A Wedding Homily

Mark 10:6-9, 13-16

A Tremendous Gift

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Mark 10:6-9, 13-16

A Tremendous Gift

The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

One summer night my family and I went to Lexington for a picnic and outdoor concert. A jazz band performed, one I had heard before. The band was long established, in existence for some twenty or thirty years. But this time there was something new about them. There was a new member present, a young man who played the clarinet and played it well.

The concert was a lighthearted event, and between numbers the band’s leader would engage in comic patter, with other musicians sometimes adding a remark. The newest member, the clarinetist, was often the target of humorous comments about how young he was, and, by implication, how old the other musicians were.

What I witnessed at that outdoor concert in Lexington was more than humor and jazz. It was part of an initiation process. The senior musicians in the band were welcoming their newest member, initiating this young man into their group and into the fellowship of professional performers.

Something similar is happening here today. A wedding service and the events connected with it, such as the rehearsal and the reception, serve a variety of functions. One of these is to contribute to the process by which a man and a woman, often young, are incorporated into the company of married couples. A wedding happens, usually, in the presence of family and friends, many of whom know the experience of marriage for themselves.

In those of us with experience of marriage there appears, on an occasion like this, a desire to give advice, to give newlyweds, free of charge, the benefit of our hard-won education in what it means to be husband or wife. Some of us speak up with a word of wisdom, or maybe lots of words. Be patient with one another, be kind. Communication is the most important thing in marriage. Don’t ever go to bed angry. Be the first to forgive.

Others of us restrain ourselves, hold back, and speak only general words of blessing and encouragement. But I dare say that most all of us with experience of marriage feel the urge to say something.

Many of the adages we wish to pronounce to the bride and the groom are known to them already, because these sayings belong to the common stock of proverbial wisdom, that great pile of biblical snippets, traditional lore, and pop psychological insights that all of us in this age and culture seem to inhale with the air itself.

Yes, our friends Julie and Jon have heard much of this stuff already! But some of us, remembering perhaps Proverbs 15:23, a word spoken in season, how good it is, will take advantage of this special time to offer them our favorite gem. We hope it sticks in their hearts and minds through the years ahead. And most of us, I suppose, will feel at least the urge to do so. After all, these bits of wisdom do turn out to be true, at least true in a general sort of way.

There is something to be said for wise advice. Wise advice is helpful in undertaking a great project, especially one that’s new to you. And certainly marriage is a great project, a commitment in which partners offer to each other all that they have and all that they are. If there’s ever an occasion that begs for wisdom, certainly this is it.

So, Jon and Julie, let me lead you past conventional proverbs to what I believe to be a wisdom beyond wisdom. Allow me to tip my hat to the truth that marriage is a great project––indeed it is––and point out to you something beyond that, something more remarkable. Before your marriage is a project you can work on, it is a gift you are given.

I’ll say that again. Before your marriage is a project you can work on, it is a gift you are given. This is true, not only today, the day of your wedding, but it remains true throughout the days and years of your life together. At the heart of your marriage is not something you do, but something done for you. Your marriage is a gift! The giver of that gift is God.

Julie and Jon, I want you to look at one another. The person you’re looking at and your marriage to that person amount to a great grace in your life. Your spouse and life with your spouse are not something you deserve or earn. Indeed, this is something you simply cannot deserve or earn. Where words are used correctly, it makes no sense to talk about earning a gift. What you can do is be thankful for that gift.

Be thankful for your spouse and your marriage, not just today, amid flowers and beautiful clothes and glorious music and smiling friends, but be thankful for your spouse and your marriage throughout the years to come, and on the days that seem ordinary. Be thankful for your spouse, and the profound gift of your spouse’s self to you.

Be thankful to God, whose idea it was in the first place. For today God looks upon two of his beloved children, and does great honor to each, entrusting each with the other. This honor and trust are meant to continue throughout years and years to come.

What was it I said earlier? Before your marriage is a project you can work on, it is a gift you are given. Jon and Julie, when you recognize that your marriage is first and foremost a gift, then you will be thankful. You will want to express your thankfulness in how you live your lives, especially how you live toward each other.

It’s only then those old pieces of advice will start to make sense. If we see marriage as all up to us, they may feel like a bit of a burden, like rules we have to keep. But when we recognize that marriage is, first and foremost, a gift from God, a grace given to us, then these proverbs assume their proper role, not as perfectionistic slogans, but as suggestions of ways to express our gratitude.

Yes, my friends, through gratitude for your marriage you can see it in a light that is forever new. Gratitude for your marriage will enable you to live with one another gently, humbly, quietly, light-heartedly. All the familiar pieces of advice and all the proverbs will not seem like so many iron laws, hard to achieve and burdensome, but as opportunities you will want to enter, because you know that there you will meet your partner, and the two of you will meet God. If you know that your marriage is a gift, first and foremost, then you will experience many moments of communication, patience, forgiveness, moments of life made new, moments of grace.

Julie and Jon, very shortly you will go forth from this church as a newly married couple. Together with all your friends and family, those of us with longer experience of marriage welcome you among us, even as that young jazz musician was with good humor incorporated into the company of his more experienced colleagues.

Like him, you have your own music to play. My hope is that as you read the score, you find this music to be something more than a composition to be performed. It is a great gift to have this music in your life, to stand up and let it sound forth in your unique way.

May all of us, your friends and your family, play along with you in the band, and offer our thanks together with you, but especially on this day, for what we celebrate today is more than your good intentions. We celebrate that God has brought you together, and given each one to the other as an act of grace.

This God of grace wants to be more than a matchmaker, or a guest at the wedding. This gracious God wants an open door into your married life, for his gifts of grace are just getting started.

Remember, Jon and Julie: Before your marriage is a project you can work on, it is a gift you are given, a tremendous gift.

• 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).