This past Saturday on a bright beautiful blue-sky fall afternoon next to the glistening Chesapeake Bay, I had the privilege of presiding at a same-gender wedding for the third time.
I hope someday to lose count.
I hope, as someone said during one of the toasts at Saturday’s reception, that as the novelty wears off we will talk only of “weddings” without hyphens.
As a culture we have not reached that point.
Not too long ago, I was asked, “What do you preach about at a same-gender wedding?” (Actually, they asked about a “gay wedding,” but since all weddings are in theory gay – of course I mean in the original sense of the word – I’ve cleared up the phraseology.)
My short answer: Jesus
A longer answer: The good news about Jesus Christ (the Gospel).
The same thing I preach at every wedding, funeral, and every other worship service.
A little more specific: How every marriage is a reflection of God’s love in Christ in a relationship of two people.
Every wedding service celebrates the love of two people while acknowledging and worshiping the Source of love.
At the wedding Saturday, I did not refer in the service, including the homily, to the same-gender nature of the wedding. That was my silent stab at stepping toward a day when such services are simply “weddings.”
And here, if you’d like the longest answer of all, is an excerpt from the homily I preached at last Saturday’s wedding. Feel free to stop reading now because I’ve answered the question in this post’s title. You’re not obligated to stick around like the poor souls in the congregation that day who, like those seeking a meal at a mission, had to wait through the sermon to get to the food. But if you’re interested . . .
Every wedding is a miracle. It’s a miracle that out of all the people in the world, you each have found someone you want to share your life with. Who knew when you first worked together, you would end up in this beautiful spot on this gorgeous day, celebrating your love for each other and acknowledging the Source of all love?
Marriage is a miracle. Two people living together is not always easy. A couple in our congregation recently celebrated their 65th year of being married – now THAT is a miracle!
What is it that makes the miracle of marriage possible? The obvious answer is LOVE. But that’s too easy, really. Love is too often minimized as a mere feeling. But what makes the miracle of marriage happen is love as a verb – love in action.
This is the first time a couple has selected our Romans text for a wedding I’ve officiated. So I had to really work this week. As I researched this passage, I found some scholars have labeled it “The Christian Life in Action” or something like that. That’s appropriate, because this passage is about love and love is the essence of the Christian life – like the old hymn says, the world should know we are Christians by our love.
But as I looked at Paul’s words here in Romans 12, I realized they work well as sort of Christian wedding vows. You can break the first few verses into 10 simple principles . . .
I should never give a number because if you’re like me, you’ll be counting them as I go through them. “He’s on 8 . . . we’re that much closer to the reception.” Anyway . . .
- Love must be sincere – what is sincere love? It is love that is genuine; your actions are congruent with your words. Sincere love loves a person for who they are, not who we hope they will be. Sincere love helps the marriage partner become the best version of themselves, and it does not try to change them into something they are not.
- Look away from what is evil and cling to what is good – Pay attention to what you like about the person to whom your married. I used to teach parenting classes and would talk about how much easier it is to see when someone hasn’t done something than it is when they have – a messy room stands out more than a clean one. Focusing on what is good takes intent, but it is much more fulfilling in the long run than finding fault. And it keeps passion in the love relationship.
- Be devoted to each other – Many marriages falter because the couple starts to take each other for granted. How can you make each other and your relationship a priority? Does your calendar reflect that priority? Karen and I have learned to schedule a date night each week – if for some reason our usual Friday evening doesn’t work, we find another time to devote to each other.
- Honor one another before yourselves – I said this in a sermon last week – being a Christian is not about getting our rights, it is being concerned about the rights of others. Jesus certainly was not concerned about his own rights when he allowed himself to be killed on a cross. Hopefully you won’t need to go that far, but if each member of a married couple looks out for the rights of the other, that is the picture of a lasting marriage.
- Be joyful in hope – have FUN together! Again, marriage is a lot of work and it is easy to forget the importance of play and laughter. Those are holy gifts of God!
- Be patient in affliction – You have been together for a while, but I tell all newly married couples that although they may not believe it now, there will be a time when they get on each other’s nerves and may not be as excited about the whole marriage thing as they are on their wedding day. Patience begins with understanding the reality that we are all flawed and have things about us that make us hard to live with – you can ask Karen about mine at the reception – but the miracle of marriage is that with patience we can endure – and enjoy – each other’s company for years and years.
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil – Forgiveness is HARD. It goes against our nature. It is counter-cultural – what Paul says here about not repaying evil is directly opposite “Don’t get mad, get even.” But when two people who share their lives hold onto grudges, resentment corrodes the relationship. Remember, forgiveness is as much – or maybe even more – for the forgiver. We imprison ourselves in cells of resentment, and deprive ourselves of the true companionship and sharing of marriage.
- Finally, (If you’re counting, I’m really only doing 8 . . . I figure that way it will seem shorter if you’re expecting 10. It’s my gift to all of you.) Be faithful in prayer – I don’t know how that is possible to do all this stuff consistently without a strong relationship with the Author of Love. That means being intentional about keeping your faith strong – worshiping together, learning together from God’s Word, and perhaps most importantly, praying for and with each other. I know my marriage feels strongest when Karen and I are taking time to seek God’s will together, and when we are faithful about praying for each other. Christian marriage is not just a unity of two people, it is complete only if God is truly and consistently a part of the relationship. That’s what the end of the Ecclesiastes reading is about with its three-cord rope.
In summary, the kind of love that undergirds life-giving and lasting marriages is the love that Jesus spoke of at the last supper: “Love each other as I have loved you.” It’s important to know the context here – Jesus is speaking to His disciples on the last night He will spend with them before He is crucified.
At that meal he washed the disciples’ feet. I’m not recommending that as a marriage practice but it shows what Jesus was willing to do to show his disciples that he loved them. The next day he would show them how far he was willing to go.
Jesus didn’t just talk about love and how to love, He LIVED IT. Jesus loved sacrificially, selflessly. In the Greek in which the New Testament was written the word for that kind of love is AGAPE.
. . .
This is my prayer for you, Pete and Jim – may you be bound to each other and to God by Agape love. It is God who created you IN love, it is God who brought you together TO love, and it is God who will sustain you THROUGH love as you go forth into your life together putting love into action.
NOTE: The couple’s names were changed.