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Wedding Sermon for Jessica Hittinger and Benjamin Chicka

from the “Sermons and Services” collection

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
Matthew 22:35-40

November 22, 2008
Muhlenberg College
Egner Chapel

Welcome to this occasion of great joy and significance. And of trepidation and worry about details. And of retrieval of old traditions, with small modifications, and of the creation of a new joint life that is unique and new and bound to change many people’s lives. For all these reasons this is a holy occasion.

As a priestly representative of Christ’s Church, I welcome you with a triple hospitality. First, I welcome you and all your involvements with the world into the hospitality of God. Second, on your behalf I welcome God into the hospitality of the Church. Our Eucharist soon to come expresses both of these senses of hospitality. Third, with all humility, what we are about to do, the great change we are about to bring about, the new thing we are about to create, requires the unique incarnational hospitality that allows us and God to work together.

Our New Testament text is the very famous Great Commandment of Jesus, to love God and love neighbor. You’ve all heard that, perhaps too many times. You’ve doubtless heard that Jesus equated these two loves in some way: loving neighbors is like loving God. Loving neighbors is not easy, unless you get to pick your neighbors. But since Jesus illustrated his point with the story of the Good Samaritan, you know that he was not thinking about easy neighbors, rather neighbors who are enemies. Nor is loving God easy, although we should certainly take advantage of every good time to express our gratitude and love of God in happy hospitable occasion such as this, because there are lots of bad times when we wish the Almighty were doing something different. If we comfortable people suffer from illness, broken dreams, loss of fortune,the foolishness of youth, and the creaks and pains of age, imagine what it would like to live in Darfur. It’s hard to love the God who gives you a Darfur setting for your life. Perhaps the reason Jesus counseled us to love our enemies was to give us practice loving God in hard times. Love of God and neighbor becomes especially interesting when it is hard; otherwise it is mere enjoyment of blessings and friendship.

The force of Jesus’ Great Commandment, however, is not the objects of love, but love’s intensity and focus. Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Mark’s and Luke’s version of this saying adds all your strength. Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 which lists loving God with all your heart, soul, and might, so Jesus was adding something when he said to love with all your mind. (Those of us with academic connections are always pleased that Jesus specifically mentions loving God with your mind, and presumably he means loving neighbors the same way.) The point is to love God and neighbor with all you are and have, and don’t be stupid about it. But then, you know how hard it is, and rare, to love anything with all you have and are. We are too scattered, our loves are ambivalent, qualified, frightening.

So with that thought in mind reflect on the passage from Ecclesiastes. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.” We are in the midst of a wedding here, and the particular two in question are Jessica and Benjamin. Note the points. First, two working together are more productive than each working alone. The author of the text probably didn’t have in mind the production of children, although some people here are thinking that. Building a home and life together is a matter of much production, and two together can do more than two separately. Second, if two people fall down, they help each other up. The text does not say that if one falls, the other remains standing and helps the first one up. It says that even when both fall, they give mutual support in helping each other to rise. Sometimes it’s hard to get the courage to stand back up when you fall alone. Two together give each other heart. Third, the text also says that two together give each other heat. I don’t think this just means that two sleeping together need fewer blankets. Rather it is a metaphor for encouraging and sustaining one another throughout the whole of life. Finally the text says that two together can prevail against enemies when one alone is likely to lose. We certainly hope that Benjamin and Jessica have a minimum of enemies in their life together. But there will doubtless be times when it will seem that the world is against them. Stand together in those times, says Ecclesiastes.

Now let me add a point of my own to the advantages Ecclesiastes lists for being in a couple. Alone, it is very hard indeed to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Alone it is almost impossible to stay focused, to integrate the disparate passions, fears, and interests of your life. But together each of you learns to see yourself with two sets of eyes. You understand your own self-consciousness, and also you come to understand who you are in the eyes of the other. You belong to the other, and so that other’s vision is as important as your own. As a couple, you can discern when you are losing focus, when you are being hauled off center by some unnoticed eccentricity. Of course this requires attentiveness, and good communication, and honesty, and a sense of humor, and the patience to let the other have some space of their own, a knowledge of when to address an issue and when to let it pass for another time. Communication about important touchy matters often takes days, weeks, or months. Everyone knows this.

The importance of the point is that a marriage is a vehicle for learning to love. As you learn to love one another, you learn to love unlovely neighbors and our God who is wild and undomesticated. Marriage is many things, of course. Socially it is a way to distribute wealth between generations. Biologically it is a way to produce the next generation, if you think of the whole ecology of marriage—many marriages of course do not produce children and are not less marriages because of that. Personally, marriage is a way of working out two careers amidst the issues of family and sometimes unhelpful economic conditions. Individually, marriage is finding a life partner, a friend who is committed to accepting your faults and being present personally as you come to terms with failures as well as successes. For myself, I would scale Jessica and Benjamin high on the success rate calendar. But please don’t anyone here abandon them if things get tough.

Over and above all these things that marriage is, it is a life-course for learning how to accept the Great Commandment. Although we all can subscribe to love of God and neighbor, we have to learn through serious spiritual discipline to get our heart, soul, strength, and mind behind that. No couple has to do everything together, or even learn the language of the other’s professional thought, although it’s wise to do as much of this as you can. What is most important is the commitment on the part of each to the love of God and neighbor in both, whatever obstacles might be raised in the next decades.

Please, Benjamin and Jessica, take from us the hospitality to find God in our midst. Please also work to host God in the midst of your world. Please also understand that your marriage is not solely a function of your vows, but also of our faithfulness, and of God making you something bigger and newer and more independent of any failures or frustrations you might notice. You are bigger than you know, and marriage is a scale and instrument in becoming what you can be.

Please accept our love and promise to be the steady drum beat of your love and accomplishments as you close on the goal of loving God and neighbor as yourselves


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