Anna and Bryan. the first Scripture reading you selected for this day, Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says: “Two are better than one, because if either of them falls down, one can help the other one up.” Those words remind me of the story of creation in Genesis two, where God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper for him.”
“It is not good to be alone,” says the Bible.
Helen was a member of one of my congregations. I visited her in a care center where she lived out her final years. Helen never married and she had no children. Helen was an only child, so she had no brothers or sisters and no nieces or nephews. Her mother and father were both, also, the only child of their parents; so, Helen had no aunts or uncles, and no first cousins. When she was about ten years old, Helen’s parents moved from Ohio to Minnesota, thus leaving behind whatever extended family they did have, and also, leaving the community and church where she at least knew a few people. Then Helen’s parents died. As an adult, Helen was bashful and quiet, and though she did get to know a few people at work, she had no close friends. The few acquaintances she did have were all dead. The only Christmas card she would receive would be from a second cousin back in Ohio, but by the time I knew her, she figured he must have died because the cards quit coming. Helen was completely alone in this world; the most alone person I ever knew. And ‘It is not good to be alone,’ says the Bible.
And so, six verses later in Genesis two it says, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” And that is why we are here today, so Anna and Bryan can be united in marriage and will not be alone, and we are happy for them.
But, as we all know, that is not all there is to it. In the words of the marriage service, the couple is reminded of the simple fact that, “the gladness of marriage can be overcast and the gift of family can become a burden.” Not only can it become overcast and a burden, but that is what always happens, to at least some degree. So the service goes on to say, “But because God, who established marriage, continues still to bless it with his abundant and ever-present support, we can be sustained in our weariness and have our joy restored.”
So how does that work? Well, in all the usual ways. In the New Testament, St. Peter tells us to treat each other with gentleness and respect, to live lives of faithfulness to God and each other, and, adding to our faith, mutual affection, perseverance, self-control, and love. St. Paul also has such lists, one of which was in today’s second reading from Romans 12. There, and other places, Paul adds such qualities as sincerity, devotion, joy, patience, forbearance, kindness, and trust. There is nothing there you haven’t heard about before. These are qualities we would all like to see in other people, and should also be the kind of qualities we want to have in ourselves as we live with and deal with others. And for those times we fail and others fail us, and that is every day, Jesus taught us much about the need for confession, and Jesus demonstrated for us the power of forgiveness.
There is one other quality we find in the Bible from beginning to end, one that should influence not only our family relationships, but all of life, and that is the spirit of gratitude. We should take in all of life with gratitude, and not take anything for granted. Gratitude to God for all of his gifts is the key to faith, a happy life, and good relationships.
When I think about Helen, I am reminded to not ever take family for granted. In my daily work, I hear all the time about family problems. Just yesterday, I pressed the wrong contact number on my phone, got a hold of a person I had not intended to call, but within a minute I was hearing a heartbreaking story of the recent troubles in her family. But I never heard any such complaints from Helen. She had no family, so she had no family problems. But I wouldn’t want to be Helen.
So even though “the gladness of marriage can be overcast, and the gift of family can become a burden,” I am grateful to God for family, and for the two families gathered here today for this happy occasion.
The marriage service talks about loving and honoring and cherishing each other. I like that word ‘cherish.’ The dictionary defines cherish as ‘to care about someone deeply and cling to them fondly.’ Helen had no one to cherish her. From this day forward, Anna and Bryan, you will have each other to love and to honor and to cherish. Do not take each other or your families for granted, but receive each other and all of life with gratitude to God.
Anna and Bryan, may God be with you, and you with Him in your life together. Amen.
Ecclesiastes 4:8a…9a…10 — There was a man all alone; he had neither son nor brother… Two are better than one… If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Genesis 2:18…24 — The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him…” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Romans 12:9-12 — Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Almighty God, who sets the solitary in families: We commend to thy continual care the homes in which your people dwell. We pray that you put far from them every root of bitterness, all desire for vainglory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, and godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh. Turn the hearts of parents to the children, and the hearts of the children to the parents; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another.
—Book of Common Prayer