654) The Two Shall Become One


     Jesus said:  “A man will unite with his wife, and the two will become one.  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Let no one separate, then, what God has joined together.”

     “The two will become one.”  Those are old and familiar words, but what do they mean?

     I am reminded of a discussion in a seminary class many years ago.  We were talking about heaven, and one of the students asked our elderly professor if people who were husband and wife on earth would be together in heaven.  I still remember his wonderful answer.  He said, “I don’t know how that will work.  The Bible doesn’t really tell us enough about it.  Jesus said there would not be marriage in heaven, but I think we would have to be together in some way.  I sure hope so.  Dorothy and I have been through a lot together, and so much of what I am today is tied up in my relationship with her.  I don’t see how that can just end in death.  If that relationship did not continue in some way, I don’t even know who I would be anymore.  Jesus says the two will become one, and we have.  After all these years, our lives are completely interwoven.”  That is what those words mean.  Those two individuals did, in fact, become one.  He could not even imagine who or what he would be apart from that relationship.

     It takes a while for that kind of connection to develop.  That is why those other familiar words are in the service, those words which the two of you will say to each other, “To have and to hold… until death parts us.”

     Jack Nicholson is a great actor and fun to watch in the movies, but he is not much of a role model.  He will tell you himself that he is crude and obnoxious and selfish, and proud of it.  It is not surprising that he is difficult to get along with.  He was married and divorced years ago, and has since been in and out of several relationships, and has had countless one-night-stands.  He has been a world-class womanizer, unable and unwilling to commit to any relationship.  Jack Nicholson is not the kind of guy you would go to for advice on how to have a successful marriage.  But he said something a while back that does testify to the goodness and rightness of the marriage commitment.  He has lived what some would consider an ideal life– plenty of money, willing women available anytime, anywhere; and no chains, always free, never bound by any commitments, and no one telling him what to do.  But he is well past 70 now, long past his prime, and living alone.  He likes being alone, he says, and he can still have a good time whenever he wants, but he has regrets.  I saw him talking about that in an interview.  I don’t remember his exact words, but he said something like this: “I should have stayed with someone.  I’m alone now, and that’s okay much of the time.  But I am alone with my memories.  I have had a good life, and it would be nice to have someone with me now who had shared that life, and we could have all those memories together.”

     To use Jesus’ words, Jack Nicholson is thinking it would be nice if he could ‘be one’ with someone.  My old professor’s life was probably not as full or exciting as Jack Nicholson’s, but he had something better; and more to look forward to.

     Mike and Julie, today the two of you will become one by the promises that you make to each other.  That process takes a lifetime to complete, but it is your whole life you are promising to each other.  “Until death parts us,” you will say.  You will promise to love and comfort each other; and to cherish and honor each other; for better or worse, in sickness and in health, for the rest of your lives.  Those are also ‘old words,’ and some of them are unpleasant words to have to hear and consider on this happy day.  But sooner or later, some, or all, of those words apply to every marriage.

     I am reminded of what Michael J. Fox’s wife said after hearing of her husband’s diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease when he was only thirty.  She described them crying together, and her saying to him over and over the words of her wedding vows– “in sickness and in health, in sickness and in health.”  She is famous and gets quoted, but around the world, millions of other couples are quietly and faithfully fulfilling those same vows every day, in all kinds of circumstances.

     Mike and Julie, we wish you the best on this day as the two of you become one.  May God be with you and you with him in your life together.

Jack Nicholson


Matthew 19:4-6  —  “Haven’t you read,” Jesus replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”


God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless, preserve, and keep you; the Lord mercifully with his favor look upon you; and so fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may so live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting.  Amen. 

–Marriage Blessing from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer

519) Getting Married to the Wrong One


     Connor and Julia, family and friends, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

     Everyone hopes for good weather on their wedding day, and the two of you sure have that today.  What a nice day on which to begin your marriage!  May your whole life together be so pleasant as the weather on this fine day.  As an old marriage blessing says, ‘may conflict and strife be far from you, may you love and respect each other, and may you live in peace until your life’s end.’  And as the Irish say, ‘may the wind be always at your back, may the road always rise to meet you, may the sunshine be always warm on your face, and may you each and every day know nothing but happiness and wedded bliss.’

      Now, just in case it doesn’t always work out that way, don’t be surprised.  Just in case there are lots of days in your marriage with clouds and not sunshine, and the wind is sometimes blowing hard in your face, and it is an uphill battle all the way, don’t worry about it.  And just in case conflict and strife do not always remain far from you, but are sometimes right there, even keeping you up at night, don’t give up.  Work through it— but don’t let it get you down.  In fact, plan on having to endure and work through lots of those times.  You can probably even expect that every once in a while, Connor, you might say to yourself, “What did I ever see in her?”  And Julia, you might say to yourself, “What did I ever see in him?”  And if that happens, it probably won’t be the first time such a thought ever popped into the mind of a husband or a wife.  

     Let me illustrate what I’m getting at with a conversation based on a true story.

     A young man one time said to his grandfather, “Hey Grandpa, Jenny and I are thinking about getting married.”

    “Oh ya,” said Grandpa, “what makes you think that’s such a good idea?”

     “Well shucks, Grandpa,” the younger man said, “we’ve known each other for two years, we get along fine, and I think we are right for each other.”

     Grandpa replied, “You hardly know each other at all, yet.”

     The young man said, “Grandpa, I thought you liked Jenny.”

     “I do like Jenny,” Grandpa said, “and I think the two of you should get married.  Just don’t be going into it with the idea that you are right for each other, or worse yet, that you are, what they call now days, ‘soul-mates,’ whatever that is.”

     “Well,” said the grandson, “I heard that you and Grandma knew each other less than a year when you got married.  Did you think you were right for each other?”

     “Yes, I thought so when we got married,” said Grandpa, “but I was wrong.  We weren’t right for each other at all.  In fact, we had a talk about that very thing one time after we were married for about five years.  We talked about how different we were, and how much we argued, and we both decided we had made a big mistake in getting married.  It wasn’t an angry conversation, just a matter of fact acknowledgement of how much we annoyed each other.”

   “Well, what did you do then?,” asked the bewildered young man.

     Grandpa said, “Well, if I remember right, it was in the evening, so I went out to the barn to finish the chores, and Grandma finished the dishes and put the kids to bed.  And then day after day, we just kept on doing what married people do.  Just because you married the wrong person is no excuse to give up on your promises and start over.  But then, after a few more years of plugging away at it, we began to realize that even though we weren’t exactly made for each other, we had become the right person for each other.  Now, I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world.  People can never, really know if they are marrying the right person.  And a lot of times the wrong people do get married.  But then they just BOTH have to work on becoming the right person; and it is the marriage vows that keep you together long enough to give that a chance to happen.”

     In a few minutes the two of you will make your marriage vows, committing your lives to each other, come what may, promising to be faithful until death parts you.  You might be right for each other and you might, sometimes, be wrong for each other, and, if you are like most couples, your own views on that might go back and forth a bit over the years.  But if today, you both commit yourselves to that lifelong promise, and you both commit yourselves to working it out, you will be right.

     C. S. Lewis once wrote:

People get from movies the idea that if you have married the right person you may expect to go on ‘being in love’ for ever.  As a result, when they find they are not so much in love for a time, they think this proves they have made a mistake and are entitled to a change.  They don’t realize that when they have made that change, the thrill will soon go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one.  In this department of life, as in every other, the thrills come at the beginning and do not last…  But if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated for by a quieter and more lasting kind of blessing.

     You are beginning your life together in a church.  And you are doing that not because this is a pretty place for a wedding, and not because it is a big enough place to hold all these people.  But we are in this sanctuary today because your faith in God is important to both of you; and so it is right and good to begin your life together here in God’s presence, asking for His blessing.  The closer you remain to God in your life together, the closer you will be to each other, and the stronger will be the bond between you.

     The reading you selected from the book of Hebrews begins with the command that marriage shall be held in honor by all, along with commands to love one another, to keep your life free from the love of money, and to be content.  And notice how that passage ends with a promise, God said, “Never will I leave you nor forsake you,” and therefore, says the verse, we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper, I need not be afraid.”  There is no better help to be had, and no other help at all that can be there for you forever.  But then do also remember that earlier in the same book of Hebrews, it says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard from the Lord, so that we do not drift away.”  Give to God the attention he deserves, and do not drift away, and you will be all right.

     At the center of the marriage service there are these commitments, the commitments you make to each other and the commitment you make to God, in whose presence we gather.  And the commitment to each other is not primarily simply to love, for no one can guarantee that an emotion will be there every day.  Emotions are unreliable, coming and going as they do.  No, you do not promise an emotion, you simply promise that YOU will keep being there, every day, from now on, whether or not you feel like it.  And then, as an old marriage blessing says, you may grow in holy love until your life’s end becoming the right person for each other.


Hebrews 13:4-6a  —  Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.  Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  So we say with confidence,  “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid…”

Hebrews 2:1  —  We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.



May the Lord God, who created our first parents and established them in marriage,

establish and sustain you, that you may find delight in each other,

and grow in holy love until your life’s end. Amen.

485) Being ‘In Love’ and Living ‘Happily Ever After’

 By C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity

      What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us.  It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and it subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality.  In that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust.  No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centeredness.  But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’  Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing.  There are many things below it, but there are also things above it.  You cannot make it the basis of a whole life.  It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling.  Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all.  Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.  And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last.


     The idea that ‘being in love’ is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or promise at all.  If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; and if it adds nothing, then it should not be made.  The curious thing is that lovers themselves, while they remain really in love, know this better than those who talk about love.  Those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises.  Love songs all over the world are full of vows of eternal constancy.  The Christian law is not forcing upon the passion of love something which is foreign to that passion’s own nature:  it is demanding that lovers should take seriously something which their passion of itself impels them to do.

     And, of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love.  A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions:  no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way.  He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.


     If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were.  Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years?  What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?  But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love.  Love in this second sense—love as distinct from ‘being in love’—is not merely a feeling.  It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.  They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.  They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else.  ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity:  this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.  It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.


Genesis 2:18  —  The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Mark 10:6-9  —  (Jesus said),  “At the beginning of creation God made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Ephesians 4:2-3  —  Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

I Corinthians 13:4-7  — Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 



May the Lord make you holy and bless you, and pour the riches of his grace upon you, that you may please Him, and live together in holy love until the end of your lives.  –John Knox

276) Permission to Marry

     One day many years ago, a young man wanted to marry a certain young woman.  The woman insisted, as was customary at the time, that the man ask her father to grant them his permission to marry.  The young man knew that the girl’s father was a good and kind man, but he was still very nervous about asking him this important question.  Finally, he talked to him. “Sir,” he said, “I would like to request your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

     The older man looked at him sternly and without speaking for a long time.  Finally he said, “Meet me here at my home at 3:00 tomorrow morning.  I would like to ask you a couple questions to see if you would be a suitable husband for my daughter.”

     At precisely 3:00 the next morning, the young man knocked on the door. The servant showed him into the living room, where the young man sat down and waited– and waited and waited. For five hours he waited. Finally, at 8:00 the older man walked in and proceeded to ask his questions.

     “Young man,” he said, “Do you know how to spell?” 

     “Yes, sir,” said the young man.

     “All right,” said the older man, “spell cat.”

     “Cat, C-A-T,” was the response.     

     “Good,” said the old man.  “Do you also know something about figures?” 

     “Yes, I know a bit,” said the younger man. 

     “Good.  What is two plus two?” 

     “Four,” replied the lad.

     “That’s splendid,” said the man’s future father-in-law getting up to shake hands.  “I would be most pleased to grant you my daughter’s hand in marriage.”

     The bewildered, but pleased young man left, and the girl’s father went in to tell his wife the news that their daughter would indeed be marrying that fine young man.  “But how could you tell anything after such a short conversation?,” asked his wife.

     “Well,” said the husband, “it wasn’t only what he said, but it was also what he did.  First of all, I was testing him on self-denial.  I told him to be here at 3:00 in the morning.  He left a warm bed and came out in the cold without a word of complaint.  Second, I tried him out on courtesy; and he was courteous enough to be here right on time.  Third, I examined him on patience.  I made him wait five hours to see me.  Fourth, I was testing him on irritability and resentment; and he did not show any sign of it, and did not even question my delay.  Fifth, I tried out his humility.  I asked him questions that a five year old could answer and he showed no pride or indignation.  And I also found out that he knows how to look for the best in people.  Last night I asked our daughter how he responded to having to come here at 3:00 in the morning.  She said he told her that he knew her father was good man, and even though the appointed time was unusual, he trusted there must be some good reason.  I found out a great deal about that young man, and I am convinced he will make a good husband for our daughter.”

     Even though the father had intentionally set up that unpleasant situation, it did serve to show him how the young man would respond to the many irritations that would inevitably be a part of marriage.  The young man responded with grace, trust, respect, courtesy, and patience, even though he did not understand what was going on; and that told the father everything he needed to know.

     In I Corinthians 13 we read that love is patient and it is kind.  Love also, it says, bears all things and endures all things.  Love, it goes on to say, is not irritable, it is not resentful, and it is not arrogant or rude.  And love rejoices in the right and does not rejoice in the wrong; or we might say, it does not insist on looking only for the bad in every situation and person, but looks also for the good.  Love will give another person the benefit of the doubt, as the young man did for his fiance’s father.

     When people are irritable, resentful, arrogant, and rude, those negative qualities described in I Corinthians 13, then conflict will always be present, even when problems are small.  That father knew that in a good marriage one needs to think the best, not the worst of their spouse, and to be willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  There would be many times that young man would have reason to be irritable, but would need to be patient; times he would have reasons to be resentful, but would need to be understanding; times he could be offended or insulted, but would need to be gracious and have the ability to overlook a wrong done.

     A marriage is built on a firm foundation if it is built on the foundation of God’s love and God’s guide for love in the Bible.


I Corinthians 13:4-5  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

I Corinthians 13:6-7  —  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

I Corinthians 13:13  —  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.

A Wedding Prayer (Irish)

By the power that Christ brought from heaven, mayst thou love me.
As the sun follows its course, mayst thou follow me.
As light to the eye, as bread to the hungry,
As joy to the heart, may thy presence be with me,
Oh one that I love, ’til death comes to part us asunder.

219) Marriage Isn’t For Me, or You

By John Goerke; First published on the Institute of Religion and Democracy’s blog site called Juicy Ecumenism, November 13, 2013 (edited).  John Goerke majors in Philosophy at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

     “How ought I to live as a married man or married woman?”  “What is marriage for me, right now?”  These are questions that have to be answered before a marriage culture can thrive.  Having all the best arguments on your side is important, but they won’t substitute for the best people.  Saints aren’t remembered for being right, they are remembered (and revered) for being good.  Encountering a married couple that is committed to Christ and to each other does more to spread the truths about marriage than all the books in the world ever could.

     In response to the question, “How ought I to live as a married man or married woman?”, I have nothing to offer.  I am not married.  However, on the blogs and on the street, I have encountered three people in the past month who do have something to offer.  What follows amounts to an account of my eavesdropping.

     Seth Adam Smith has been married for a year and a half.  A little over a week ago, he declared on his blog:  “I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.”  He should have seen this revelation coming.  He admits that as his wedding approached, he began to ask questions.  “Was I ready?  Was I making the right choice?  Was Kim the right person to marry?  Would she make me happy?”  Seth then goes on to make the classic mistake of asking his father for advice.  It is uncanny how superficial and silly fathers can be during our high school years.  Then, as if a miracle had occurred, they are filled with wisdom and insight almost overnight.  It is dangerous to ask them questions, because they just might give the right answer.  Seth recounts his father’s words:

     “Seth, you’re being totally selfish.  So I’m going to make this really simple:  marriage isn’t for you.  You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy.  More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family.  Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children.  Who do you want to help you raise them?  Who do you want to influence them?  Marriage isn’t for you.  It’s not about you.  Marriage is about the person you married.”  

     To all who are reading this article– married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette– I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you.  No true relationship of love is for you.  Love is about the person you love.  And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive (usually, but not always in this wicked world).  And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered.  Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you.  It’s for others.

     This blog spread like wildfire across my Facebook feed.  But like all writing, blogs tend to attract criticism, and it is in the nature of bloggers to disagree with each other.  It wasn’t long before a response was being passed around.  Jeremy, the author, affirms Seth’s point that marriage isn’t about being selfish, but he doesn’t much care for what Seth’s dad had to say.  Jeremy writes:

     “Like the author claims, marriage is definitely not about making yourself happy, but it’s not always about making your spouse happy either.  True love is focused on God, and that sometimes means making people unhappy in order to draw them closer to God.  Marriage is not about making your spouse smile or laugh every day.  Marriage is not about being nice, it’s about loving your spouse as God loves them.  Marriage is not only about making your spouse happy, it’s about making them holy.”

     Now it should be obvious to anybody that Jeremy and Seth are getting at the same point.  Jeremy makes the mistake of thinking of ‘happy’ as a superficial feeling.  To make your spouse happy is to do what is best for them.  What is best for them is to be holy.  Thus, bringing your spouse closer to God will make them holy and happy.  The two are intertwined.

     What is marriage?  Well, “It’s not about you.  Marriage is about the person you married.”  “It’s about loving your spouse as God loves them.  Marriage is not only about making your spouse happy, it’s about making them holy.”  I said at the beginning I had nothing to offer as far as the question of marriage is concerned.  I still don’t.  But the point made by Seth and Jeremy was nicely summed up by (someone I talked to) a few weeks ago, here in Moorhead.  He told me:

 “As a boy, I used to go help out on my grandfather’s farm.  Now, like most men, I look back at my teenage self and wonder how I ever grew out of that stomach-churning individual.  Anyway, one day I got it into my head to ask my grandfather a question.  I had always wondered why my Dad was the only child of the family, despite the fact that most farm families were huge and, after all, you’ve got to do something during those long Minnesota winter nights.  So I asked him this with a cheeky little grin and I’ll never forget what he said:  ‘It’s true that most farm families are pretty big.  Sure I would have liked more kids.  But your Dad almost didn’t survive his birth.  Neither did his mother.  They were both half-dead for days.  I asked the doctor to explain to me what was going on and he made it real simple:  if your grandmother had another baby, she would die.  So, after that, I never touched her again.’  My grandpa walked off and spit in grass, leaving me dumbfounded.  What I later learned is that my father didn’t even know this.  I was the first person my grandfather had told.”


Matthew 19:4b-6  —  …(Jesus said), “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one flesh.  Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Hebrews 13:4  —  Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

I Corinthians 13:4-7  —  Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.


From the Marriage Service in the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer 

 O eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life:  Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that they may faithfully live together, and may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

124) Too Many Wedding Sermons

 A wedding sermon I gave a few years ago.

     I figured out the other day that I have done about 200 weddings in the last 30 years.  That means I have had to give 200 wedding sermons, and, to be honest with you, I’m getting tired of it.  Doing the wedding itself is okay, and the reception afterwards is fun, but it’s the wedding sermons I do not like.  I don’t know what to say anymore after talking about marriage 200 times already.

    Weddings are fun, but the sermons are an affliction to me.  I’d rather write five funeral sermons than one wedding sermon.  At a funeral, I know what to say.  I can talk about how wonderful it is that the departed loved one is done with all the sorrows and troubles of this sad world and has gone on to live with our Lord in heaven who promised eternal life to all who believe in Him.  That’s what I can say at a funeral, and there is truth and comfort in that.

    But I don’t know what to say at weddings anymore.  Of course, I could go on and on about how wonderful love is and about all the joys of wedded bliss, just like in the songs; ‘color my world with love,’ ‘you make me so very happy,’ ‘how sweet it is to be loved by you,’ and all of that.  But surely, everyone here would then be saying to themselves, ‘Who is he trying to kid?– he’s married, he ought to know by now what it’s like, and it’s not like the songs on the radio.’  ‘Wonderful wedded bliss, my eye,’ I can hear everyone thinking.  Marriage is tough, its hard work, and the two of you are in for it.  Anyone can tell you that.  A preacher shouldn’t be up here lying about how wonderful everything will be from now on.  So I’m not going to do that.

    But then, I could take the opposite approach, and I could tell you what to really expect.  I could tell you to expect hard work, regrets, disappointments, conflicts, sadness, misunderstandings, and troubles galore.  I could say “you better hold on to your hats, kids, and be ready for tough times ahead; and be ready to keep your vows anyway, because that’s what marriage is, a promise until death parts you, and don’t you forget it.”  That’s all true, and some of those 200 wedding sermons were like that.  But then later at the reception, I’d always feel bad about it.  I’d feel bad about taking such a wonderful occasion as a wedding and putting a damper on everything by telling the couple about all the trouble they were in for.  On this happy day why should I bother the two of you with all of that?  You will find out soon enough.

    One other thing I could do is use this time to give you lots of good advice.  I have plenty of that to give and I do have the floor now for a little while.  I could use this opportunity to remind you of all the things you were told when you were teenagers and weren’t listening.  I could say “work hard, save your money, don’t forget everything your mother and father did for you, be content, don’t worry, be happy, don’t always be wanting something else and going broke getting it, be polite and kind to each other, talk things over, and, like the Bible says, ‘don’t let the sun go down on your anger.’”  I could go on and on with all kinds of advice, but no one wants to hear that today.  As I said, I don’t like giving wedding sermons.

    But even so, I am glad that we are here today for a wedding and not a funeral.  And, I am glad it is for the two of you.  I am happy that you have made it through all your ups and downs thus far, and, I am honored to be joining the two of you in marriage, even if it means doing another wedding sermon.

    There is indeed trouble ahead for you in this marriage.  For anyone alive, there is trouble coming.  That’s just life, married or not, you are in for it either way.  But now, you will have each other to ‘share your joys and sorrows and all that the years will bring,’ like the marriage service says.  There is truth in the old saying, ‘a burden shared is half the burden and a joy shared is twice the joy.’  And as you share life’s joys and burdens, work on appreciating each other, or, as you will say in your vows, cherishing and honoring, and yes, loving each other.  Hang in there, and you will find that just as the Bible says, the ‘two shall become one.’  That’s not just a command.  It is that, too, but it is also a promise.  Be faithful, keep those promises that you make today, and despite all the burdens and irritations of life together, you’ll find that God does bind you together in such a way that the two of you do become one, with shared lives and memories and perhaps children, and everything else that binds two people together, until death parts you.  It is a burden, but it’s wonderful too.  And so, be thankful to God for everything and be content; say your prayers, go to church together, remember God in your life, and you’ll be all right.
Genesis 2:18  —  The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.” 
Matthew 19:4-6  —  “Haven’t you read,” (Jesus) replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?  So they are no longer two, but one.  Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  
I Corinthians 13:4-7  —  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
    O God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, bless these thy servants, and sow the seed of eternal life in their hearts; that whatsoever in thy holy Word they shall profitably learn, they may in deed fulfill the same.  Look, O Lord, mercifully upon them from heaven, and bless them.  And as thou didst send thy blessing upon Abraham and Sarah, to their great comfort, so vouchsafe to send thy blessing upon these thy servants; that they, obeying thy Will, and always being in safety under thy protection, may abide in thy love unto their lives’ end; through Jesus Christ our Lord   Amen.     
–1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer

49) When Harry Met Sally

Cover of "When Harry Met Sally"

     Last summer Nora Ephron died at the age of 71.  Ephron wrote (among other things) movie screenplays, including one of my all-time favorites, the 1989 romantic comedy When Harry Met Sally.  Many people remember that movie for one particular scene that took place in a restaurant.  In case you weren’t going to ‘R’ rated movies yet in 1989, you can ask someone about that scene.  I remember the movie for different reasons, and I still consider it one of the best pro-marriage films ever made.

     The question the movie asks is ‘Can a man and a woman remain ‘just friends’ without sex getting in the way?’  Over the course of the film Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) become really good friends, and they keep resisting their sexual attraction for each other in order to maintain their friendship.  Harry believes that is the only way they can remain friends.  Over the years they have many sexual relationships with other people, and they each even get married (and then divorced).  But with no one else do they ever form a friendship and a bond like they have with each other.  Eventually Sally realizes this, and she begins to want something more with Harry– and not primarily sex.  Perhaps she wants that too, but most of all she wants to make a commitment to a long term relationship.  Harry, ever the womanizer, wants to keep his options open, and continues to resist making a commitment.

     Interspersed throughout the movie are several cute little clips of elderly couples, sitting together on a couch, talking.  These people are totally unrelated to the story, except that they are talking about their marriage, about their own long term commitment to each other.  For example, in one clip the lady says, “Just think, we grew up on the same block and didn’t even know each other until we were 18, but when we met, we knew we had to be together and we’ve been together for 62 years.”  In another clip the man says with a chuckle, “Ya, she’s old and wrinkly now, but she is still my sweetie-pie.”  Another couple looks at each other lovingly and says, “We have been through some rough times together, like when we had no money and no job, and then when our little boy died; but we held each other up, and now we need each other more than ever.”  It’s just wonderful!

     The difference between a moral film and an immoral film is in what it makes you want for the characters.  Many films make you want the main characters to do the wrong thing– to leave the unattractive wife or the boring husband and find true romance in an adulterous relationship.  That kind of film encourages and promotes immorality.  Other films, films that encourage morality, make you want the main characters to do the right thing.

     What does this movie make you want for Harry and Sally?  It makes you want them to get married!  That would be the right thing to do.  If they were to just jump into bed together it would cheapen the whole thing.  And, it would be wrong.  Even teenage boys can get that message from the movie.  The type of relationship that Harry and Sally have, along with all those old couples talking about their marriage, makes you want to grab Billy Crystal by the shirt and say, “Marry her, you idiot, can’t you see that she loves you and you love her too?  Quit being such a jerk, and make a commitment, and then you can have what those old couples on the couch have, and that’s a whole lot better than all the one night stands that you think you must have but keep finding so unsatisfying!”

     When Harry Met Sally makes you want the characters to do the right thing, and then, it makes you want to do what is right.


Exodus 20:14  —  “You shall not commit adultery.”

Mark 10:6-8  —  (Jesus said), “…At the beginning of creation God made them male and female.  For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

Hebrews 13:4  —  Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.


O God, you have forbidden us to commit adultery.  Grant that we so fear and love you, that we lead a chaste and pure life in word and deed, and that husband and wife love and honor each other.  Amen.  –Adapted from the Small Catechism by Martin Luther