A wedding sermon from October 11:
At the beginning of his letter to the Romans, Paul describes himself as a “bond-servant of Jesus Christ, called an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” By the last phrase “gospel of God,” Paul was not merely saying that the gospel originates from God. He was saying too that the gospel is ABOUT God, about God’s righteousness, His love, His mercy and grace. The good news that God is not like the harsh nor like the indulgent idols of our imaginings. The good news is that God is like the Father of Jesus, that God is like Jesus Himself. No, the gospel is more: The good news is that the Father of Jesus IS God, and that Jesus Himself IS God made flesh. The good news is that God has revealed His character and His purposes, in His Son. The gospel is no gospel without the incarnation; there is no good news without the good news of Christmas. According to this gospel of God, the words of Jesus are the words of God, the compassion of Jesus is the compassion of God, the death of Jesus is the human death of God the Son, and the resurrection of Jesus is the victory of God.
A wedding is a public ceremonial display of the gospel, and the marriage that follows a wedding is a continuing proclamation of the gospel. The gospel is not a “religious” addition to marriage; it is of the essence of marriage. Every marriage displays the gospel, whether faithfully or unfaithfully, whether a true gospel or another gospel. Confusion about the gospel always produces confusion about marriage and family, and vice versa. And since the gospel is the gospel of GOD, confusions about God are always reflected in damaged and dysfunctional marriages.
How is a wedding, how is a marriage, a proclamation of the gospel of God? There are many ways to express this, but I want to highlight two. First, the gospel announces that God will be among us, that He will make His home in us. From all eternity, the three persons of the Triune God have dwelt with each other, and have made their dwelling IN each other. The Father dwells in the Son by the Spirit and the Son dwells in the Father by that same Spirit. The Word that is with God and is God has always been in the “bosom” of the Father. The gospel announces that the Father has room in Himself for us, that He opened Himself to be our dwelling place, our high tower, our refuge and home. The flip side is also true, for through the Spirit and Son, the Father comes to dwell within us, and make us His home. John saw this in his vision at the end of Revelation: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them.”
A healthy marriage proclaims this truth of the gospel of God. For in a healthy marriage, the husband is the fortress and refuge and home of his wife and the wife is a refuge and a home for her husband. This is symbolized sexually, when the woman becomes a bodily dwelling for her husband, even as her husband surrounds her in a loving embrace. In the Song of Song, the lover and the beloved describe each other as gardens of delight; each is a place where the other can frolic in joy. “I went down to the orchard of nut trees,” the lover says, “To see the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vine had budded, or the pomegranates had bloomed.” And his beloved responds: “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest so is my beloved among the young men.”
Sexual union embodies the aspirations of your marriage as a whole. You are called throughout your lives, in every aspect your lives together, to be dwelling places for each other. Aaron, by your vows, you are promising to open your life, your resources, your body, yourself as a place where Katy may dwell securely; and Katy, you are promising that your life and your body is Aaron’s home, and his alone. And by opening yourselves to one another, you will also be opening yourselves to become dwelling places for still others, for children and for friends and for the fellowship of the saints. By maintaining the intimacy of that fellowship, and as your love for each other overflows in children and ministry, your marriage will provide a glimpse of the intimate communion of the Trinity, and proclaim the gospel of God.
This is difficult, even impossible for us. Our natural, sinful instinct is to close ourselves to one another, treat others as obstacles to our own plans and programs. We don’t want people to “dwell within” us, and we don’t care to “dwell within” each other. How many marriages end precisely here, with a husband and wife who dwell under one roof but do not in any significant way dwell in each other, where husband and wife are closed off, each dwelling in the suburbs of the other’s good pleasure. Aaron and Katy, you can only realize the intimate sharing that your marriage calls you to through the power of the Spirit, who has made a home for us in God, and who opens us to one another. Only if God dwells in and with you by His Spirit do you have any hope to dwell in and with one another. Or, to change the analogy: Your marriage will be truly harmonious only if, by the Spirit, it is a variation on the three-voiced fugue of the Triune fellowship, the three-voiced fugue that IS the triune fellowship.
My second point is this: the gospel reveals God as a God who CHOOSES, a God who ELECTS, a God who singles out a Bride for His Son and in His Son. It’s been said that “The doctrine of election is the sum of the Gospel because of all words that can be said or heard it is the best: that God elects man; that God is for man too the One who loves in freedom.” God is eternally and necessarily love, for Father, Son and Spirit freely and completely loved one another from eternity to eternity. Yet, before the foundation of the world, before God spoke the first word of the creation, He had chosen to be God WITH His people. He has elected to be a God who rejoices over His people as a young man over his bride. He has elected to devote all His infinite resources to being God FOR us. God, who is free and in need of nothing, has determined that He would not be God without His people.
At every Christian wedding, this good news of God’s election, is being acted out. Aaron and Katy, today you are declaring your choice of one another, and you are covenanting together to formalize that choice. Aaron, you are vowing today that you will not be Aaron unless Katy is at your side, and Katy you are vowing that you will not be Katy without Aaron. Your promises to one another are a display of the gospel of election. And, as God seals His bride with an anointing of the Spirit, so you are sealing your mutual choice and mutual possession by anointing one another. This choice to be with, and refusal to be without one other, is the nature of every covenant. A covenant is not a contract; a covenant is not merely an exchange of gifts. A covenant is an exchange of persons. By your covenant vows, you are electing to BE only if you can be WITH, and be FOR, one another.
The election that is formalized today has to be worked out every day of your marriage. Even Yahweh, the perfect husband of Israel, met with rejection and rebellion. Yet, He remained steadfast in His choice. Every time Israel was called “Forsaken” or “Desolate,” God made sure that this was not the final word. After the words “Forsaken” and “Desolate,” God spoke the words “Married” and “My delight is in her.” After every No, God, the electing God, had determined that He would continue to say Yes.
Aaron and Katy: Proclaim the gospel of God by being faithful to your choice through every difficulty and disappointment, through every loss and trial. As you both know, it is entirely possible for a marriage to preach a false gospel. It is possible for a marriage to say that God is NOT faithful, that His calling and election ARE revocable; it’s possible for a marriage to say that God may tire of His bride, and seek out another. You are called by your oaths today to proclaim the truth about God in your marriage, to live every day of your marriage in the light of today’s anointing. You have elected to be one flesh; persist in that choice, be faithful to that election, so that nothing but death can separate you.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.