For Mark Makin and Carri Javier, July 18, 2008
Part I: A Thing
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here today because we want to witness the creation of a new thing. This thing is a new family, this new household consisting of Mark and Carri, this Makin family, this couple, this one new reality, this thing which was not previously on the universal catalog of “things that exist,” but which now is. There used to be no such thing as this household, and now there is such a thing. We are here to welcome it into our common world of being.
Like everything that has existence, this new thing has its existence from God, who is the maker of all things, visible and invisible. God has not made it out of nothing, ex nihilo, as he made creation in the beginning. God has made this new Makin household out of already existing things, out of two people we already know and will continue to know, from two already existing families of origin which we know and will continue to know.
But God has made this new thing by bringing about unity, by making two into one. Our God is in the business of unity. All the big mysteries in Christianity are mysteries of unity. The mystery of the Trinity is how these three, Father, Son, and Spirit, are one God. The mystery of the incarnation is how the one Jesus Christ personally unifies the divine nature with human nature. The mystery of the atonement is how a holy God and sinful humanity can be reunited through the cross, and the mystery of sanctification is how God can stand to live with us so patiently in order to make us more like him.
And among the mysteries of creation is how God puts things together with a deep and abiding unity that constitutes them as real things rather than jumbles or aggregates of constituent parts. These two are now one. We can no longer know either of them without taking the other into account. Mark and Carri: No more standing alone on the B-I-B-L-E: from now on this family stands together alone on the B-I-B-L-E.
Mark and Carri, your oneness is not the oneness of a club or a team or an alumni association or a contractual obligation of partners; you have not become one by going shopping for a spouse at the mall of mating and adding one another to your rich consumer lifestyles; your unity is not temporary, partial, or open to later renegotiation. God is better at making things than that. Your unity is covenant unity: total, exclusive, permanent.
This family is a real thing, and God treats it like a thing: we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love him and are called to his purpose. Like all things, this one is something God can and will use to bring good into the world. It will be a channel of God’s grace, and everyone around this new family can experience the grace of God through it. Though it’s not a sacrament, this new thing is as sacramental as any means of grace that God uses in drawing us closer to him. Mark and Carri, you will come to know God through this oneness just as you have known him in Christ individually and personally.
Part II: Take Your Place
Like every other thing, this new thing can be abused. You can make it into an idol. You could set it up in a place of religious devotion and commit your life to it as if it were God. You may be tempted to find the very meaning of your lives in this relationship alone, to consider your life and your souls as having meaning only for the sake of this human love. In doing so, you could each transform the other into false gods and worship each other jealously.
Don’t do that.
Worshiping each other is only one step removed from worshiping yourself. Worship of the beloved is a little less shabby and small-minded than self-worship, but in fact it’s just a sneaky way of being more completely self-centered than you could manage without help.
Your love is a thing but not the main thing. Marriage is a big deal, and I could spin out a systematic theology of marriage from the garden of Eden, when Adam met Eve, to the descent of the New Jerusalem made ready as a bride for her husband. We have just heard echoes of that story in the Scripture readings from Isaiah, Ephesians, and Revelation. Mark and Carri, you already know that story, and you know that your own love story, a thing worth celebrating, is tiny in comparison to God’s story.
God’s story is from everlasting to everlasting, and reaches from the heaven of heavens to the deepest part of the earth. From the sacred stillness of the life of the Trinity, in which God has no need of anything, and enjoys perfect, living fellowship of blessedness with his dear Son and the Holy Spirit, God has revealed his salvation, he has made his righteousness known in the sight of the nations, and has remembered his lovingkindness and faithfulness to the house of Israel. Through Jesus Christ his Son he has humbled himself in order to exalt and renew his ruined creatures. He became poor to make us rich. He suffered and died, and in so doing gave us freedom and life. All his ways are directed to dwelling among us and being our God, drawing us to walk before him and be his people.
You know that on that big map of reality, your own life together has its proper place. Take your place. Occupy together the location that God has prepared for you, and as his workmanship, walk into those good works that he has prepared for you.
Devote yourself to this task: The task of taking your place, which cannot be taken by anybody else. Nearly all the work you will do throughout your life, no matter how well you do it, will be work in which you are expendable and replaceable. Somebody else could get that degree, somebody else could teach that class, somebody else could perform that service. But in this marriage, you each take up a post in which you are irreplaceable.
Mark, Carri only gets one husband. She is a woman who deserves a very good husband. You are taking up the only space that can be occupied by the only husband Carri gets. Don’t just fill up that space, fulfill it. Be the husband Carri deserves. This is one of the few things you alone can do, one of the very few offices in which you cannot be replaced. Only you can do this. If you are not the poet who sings the praises of her thousand perfections, there will be no such poet, and her virtues will go unsung. If you are not the leader who brings her to see her own life in proper perspective, she will have no such leader, and will find her own way in solitude. Do what only you can do.
Carri, Mark only gets one wife. He is a man who deserves a very good wife. Only you will see behind the scenes all the things he does quietly and without fanfare, and only you can encourage him in the thousand virtues which need to be encouraged and nurtured if they are to flourish. If you do not keep goodness, truth, and beauty before his eyes every day, he will come to think of them as abstractions. If you do not make his home a haven and a garden and a banquet and a stronghold, he will wander homeless. Do what only you can do.
Mark and Carri have been charged to enter this estate “reverently, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God.” We have assembled a large company of witnesses here because these young people don’t know what they are getting themselves into. Of course they’ve been advised, counseled, shepherded, have studied the abundance of role models they are blessed with. Relatively speaking, within the range of human possibilities, they are prepared. But what they are prepared for is to get in over their heads, and they only partly know what that means. Some of you gathered here know much more fully what these vows imply. Some of you have paid a high price to keep your vows, or a high price in failing to do so. Share the wisdom you have gained. Some of you are not married, but have keen insight into the challenges and opportunities before this new family. Share your wisdom and lend your support. You are all witnesses of these vows, so you can all hold them accountable to them. Good friends, you will see your opportunities to provide the much-needed, much-desired outside pressure, to hold their feet to the fire lest they lose their sensitivity and grow forgetful of what they have promised in the sight of God and this entire congregation.
Part III: Back to School
Mark and Carri, you have only recently graduated from college, and I bring you the news that here in the middle of summer, you are officially being sent back to school. The class is life together, and I say to you: School is now in session. Martin Luther said that marriage is a school of love. Today you start all over again with a new, advanced course of study, to learn to love each other better. When God creates ex nihilo, it happens instantly. But when God makes two into one, as he has with you, it develops at its own rate, according to its own laws. Becoming a unified thing does not happen instantly. Unity is something that you will learn, practice, and improve at over the course of your marriage. Becoming one means loving each other, sharing all things in common, taking each other into consideration always. Becoming one means declaring war on every kind of selfishness big or small, because there is no room for it in marriage. If God blesses your marriage with children, then the borders of this new thing will be extended to include them in the same love. There will be more to learn in a larger school.
So study. Study theology and your spouse. Study the love of God in Christ, because you need to know what covenant faithfulness looks like, and you know where to look to see that faithfulness. God is in the business of unity, and of covenant fidelity. You need a truckload of that faithful love dumped on your front lawn every morning, so you can bring little pails of it inside for each other. Carri, study Christ’s submission, and study Mark. Mark, study Christ’s love of the church, and study Carri.
Be friends. Be lovers. Learn Christ and learn each other. Receive grace from God and give grace to each other. You are disciples of Jesus Christ, so walk as he walked: have in yourselves the mind that was also in him. Your lives have been hidden with Christ in God; learn now a new thing: to hide your one life together in that same place.