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February 15, 2009

What God has Joined Together

Yesterday was Valentine's Day, the day of the year when more proposals of marriage are offered than any other day. People get caught up in the romance and make commitments, sometimes more in response to the moment than to the person.

I don't want to sound like a cynic about marriage. I am all for it. But sometimes when I meet with a couple planning a wedding I am really amazed at the things they do not know about each other. It seems that some folks spend months and months planning a wedding but give very little thought to planning a marriage.

Sometimes I have to wonder, when they stand there in front of the minister all dressed up in their finery, what is going through their heads anyway?

(Marko, our organist, plays wedding march.  Andi and Michael come down the aisle...)

Ruth- God is love, and those who abide in love, abide in God, and God abides in them.

Andi- Gee, I hope this dress looks as good in the back as it does in the front.
Michael- Let's get this over with and get on with the party.

Teri- I know we can't expect this to be a totally spiritual moment But I do hope they recognize that the church is here not just as a backdrop for the photos. This is a religious thing we are doing. God is part of the covenant being made here.

Ruth- We gather in the presence of God to give thanks for the gift of marriage, to witness the joining together of this couple, to surround them with our prayers, and to ask God's blessing upon them, so that they may be strengthened for their life together and nurtured in their love for God. God gave us marriage as a holy mystery in which a two are joined together, and become one.

Michael- Two become one. That sounds like fun to me.
Andi- Surely that doesn't mean one checking account does it?
Michael- Or one set of friends?
Andi- I think I'd rather stay two and just share everything.

Teri- Think of it as two logs burning in a fire.
If they are too close together they get no air and the fire dies. If they are too far apart they lose the energy of the other and the fire goes out. But together they make one fire.
It is more than physical oneness or material oneness. It is spiritual oneness. Your spirits should be solidly bonded. A couple should have as much in common as possible. Their desires and dreams should be much the same; their moral codes similar; their views on life-style, the raising of children, relationships with in-laws should be fairly acceptable to each other.
Spiritual oneness also includes how you both relate to God. "It takes three to get married." God enhances love in a home. God brings guidance and hope into a home. God's presence in a home brings comfort and grace when trouble comes.

Ruth- Understanding that God has created, ordered, and blessed the covenant of marriage, do you affirm your desire and intention to enter this covenant?

Andi and Michael- I do.

Teri- "covenant" It is a rather old fashioned word. Sometimes couples want to change it to "promise". But I can make a promise with one person. A covenant I make with that person and with God. So these folks are not just making this promise to each other. They are promising God as well.

The other person will never be able to live up to all of your expectations. Get used to it. You will disappoint each other. Covenant means you love each other through the disappointment.

Ruth- Will all of you witnessing these vows do everything in your power to uphold this couple in their marriage?

Teri- There is a reason the marriage license asks for witnesses and there is a reason that there is usually a congregation watching. Maybe just two friends or maybe just 2,000 of your closest friends and family. But this is a communal covenant. Promises made in public are more likely to be kept. Witnesses help us stick to our word. The congregation gathers not just for a free meal but to say- we support you- we know that you have no idea what you are getting into- so we are here to help you. We will rejoice with you. We will counsel you through the rough times. We will love you through it all.

Ruth- since it is your intention to marry, bind yourselves to each other with your promises

Andi- Before God and these witnesses
Michael- I promise to be loving and faithful
Andi- in plenty and in want;
Michael- in joy and in sorrow;
Andi- in sickness and in health;
Both- as long as we both shall live.

Michael- Hey, what happened to the part where she promises to obey me?
Andi- In your dreams buddy.

Teri- What sort of happy plans do we have when we get married? We make our promise "for better, for worse," but the practical reality is that we fully expect this marriage to be "for better."

After all, if we honestly expected that it was going to be "for worse," we wouldn't choose to marry this particular person.

But for some poor souls, it does turn out for worse. All of us have seen it. Some of us have experienced it. The happiness of the wedding day turns bitter over time. The high hopes have been deflated. The happily-ever-after plans have been wrecked. And that early, innocent love has been mistreated and cheated.

The most common complaint I hear from struggling couples is that the love is gone. We just don't have the same feelings for each other we used to have. I guess I just don't love her anymore and she doesn't love me. What can I do?"

The amazing thing is that almost every couple I know, when they are honest, will say there has been a time when they felt that way in their marriage. The love has died.

At those times we need to remember that love is a verb. Love - the feeling, the emotion - is a fruit of love, the verb, the action. Our culture tries to make it a feeling. Movies, TV, advertisements, are all driven by feelings. We've been led to believe that we are not responsible, that we are a product of our feelings. But it is not so. If our feelings control our actions, it is because we abdicated our responsibility and allowed them to do so.

In marriage love is a verb, Love is something you do: the sacrifice you make, the giving of self, putting the other first, even people who offend or do not love in return. If you are a parent, look at the love you have for the children you sacrificed for. Love is a value that is lived through loving actions. Values trump feelings. Love, the verb- never ends and the feeling, can be recaptured. So love. Serve. Sacrifice. Listen. Empathize. Appreciate. Affirm. The feelings will come back if the verb- love is active.

Ruth- What God has joined together, let no one separate.

Teri- this is a covenant between two people and their God. It cannot be broken without breaking our promise to God. Relationship is an amazing gift- and an incredible responsibility.

It has been said that love is an unlimited commitment, to an unknowable partner. People who are sensible about it are probably incapable of it. There is no logic.

So for all those who present themselves for marriage, for all those who have already been married, for those in committed relationships, for those who struggle and for those who celebrate, I pray that you bring into your union the strengths that have carried you to this day.
I pray that you expect from one another not perfection but a willingness to learn. I pray that you know that mind-reading is a parlor trick, and not a skill that you should expect from your partner. I wish for you the courage to change when old ways do not lead where you want this marriage to go. The wisdom to listen when it would be so much easier to speak. The humility to say "I'm sorry," and the graciousness to let all wrongs live in their own time.

May God's love surround you today and every day forward. God bless you both and grant you peace.

You may kiss your spouse.


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