Sometimes we get asked to do stuff that’s out of our comfort zone. For me, that’s pretty much asking me to say anything without my 6-stringed security blanket in front of me! This weekend I officiated a wedding for my dear friends Brad and Katie McIlwain. I was w-a-y out of my comfort zone. But God gives grace, and there was a fresh sustaining supply of it for me. My one concern was getting through the service without weeping. (Remember Graham from The Holiday? “I’m a major weeper.” Yeah, that’s me.)
Though nothing could guarantee to keep me from boo-hooing (I did fine…mostly), some great books helped me prepare otherwise :
– The Presbyterian Book of Church Worship gives a time-tested order of the rite of marriage. (Why reinvent the wheel??)
– Also extremely helpful, not only in preparation, but for my own marriage, was Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage.
– And finally, the opening pages of John Piper’s book, This Momentary Marriage, had a powerful impact on my soul in preparing for this sacred event.
OK, here’s the sermon….
Brad and Katie,
Apart from the moment the Lord brought you both from death to life,
apart from that decisive moment in history when he irrevocably called you to himself,
This is one the most sacred moments of your life.
There was a unique, indelible instant in your life,
when God first applied the saving benefits of the blood of his own Son to your souls;
In that very moment you were saved from the shame, guilt and power of sin,
and you were sealed by his Spirit to forever be a child of God;
In a flash (even if you were unaware of it at that moment) you went from being an enemy of God,
to being his child;
from being an object of his wrath
to being his very righteousness.
And now, he wants to do something else, something new and fresh;
He wants to show you fresh contours of his glory and grace.
And he is going to use marriage to do it.
This is not something to be entered into lightly or flippantly. It has been said that 90% of your future happiness or misery is bound up in marrying the right person. But as every honest couple here will tell you, no one marries the right person. For no two people are completely compatible. Sin has left its life-shattering consequences and carnage everywhere.
Brad, Katie, it will destroy your marriage if you believe that your marriage is primarily an instrument to make you whole. It may sound romantic to say “You complete me.” But that’s Hollywood talking, not the Bible. That’s Jerry Maguire, not Jesus.
And as soon as we expect our spouse to fix everything wrong with us, we have turned our lover into God – and no human being can live up to that. So I must warn you.
You are both bringing your very incomplete selves into this marriage. The other cannot bear the burden to fix what’s wrong. That’s the Savior’s job. In fact, your spouse will often be one that brings out the worst in you. But it’s not the spouse that’s the problem, though it will feel that way. The problem is within. The problem is sin.
Marriage, more than any other tool in the Redeemer’s hands, will make you run to the Savior. We’ve talked a lot in premarital counseling about conflict. It will always be there. Decide now to be the first to say “I’m sorry”, and then, forgive one another, freely. Jesus has not been stingy with his grace toward you. Don’t withhold it from one another. When you sin, go to the Savior together. And there you will find grace for your marriage.
That said, I want to affirm that it is a God-given desire to actually have the “perfect spouse”. Unfortunately, it’s this very desire that threatens and deadens many marriages, as the husband or wife start looking elsewhere for that someone better. But I want to challenge you — look for the “someone better” in each other. View your marriage as a spiritual friendship committed to seeing what God sees in one another.
One glorious day, as Emily sang earlier, the trumpet will sound for Christ’s coming, and he will return for hisBeloved Bride, and You will both stand on that Day before God’s throne. The sustaining joy and goal of your marriage must be to have a vision of what one another will look like on that great Day:
Perfect, Beautiful, Complete, Whole, Sinless, Ravishingly Holy and Pure.
Brad, if you could see Katie now how she will look on that Day, you would want to worship her.
Katie, the same for you. Brad will be perfect. And God is at work, even now, making him perfect.
If you can become absolutely fixated by the future glory of the one you are marrying, and spend your life as an agent in God’s hands committed to seeing one another through to that Day, your marriage will not only survive; it will thrive.
Romance, laughter, intimacy, fun…these are all parts of a great marriage; but none of them is the heart of your marriage. The only truly sustainable goal of a marriage is to get a vision of the person God is creating your spouse to be, to envision that day when she or he stands before him in all their spotless beauty, glory and magnificence, and then partner with them and God in that wonderful work.
You’re not not just playing dress-up today. Your wedding whispers to a watching and woeful world, “We are committing from this day forward to lay our lives down for one another so that one day we will see each other in all our glory.”
One Day, God will say to you both “Well done! You did it! You loved, you pushed, you prayed, you worked, you wept, you rejoiced and you rebuked. And now look at you. You’re radiant.”
That radiant reward is the work of marriage.
But there is also a wonder to marriage.
I don’t know how God creates a soul. It’s beyond me how he unites that soul with a baby, as it’s woven and knitted together in a mother’s womb.
But right before our eyes is something equally mysterious – the mystery of marriage – God creating one out of two.
When Adam received Eve at history’s first wedding, Adam cried out with poetic joy:
“At last! Bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh!”
And there is a deep miracle and mystery that God is calling us to marvel at today, just as Adam did.
It is something so extraordinary, so wonderful & so profound that we can only understand it with the help of God’s Spirit.
In Eph 5, the Apostle Paul said, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” In that verse we find the mystery of marriage. The ancient mystery of marriage, finally revealed in God’s Son, is that what husbands should do for their wives is what Jesus has already done to bring us into union with himself. And what was that?
He gave himself up for us – Brad, your marriage will only work to the degree that you do for Katie what Christ did for the church. Jesus willingly and with a sober joy went to the cross to pay the penalty of our sin. He yielded his power and authority and became a servant. He laid down his rights in order that we might be brought into deep unity with him. He laid down his life for his Bride, the Church. Brad, you are to do the same for Katie.
I want to remind you, brother, and every husband here: Our heavenly Father knows what is best. He wants your marriage to prosper. So he calls and commands you to care for and nourish your wife; to cherish her above all things; to love her as you love your own body and flesh – for indeed, married you become one flesh.
Katie, the same Scripture that teaches a husband to serve his wife teaches the wife to submit to her husband. She is to do this as to the Lord, just as the Church submits to Christ.
This is not a call to obey your husband, like a child does a parent; but to show him deference.
Brad will stand before the Lord one day and give account for how he fulfilled his responsibility to lead you in this life. Specifically, he will answer whether it was Christ-like and self-sacrificial, or selfish. He is called to lead you in a way that cultivates and ensures a marriage that is a source of rich fulfillment for you and joyful service to God. Brad’s leadership in your life should free you to be all you can be for the Kingdom.
And because God created marriage, and is committed to your ultimate joy, he will sustain you as you respect, honor and defer to Brad in matters of leadership.
Brad, do not shirk your responsibility to lead in a patient, God-honoring, Christ-exalting manner.
Katie, remember, submitting to Brad does not mean becoming a doormat. Jesus never treated the church that way.
The great mystery of marriage is that ever since God gave away the first bride, his plan was to show his matchless love for the world through Jesus .
So your marriage, my marriage, and the one great overarching purpose to every marriage is to display God.
And thankfully, his grace is sufficient for this.
We are about to have a wedding banquet. The groom has been preparing this place for your pleasure for many months. It is beautiful.
But one Day there will be another, far greater, Wedding Supper. The Groom is Jesus, the Lamb of God. And all those who love him, trust him, serve and submit to him, are together his Bride. They are the church he died for. They are invited to his wedding feast, where he himself will love them and serve them. He is even now preparing a place for us to join him at that cloudless, boundless banquet – of which this is only a foretaste. As we proceed through these next few steps of our service, please, friends, consider whether you will be at that banquet. Do you belong to Jesus?