Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today in the sight of Almighty God and in the presence of these witnesses to attend the uniting of P.L. and S.C. in the solemn covenant of holy matrimony. The marriage covenant is not one to be assumed lightly. It was ordained in the beginning by God himself as a lifelong union, bringing a man and a woman into an exclusive bond of faithfulness, commitment, and love. And so this day we have come here to witness as God works a miracle in our midst by joining this man and this woman in one and the same covenant. I understand that two of the lovely bridesmaids have a poem to share with us today, “The Art of Marriage,” by the late American essayist Wilferd Arlan Peterson:
Happiness in marriage is not something that just happens.
A good marriage must be created.
In marriage, the little things are the big things....
It is giving each other an atmosphere in which each can grow.
It is finding room for the things of the spirit.
It is the common search for the good and the beautiful....
It is not only marrying the right partner; it is being the right partner.
It is discovering what marriage can be at its best,
as expressed in the words Mark Twain used in a tribute to his wife:
“Wherever she was, there was Eden.”
I'm appreciative for the poem that the bridesmaids, at S.'s request, has shared with us today. The line at the end, the quote from Twain – and here I mean Mark, not Shania [who's playing in the background as I speak] – is the closing line of his book Eve's Diary, a quote put on the lips of Adam but often thought to be a tribute by Twain to his own late wife Livy. “Wherever she was, there was Eden.” It's such a beautiful line, it's no wonder our poet Peterson chose to quote it.
I'm here this afternoon as a minister of the gospel, a story that begins and ends in the shade of the tree of life we find in Eden. It's because we remember that story that we can understand the beauty of Twain's words, the beauty of Peterson's poem, which both lead our hearts back to Eden.
The gospel, the Christian message, is all about that beauty. In the Christian understanding, the history of the whole universe will turn out, in hindsight, to have been a love story all along. When we open the action, we see the love of God introducing man and woman in the garden and beginning the first marriage. The story goes on to God's own courtship of his wayward bride Israel throughout the Old Testament, on into the happier engagement of Jesus Christ and his Church in the New Testament.
And at the end of the last book of the Bible, there's a prophecy where all things reach perfection at a wedding between the already-risen Christ and the then-risen Church – don't forget to RSVP for that party!
The story of the gospel in the meantime is just the Bride making herself ready with works of faith and sending out the invitations. The story of the world, from beginning to end, is the Big Love Story.
So it's really no surprise that the book showing us all this would have some useful advice for the little love stories we savor during our time on earth, like the love story between P. and S.
I bring you today some words of advice from that book. In the fourth chapter of the holy Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippians, it's written:
“Rejoice in the Lord always;
again I will say, rejoice!
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
The Lord is at hand:
Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything
by prayer and supplication
let your requests be made known to God.
And the peace of God,
which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds
in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters,
whatever is true,
whatever is honorable,
whatever is just,
whatever is pure,
whatever is lovely,
whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence,
if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things … practice these things,
and the God of peace will be with you.” [Philippians 4:4-9]
What made me think about that passage today was another line from the poem the bridesmaids read, about how a good marriage is “the common search for the good and the beautiful.” To me, that sounds a lot like the Apostle's message here. What would it look like for P. and S. to do that?
“A common search for the good and the beautiful” means a mission to rediscover and restore, in the world and in each other, traces of Eden. “A common search for the good and the beautiful” means a quest to bring out, in these two lives soon to be joined as one, a clearer reflection of Jesus Christ, who himself is the Love that once walked in the Garden in the cool of the day.
P., S., we're inviting you today to spend the rest of your lives in this “common search for the good and the beautiful.”
Focus on things that are true –
and remind each other of them.
Focus on the things in each other that are pure –
and seek to multiply them.
Focus on the things in each other that are lovely –
and savor them.
Focus on the things in each other that are excellent –
and celebrate them.
Focus on the things in each other worthy of praise –
and praise them.
Pray to the God of Peace for each other. And in times of stress and anxiety, give thanks for each other and make your requests known to God. Let your reasonableness, your gentle fairness, show through in what you say and what you do – especially toward each other.
Now, that won't always be easy, of course. The Apostle Paul admitted that he wasn't yet perfect – that he hadn't yet arrived – and neither have I, and neither have you. He said that he faced times of ease and times of trial. He had to learn how to hold love strong during both. And he said the secret he discovered was relying on strength from Christ – the God of Peace, the God of Love.
So press on, P. and S. – press on, friends gathered here this afternoon – press on through better and worse, riches and poverty, sickness and health, 'til death do you part... and 'til Christ raise you up again for his Wedding Day.
In the meantime, by the grace he gives you, by your faith that worketh in love, do what you can to make each other be able to say, at the end of the day, “Wherever P. was, wherever S. was, wherever Christ was with them... there was Eden.”