Essay / Theology

Wedding Sermon: Apply Your Minds to Concord

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today at the beginning of a new year to witness the creation of a new thing. The new thing is a new family, and the maker of this new thing is God almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Once upon a time, God made everything that is, from nothing, ex nihilo, out of no pre-existing materials, dragging the whole universe up out of non-being by his sheer creative power. That was in the beginning; not your beginning or mine, but in the very beginning. Immediately after that, God began making new things by putting those existing things together in new combinations, distinguishing this from that, and joining one thing to another. He made the man from the already-existing dust, the woman from the already-existing man, the children from the already-existing man and the woman, and so on.

And now it is the year 2010, and God has brought together two already-existing things: Carsten and Rebecca. He has taken a little bit from the Hyatt family, and a little bit from the Card family, and drawn them out to be distinct from their families of origin as they are combined into this new thing, this new Hyatt family which is a new and distinct entity. God is creating this new family in our midst, turning two lively singles into one lovely couple. We have known Carsten and Rebecca separately, and now, without ceasing to know them as themselves, we also know them as one thing together. We can meaningfully use a collective word for them: one family, one flesh, one couple. We don’t have to call them “you and you” anymore. We can meaningfully call them you, plural. We could call them y’all, but we won’t.

If God were making this new thing out of nothing, if this were a case of creation ex nihilo, there would probably be no way of understanding God’s mysterious and sudden way of working. They would just be here instantly, with a poof or a flash of light. But because God is making this new thing by mixing together already-existing things, we are privileged to see the marks of his craftsmanship and the progress of his creative work. What kind of artist is God in the creation of this new thing that is you? He is an artist of unification. God takes two strands and braids you together into one new thing. He braids your love into his, in a cord of three strands that is not easily broken. If braiding is not the right metaphor for God’s artistry, we could say in a more industrial and manly mode that he welds you two together; or to be domestic again, that he quilts you together piece by piece; or he bolts you to each other; he bakes, or grafts, or splices, or rhymes, or plots, or orchestrates, or choreographs, you two together with such intricacy and such unifying intention that you are this one new thing.

However he does it, these two are one. Why does it matter that we try to discern how God works in this new making of this new thing? Because Carsten and Rebecca, you are now being summoned to understand as much as you can of how God works your unification, and to come along after him and work along with him in that unification. If he is the master craftsman of your unity, you are to be joint apprentices in the same work. If God has written your script, you know that much still depends on taking your place on cue, and delivering your lines with unfeigned conviction and deep insight into the play. God is the only one who truly creates, but in this work of unification you are to become co-creators, not to mention pro-creators, with the maker of heaven and earth.

Everybody who knows you knows that you are great students, and for your marriage you have brought yourselves under wise and serious instruction. You have been abundantly blessed with good examples of matrimony, examples of the kind of marriage of true minds that admits no impediment. And like all of us, you have seen your share of wounded marriages and unities that have dissolved right out from under their members. You have learned from both the joys and the sorrows of your families and friends.

In addition to this, the two of you have placed yourselves under the rather stern instruction of this sixteenth-century wedding liturgy that you carefully and thoughtfully chose together, with all its thees and thous, withits stern warning about the dreadful day of judgment, its lecture about lawful matrimony and the three causes for which marriage was ordained. You had good reason for taking up these ancient words: In doing so, you recognize and confess publicly that you don’t know everything about how to be married, and that you stand in need of instruction. Apparently, you know that you need to be told what it is you need.

So be instructed by these ancient words, which tell you not only what you need from marriage, but what the world around you needs from your marriage: According to this liturgy, what the world needs is babies. What the world needs is for children to be brought up to fear God and praise his holy name. What the world needs is to find a way to avoid fornication, a lesson the world has no desire to learn. What the world needs is marriages of “perpetual friendship” (Homily #18, see below), marriages that rejoice and exult in mutual society, mutual help, and mutual comfort. What the world needs is good marriages, as many of them as possible, as soon as possible.

There is a sermon from the same time period as our wedding ceremony which gives further warnings about the married state. That sermon (Elizabethan Homily 18, On Matrimony) gives further advice about how to safeguard the unity of your marriage. It says,

I would not have you careless without watching. For the devil will assay to attempt all things to interrupt and hinder your hearts and godly purpose, if ye will give him an entry. For he will either labour to break this godly knot once begun betwixt you, or else at the least he will labour to encumber it with diverse griefs and displeasures. And this is the principall craft, to work dissension of hearts of the one from the other: That whereas now there is pleasant and sweet love betwixt you, he will in the stead thereof, bring in most bitter and unpleasant discord, And surely that same adversarie of ours [does] assault man’s nature and condition. For this folly is ever from our tender age grown up with us, to have a desire to rule, to think highly of our selfe, so that none thinketh it meet to give place to another. That wicked vice of stubborn will and self-love, is more meet to break and to dissever the love of heart, then to preserve concord. Wherefore married persons must apply their minds in most earnest wise to concord, and must crave continually of God the helpe of his holy Spirit, so to rule their hearts, and to knit their minds together, that they be not dissevered by any divisions of discord.

Carsten and Rebecca, this new thing has come into being, and God is on the side of its unity, and the devil is on the side of its disunity. Take sides with God, arm yourselves against the devil, and learn how to love. In Colossians 3, Paul describes how all believers should put on, like garments, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. And the bond of your unity as man and wife will be love, as you forgive one another as the Lord has forgiven you. The bond of your unity will be love, as the peace of Christ rules in your hearts. The bond of your unity will be love, as the word of Christ dwells richly in you, and you teach and admonish one another, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. The bond of your unity will be love, as everything you do in word and deed will be in the name of Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:12-17).

Live like this, and your life together will be a blessing to you and to everyone in your circles of influence. If you are really one new thing together, if you really are a thing that has being, then this new thing has everything it takes to be truly something: It has what Thomas Aquinas called the transcendental attributes of being. Anything that has being has goodness, truth, and beauty, as your college rings say. May your life together be a thing of goodness, truth, and beauty. And everything that has being also has a fourth attribute, according to Thomas Aquinas: unity. Make unity your study, and be together a thing through which God brings blessing to those around you.

Friends, this is a very theological liturgy, and I have added to it a very theological homily. In conclusion, then, two brief stories about great theological marriages of the past. In 1539 when John Calvin was 30 years old, a close friend wrote to him with the news that he had found a woman who would be perfect for Calvin to marry. Calvin wrote back, explaining that he was not especially the marrying type, and that only a certain kind of woman could possibly suit him: “Remember,” said Calvin, “what I especially desire to meet with in a wife… I could only be pleased with a lady who is sweet, chaste, modest, economical, patient, and careful of her husband’s health. Has she of whom you have spoken to me these qualities? Come with her. If not, let us say no more.” Carsten, you have found in Rebecca who has all of these virtues and, as you know, many more that didn’t even find a place on Calvin’s list. Good work. Now look what you’ve gotten yourself into. Your charge is to be worthy of such a wife. Your task is to do everything in your power to deserve a companion like Rebecca.

America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, enjoyed a long, fruitful, and intimate marriage to Sarah which has been described as “an uncommon union.” One book about the Edwards marriage, not by Sarah but written from Sarah’s perspective, bears the significant title Marriage to a Difficult Man. Rebecca, you have found in Carsten a good husband with manifold virtues. Nobody expects him to be a difficult man, though Jonathan Edwards did go on long walks in the woods and return home covered with dozens of hastily-scribbled thoughts and ideas, pinned all over his clothing. There may be something analogous to that in your future. Having made such a wise choice for your husband, your charge is to be the wife he deserves. He has forsaken all others, and has only you. Your task is to make a home for him that is truly a home, even if you dwell together in Babylon.

This is your work together, these are your tasks in common, and this is your blessing as two who have become one.

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