Mike and Connie, the text I have chosen for your wedding is from the story of another wedding, the story of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24. Isaac’s father, Abraham sent his servant on a long journey, back to Abraham’s hometown, in order to find a suitable wife for Isaac. The servant prayed for guidance, was led to Rebekah, and brought her home to Isaac—Isaac, who did not yet know any of this, even though he was about to be married.
Beginning a marriage this way is risky business. The bride and groom had never laid eyes on each other until the day the servant got back with Rebekah and she asked, “Who’s that man out in the cornfield?” and Abraham’s servant replied, “Why, that’s your new husband, ma’am.”
These days, a woman would shriek at the thought of such an arrangement. And what young man would like the idea of some guy from his father’s office staff picking out his bride? Yet to this day, many Chinese, African, and Indian parents talk to other parents and arrange for the marriages of their sons and daughters with partners they have never met.
I have told my confirmation classes that I think this method of parents arranging for their children’s marriage is just as good as the way we do it, with both methods having certain advantages and disadvantages. The kids would get all upset and say, “Are you crazy? That’s too risky! How can you marry someone you don’t even know!” They would all argue that marriage is too serious a matter to enter into like that, with parents in charge. What about shared dreams and goals, what about common interests, what about dating and getting to know each other, what about love, for Pete’s sake— what do parents know about any of that? “You just can’t have parents making those kinds of decisions for you!” these wise 8th graders would all agree.
Then, to give them another perspective, I would tell them about Gideon, a young man from India that I got to know several years ago. Gideon was a college graduate, the son of professional people, and was at the University of Minnesota working on a Master’s Degree. He was a brilliant student, good looking, well-liked, witty and funny—the life of the party type. But Gideon never dated. People would ask him if he had a girlfriend back in India. “I don’t know,” he would reply cheerfully. “Maybe I do,” he would go on to say, “My parents are taking care of finding a wife for me, and I am glad to leave it in their hands. Shucks, I am only 24 years old, and it is too risky for me to make that choice. What do I know about love and marriage?”
So what about Isaac and Rebekah? How did they turn out? Well, after 66 verses of describing how the servant found Rebekah, one simple verse tells the whole story of their brief courtship and wedding day. It says, “Isaac brought Rebekah to the tent and he married her; so she became his wife and he loved her.”
“He loved her,” it says. Abraham, with the help of his hired man, found a wife for Isaac, they got married on the day they met, learned to love each other, and lived as husband and wife until they were parted by death. Everything went just the way it was supposed to go. Before that, there were no evenings of romance out in the moonlight on the front porch swing, no sharing of dreams and goals, no playing on the radio “You make me so very happy,” and not even a proposal of marriage. It was just, “Isaac, this is Rebekah; Rebekah meet Isaac. Now someone go call the preacher.” Yet, from that day onward they learned to love each other, and they stayed together for life.
No matter how you get a partner and begin a life together, marriage is a risk. Parents can make mistakes—it happens all the time in India and Africa. And, when people are allowed to find their own partners, they too can make mistakes. Love can be so very blind, and we’ve all seen those kinds of mistakes.
Mike and Connie, you have spent lots of time together, met each other’s families, made plans, and probably have said sweet things to each other— but there is really very little in all of that to reduce the risk. You do know each other better today than Isaac and Rebekah knew each other on their long ago wedding day, but there will be much more to learn, and an endless stream of adjustments to make. You will, in the months and years to come, really get to know each other. Ask any married person when they learned all about their spouse– it is after the marriage, and after all the head-in-the-clouds excitment has vanished in the day to day routine of a job to go to, diapers to change, meals to cook, and bills to pay. This is where real love, deep love, can grow—or die. You never know. It is always a risk.
And, we ourselves change over the years. We are not the same at age 35, 45, or 65, that we are when we are 25 and making these huge lifelong choices and promises. We go through a lot in a lifetime, and it all has an impact on us. Yes, you will get to know each other better, and as you do, a far deeper love can grow. But life and love is always a risk. We don’t know what will happen or what feelings will come and go.
That is why at the center of the wedding ceremony is a lifelong commitment to remain true to each other no matter what happens. The risk cannot be avoided. The commitment binds you together anyway, come what may. It is love that brought you together, and love that brings you here today. But marriage is about much more than love. You are not here today to express your love, but to make a promise; and from now on, the vows you make today will be there to sustain your marriage in times when love will be difficult to maintain.
As you commit your lives to each other today, remember that God has made such a commitment to you. He took the risk of creating each of us, giving us the freedom to return his love or ignore it. God had no guarantee that we would obey him or return his love or pay him any attention at all. And yet He made a commitment, and He gave us life. He took the risk. And there have been times, says the Bible, that God has regretted ever entering such a relationship with us—just like every married man and woman on earth have, at times, entertained regrets about choosing the partner they did. But mere feelings of regret are no match for a lifelong commitment taken seriously, and the love of God in you, that can give you the strength to make and keep that commitment. Then, you can indeed “grow in holy love until your life’s end,” as the marriage blessing says. Remember Christ’s commitment to you, and remember that commitment also was “even unto death.” By keeping close to Christ, you can learn to live in Christ-like love and forgiveness.
Mike and Connie, may God be with you and you with Him in all the days of your life together. Amen.
(inspired by a sermon by Rev. Roy Harrisville)
Genesis 6:6 — The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.
Genesis 24:4 — (Abraham said), “Go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac.”
Genesis 24:67 — Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her.
TRADITIONAL WEDDING VOW:
I, ___, take thee, ___, to be my wedded husband/wife, to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance; and thereto I pledge myself to you.