[The following was preached at the wedding ceremony of Peter Becker and Julia Paxton on July 27, 2013]
Peter and Julia, today your friends and family have gathered from across the country to be with you. We are here as witnesses. We will watch you make marital vows to one another. These vows are the first (Pete) or second (Julia) most important vow that you will ever make in your life. When Julia was baptized at 16 yrs old, she made the most important vow of her life. In choosing to be baptized, she chose to renounce the ways of evil and sin in her life and in the world around her and to bind her life to Jesus Christ. Her old self was buried in the baptismal waters of Lake Padden and when she came up out of the water she arose to new life in Jesus Christ. Her vow to commit her whole self to Jesus in baptism was the most important vow she will make in her life. And so today Julia’s marriage vows will be the second most important she ever makes.
Peter, at 8 months, it was your parents who took the vow of baptism on your behalf. They professed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior before the congregation in Paulding, OH, and pledged to provide nurture and guidance within the community of faith until you were ready to make a personal profession of faith and assume the responsibility of active church membership on your own. They acknowledged that God had already called you to himself and promised to pray for and raise you so that one day you would acknowledge yourself as God’s own. Since you did not make your own baptismal vows, today’s marriage vows will be the most important you will ever make on your own.
Christian marriage is a lifelong commitment. Today you will not pledge “as long as we both shall love,” but “as long as we both shall live.” Christian marriage is hard work…just ask my husband about my ongoing struggles with being defensive about criticism. Christian marriage is counter cultural…it is exclusive, it is humbling, it requires much forgiveness and it demands that we love another person when he or she can be down right unloveable.
Marital union is a symbol of the relationship between Christ and his church. It symbolizes the reality of the church’s experience with her heavenly bridegroom - Jesus Christ. It anticipates and offers a taste of the coming consummation between the bridegroom and his virgin bride that we read about in Revelation. When the bride of Christ comes down out of heaven she is the spotless Holy City of Jerusalem, where the dwelling place of God is with his people. The Glory of God gives the city light and the Lamb of God is its lamp. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city. The bridal city is completely united as one with her husband at the ultimate wedding supper of the Lamb.
Marriage, as anyone can attest, can be a bent and distorted sign that mocks the wedding supper of the Lamb, but it can also be a true sign that directs the world to its Savior. Husband and wife are to attend to this symbol so that it might be a true sign of the intimacy and love that Jesus, the Lamb of God, shares with his beloved, the church.
The scripture you have chosen from Ephesians provides instructions to husbands and wives in the church as to how in your marriage you are to attend to the symbol.
The verses from Ephesians that were read today begin with clear instructions for Christians — men and women, parent and child, slave and free, husband and wife — they are all directed to SUBMIT TO ONE ANOTHER OUT OF REVERENCE FOR CHRIST (v. 21).
So the specific instruction for how wives and husbands are to attend to the symbol of marriage is predicated upon the fact that you both, as Christians, will be submitting to one another. You are to yield to the other’s counsel. You are to have an attitude that desires to yield to the other’s calling in Christ and desires. You are not to blindly obey each other, but rather live in such a way so as to fulfill the ‘Greatest Commandment’ — Love your neighbor as yourself.
You as individual Christians, both members of the body of Christ, are to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. And, again, your first calling came in your baptism. You were crucified with Christ so that it is no longer just your self-focused self that lives, but Christ who lives in you. The life you live in the body you live by faith in the Son of God who loved you and gave himself up for you.
As one with Christ in you, you now live in the LIGHT…as children of LIGHT who are to be very careful how you live. Your life is to be different. Some of the markers of such a life, Ephesians tells us, are: demonstrating a life of love, imitating Christ, being full of thanksgiving, bearing the fruits of goodness, righteousness and truth, speaking encouraging talk, and demonstrating compassion and forgiveness rather than rage, bitterness and anger.
So both of you, Peter and Julia, have a similar calling as members of the body of Christ. When you vow to become husband and wife, you take on the additional task of demonstrating the symbol of Christ’s love for his church. And this is done through each of you representing something different.
In the Christian symbol of marriage, the wife represents the church, the body of Christ. Julia, in your relationship with Peter you will represent the body of Christ to the world. You are called to respect Peter and yield your manipulation and attempts to control your and Peter’s lives and marriage to the guidance and direction of Peter. In doing so you will demonstrate the call of the church to submit all of its life, desires and will to Jesus. The church knows Jesus has promised to be with us always, even to the end of ages; the church knows Jesus loves us even when we are unlovable and unfaithful; the church knows Jesus poured out his love for us even when it brought him to an unjust death. Because the church knows this and can trust in these realities, the church is able to give herself over to Jesus and follow him.
Similarly, in Christian marriage, a wife is able to submit her desires and will to that of her husband as her husband demonstrates the most profound love for her…the same self-sacrificial, unrelenting love that Jesus has for his church.
Peter, your love for Julia is to be a sign for the world to see of how much Jesus loves his church and all those who are being called to join the family of God. Such love desires that others, namely Julia, are seen to be greater or even doing greater works than yourself..even on those days when you are being pretty awesome.
Such love puts the interest of others, namely Julia, first. The radical reversal-nature of the gospel is such that Jesus Christ humbled himself for the sake of others. It is almost like Jesus is always doing headstands, ……headstands like Grandmom Becker used to do and your brother Jake still does. [JAKE DOES HEADSTAND] In that position, Christ the head puts himself below, at the risk of being squashed or sullied, and raises up his body the church on top, in a place of prominence and significance. So Peter, I recommend you start practicing headstands each morning when you wake up as a reminder of the posture you are to have in loving and caring for Julia. Grandmom Becker can give you a few pointers when you see her in Philly next week.
Today you both are publicly declaring that marriage to one another is God’s will for your life. You are taking your first step along the long and arduous, yet joy-filled and life-giving road of symbol care and demonstration. Your union will symbolize to the world Christ’s love for his church. Regardless of where you are currently or where you end up employed, from today you are committing yourself to the vocational career of marriage. Protecting and nourishing your marriage is now your primary calling. Though not necessarily a greater calling than the life you are leaving.
Were you to remain single, your call would be to solely direct your desire towards Christ and to focus on receiving His care and affections alone. Instead of demonstrating what marriage symbolizes, you would be embracing more of the complete reality. You would not seek satisfaction in one another, but only in the church’s bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
As you vow to become husband and wife in a few moments, your vocation, both individually and as a couple, is to attend to this symbol of marriage. Your relationship of mutual submission, love, joy, thankfulness, patience, peace, steadfastness, humility, self-control, and forgiveness will be a sign to the world of the intimacy and love Jesus shares with his beloved church.
Your union is to bear forth the image of God to the world. This image will be both figurative and literal. I suspect Julia will demonstrate Jesus’s patience for his people through her steadfast support during darker period’s of Pete’s KLS and his long verbal processing episodes. Peter will likely demonstrate Jesus’ compassion and encouragement through his support of Julia in her future ventures in which she feels insecure or inadequate and cannot see her giftedness clearly. And, Lord willing, someday…sooner than later if you ask your niece and nephews…..you will produce children. Your children will be literal bearers of God’s image, to the world. You are to raise the and care for them with the same sacrificial love, faithfulness and patient endurance that Jesus shares with you, with me, with his church. How you care for your future children is a part of your marital vow and will also demonstrate to the world how much Jesus loves it and desires for it, too, to be called to himself and ultimately invited to the wedding supper of the lamb. May all the nations of the world, may all the peoples of the world, every person may everyone praise our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with His God and Father and His Holy Spirit for ever and ever. AMEN.