June 30, 2013 – Marriage of Lisa Suggs and Sam Wilson during worship
I am interested in what people put on for weddings. White dresses. Tuxedos. Fancy hats. Including what I myself wear. In my youth when my college rock band would reunite at wedding receptions we were all at to play the one song we knew, some of us would wear some creative things.
At the last wedding we went to, Bridget and I were seated on the groom’s side when the processional started. It was an outside wedding and the groomsmen started down the aisle. I quickly noticed that the groomsmen and the groom were all wearing matching suits, shirts and ties.
Ironically they were the same color suit, shirt and striped tie that I had been planning to wear that day but changed out of at the last minute. Bridget and I just looked at each other as they began to process. I suppose it would have been better than my wearing the same outfit as the bride.
Once I was in the wedding of a Scottish Earl and a Russian-speaking Latvian woman where the groom’s men had to wear both kilts and yamakas.
That wedding was delayed a bit when in the processional line I turned to the best man to inquire about the rings as we were about to walk into the ceremony, to which the best man responded, “Rings, right.” A quick trip to his hotel room to retrieve the rings and the service proceeded.
Most of the time these days when I go to weddings I am officiating so I put on the same black robe and white stole I wear most Sundays. But inside I put on the great excitement, for I love weddings.
And I know you do too. What a joy it is that Lisa and Sam have chosen to share their wedding with us in Sunday worship this morning.
In a few moments, they will place rings on each other’s fingers. Regardless of what clothes people wear at weddings, the one constant is that the bride and groom put rings on each other’s fingers: in the symbol of a circle, a shape where there is no end point, a symbol of continuation and wholeness, a symbol of the new life two people enter into when they make their vows of marriage.
In his letter to the church at Colossi, the Apostle Paul uses the metaphor of a person putting on new clothing to describe the new relationships made possible in God’s love.
Paul says that when we begin a new life in Christ we lay down one piece of clothing and “put on” a new piece. The Greek word for “put on,” enduo, indicates the removal of one way of living. As Paul put it in the chapter before our passage, the giving up of “anger, bad language, malice, slander,” in favor of a new nature where “kindness, compassion, humility, meekness and patience” define our personality.
For Paul, this change comes from recognizing with gratitude the gifts of grace God has showered on us inside so we can look to show our better natures outside. For we are all a combination of great characteristics and ones we’d rather not show the world.
Paul wanted the church to know that there are always opportunities to renew who we are.
Marriage is such a time. Some people change their addresses or names when they get married. Others wear something new on their fingers.
But in taking new vows, all who are married makes promises to enter into a new existence of commitment to another person.
Paul was very interested in what people put on when they entered into new relationships.
He wanted the Christians in Colossi to realize they had been chosen by God to leave behind the division that had plagued others churches.
And then to choose to put on the clothes of forgiveness, humility and grace towards one another.
Sam and Lisa you have been chosen too. You enter into this marriage knowing you have been chosen by someone to be their life partner.
We in this community have watched as you have grown in love and faith. Bringing your gifts to new member classes, to the Deacons, to fellowship and to worship. I have seen you interact with each other in adult education committee meetings. And even in long committee meetings I have seen the enjoyment you have of just being around each other.
The excitement you have felt in looking forward to this day. From when you first told me you wanted to share your wedding with this whole congregation to Sam’s caring attitude of wanting to bring me cookies from my favorite bakery in Ohio to Lisa’s posting on Facebook Friday morning at 8am “just two days and two hours from now…so excited.” To seeing the excitement on your faces this morning.
You have found a soul mate. And that can allow you to choose to put on the virtues Paul talked about.
But it does more than that. The witnessing of the commitment of love can empower each of us to recognize the reality of God’s gift of love within each of us.
For half way through this section of Paul’s letter he makes a shift. A shift from focusing on the external values that we put on to the internal virtues that God puts in our hearts.
Paul writes, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” “With gratitude in your hearts sing to God.”
After focusing on the external behaviors, Paul looks to private thoughts and feelings. Virtues made real by the Holy Spirit. Through the peace of Christ. With relationship with God.
What links the external values and the internal virtues is love. Paul writes that “above all, clothe yourselves in love.” There is the phrase he uses that translates as “put on,” as in clothing again. Paul says to put on love because love binds everything together in perfect harmony. Love is the link between the external values and the internal virtues. Love brings out the best in people. And by bringing out the best in us, it brings forth the qualities necessary for our living in a new relationship.
In the same way, Lisa and Sam, your love brings out the qualities necessary for living in your new relationship of marriage. You are marrying someone who knows you well. Who knows you at your best and in those moments when you aren’t at your best, as with any life partner.
Love in the church or in a marriage means bearing another person by fully accepting them with all their faults and weaknesses. Because for harmony to reign,forgiveness is necessary. Forgiveness lies in a person’s knowledge that they have been forgiven by Christ and are released to forgive others.
As Paul put it, “just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
I can remember feelings of disagreements I have had with my spouse. Where we were tired and a disagreement about something small grew into a more personal disagreement. And then we went and did something else but stayed mad. But then one of us said the simple words, “I’m sorry.” And this allowed us to forget about the disagreement and move on.
Love and peace inside allows one to put the values of forgiveness and humility on the outside.
I know from knowing you, Lisa and Sam, that you see in one another someone who can bring out the best in you. For that is the nature of love.
That is what love does. It pulls from us the best in us. It inspires those values and calls forth those virtues that make life most meaningful and joyful.
It does this because the gift of love is a gift from God.
John writes that we are to “love one another because love is from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” God’s fundamental nature is to love, and we cannot know love without knowing something of God.
The best of our qualities come from God. The greatest of them is love.
Different people wear different clothes for weddings. Similarly, our behaviors change.
But just as the rings given at weddings are meant to last, so too love acts as the long term bond for all other values and virtues.
Harmony reigns when we know someone well enough to see the compassion beneath the hurt. When we care about someone enough to overlook the short temper and notice the kindness beneath. When we can forgive enough to bring out the humility in another.
I know that whenever I hear the marriage vows at a wedding I am inspired to strengthen my relationships. Such is the value of love to the church and to society. It’s why Paul was hoping the Colossians would follow the example of Christ and learn to sacrifice their own interests out of concern for the welfare of the group.
And why experiencing this wedding today as part of our community at Bradley Hills is so valuable. Because it reminds us that in a world where there is much pain and doubt and hopelessness, there remains a vault of love, inside each of us, as endless as the circles on a couple’s fingers, gifted by our creator, just waiting to bubble up and spill over into the world.
You can put on a coat outside and it will make you warmer on the inside. You put on some hot water and drink coffee on the inside and feel warmer on the outside.
But when you put on love, there is an authentic experience of harmony between what you feel and how you act. The inside virtues and outside values are in sync. The love of two people giving of themselves fully as God has given. Reminding us that while styles may change, the one thing we must always put on, is love.
May it be so. Amen.