Wednesday, March 19, 2014
About Last Night
I had the distinct honor and personal privilege of officiating at the wedding of friends last night. While I number myself among the many clergy who are not big fans of weddings because so often there’s nothing particularly holy about the matrimonial rites we’re asked to clerk for, I love being able to participate in services for friends. Especially for friends who are people of deep faith, and for whom the service is about the worship of God instead of the worship of style.
I’ve done lots of weddings over the years, and certainly some have been more about style than substance. Fortunately, I don’t have as many of those because the church I serve has a marriage equality commitment. Until quite recently that commitment included a restriction on signing legal documents for any couple. As a result of imposing the added step of going to the justice of the peace to take care of the civil marriage piece we don’t get as much “drive-by” wedding business as many churches. That’s just fine by me, because one great benefit of the policy has been that we get to be a whole lot more focused on the Jesus business than on the wedding business.
Still, even in the context of services that get to focus more on the love of God than on the romance of lovers, last night’s service stood out as a powerful Christian witness to faith in a loving God.
Last night here’s a little bit of what I got to say:
“As the teacher declared in Ecclesiastes, two are better than one … they help each other up … they keep each other warm. Two are better than one. But what really caught my ear in that reading is the final line: ‘a threefold cord is not quickly broken.’
“Two cords are great, but the third cord binds the braid. The third cord, so clear in the witness of your lives, is the love of the One who created us all, and who gives us the gift of love to share.
“The God who created us all, and who loves us all, also calls us all. Indeed, that God will not be mocked. If all we do, in all of our incredible privilege in this place, is have a nice party and make of love the private possession of the privileged and safe, then we make a mockery of the promises of God. With our privilege comes a great deal of power, and the responsibility to use it well.
“The threefold cord is strong because the work of binding up the brokenhearted, of bearing one another’s burdens, of loving one another always, ‘ain’t no crystal stair.’
“It is, nevertheless, the work to which we are called. It is the work to which you are called. The beloved community of two – which you have built over these decades, and which you here, tonight, promise to hold onto until death do you part – the beloved community of two also informs and invites and calls into being the beloved community of all.
“This charge is what most decidedly separates the Christian marriage we declare here from the civil marriage we will solemnize a little bit later this evening.
“Love belongs to God. But not a simple, sentimental love – a love that is intimately bound up with the pursuit of justice. That intimate binding is what the third cord does.
“The work of the third cord reminds us that, as Martin Luther King put it, ‘power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.’
“So, your charge this evening is simple: love each other well. Love each other with tenderness and kindness. Love each other with silly notes in lunch bags. Love each other with gifts, and journeys, and good food. Love each other with a love that overflows the bounds of your own lives and flows out broadly and powerfully – washing over and transforming everything that stands against love. Let your love shape, inform and become your ultimate work in the world.”
The couple exchanged vows, and in heartfelt words that they crafted, each spoke of how important the church and their faith has been to their lives and their relationship. Each of them is an elder in the Presbyterian church. It was a remarkable testimony. It was holy and profound.
Oh, and I reckon I should mention that this service was on the 26th anniversary of the couple’s first date. So it’s about damn time they got married. Well, of course, until the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning DOMA they could not. They still cannot be legally married in the state they’ve called home for a quarter century.
So after the service of Christian marriage, in which I pronounced them “married in the eyes of God,” we loaded into the party bus, drove into the District of Columbia, climbed the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and conducted a brief civil service under the steadfast gaze of the Great Emancipator.
As we stood there, just a few steps from the spot where two score and ten years ago Dr. King cast a vision of a future otherwise, I noted that King’s dream was deeply rooted in the founding dream of America: that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights – among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Surely the pursuit of happiness includes the right to marry the one you love.
With the stroke of a pen, by the power vested in me by the District of Columbia, I proudly pronounced Ron and James legally married.
When they kissed the great hall of the memorial filled with applause. I think I may have even seen a hint of a smile crease old Abe’s chiseled face.