I am that traditional, liturgical, historical-stuff is still cool kind of pastor. With that presupposition, imagine what goes through my mind when a young couple filled with zeal for nothing historical asks me if they can write their own wedding vows. “It will be really special,” they say. The reality is it will be really special if they gave up such an idea without having me waste my time in persuading them that it is an incredibly stupid idea. But they are young. And I have been gifted with the gift of patience. So, I tell them that there is a 99.9% chance they will regret this decision as they mature in their Christian walk and that I am God’s ambassador to keep them from joining that great number of disappointed married couples.
If you are reading this pondering whether you should write your own vows, ponder no longer. It is a horrible idea. There is a high likelihood that your youth pastor may even encourage you to write it out. He may even point to the old fashion vows as archaic. But by now you know better. Tell him, or better yet, give him a copy of an ancient Protestant wedding and tell him that you would like to use that ol’ fashion vow that reads:
“I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge thee my faith [or] pledge myself to you.”
Please do not allow the latest trend to minimize the reverence of a wedding ceremony. Wedding ceremonies are not a recent invention. The church has given it its highest respect. Honor it. Come with no innovation to it. Submit to it, enjoy it, and taste the seriousness and joy of your life together.
When God made the world he made it in divine priority. He made all things with an agenda, and to use the oft-repeated line, “he saved the best for last.” He made man on day six, and at the end he breathed with the breath of perfection (Gen. 1:31): “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
Could God have created man on day one or day three? No. This was a divine priority. Man was created last purposefully. He made him on day six and then affirmed (Gen. 1:26-28) that he was to be over all things. Man receives a place of honor in creation because he is made in the image of God.
Under the Old Covenant he crawled in his infancy. He was unable to do much, and so God gave him tutors, angels to keep watch over him. But as he grew in maturity, man learned to walk. He walked with a limp (Gen. 32) to remind him of his humble beginnings, but he became more theologically civilized and warrior-like, capable of confronting bigger challenges. But God never left man alone. He was never made to be alone. In the New Covenant, God takes man from crawlers to inheritors (Rom. 4:13). As a promise, the ascended Lord gives man his Spirit. He provides mature and able man a comforter and a divine guidance counselor, namely, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.
All of this was already symbolized in the creation account, but needed to wait until the New Creation to be put into place. Man was always meant to have a place of prominence in God’s world. This prominence is a not a blank check, it is conditioned on the faithfulness of redeemed man to serve and fear Yahweh with grace and truth (Rom. 12:11).
But when this divine creational pattern is broken, the world is also broken. When the order of creation is switched, the world suffers ethical consequences. When trees and living things are placed at greater prominence than man, then we have a disordered creation. This is largely the fruit of the environmentalist movement.
When day six is not prioritized, the sacredness of life is also not treasured. Abortion is the result of a disordered creation narrative. When God said “Let us make man in our image,” he was prioritizing the life of man over the life of other created things. Yahweh stamped on mankind his image; and that image needs to be treasured above all else. The taking of human life is a phase of disorientation in the created order. It is a direct violation of the way things were meant to be.
The ethical consequences also apply to marriage. When day six is taken out of its place, the joining of man and woman—which is a joining officiated by God himself—is misplaced, and the doors of polygamy and sexual deviance are open (Rom. 1). And when mankind and current social norms disrespect the created order, God gives them over to their mis-prioritized minds. This is God’s way of saying that that which he made he made orderly and purposefully, and that order cannot be tampered with.
Ultimately, man can choose to honor God’s creational pattern, or build a week of their own. But if they do so, they will never come to the seventh day of rest.
James and Patricia, it is appropriate that you begin your married life here in the presence of all these witnesses. After all, marriage is public. Not only because of these witnesses, but because the Lord of all public places is here. Your allegiance first and foremost is to this Lord. He is your only comfort in life and in death. In fact, your whole security rests on the faithfulness of this Lord to uphold His promises to you in this sacred occasion.
The Lord that is binding you together today is also placing you in a covenant filled with obligations. The fulfillment of these obligations is what will define your marriage from this day forward. There aren’t enough counseling sessions to cover every possible scenario you will go through as husband and wife. You may remember the right words at the right time, but your actions will need to accompany those words, lest they become clanging cymbals. Marriage is a form of liturgy where a list of rituals are acted out again and again until you learn to become that sacrificial man and woman. First, you are called today to be with one another in the presence of God and these witnesses. Then in this calling you will learn that marriage does not survive without honest confession. And in this confession and repentance, there will be a mutual sharpening of one another. You will learn that falling asleep at night is always best when you are at peace with one another. Then you will eat together. You may even cook together. You will cherish those moments. You will discover that in eating together, in sipping fine wine, you are forming a table of love. And when the dishes are set aside and washed, then God says go and do it again because this is for your good. You will soon learn that it costs to be a lover, that the liturgy and language of love is sacrifice. And you will have many opportunities to speak this language and act out this liturgy. And as this liturgy and language are acted out, the theology of marriage will seem divine and pleasant to study together.
G.K. Chesterton once said that, “The two most incompatible people in the world are a man and a woman.” This is a fact that you will discover very soon. But on the other hand, the two most compatible people in the world are a man and a woman that give themselves fully to speaking the language of sacrifice. Your life-long obligation is to master this language. This is the appealing and lovely theology that you must offer the world with your lives. And make no mistake: they will be watching.
God created you to be desiring creatures. And in marriage your desires are going to be informed not so much on what is best for you, but what is best for the other. Love itself is painful. Love itself demands more than self-service. Love only exists because of the other. Self-love is contradictory, because it is privatized. But love, in its truest sense, is to shower the other with grace, gifts, and gratitude. And this is why in this sense love is suffering, because it entails diminishing yourself for the sake of the other. But it is a suffering with temporal and everlasting rewards.
Scripture tells us that in marriage “two become one”. It is this very intimacy which is both the agony and the ecstasy of marriage, its greatest pleasure and its heaviest burden. Intimacy and vulnerability go together. Love is the greatest joy, and there is no greater suffering than that which is caused by love.
And the art of sacrificing for one another entails a multiple career which demands multiple skills. It demands the patience of a teacher, the technique of a counselor, the diplomacy of a statesman, the justice of a judge, and the humor of a comedian. And as marriage presses on with its regular duties, you will become more efficient in these careers. Don’t worry about mastering these careers overnight. You will have plenty of time to use the words “please, forgive me” in the process. And as you seek to love one another with a Trinitarian-shaped love, you will mature together, and in this maturing you will display this love to the world.
James and Patricia, by birth you were brought into your biological families, by baptism you were brought into God’s family, and by this union you are forming a new family. May this new family be firmly grounded in the Gospel of grace, sustained by the Word of the Lord, nourished by the holy sacraments, and most importantly guided and shaped by the Triune God who by His mercy has brought you together to live out this theology of love and sacrifice in this world.
In The Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many people are afraid to begin. In part, this is because of the uncertainty of the new; but there is also a deeper reason for this fear. Beginnings, in our experience, always tear. Redemptive history testifies to this truth: In making the world, God took hold of the creation and tore it to pieces before He assigned names and pronounced it good. At the initiation of every covenant, animals were torn and burned on the altar. At the genesis of the New Creation, the heavens were rent as the Spirit descended on Jesus, and at the end of the earthly life of our Lord, the flesh of the crucified Son of God was torn, and the temple veil ripped from top to bottom.
Julian and Leah, this is what is happening to you this evening. You are being torn from parents and siblings, and the fabric of everyone’s life is being unraveled.
So, if beginnings are difficult, why go through the challenge of forming a new household? Because it is through the breaking of something that something new is formed. This is the way God works in creation; this is the way He operates in new households and relationships. Just as He broke the Old World in order to give us the Son of Glory, Jesus Christ, so too, He breaks your old world and gives you a new life. And this is what you are called to meditate as a new family: that God has taken your separate lives and He is now going to make a new beginning.
But a new beginning also entails new responsibilities. The first responsibility is to understand that:
Marriage is by faith. You need to believe that the Father is going to mature you as husband and wife. He is going to use each one of you as a means of maturation in marriage. He is going to shape and sharpen you so you become an instrument of sanctification in your spouse’s life. In marriage, you begin a new journey in faith; a faith that matures with each decision, with each conversation, and with each act of affection.
Another responsibility in this new beginning is the responsibility of mutual identification.Our Lord Jesus Christ has united you to Him. And this union is the model/paradigm of all other earthly unions. Marriage means that you become one. And in this oneness you will need to be aware of your respective roles. Julian, you must know that your Bride is your glory; she is the art and poetry of your home. And your duty is to bestow glory on her; to shower her with words of praise and grace even as Christ showers His Bride, the Church, with honor and glory. The more glorious your Bride, the more glorious your home.
Leah, your responsibility as the glorious Bride of your home is to cause the world to know that your husband is ruling well; that he is the stabilizer, the sustainer, and the strength of the home.
Julian, your reputation is Leah’s; and Leah, your reputation is Julian’s. From now on, what happens to one happens to the other, because you are mutually identified.
But finally, the responsibility of a new beginning implies a great sense of dependence on the strength and activity of the Spirit. The same Spirit that opened your hearts to see the world through new eyes is the same Spirit who will give you a persevering marriage. Today marks this new beginning; a Spirit-led beginning. The Spirit is the divine matchmaker who has brought you together. By the words you speak and the words the minister speaks this evening, your world will be torn. Things will never again be the same, but if you walk by the Spirit, the world you have known is being torn only to be put back together into a pattern more wondrous than you can ever imagine. By trusting the Father, your union in Christ, and the Guiding power of the Spirit, you can face your new beginning with confidence; a confidence not grounded in the God of the dead, but in the God who delights in making new beginnings, even this evening. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.