Adam and Annora, Joe, Juanita, all of Annora’s family; my dear Ricki, and all of Adam’s family… my family, and friends: grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Before we get down to business and witness Adam and Annora exchange vows, I’d like to share a few thoughts. Adam and Annora have chosen to remind us, through the Scripture readings we’ve heard, that “two are better than one.” I want to talk about why and how, using a very brief half-verse of Scripture, Revelation 21:5a, where Jesus says: “Behold, I am making all things new.”
The question I have for you today, Adam and Annora, is not “do you love each other?” Your relationship has already survived two years of long distance; the uncertainty of two careers that are trying to get started; and all the challenges of putting on a beautiful event like this. There is more besides, I’m sure. No, I have no doubt about this—the two of you love each other. I don’t need to ask, “do you love each other?” Because I know, you know, and I think we all know, the answer is “yes”.
My question isn’t “who loved the other first,” either, as interesting as that is. No, my question is harder. It is about the future. My question is, “will you love each other?” It is the question I am about to ask you in front of everyone. And you will each answer it, when you look into each others’ eyes and say, “I pledge you my faithfulness.”
There are, these days, plenty of marriages where these promises are made but not kept; where the marriage itself doesn’t survive. There are also some marriages which, like many more that came in times before ours, that stay together from the outside, but feel cold and bitter on the inside, more like a promise kept through gritted teeth than love. Yes, it is possible to stay married, and yet not be able to be sure about the question, “do you still love each other.”
If you want to keep your marriage together, you want to keep your marriage not only between the two of you, but bring God into it. Specifically, Jesus of Nazareth. He belongs in your marriage; in fact, it really should be His marriage as well. I want your marriage to be HIS marriage. And, I hope, to help you remember this, I want to give you three words which form the acronym H.I.S.
The first word, “H” is for “Honesty”. You need to be honest in your marriage. One sad truth about people who live together before they get married is that they often still keep secrets. People think that if they’re sharing towels, they’re sharing everything, but it isn’t true. Tragically, more than a few folks, who, living together for years, get married, and then one of them finally feels safe to be honest, only to find out that the issue is a deal breaker. All of us over a certain age know people who lived together for a long time, got married, then divorced shortly afterward. It was an honesty problem more times than not. There are many reasons, we tell ourselves, that honesty is not our best policy. Adam grew up in my house, and I can remember when as a child we tried to explain to him when it was OK to say something that wasn’t strictly true, and when it wasn’t. I remember once he said that he had cleaned his room when he hadn’t. When we confronted him with his untruth, he said, in his boyish voice, “I wasn’t lying. I was joking.” I remember thinking that my son might have a future in politics. On the other hand, many women are terrified deep down that if their husbands or boyfriends really knew them, they wouldn’t love them. Sometimes that is true. But all of that needs to stop. Honesty is the best policy. You two need to be honest with each other in a way you perhaps have never been honest with anyone else before.
The second word, “I” is for “Intimacy.” I don’t mean only physical intimacy, though that is obviously part of it. In fact, I urge the two of you to tie, from the very first, your physical intimacy with emotional intimacy. It is hard for many of us to take our clothes off for each other. It is even harder to open ourselves up and share our deepest fears and our highest hopes and aspirations with each other. You probably have done it with very few people; maybe with no one. Even if it has been with no one until now, it’s time to make an exception. Don’t settle for getting close physically. You need to really, really know each other. It is sadly true that in many marriages the emotional intimacy dies first, and physical intimacy becomes an empty pleasure, and ultimately no real pleasure at all.
Now, while honesty and intimacy are in some senses the same thing, in other ways they are can work at cross purposes in us sensitive and insecure human beings. This tension comes to mind as I think of a couple married a long time, say, 29 years. The wife is undressing for bed, and stops to take a close look at herself in her bedroom full length mirror. “I’m a mess,” she says to herself. “I look at myself and I see a face full of wrinkles, pretty much the rest of me is either bloated or sagging; my legs are too big around, and I got spots where I never had them before. Boy, do I feel terrible.” She turned around to her husband and said, “that was tough. Could you please say something nice to make me feel a little better about myself?” Her husband got a look like a deer in the headlights. He was silent for a long time. Finally, after a deep breath, he smiled and said, “You’re amazing, honey. Even after all these years there sure isn’t anything wrong with your eyesight.”
I think it’s safe to say that honesty and intimacy were working at cross purposes there. That brings me to my last letter, “S” for “safety.” Your marriage needs to be a physically safe place, an emotionally safe place, and a spiritually safe place, even when it’s the only safe place for the two of you. Now, anyone who works in industrial environments knows there are two big parts of safety. The first part is following rules. Some of these rules you may have learned already, but others you will discover by experience. Some couples, for instance, discover after a time that they get into big arguments in the kitchen, but never in the bedroom. Maybe they can learn to bring up difficult subjects in a place where they just feel safer. That would be a rule. You’ll have your own. Work on those rules intentionally and deliberately.
But beyond rules, though, safety is an attitude. In an industrial setting, you treat dangerous things with respect. I’m sure in the kitchen at El Gallo there is an awareness that the tools for preparing food can cause serious injury if they aren’t treated with respect. Your relationship is quite different. No one who is married more than a year or two doesn’t know his or her spouse’s buttons. My wife can make me really angry in just two sentences. They are few words, but words full of hurtful meaning and painful memory. You will have these words in your minds after a while, too. Sharp knives. They ought to be treated with respect, and not thrown around carelessly.
Unfortunately, no matter how careful we try to be, or how many rules we try to make, our human condition does not allow us to avoid hurting each other and even ourselves. It happens all too often. There is no perfect marriage because, almost from the very beginning, there are no perfect people.
When we did our premarital counseling, we looked at the first half-verse I’m talking about today. The Lord had created Adam, and before he ever saw Eve, the Lord said, “it is not good for the man to be alone.” Now, you may remember when we talked about this verse, I told you that it occurs inside a chapter that I call the “bookends of the Bible.” The first two chapters of Genesis and the last two chapters of Revelation can be called “bookends” because they sit at opposite ends, and yet have something in common. Nowhere in Genesis 1 & 2, or in Revelation 21 & 22 is sin a problem. But sin is an issue from Genesis 3 all the way to revelation 20.
Our second half-verse I’m talking about today is from Revelation 21. It is also in the “bookends of the Bible.” In this case, at the other end of things, sin has met its match, and is no longer a factor. In Revelation 21:5 Jesus says, “Behold, I am making all things new.” God has in mind a radical makeover for all of creation, a re-creation without the sin that seems to have such a strong hold on the world today. I say “seems” because Jesus has already solved the problem of sin. It no longer need have power over you, once you have put your faith in him.
Sin can wreck your marriage. I’m here to warn you about that. I asked you, one time we got together, to begin praying together, out loud, as a couple. I repeat that request here again in the presence of others, some of whom, I hope, may help hold you accountable. It is good to pray to be delivered from sin and evil, not only in your individual lives but in your married life.
You two don’t need to worry about the sin in your marriage nearly as much with the safety of it being HIS marriage. He is there to forgive your sins, and to teach you grace in your lives. It may be a learning process, but as believers, the Holy Spirit will teach you grace. You will learn, sometimes through inspiration, sometimes through dull practice, how to make your marriage safe by forgiving each other, being tender to one another, and bearing with one another, in a way that simply isn’t possible without that full knowledge of forgiveness. Like a tether on a ladder climber, Jesus’ forgiveness can give you the confidence to be for each other all that God wants you to be.
We’re about to hear your vows of love and faithfulness to each other. After that, we’ll pray. God always hears our prayers. My prayers, to, go to each of you, and to all of the married people here. I pray that the waters you swim in in your life together give you encouragement to make your marriage honest, intimate, and safe. H.I.S. May your marriage, and all of our marriages, be HIS marriage, in HIS name. Amen.