that way.

But let’s give Jesus the benefit of the doubt for a second and imagine that he’s not saying it to people who haven’t weathered storms before.  Maybe Jesus is talking to people who are past the storm, who find themselves OK, still functioning, and need to have their eyes reopened.

It does no good to talk about the future as if we know what is going to happen.  Look at this, here, today.  Prediction after prediction of how the story of Mindi and Aaron would progress didn’t make this happen.

No amount of predicting caused today.  Today was caused by you two and deep love and jumping into the deep end of life and choosing to do it together.

Because, here’s the thing, sometimes you don’t know that your house is built on rock until after the storm has raged, the rains have beat down, the wind has all but blown you away…

And here you are with Ike in tow.

I don’t think you two are here today because you saw the future and built your house on stone.  I think that you two, in being who you are and who you are together, had houses built on stone and here you are.

And that should be a real comfort to you.

Because success in most anything, including life together, including marriage, isn’t the ability to predict the future, but the ability to stand together no matter what happens in the future.

Which is why we vow things. We make promises about the future not dependent on the future, but relying on our present ability to be built on stone. But for you two, today’s vow will kind of be like an affirmation of things that have already come to pass.  The ways that you’ve decided, off and on, explicitly and implicitly over the years, to remain open to one another, to support one another, to hold each other through all of life.  The ways that God has held you individually when you were apart, and holds you as a couple now that you are together…

Today is the first time you’ll say some of these things to one another and to God, but it is not the first time that you’ll have proven you’re built on stone.

That’s really important to hear today.  Because that has the backing of past authority.

And make no mistake, I do not think that you two were two ships out to sea who weathered storms and just happened to find yourselves at the same port.  I think you two weathered storms and made the decision to head to the same port to weather all the rest of them.

So Aaron, Mindi, I’m not going to give you any advice…and I encourage you (like I encourage all couples I marry) to forget about 90% of the advice you do get about marriage.  Every marriage is different.  If I were sentimental I’d say they’re like snowflakes.  But that’s hokey, so I’ll say they’re like the yearly White Sox roster: every one is different from another.

But I will tell you this: your house is built on rock.  I can’t predict the future; no one can and we waste our breath trying.  But I can see the past. And that is what I see.

So no need to move; you’re on solid ground together.  Let’s vow to one another to try to stay there, with God’s help, and with the help of these people of God.


To Life…and to Death…and to Death that Gives Life

holding_handsJohn 15:9-14

9 Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. 11 These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.

12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do what I command you.

To Life…and Death…and to Death that Gives Life

One of the great things about preaching at a wedding, and I’ve said this before so it’s no surprise, is that you will remember very little about what I say today.

So I’ll make this short.

But on a day when everyone will give you lots of advice, advice about how you shouldn’t let the sun go down on your anger toward one another (spoiler alert: you will go to bed mad at each other sometimes and then wage a fight over the sheets), or how you should always make the other person happy (spoiler alert: even if you try to do this, you will fail because we just can’t be satisfied), or even how you should buy one another a flower every morning and put it at the bedside so that they see it when they wake up…really, I heard someone say that they did this one time, and all I could think about was “Even when you had the flu?!”

Look, you’re going to get lots of advice, and I suggest you dismiss 90% of it.  But if there is one piece of advice that I could give you it’s this: you gotta die.

Seriously…that’s what you have to do.  Jesus asks that we lay down our lives for one another.

How do we lay down our lives for one another these days?

In the day when so few of us are in mortal danger at any given time, when the opportunities to stare the bad guy in the face and say, “Do not take her or him, take me…” how do we effectively lay down our lives for one another?

Maybe it means turning off hockey in deference for what Deb wants to watch?

Actually…Deb likes hockey, so I don’t think that’s it…

I mean, I’m really wondering about this because, if there’s one thing I do know about marriage, it’s that it is a constant death and resurrection story for those of us involved.

I mean, I’ve never been in a position of laying down my life for my wife, but there are certainly times when I’ve died in my relationship.

When my need to be right died.

When my idea of what we are going to do next died as we negotiated our way forward together.

When my desire to just abandon the whole thing died because I remembered the promises we made together.

There is no greater love than for you to lay down your life for your friend, Jesus says.

I’ve never known that to be so real than I do within marriage.

Because my friends and I can go separate ways, and it hurts, but I don’t often feel a real need to work out the particulars with them…

But in marriage.

Yes.  It has to happen.

And really the only way that I’ve found the ability to lay down my life, my ego, my desire to be right, even sometimes my personal dreams about the future, is to abide in God.   Abiding in God, not just remembering there is a God, but living and breathing and moving in this world in such a way that I make known in myself that I am not the center of the universe, doing that reminds me that my time is not my own, anyway.

And since my time is not my own, and I have to be a good steward of my time, well, in being good stewards of your time, you two are saying here that you think the God who is greater than you is pleased that you’ve chosen to spend your remaining days together.

And since we’re going to bless that in God’s name, well, there’s a certain need for you two to be together then.  To lay down your lives for one another in ways that you never thought you’d have to, you never thought would be possible, that you never thought you could or would.

That’s marriage: doing the impossible together.

Because it is impossible to always have butterflies in your stomach about the other person.  The butterflies of the tummy only last a season, anyway.

It is impossible for you not to get angry at one another.  When you take a long trip with someone, you eventually end up fighting somewhere in the barren lands of Nebraska.

Today we’re not promising to be always in love forever.  Today we’re promising to be together, even when we find it difficult to love one another.

Today we’re not promising to never argue.  Today we’re promising that our arguments will, like butterflies, have a season.

Today we’re promising nothing other than to lay down our lives for one another.  From this day forward. To abandon our personal agendas in deference for a shared agenda.

And the only way that works is when we first abide in the God who lives outside of seasons, whose love never fails, who is the master at raising up people whose lives have been laid down.

Deb and Mike, I am excited to be here today with you two and for you two.  But mostly, I am excited to see what God is doing in you two.  And it may sound strange, but I am excited for the ways that you two will die and rise together daily, as this is what love calls us to do.

On Love Being Messy and Finding Our Way Through Life Together -A Wedding Sermon

John 15:9-17

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, justLOVE-700x552 as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
12This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

On Love Being Messy and Finding Our Way Through Life Together

It’s not without some fear and trembling that I think you, Cyndi, should be feeling in asking one of James’ fraternity brothers to preach and preside at your wedding. I mean, there are almost as many Phi Kappa Psi here as there are family…or maybe that’s the same thing, in many ways.

I’d be afraid. James, I’d be afraid. Afraid of stories that might pop up. Afraid that you’d have a sermon based all on the song “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers, patron saint of the Phi Psi house at Valparaiso University. A sermon that entreated you to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, and no when to run…

I’m not going to do that.

Actually, it’s very easy for me today because in the rush of this day, you’re not going to remember much of what I have to say, or what most people say, though many will have advice for you I’m sure.

I’m not going to tell you not to go to bed angry. Sometimes you’ll do that.

I’m not going to tell you to send one another kissy text messages every day as a way to keep the romance, the spark. Sometimes you’ll do that, but mostly your text messages will be something like, “What do we need from the store?” or “Can it be a take-out night?” and “Pick up my pills at the pharmacy”…that one is especially romantic.

The sermon at a wedding isn’t intended to try to tell you guys how to live successfully with one another. I trust that you’ll find your way together, mostly because, after being with you over these last few months as we’ve sat together I’ve figured out a few things about you two, and one of of your biggest assets is that you don’t put up with one another’s shenanigans very well.

If we weren’t in church I’d probably say that you don’t put up with each other’s crap very well.

And that is an asset, mind you. Being able to call one another on our stuff is a good thing…

You won’t remember much about today, but if you do remember one thing, I want you to remember is this: love is messy. You already know it in part, but nothing like an “I do” cements it.

Messy like finger-painting. Messy like cat hair that sticks to your clothes.

Love is not neat and tidy; love cannot be put in a box. Love is messy.

Love is messy because we are messy and we are lovers.

And, this is the thing: no matter if we’re type A or type B personalities, if we’re ninjas or knights, we don’t have a whole lot of tolerance for other people’s messes.

In fact, when things get too messy in our lives, we often just opt out.

This is why Jesus invites us to love one another with a love like God’s…not with a love like ours.

Because if we only love with a love like ours, a love that we’d prefer, it’d look like romance novels and text messages with kissy faces and never having to go to bed angry. It’d look like a neat house and two car garage and anniversaries that are always remembered…

And when that doesn’t come to reality, well…so often we just opt out.

Instead, the love of God as shown through Christ is one that gives of itself for the other person. It knows love primarily by loving something else, rather than just by being loved. So much of our world today longs to be loved and thinks that is love. But you truly know love only by loving.

Loving when one of you storms out of the room. And, by the way, I storm out of God’s room all the time when I’m angry with God…and have no doubt that God still loves me when I do so.

Loving when one of you is forgetful. Loving when one of you says something they don’t mean in a fit of passion.

I think I’ve said this line in almost every wedding sermon or pre-marital counseling that I’ve ever done, but marriage, Cyndi and James, is not what you do when you’re in love. Marriage is what keeps you together until you fall in love again.

But, that means sometimes it’ll cost you something. It’ll cost you being right in every argument; it’ll cost you not having the last say all the time. It’ll cost you swallowing your pride and saying you’re sorry. It’ll cost you the vindication of pulling all the blankets onto yourself because you’re so mad at the person that you think they shouldn’t get the blankets…and anyone in a relationship here knows what I’m saying…

But remember what Jesus says, “No greater love than to lay down your life…”

I read that as laying down the need to be right all the time. Laying down the need for the last word. Laying down the need for vindication.

Because love is messy…and the grace you give in love is the grace you’ll one day need by your lover.

I think another way of saying that is that it is in loving that we truly are able to be loved.

So James and Cyndi, as we take these vows, as we promise to love one another, hold in your hearts the self-giving love of God, not the fleeting love kissy text messages. There’s plenty of time for that, and that all will happen.

But share with each other the deeper love that God gives to us. In doing so you’ll find that you, indeed, will find your way through life. Together.


Love and the Things that Make Us Ill

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.


Well Worn and Beautifully Tough

John 15:9-17

Well Worn and Beautifully Tough images

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?

On Just Where We’re Attached and Counting the Cost of Risks and Uncertainties

Mark 10:6-9cost-risk-analysis

“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’[a] ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] and the two will become one flesh.’[c] So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 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.”

This union.

Never before.

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.

That’s marriage.

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.