July 9th, 2015
This weekend JJ Fryar and Valerie Crawford are to be married. Yes! With great kindness they’ve invited all of CtK to attend (RSVP, would ya?).
Since they have made this occasion a church-wide celebration, I asked them if I might share in this column what I plan to say to them at their ceremony on Saturday. What I’ll say to them I pray would have relevance to everyone present (and those who can’t make it!). If they’ve invited us all in, then why not let what we’re celebrating in them become a means of nurturing us all? They graciously gave their permission for me to publish the wedding homily here.
So what follows is what I plan to say (or some version thereof.)
JJ and Valerie,
In giving wedding homilies there are always two hurdles to clear.
For one, while the homily is addressed to the bride and groom there’s this odd inverse proportionality between the significance of the moment and the bride and groom’s capacity to hear. I’m glad that you’re sitting; we don’t have to worry about you passing out. But now I just have to make sure you don’t doze off.
The other challenge is that since this is addressed to the two of you primarily, everyone else in the room will feel the urge to keep looking at their watch wondering this will end so we can all eat cake because they think I have nothing to say to them. On the contrary, what I say to you I pray will be applicable to everyone in the room, whether single or married.
So with the deck stacked against me, let me see if I can overcome those two hurdles with a story.
In the film version of the story of C.S. Lewis Shadowlands, we meet one of Lewis’ graduate students in literature who goes by the name of Mr. Whistler. Whenever we see him he is in class, but his mind and his heart are elsewhere. He appears not just distracted but burdened.
At first Lewis chastises him like the proverbial student found slacking off. Only later, when Lewis visits Mr. Whistler at his dorm room do we learn that he has led a difficult life.
Mr. Whistler’s room is full of books, filling every space. And with Professor Lewis now come to visit Mr. Whistler feels a certain willingness to be transparent—and specifically about why he reads so much.
Every time he picks up a book, he tells Lewis, his hands literally shake as he begins to wonder what tales and experiences he’ll find in the pages he’ll soon turn. But then he explains what really moves him to read so much.
He says, “I read to know I’m not alone.”
In a world where he feels out of place, where few if any seem to understand him—even his professor of literature—it’s what he finds in stories that helps him know he is no oddity—that there is a place for him–that someone gets him, someone knows him. And he runs to those stories to find a refuge that no one and nothing else can offer.
He needed those stories to make sense of his own story.
I tell you that story about one man’s desperate pursuit of story to make sense of his own for this reason. In the Scripture texts you’ve chosen this day, you’ve set before us a story, really the culmination of a story. And it will be in clinging to this story, reading and re-reading it, working it into the fabric of your own story that you will be able to make continued sense of the story of your marriage.
What is this story?
Why will it matter for your marriage?
What is this story?
For those of you unacquainted with the book of Revelation, it is a vision—a vivid, sometimes bizarre, sometimes indecipherable vision of the future. It is surely poetic and evocative in the images it uses. But it is painting for us a picture, not of a history we’d like to see unfold, but of a history God has already marked for unfolding.
And in the portion you selected for reading, John is seeing the moment that represents the end of one era and the beginning of a new and eternal era.
It’s an era that erupts in praise for the goodness and greatness of God.
The voice of a multitude, The roar of a waterfall, The peal of thunder—all join in to speak resoundingly of the triumph of God in setting all things to right
Men and women who’ve fought in wars—when they’ve fought in lengthy and bloody battles and in the end overcome their enemy there’s an instinctive desire to celebrate the victory—but also an instinctive desire to extol the wisdom and perseverance of their commanding officer.
The praise here is of a throng celebrating the end to hostilities and thanks to the One who engineered its end.
The vision is one of praise to God, but it is also of praise to the one called the Lamb.
Jesus Christ laid down his life like a sacrificial lamb, dying for those he came to deliver. But who rose again from death to validate all he came to say—and to demonstrate God’s power even over death.
Jesus, the Lamb, has come to take to Himself a Bride, the vision outlines.
The bride is a collective term for all those who placed their faith in His death and resurrection. They are those who have been set aside just for Him, just as you Valerie have made yourself exclusively JJ’s—and he yours.
And the bride is dressed in graceful white robes as a metaphor for all the ways those who’ve been claimed by Christ have acted in ways that adorn His love for them.
And this vision full of praise for an eternal future is likened to, of all things, a wedding–when the anticipation of being in the full presence of the one you love finally becomes a reality.
See, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray he said Pray that God’s kingdom would come on earth as it is in heaven, this moment here in Revelation 19 is that moment for which disciples of Jesus will have prayed for, and now finally seen.
When the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 that “now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known”—this is that moment when we shall know God fully and know that we are fully known.
When John speaks in hope of the moment “we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is”—he’s talking about the moment when those for whom Christ died will find they have become just as he is: incorruptible and full of glory. This moment in Revelation 19 is the realization of that hope.
So the story here is the culmination of the eternal story that’s been working itself out in the warp and woof, in the glory and the misery of human history
And the reason we don’t just chalk this up to a projection of our desires for future resolution is that we look back to the miracle of His resurrection.With reason to believe that happened, there’s more than enough reason to believe this can happen—as unimaginable as it appears to be.
That’s the story.
Why does that story matter for your marriage?
What you embark on today is nothing short of magnificent. But is equally treacherous.
And so you need much from this story to preserve its magnificence—and much to deliver you from its treacherousness.
What gifts does this Story give that it might save your marriage from its perils? Four things.
This story gives honor to your marriage.
To explain what’s at the center of God’s intentions for humanity, He appeals to marriage as a fitting metaphor. The promises of love inherent to marriage—the commitment to fidelity inherent to marriage—the offer of unqualified intimacy inherent to marriage—
What’s inherent to marriage is inherent to His promise to be in loving faithful, persevering relationship with humanity.
Now you don’t have to be married to have that promise from God. Two friends may know of fidelity and constancy and communion.
But marriage is more than just some institution; it’s a window into the heart of God.
And if that’s true, that will have to lean against our inclination to take what you have in each other for granted.
Yes, the bedazzlement of this day—all the pomp and circumstance is fitting. And yes, that shimmering quality will and must give way to a deeper, less flamboyant steadiness. But every marriage will feel the drift toward thinking of it as just some arrangement.
But if marriage helps to decode and explain what God intends for the world, then what you’re entering into is no mere arrangement.
You’re touching fire.
You’re unearthing treasure.
So it will be necessary from time to time to take stock of what you have in marriage—and see it with appropriate awe.
This story’s gift to you is honor
But it also gives glory—What do I mean?
Yes, marriage is set apart as a rich metaphor for how God means to be near to us. But the marriage is not what’s most esteemed. It’s the God who, through Jesus, brings us into an unimaginable communion with Him.
So the glory that’s given to marriage in this story is the glory of God—a glory that surpasses anything else because God surpasses all else.
How does the glory of God serve your marriage?
We need the honor given to marriage to ensure we don’t neglect it. But we need the greater glory of God in the context of our marriage so that we don’t let it become a substitute for Him.
Like no other relationship you will have in this life, your spouse can do more to lift you up and bring you low. Like a deep and trusted friendship, your spouse will awaken you to yourself. As one pastor put it, “Marriage does not so much bring you into confrontation with your spouse as confront you with yourself.”
All that’s true and part of the glory of marriage. But it’s the glory of God that will keep you from putting a weight on each other than only God can bear.
Disillusionment will grow where the expectation that one another becomes your ultimate hope. Angers will persist and fester where you expect the other to stand in for God and His Christ.
She will be like no friend you’ve had.
He will be like no confidante you’ve known.
But neither of you will ever stand in for Christ as what most defines your identity or determines your destiny.
This story gives honor and glory to your marriage
It also gives it humility.
Remember how we talked about during pre-marital counseling that the one thing that is most toxic to a marriage is that thing called contempt—that anger that stews until it starts to give off an acrid smell of disgust for the other person?
You think it can’t happen to you, but I can show you thousands of folks who never dreamt they’d ever hold one another in contempt—and yet it happened.
So what’s going to keep you from falling into contempt?
If contempt is thinking the other beneath you, then the only antidote to contempt is humility—believing yourself not so important or above reproach to think the other incomprehensibly bad.
JJ and Valerie, this vision of history looks to marriage to explain God’s intention for humanity. But that this is a marriage of the Lamb to His bride means everything.
As the Lamb Jesus was sent to die. And he was sent to die for what was darkest in us. Dying wasn’t plan B; dying wasn’t an afterthought, or a brilliant chess move. Dying was the original idea. Because it would take nothing less than the death of God to reconcile us to God.
Marriage will test many things in you—including your capacity to prevent your frustrations from becoming contempt.
I know of no more potent reason for humility than to know God had to suffer for you. And this story works that truth into your marriage.
Honor, glory, humility—He gives you all that in marriage
And His last gift is Grace.
John quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying, “let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”
The gospel of the Lord Jesus is not that you will be His if you love him well. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus is that you will be His because He loved you well. His record, not yours, is what brings you into the family of God.
And the grace He’s shown becomes a pattern for true love.
This Love loves when it’s given irrespective of whether the other deserves it.
This Love loves when it’s given without expectation of reciprocity.
To enter into marriage with this story in your ears is to embrace that pattern of love—love that is of grace, undeserving, not expecting
You will be tempted to love only insofar as you think the other worthy of such. But it’s the love that finds its pattern in the grace of God to us in Jesus that is most furnished to persevere in love—and see it flourish in you both.
Honor, Glory, Humility, Grace
All that comes to your marriage with this Story.
All that comes to your marriage with this Jesus.
So for Paul to say to husbands as he does in Ephesians 5,
love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish–
–I think implicit in his thought is the idea that you and she must remember this story.
Remind each other of the story, and of its implications for your marriage. Work its storyline into how you think of any given moment of the storyline of your marriage.
If this Story is true, then there is no calamity you will face in your marriage that cannot find hope in the promise of the wedding supper of the Lamb.
If this Story is true, then every joy experience in your marriage will give you reason to give God thanks. For any joy now is only a taste of the joy still to come.
We read this story to know we’re not alone
We read this story to know what it means to love.
We’ll read and relive this story until we see Him face to face.
And He will use your marriage mightily to discover both the glory and the need for that story.
Other community items:
- if you still haven’t registered with our new online presence, The City, just click here. The City is where we’ll be starting discussions, sharing prayers, notifying each other of events and needs. We hope it will help us become a little more present to each other throughout the week–and in turn prepare us to be present to our world(s).
- this Sunday night at the home of Margaret Doria we’re going to do what Rev. Ames in Marilynne Robinson’s Lila does. When asked if he’s praying, he says he’s “troubling heaven.” That’s what we’ll do together as a church from 6-8p.
Finally, pray for
- the future Mr. & Mrs. JJ Fryar
- Sheila Stephens’ granddaughter, Hadley–having surgery Thursday morning
- our ongoing search for a more permanent location for CtK
- Pastor Dee of Fairmeadows Baptist now finishing his 8th round of chemotherapy and awaiting surgery
It’s been called the greatest musical commentary on the Psalm passage quoted (Ps 2) in this Sunday’s sermon’s text (Acts 4:1-31). Ninety seconds of greatness for you right here–no extra charge.