Every wedding sermon is unique – they are sort of like a conversation between the pastor and the couple, but a conversation when you know that everyone else is listening in and you are also speaking to them.
This was the conversation I had with William and Jennifer on the occasion of their wedding at St. John – Prairie Hill. Texts for the day were Genesis 2:18-24, Colossians 3:12-17, and John 15:9-12.
Grace and peace to you in the name of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It really is a joy to be here today, gathered with you, William and Jennifer, and surrounded here by all of your family and friends. It is one of the privileges of my job that I am invited to be a part of celebrations like this – and I thank you for inviting me to be a part of this special day.
After the service today, when everyone is gone, I will go back to my office, and I will sign this piece of paper (Hold up Marriage License). Apparently there was some question about whether you would remember to get this on time. I don’t know, that’s just what I was told.
But this is your marriage license. It was given to you by the state of Texas, and I will send it back to the state of Texas. Everyone who has been married in Texas has one of these.
Some folks have it in a nice frame, up on the wall somewhere in their house.
Some might have it in a lock box with other important documents to keep it safe.
Maybe some are like the lawyer who had his marriage license out and was reading it one night, when his wife asked him what he was doing. He said, “Looking for a loophole.”
Regardless of what you do with this piece of paper, I want to tell you a secret; you know, just between the three of us …
It’s just a piece of paper. Really. That’s all.
This piece of paper is not a marriage.
In fact, everything we are doing today is not a marriage. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great day. It is wonderful to be in this place, with all these people, witnessing your vows to one another. This place where grandparents said their vows, and where parents said their vows – it is good to be here.
But as good as it is to be here, don’t get confused: this is a wedding, not a marriage.
What makes a marriage is what you do tomorrow, and the next day, and the following weeks and months and years.
For many weddings, the couple will look at my list of recommended readings and say, “Pastor, you just choose something.” Or they’ll use First Corinthians chapter 13, because it is what is used at everyone else’s wedding, right? And that’s fine for those people. But not for William & Jennifer.
We talked quite a bit about what readings would be most appropriate today. What would express the life that they want to live together. And I am glad we settled on what we did today, Especially that Gospel lesson from Saint John.
Especially that one little bit – the bit that often gets cut out of wedding services: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” As we talked about it, the question was asked, “Surely that’s not appropriate for a wedding?”
And the answer is: few things could be more appropriate.
Because here is the truth: Chances are that you will never be asked to give up your life for your spouse. But, you will have to give up yourself for your spouse.
Marriage is not a piece of paper, it is a gift.
Jennifer, today you will give yourself to William.
And William, today you will give yourself to Jennifer.
Those are the words that we used as we began this service: William, will you give yourself to Jennifer, to share your life with her? And Jennifer, will you give yourself to William, to share your life with him?
Marriage is a gift, the gift of yourself, of your life. And it is not just today.
Every day from here forward, you must continue to give yourselves to one another. That is a marriage.
It means letting go of petty fights about who is right and who is wrong.
It means putting your spouse’s interests – their wants and desires and happiness – ahead of your own.
It means, William, that Jennifer’s happiness is more important than yours.
And it means, before you smile about that to much, Jennifer, that William’s happiness is more important than yours. That is a marriage.
That is precisely what Jesus means when he gives his disciples their one and only commandment, to love one another. That is what Paul means, when he tells us to be clothed in love. That is what means to become one flesh, forever joined together.
You are each your wedding gift to one another. And your marriage is the gift of continuing to give yourselves to one another.
And with that gift to each other, with that shared love, I know that you will have a marriage that will last through the ages, and stand as a witness to all of the love of God. God bless you.
But that’s enough of me talking; let’s get to the main event. William and Jennifer, I invite you to come and begin the adventure of your marriage by declaring your vows to one another here in the presence of God and of God’s people.