Thursday, May 05, 2005

Marriage: Laying Aside, Putting On

[This is a message I prepared for a wedding I'm performing today, May 5, 2005. Tom and Kathy are two wonderful members of our congregation, Friendship Church.]

Kathy told me the other day that I may be the only person here who knew both she and Tom fairly well before they got together. From that unique vantage point, I want to tell the two of you something: You both are very blessed!

Kathy: Tom is a man of extraordinary character. When he loves, it’s with more than mere words, but with every ounce of devotion and commitment that a person can muster. All you have to do is consider Paul and Katie and you know that’s true.

Tom: Kathy is someone who never gives up. Her faith in God has sustained her through good times and bad. Her capacity for friendship and for providing nurture, especially to Kyle and Koby, are wonderful attributes that she willingly shares.

And both of you have another characteristic which you bring to your marriage and to forging this sextet you form today into a family: A sense of humor. Don’t ever lose it. Don’t ever get too serious.

As a more-than-interested bystander, I must tell you how happy I am for all six of you today! And Kathy, I can’t tell you how excited I am that this moment I told you would come—the moment when I got to preside over a wedding confirming that the man of your dreams had entered your life—has arrived. (I just hadn’t realized how close at hand the man of your dreams would be!)

Now, a brief word from God’s Word. Actually, two brief phrases from the Bible. The first phrase I want to mention is lay aside. It appears in the wonderfully mysterious sermon that composes the book of Hebrews in the New Testament. It says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1)

I like the fact that we’re gathered in a circle today. Before this cloud of witnesses, you affirm your intent to live in the marriage covenant invented by God.

The writer of Hebrews would say though, that along with God and us, another cloud of witnesses views what is happening here right now. Those witnesses are in heaven and I am sure that they are smiling.

And, according to Hebrews, what God and all His witnesses call you to do today is commit yourselves, day in and day out for as long as you both shall live, to lay aside every bit of arrogance and self-will, every scrap of self-centeredness and egotism, every feeling of inferiority and every ounce of neediness, every grief and every sin.

God says that we should lay them aside and hand them over to Christ. He died and He rose for you so that you need not be weighed down by any aspect of your past, so that sin no longer is a wall between yourselves and God or a wall between yourselves and others. Lay those things aside so that you can be fully responsive to the starting gun for the race God lays before you today.

Now, here’s the other phrase: put on. The apostle Paul, writing in the New Testament book of Romans, says, “…put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Romans 13:14)

What’s he saying? Just this: After you’ve laid aside sin and the corrupted, dead-end ways of this world, cover yourselves with the risen and living Jesus Christ.

Earlier, in a parallel passage, Paul helps us understand what he means a little better: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…” (Romans 13:12)

In other words, God calls us—and God calls you, Tom and Kathy--to cover our lives in the forgiveness, the hope, the power, the life, the wisdom, the insight, the power to resist wrong, the capacity for pursuing right, and the love—the good stuff of God—that never ends. He offers all of that to you today as His free gift, offered to all with faith in God-in-the-flesh, Jesus.

And day in and day out, as your life together progresses, the call will be the same: To lay aside the sins of the past and to put on the righteousness of God.

When the fairy tale stories end, they always say, “And they lived happily ever after.” Most of us reach a certain age and can’t help chuckling at that phrase a little. After all, one view of “ever after” must include the full complement of events—big and small, happy and unhappy, exciting and mundane—that can come our ways in life. It makes the phrase, “they lived happily ever after” hard to swallow and a bit ironic.

But in another way, I believe those fairy tale words. I believe them very much. When we lay aside our sinful impulses and inclinations and we put on Jesus Christ, God infuses us with the capacity for compromise, the facility for forgiveness, and the new beginnings that every marriage and every family needs for them to be all that we want them to be…and all that God wants them to be. You can be happy ever after even when the laundry piles up, the toilet overflows, the kids have the flu, and the bills need paying.

More than that, I believe that those who commit themselves to this lifestyle of laying aside and putting on, who let Jesus be the Lord of their lives as well as of their marriages, will spend ever after happily with God. Marriage can be a great laboratory of godly love and forgiveness and patience. When it's that, there will be times when we look into our beloved’s eyes and catch a glimpse of heaven.

Kathy and Tom, laying aside sin and putting on Christ, may you spend your lives together, looking into your beloved’s eyes, and seeing heaven.

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