Genesis 2:4-9, 15-24 & John 2:1-11
A Doorway into Mystery
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
The preacher at a wedding can choose to give the couple advice and allow the rest of the congregation to listen in. I do not think this is the way to go.
Such advice is of two kinds. One kind consists of platitudes, generalizations, folk wisdom, and a distillation of pop psychology. There’s some value in this stuff, but nobody needs to get dressed up and come to church on a Saturday afternoon to hear it.
The other kind of advice is scriptural. It is possible to pull a snippet from here and a verse from there in the Bible and build it up into a full-blown homily for a marriage service that’s heavy with advice for the new couple. But the heart of the Bible is about something else than giving advice, even about marriage.
Indeed, the wedding sermon as an opportunity to ladle out such advice seems like an abuse of this sacred moment. What we’re about right now is bigger than how to avoid problems or resolve them.
Recently I read a sentence from the author Eugene Peterson that hit me between the eyes. He says that Scripture is not the answer book to all our problems but a doorway into the world of God’s mystery. [Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson, The Unnecessary Pastor: Rediscovering the Call (William B. Eerdmans, 2000), p. 69.]
So we don’t run to the Bible for answers to problems in the same way we consult an almanac to discover who won the World Series in 1947. We don’t look for advice that will resolve our problems or keep them from happening.
Instead of an answer book, the Bible is a doorway, a doorway into the world of God’s mystery. Nor does the Bible kidnap us and hustle us off to some distant time and place where God hides out. Instead, the Bible helps us recognize and name the God present inside our lives right now, inside our relationships, inside this entire messy universe.
What Eugene Peterson says about Scripture holds true as well for Christian marriage. Christian marriage is not the answer book to all our problems but a doorway into the world of God’s mystery. Let me say that again: Christian marriage is not the answer book to all our problems but a doorway into the world of God’s mystery.
For Christians who marry, their life together does not simply solve problems. Some problems it eliminates, but it brings in others to replace them! Trying to solve problems is a rational exercise, and often a necessary one. Giving yourself to another person in marriage is a choice, a demonstration of love, a leap into the future, the decision of a lifetime, but a rational exercise it is not.
Marriage ushers us into the world of God’s mystery. It allows us to encounter joy, forgiveness, peace, anger, change, interdependence, tedium, and a host of other experiences in a new and startling way.
Scripture talks about marriage, but the heart of what it says is not advice, but a pointing out of God’s mystery as it appears in marriage. What we meet in Scripture is not an effort to solve problems or avoid them. Instead we hear stories told that perplex and delight our hearts.
Consider the passage from Genesis that Jason and Hillary chose for our first reading today. God is launching the project we call the human race. He forms the first human from common dirt and his own divine breath. Quite a combination!
Then God decides that this first human, this man, needs a companion. None of the animals quite fit the bill. So the Lord puts the man to sleep, a kind of general anesthetic in preparation for removing one of his ribs. From this rib the Lord forms the first woman, then awakens the man so the two can meet each other. Still groggy from his nap, the man sees the woman, delights in her, and, well, here we have the first marriage.
The story pushes us across the doorstep into the world of God’s mystery. For each sex to delight in the other, for man and woman to commit themselves to life-long union, for each to be a blessing to the other, and accept a blessing in return: all this is to be surprised by God, the God who starts all this off and sustains it, and continues to surprise us, couple by couple.
Where does the delight come from? From the world of God’s mystery.
Consider also another story that lurks around whenever a Christian marriage is celebrated. I mean that time Jesus is invited to a wedding and prevents a social disaster.
Weddings in his culture last a week, and the immediate world is invited. To run short of wine at a wedding is a social mistake remembered for decades.
In the village of Cana a young couple, a first-century Hillary and Jason, are having their wedding reception when suddenly there is no wine left. Not a drop.
Jesus, who’s a guest at the wedding, comes to the rescue, not with the flamboyance of a carnival sideshow, but secretly, so that hardly anyone notices his involvement. All of a sudden, water has become wine. Lots of wine. Enough to keep everyone’s cup full until it’s time to go home.
Jesus doesn’t arrive at that wedding to hand out advice. Nor does he just resolve a shortage. Instead, he leaves behind a story that ever since has been a parable about the startling and abundant joy that God intends for couples like that one in Cana, like Hillary and Jason, when they unite in marriage.
Where does the joy come from? From the world of God’s mystery.
So, Jason and Hillary, the suggestion I will offer you is that advice, the solving of problems, and reasoning through difficulties may be important, even necessary, but it is not the heart and soul of what you will be as husband and wife, Remember: Marriage is not the answer book to all our problems but a doorway into the world of God’s mystery.
Over and over again, may you enter that world of mystery where God can surprise you. By these surprises, God will show love for you and strengthen your love for each other.
Yes, Hillary and Jason, welcome the surprises where God is at work.
• Copyright for this sermon 2008, The Rev. Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission. Fr. Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals” (Cowley Publications).