Tuesday, May 20, 2008


My brother got married this past Friday. We are so incredibly happy for him and his bride. It was a beautiful day. He's found a wonderful woman to share the rest of his life with. My whole family got to participate in the wedding service. My wife read the first lesson. My oldest daughter played piano, accompanying my younger daughter as she sang a solo. My oldest son was a greeter, passing out bulletins as people arrived. My youngest son was the ring bearer (and looking sooooo adorable in his tux). And I was honoured to preside at their wedding which took place in his church, the church where we grew up. Here's my sermon from that day.

Marriage of JPA and SLT
May 16, 2008
1 Corinthians 13.1-13; Matthew 19.4-6
Thomas Arth

Finally! At last!
We’ve come to the day and the moment of your wedding.
You have come here
and invited this congregation of people here as witnesses
as you make promises to each other about your future together.
You have found each other, fallen in love,
and you will be stating in front of these gathered witnesses
and in front of God,
that you will be faithful to each other
for the rest of your lives.

In the old green worship book that we used to use
there were three sentences
that were read during the marriage service
that are pretty much a summary
of the church’s teaching about marriage.
The first sentence reads:
"The Lord God in his goodness created us male and female,
and by the gift of marriage founded human community
in a joy that begins now
and is brought to perfection in the life to come."

Marriage is God’s gift to you.
God created people to live in community,
various kinds of community.
In the gospel reading Jesus quotes from the Bible’s creation story.
He says "in the beginning the Creator made a man and a woman.
That’s why a man leaves his father and mother
and gets married.
He becomes like one person with his wife."
It’s not good for us to be alone.
We have various kinds of friendships, family relationships,
working relationships, and other relationship
so that we’re not alone.
God has given the two of you
the gift of the most intimate kind of relationship,
a relationship in marriage.
God’s intention for your marriage
is that it be filled with joy in good times and in bad times,
a joy that comes in committing yourselves to each other.
We pray that God would bless your marriage
with good gifts, with love, and with joy.

But we’re all human and that’s where the second sentence
of the church’s teaching about marriage comes in.
"Because of sin, our age-old rebellion,
the gladness of marriage can be overcast
and the gift of family can become a burden."
I’ve given a guarantee with every wedding at which I’ve presided
and I’ll give you the same guarantee.
I guarantee you that your marriage will not always be perfect.
You’ll each do things and say things that can get on the other’s nerves.
It may get to the point
that you become really angry with your spouse.
"In the close contact of married life
this mutual antagonism may flare into a serious disagreement."
The root of the difficulties that arise in any marriage
is that old word that we often use in church, sin.
I can guarantee that your marriage won’t be perfect
because each of you, every human being, is so far from perfect.
The shadow of sin can darken the gladness
which God intends for us.
The community that God wishes for us can,
and often does, end up broken.

But there’s good news.
That brokenness does not have to be the end.
God’s intention for joy remains.
The final sentence of that summary
of the church’s teaching about marriage says:
"Because God, who established marriage,
continues still to bless it
with his abundant and ever-present support,
we can be sustained in our weariness
and have our joy restored."
God is always present with help for every one of us.
Even when we turn from the good that God intends for us,
when our self-centred sinfulness shatters that joy
that God intends for our marriage,
God is there to restore our joy.
The Lord God established marriage in joy;
our self-centred sinfulness shatters it;
God restores our joy.

The reading we heard from First Corinthians is a familiar one
especially for weddings.
I think it’s entirely appropriate for a wedding ceremony
but St. Paul didn’t write it with weddings in mind.
In fact the reading says nothing about marriage at all.
He was writing a letter to a divided church community,
a community in deep conflict.
The community that God gave to those people
was being shattered by their sinfulness
and Paul was trying to help get them back on track.
He said, "I want you to desire the best gifts."
He told them that even if you’re
the most spiritual person in the world,
the most gifted person in the world,
the most self-sacrificing person in the world,
you’d be nothing, you’d gain nothing,
unless you loved others.
He went on listing many things that love is:
kind, patient, supportive, loyal, hopeful, trusting.
And he listed many things that love isn’t:
jealous, boastful, proud, rude, selfish, quick tempered.
And he concluded by saying "Love never fails!
For now there are faith, hope, and love.
But of these three, the greatest is love."
I hope you can see how his advice
to a church community so many centuries ago
can also apply to a couple in their life together in this century.

That love that restores our joy,
that enables us to forgive one another,
that sustains us through good times and bad,
is a gift from God.
It’s pure grace.
It’s God’s gift to every one of us,
and it’s God’s gift to your marriage.
May you live in the love and joy that comes only from God
through your whole life together.

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