My first wedding sermon, preached for Lisa and David at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Dallas, TX.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13; John 15:9-12
In the name of God who has made us, and who loves us, and keeps us. Amen.
I was delighted and honored to say yes when Lisa and David asked if I would be the preacher at their wedding. In the days and weeks that followed their invitation I thought of them often, remembering times and places we have shared. Chapel bells, refectory meals, Father Wright's icons, and Frank's Deli when Lisa and I were both at General Seminary in New York City. Wake-up bells, canteen snacks, capture the flag and mum-ba-yah when David and I were both counselors at Camp Kanuga in western North Carolina.
I remembered it was actually at Kanuga that I met both Lisa and David, maybe even in the same summer, but almost two decades before they would meet each other there. None of us knew it back then, I think, but on hiking trails and cabin porches, around campfires and in outdoor chapels, in playing fields and at dining hall tables we were being shaped and formed for the calls we have answered, and at one dining hall table in particular, Lisa and David were being shaped and formed for this very day.
So I was delighted and honored to say yes. And then I remembered two more things. First, I have never preached a wedding sermon before. I have been the celebrant, I have read the gospel, I was a flower girl twice, I've been a bridesmaid, and I've been a bride. But somehow never the preacher. It suddenly seemed an intimidating task for a worship service already so filled with important and beautiful words: Arise my love, I take you, with all that I have, with all that I am, I pronounce, husband and wife. The entire liturgy and the way we move within it preaches itself, lifting up a relationship between two people as an outward and visible sign of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Love one another as I have loved you. Abide in love...
The second thing I realized, which helped considerably with the first, was that I don't remember a single thing the preacher at my wedding said. Not one single word. So, Lisa and David, no expectations from me that you'll remember these words, either!
The thing is, expectations are already pretty high. We're asking a lot of Lisa and David, of anyone willing to say so publicly, I do, I choose love. Not some sentimental affection, but love that is reflective of the love of God, which is to say, love that is creative and intentional and active. We don't have to remember because even Episcopalians can quote from scripture the words Paul wrote about love, how it is patient and kind, never envious or boastful. It does not insist on its own way, nor is it irritable. Are you up for all of that, from this day forward? For better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health? I don't have to tell you that the worse days are out there.
Love is not easy. Though we are all of us made in love's image, for the purpose of love, Paul is right: we so often see only dimly, through shadows of anxiety, or grief, or fear, or frustration. We lose sight form time to time of what love is in its fullness. Sometimes we just forget to see. We are too busy to be patient, too tired to be kind. We insist on our own way. In the prayers we will say for Lisa and David we will hear an even harder confession, that it is not a matter of if but when that they will hurt each other.
And so in our prayers tonight, in your vows, there are still more words that preach themselves as we hear them, and even more so when we practice them in our relationships with others, especially in our worse and poorer moments. Words like mercy, forgiveness, help, and grace. Words like overcome, heal, grow, comfort, strengthen, and transform. Words like reach out in love and concern. Perhaps it is when we practice these things that our love most resembles the love of God in Christ.
We are celebrating Lisa and David's life together tonight, but not for its own sake - we are celebrating them as a living example of loving one another as we have all been loved by God. Not for how to stretch a single moment of happiness into a lifetime of bliss, but how to love daily and fiercely and deliberately. Abiding in love isn't about being perfect but about being vulnerable, about asking for forgiveness, about needing grace, about confessing our inevitable failures and our fervent hope, and our faith that God is the one from whom all love proceeds and the one to whom all love points.
Lisa and David, you don't need a preacher today. Your lives, your love, your smiles, your solemn vows, your words will preach to us for a lifetime about what it means to abide in love, to have faith that there is in God through Christ a love divine, all loves excelling, shaping and forming and filling and forgiving our dim and daily efforts. In your turning to one another, we see love face to face. Remember, and we will remember too, that we have said we will do all in our power to support you. Remember that after choosing one another, after all the vows you make, promising to have and to hold, to love and to cherish, we will say at the last that it is God who has joined you together, God in whom you both abide as the individuals you have become and as the union in heart and body and mind that you are becoming together. God's love for you and in you and through you is stronger than death, fierce as the grave, bigger than Texas (can I say that here?!?). God's love makes all things new, even those worse and poorer days, bears all things, even what we think we cannot, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. "May God's love then be the pattern for ours," writes Brother David Vryhof of the Society of St. John the Evangelist. "May God's wide embrace, God's boundless generosity, God's reckless mercy, God's steadfast and unfailing love be our rule and guide, today and always," so long as we all shall live.
What did the preacher say at our wedding?!? Only remember this...these abide: faith, hope and love. And our prayers for you. And Kanuga toast. But the greatest of these is love. Amen.
Artwork: All photographs taken at St. Michael and All Angels.