Posted on June 29th, 2012
Since Karen is one of the outstanding teachers in our classical school here at Immanuel, I’ll begin with a quotation from a classical thinker, Socrates. On the topic of whether or not a man should marry, Socrates said: “By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
Eric, today we have gathered to pray that you not become a philosopher! And I am confident that you will not, for more important than all her other virtues, Karen is a faithful, pious woman who trusts in Christ Jesus.
But let’s ponder the words of another philosopher, Mark Knopfler, of the Dire Straits, and the composer of the score to the best movie ever, the Princess Bride. As we are told that Wesley and Buttercup’s kiss at the end of the film tops all other kisses in recorded history, the song “Storybook Love” begins to play. “My love is like a storybook story, and it’s as real as the feelings I feel.”
And therein lies the problem in determining if you’ll become happy or a philosopher as a result of your marriage. If your love is only as real as the feelings you feel, what happens on the days when you aren’t feeling it? What happens on the dark days of depression, the bitter days of misunderstanding, the lonely days of miscommunication, the disappointing days when you realize once-vigorous bodies have become misshapen by age and illness? If love is only as real as the feelings you feel, then you cannot exchange the marriage vows with sincerity. For you will promise to love each other not for as long as your feelings remain real, but until death parts you.
What if there is something else going on, a work that God is doing and will do in your marriage that transcends those two options of Socrates, that you will either become happy in marriage, or a philosopher? Author Gary Thomas puts it this way: What if the purpose of marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy?
That’s a radically different idea from what prevails in the culture. Contemporary society views romantic love as both the foundation and the highest ideal in marriage. But behold the result—a great many contemporary marriages end in divorce, and many marriages that continue on are unsatisfying for both husband and wife. It should be self-evident that this contemporary foundation of romanticism is in fact a foundation of sand, such that when the storms come, the house cannot stand.
Drawing on the Word of God, the marriage rite itself teaches us the purposes of marriage, and thus its foundation: marriage is for companionship (mutual help and support in good times and bad); marriage is for the preservation of chastity, the one flesh relationship where it is pleasing to God that you find delight in one another, within marriage where it is holy and honorable; and, marriage is for the procreation of children, as He grants it to you according to His will.
Now Eric and Karen are going to Switzerland for their honeymoon, which sounds perfect, and perfectly romantic. That’s a good thing, and I’m not saying a marriage does not or should not have such moments. But life is not lived in the alps. It’s lived in the valleys, where there are always clothes to be washed, bills to be paid, and blue screens of death to be remedied for those who have made poor decisions in choice of computer.
In the midst of the real problems of life and the real challenges of two selfish sinners trying to share that life together, a marriage that began with the aspiration of love can easily descend into hate. The marriage liturgy calls us to the highest ideals, but the real life of marriage can reveal what is ugliest in our nature.
Precisely at that moment when things are bitter, God would use marriage to teach us the holy life. St. Francis de Sales describes marriage as a plant that occasionally gives forth bitter juices. But from these bitter juices, one makes the honey of a holy life, as a honey bee gathers that which is bitter from plants and renders it sweet.
For marriage is a ministry to our neighbor, our nearest neighbor, whereby you care for each other in body, mind, and soul. Incarnating the love of God to each other, the heartbeat of your ministry to each other is the same as the church’s ministry: the forgiveness of sins. Having real sins to forgive, real wounds to bind up—both in body and in soul—that can be decidedly unromantic: ugly, odious, or just mundane. But that’s okay! For that’s where the real work of marriage is done, and the roots of deepest joys are cultivated.
That life together—the life, Karen, of submitting to your husband as the church submits to Christ; the life, Eric, of sacrificially loving your wife in the way that Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her—that life of submissive sacrifice is what will sustain your marriage, not a vain attempt to sustain fickle feelings of romance.
Eric, take care of this dear daughter of Eve, and see her always as holy, without blemish and without spot, as Christ made her through the washing of water with the Word. Rejoice with her in the small things, and hold her when she is sad. Karen, honor this man as Christ Himself, the Lord who has never abandoned you.
My dear friends: the whole church rejoices with you this day. Be glad and celebrate, for you have found a virtuous wife, God has given you an honorable husband. Be comforted also on the days that are difficult, and rejoice even in the days that are dull: for there, around those rough edges and the drudgery of everyday life, God is working in you something wondrous. He is not making you happy for a moment, but holy for eternity. In this great gift of marriage, God is making you ready for the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end.
Preached at the wedding service on June 9, 2012
Significant portions of this sermon inspired by the book Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas