Monday, November 8, 2010

Wedding sermon for Amanda and Eric

I recently officiated at the wedding of my niece and new nephew. They are both unashamed geeks (his blog: and hers: theme of the reception was Wonder Woman and Batman. So I tailored the homily to that. The Scripture cited is Genesis 1:26-28.

It’s traditional to begin the story of a hero with his or her origin story. In it we learn how the hero got his unique power and often why he uses it to fight evil. Sometimes it’s an act of injustice, usually personal, that spurs him to take on his mission. In the classic stories, he is called to adventure by a mentor who trains, equips and commissions him to fulfill his quest. At some point he usually meets one or more close companions. Together they face a series of challenges which promise to yield a great boon.

Aside from Spiderman, few superheroes are married. And I really think that the writers of comic books are depriving themselves of some really meaty drama. Because marriage is one of the greatest challenges a person can take on. Next to it, matching wits with mad scientists and evil geniuses and defeating monsters is fairly straightforward.

In our reading from Genesis we have the origin story of humanity. God subdues chaos to create the world and then creates and commissions human beings to take care of it. And they are to act as a team as our reading makes clear: “male and female he created them.” In chapter two, where we get a close-up of the creation of humans, the woman is called a “helper” in most translations. But the word in Hebrew is a military one and is best translated “ally.” Not “sidekick’ but “ally.” According to the Bible, the sexes are created equal. Sin is the reason for the subsequent inequality.

It’s essential that the members of a team stick together and have each other’s back. Basically that’s what one promises in the wedding vows. The liturgy just puts it more eloquently.

The liturgy also states the team’s mission, as clearly as the oath of the Green Lantern Corps does their‘s. As I said at the beginning of the ceremony, the total union of husband and wife is “intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” Let’s take each separately.

“For their mutual joy.” A grim hero might make for good drama but this team is meant to delight in each other. According to the Bible, joy is a vital feature of our spiritual life. We are meant to enjoy God and enjoy his creation. And since we are created in God’s image, we are to enjoy each other. God is love, which is why there is more than one person in the Godhead. The Trinity says that God is literally a love relationship and some of life’s deepest joys can be found when two people discover the image of God in their love for one another.

So some of the challenges this team must deal with is anything that kills that joy: uncharitable criticism, ungovernable anger, and letting the minutia of everyday life distract you from your duty to look for things that delight you about your spouse or crowd out time spent doing things together that bring you both joy.

“For the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity.” The whole idea of a team is that you are not alone on your mission. You look out for each other and provide support. You don’t leave a team member behind. You give them cover when they are taking necessary risks for the good of the mission. You give them encouragement when they are down, space when they need it and a judicious and, I stress this strongly, very occasional kick in the pants when their self-doubt is in danger of paralyzing them. You need to always be there for your team member, even if all you can do is be a strong and sympathetic presence for the other.

It’s obvious that we need help and comfort in times of adversity but why does the Prayer Book include prosperity? Because the final enemy of success is success itself. It’s not just that success can make you lazy and sloppy in those things that made you successful. You can begin to believe you are infallible. That’s arrogance, the most lethal of the 7 deadly sins. There’s no better antidote to arrogance than a grounded but loving partner who calls you on your B.S. This takes sensitivity. And creativity. Sometimes just being sent to the grocery store to retrieve some ingredient about which I have no more knowledge than a dog has about quantum physics is enough to keep me humble.

It’s also helpful to have someone who can help you work out which of the things that made you successful you should keep doing and which you should stop. One of the advantages of being part of a team is having a different perspective to draw on. It’s good to have someone who not only knows and appreciates your strengths but also knows and compensates for your weaknesses. Don’t neglect to ask for and grant each other forgiveness as needed.

Finally, marriage is intended “when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.” Having children is, in most cases, the easy part. Raising them is definitely a job for a team. And in this environment of narcissism and consumerism, the best way to keep them from becoming wrapped up in themselves and in the accumulation of material things is to nurture them in the knowledge and love of God. They need to know that there is that which is greater than them and a higher purpose than just indulging their own desires. And quite frankly, it is obvious these days that kids don’t just pick this stuff up automatically as they go through life. They need some kind of structured way to learn about God and ethics. Find a church you like with a balanced emphasis on personal spiritual development and moral teachings that flow from the twin commandments to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Wherever their path takes them, your kids will have a solid foundation of thinking clearly and deeply about matters that most people don’t think about until they’ve already made a lot of bad choices. Think of it as adding to the variety of tools they can choose from to deal with the moral and spiritual challenges they will face.

Remember, any kids you have will be part of your team. Teach them the importance of loyalty, honesty and keeping their word by being loyal to them, honest with them and keeping your word to them. The best way to get a kid to be the person you want them to be is to be that person yourself.

As I said, most heroes in modern fiction don’t marry. Maybe that’s because in classic hero tales, a wedding usually signified the end of the story. But in real life, it is the start of the one of the greatest adventures you can have. The mission is laid out. The heroes answer the call. The fellowship is formed. Then they are blessed and sent out to face great challenges and find treasures that are even greater. That’s what we are about to do. Look out, world. Here comes one dynamic duo!

To see pictures of my niece's wedding, go the my other niece's blog:

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