Last month (June 11, 2010, to be exact) my wife Christina and I traveled to Chicago to celebrate the wedding of our friends Lisa-Marie and Mircea. Christina was the Matron of Honor, and I was the Co-Officiant, with the task of delivering the homily, which is like a formal mini-sermon.
I’d done weddings before (although I wasn’t technically doing this one,) but I had never prepared an actual wedding message to share before. And after going through several revisions, I was fairly pleased with the result. Thus, I thought I would share it with you here. I would also like to dedicate this post to two couples, friends of mine, who are getting married soon: Stephanie & Gary, this coming Sunday; and Diana & Derek, in October.
Homily for Lisa-Marie Wright and Mircea Christian Saucic
June 11, 2010 ~ Chicago, Illinois
I feel really blessed to be able to celebrate this day with my friends Lisa and Mircea. Because it really is worth celebrating when two such wonderful people confirm a life-long commitment to one another. But if we’re wise, we’ll approach celebrations like this opportunities, not simply to eat, drink and be merry, but to accept the challenge to eat together in community, drink more deeply of life, and rejoice in all of God’s blessings.
That challenge aptly begins with I Corinthians 13, which we’ve all just heard.
It’s no wonder that Lisa and Mircea chose this passage, out of the entire New Testament, to express their commitment to one another. It’s one of the most inspirational passages ever written, and for many people, their favorite chapter of the Bible. If you ask me, these 13 verses of the 13th chapter of First Corinthians ought to be enough to redeem the number 13, considering its place among the great romance poems of history.
But this “Love Chapter” as it’s often called, goes so far beyond the world of romantic poetry. It goes beyond inspiration to instruction, and shows us in great detail how to exercise the most important ideal of human nature. It serves to remind not only Lisa and Mircea, but all of us here today, what the human heart is capable of. So if the Apostle Paul tells us that Love is greater than faith, and greater than hope, shouldn’t we be learning how to love?
Jesus Christ would readily agree with Paul about the supremacy of Love. There are over 600 commandments in the Hebrew Scriptures, and all of them, Jesus said, can be summed up by just two: love God with your whole being, and love your neighbor as yourself.
But he also added a corollary to this, in another sermon. He asked in Matthew 5:46, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the traitors doing that?” What he’s saying is, Love by its very definition is a challenge. And when it doesn’t stretch us and challenge us, and pull us outside our comfort zones, it isn’t Love. We all find it easy to love the lovely people, but Christ set the example by loving those who were unlovely, who were rejected by society, and unpleasant to be around.
This is also what Paul means by putting away the childish things, and becoming an adult. It’s not a right, as if we all magically become adults at the age of 13 or 18 or 21. Many people never grow up… and I see the wives all trying not to glance at their husbands right now. But if we are going to grow and mature and put the childish things behind us, it will happen as we follow the example of Christ, and realize that those who need our love the most, are those who deserve it the least.
All of us have gathered in this beautiful sanctuary because we are friends of Lisa and Mircea, and I think we would all agree that they are both lovely people, and generally very easy to love. So I can’t see God expressing a lot of surprise to Mircea, saying, “I’m so proud of you, Mircea, for falling in love with a beautiful, warm, talented woman with a sharp mind and a winning personality.” or “Well done, Lisa, for falling in love with a handsome, well-spoken and well-educated man with a healthy ambition and a keen sense of humor.” Although you are certainly a very unique couple, no one in this room is surprised that the two of you would find yourselves together.
But even the most attractive people in the world have their unattractive moments. That’s why tabloids exist. Even the winningest people in the world can lose our affections. And even the most brilliant individuals can say some astonishingly stupid things.
Lisa and Mircea… as lovely as you both are, you will have your unlovely days. That’s obviously not true of today, but it may be true of some of the days you’ve spent preparing for today. And unfortunately it will be true again, from time to time. To love like Jesus loves, means not to step away when things get difficult, but to lean in… to love more.
To love like Jesus means to accept and embrace the natural tension of human relationships; to recognize that, as a couple, you are becoming one, yet remaining two; that you are simultaneously growing together, and growing as individuals. Love doesn’t require that you understand it, only that you welcome it.
The two poems you chose for today’s ceremony are a perfect example of this dynamic tension. Khalil Gibran inspires you to vibrate like the strings of a lute, side by side in harmony. Unified but separate. Pablo Neruda, however, will not accept the space between, insisting that the distinctions fade away, and your hands and eyes and hearts will not be individually owned, but fully shared. Intimacy to Gibran means mutual respect, as our souls are connected. Intimacy to Neruda means mutual existence, as our souls are subsumed. And the beautiful thing is… both are right. But only if put in the right order.
Christ said in Luke 9:24, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” If we demand respect in our search for love, we will experience neither. But if we are prepared to submit ourselves fully, to surrender our lives, our rights and our ambitions, if we are prepared to be subsumed, as Neruda describes, we will experience both love and respect. The two of you will become one flesh, even as your individualities flourish.
But as this happens in you, Mircea, you won’t really notice. Because both your eyes will be on Lisa, watching her bloom more and more as she takes root in your love for her. And Lisa, most of the time you won’t see this in yourself, because you’ll be too captivated with the burgeoning strength and confidence that Mircea develops as you invest in his spirit.
It’s not easy… you’ll fall back again and again. We all do. But as I said before, to love like Jesus loves, means not to step away when things get difficult, but to lean in… and to love more. As G.K. Chesterton said, “There is the great lesson of Beauty and the Beast; that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.” And that is the adventure that each of you is facing; to realize that your love may be a blessing to you when it’s easy, but it’s not a blessing to your lover until it’s difficult.
So we stand here this evening to make a commitment that is strong enough to overcome any difficulty. It’s right there in the traditional vows: richer or poorer, sickness and health, etc, etc. It’s that “no matter what” that makes a love like this special.
It can be frightening to write a blank check with your life like that, and hand it to another person, but everything worthwhile in our lives, everything we take for granted now, was once a scary proposition. And this is not exclusive to the concept of marriage. Every one of us, whether married, divorced, widowed, engaged, dating or single, should be “loving our neighbors as ourselves”, and always looking for ways to accept the rejects, to include the outsiders, to love the unlovable, and to be a source of support and encouragement for those around us. No one has to be alone… and Jesus is counting on his followers to see to it that no one is alone. Even when we’re single we’re not alone, if we are busy putting an end to the loneliness of others, and building one another up in Love.
Finally, as we celebrate this Love today… between these treasured friends of ours… let’s take the opportunity also to celebrate Love itself. And what better way is there to celebrate Love, than to practice it? Even to take a moment and think about the people in our lives who need more of us than they’re getting. To take a moment to think about how to really give ourselves fully to one another, the way Jesus gave himself to all of us, without condition.
This is my blessing over you, Lisa and Mircea, and over this entire gathering: May each of us resolve this very moment, that when those around us become difficult to love, we will not step away. We will lean in, and love more.
May God bless this marriage. May his face shine upon you both, and give you peace. Amen.