This wedding sermon was preached August 13, 2016, for Ryan Budmayr and Molly Willbur, who is the daughter of dear friends from my first call in Pierre, SD.
I’m going to step out on a limb tonight and take us into some dangerous territory. But I’m getting older and have less tolerance for preachers standing up front and spewing religious platitudes and other niceties that out in West River country where I come from we give a proper name connected to cow flop. So let’s start with the truth about marriage: : We live in a culture that is suspect. In so many ways, it presents us a picture of what life should be. Whether it’s a presidential campaign or an action movie or an inane sitcom on Tuesdays at eight, our fictional and actual lives hinge on a hoped-for utopia that depends on our work to achieve it.
That’s what we get in campaign ads on both sides of the aisle and from any given super-PAC. I get hooked by their vision of the future, of what could be — as long as I vote the right way. I’m a sucker for the western or the thriller where the individual hero summons the resources to escape the enemy’s horrors. Hopeless romantics like me are susceptible to the bended-knee moment in a romantic comedy when love’s buds break into bloom. This is all part of our culture’s way of operating. It depends on the sanctity of the individual, on bootstrap-pulling, and on freedom as our be-all and end-all. All of these are good things that I’d be hard-put to let go of.
As far as tonight is concerned is that there’s a constant temptation to romanticize what’s about to happen and to be all sentimental and ooey-gooey and googly-eyed. It all shapes our understanding of marriage — especially in those romantic movies, teen magazines, Cosmo, and bridal publications. They sell a bill of goods that leads to a goal that can’t be reached with their suggested tactics.
Instead of a focus-grouped, trial-ballooned set of actions, though, the great gifts of marriage require something more. The joy of your relationship will surely be present in the things you do together. But much more will it arise in the weathering of storms side-by-side, in the hindsight of years yoked together, and in the promises born out in the letting go of yourselves for your beloved.
The reality is that not in every arena of life, the vibrant gifts God intend for us are colored by our unwillingness to lose control, or do what my pals working a 12-step problem call “letting go and letting God.” Sin gives us a false picture of life’s purpose and meaning. It presents an illusion of the possibility of control, of being able to manage life, and pushes us into our constant need to get ahead of the curve. Our sinful hearts begin to think the Utopia of our desires is achievable.
The reality, of course, is that life is this blessed mix of joy and laughter mixed with some messy, gray, hard, stained days. The reality is more akin to one Thanksgiving of lumpy gravy and dry turkey after another, each one surrounded by loved ones whose mix is so important to who you are. Which is why you do well to listen to the words Matt read from Song of Songs. Although it isn’t as glamorous as romantic comedies, Modern Bride magazine, or sentimental wedding accoutrements, having a seal set on your heart by your partner’s vows and promises is way more valuable.
If you offered for love all the wealth of your house, all your good intentions, all your Utopian hopes and romantic desires, it wouldn’t be enough. Or as the reading says, “It would be utterly scorned.” But what we have in the gospel offers way more. We have a God who shows up in the hard stuff of actual living.
At my little Lutheran college in Iowa I teach a first-year seminar, and for all kinds of reasons I make my freshmen learn how to knit. They get a discount at a local knitting shop, and they get their size 9 needles and a skein of yarn, and they have to knit a dishcloth. My freshmen have all grown up with awards for participation and have been spoon-fed self-worth and acceptance, so they don’t much like it when their dishcloth isn’t perfect. And they complain about how awful it is. And my reply is always, “Relax. It’s a metaphor for your freshman year.”
So I made you two a metaphor for your marriage. I made you a little lamb. I didn’t have a pattern for a Black Angus heifer, so this will have to do. This lamb is kind of a mess. It’s misshapen. Its legs aren’t plumb. Its head is off kilter. It’s got cool dreadlocks, but one in back is too long. The plump body is out of proportion with everything else. On the whole it’s a pretty lousy job of knitting. But it was all done in love, each stitch knitted with the two of you in mind. And, messy as it is, I think it’s pretty perfect.
This Budmayr/Wilbur lamb is a reminder of the kind of God you have, who shows up in the knots and tangles and dropped stitches of your relationship, who keeps loving from beginning to end, from Alpha to Omega. What’s more, that it’s a lamb and not a knitted Butte County cow or Bell Fourche bronc, means you get to remember that the Lamb of God himself is there in the midst of your marriage.
On his account, even with the messes and brokenness of life, you will stand before God on the Last Day, and he will say to you, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” He’ll look at the misshapen marriage lamb you’ll have knit and think it’s the most perfect, darlingest thing. Ever.
You see, contrary to most of what you see around you about Christianity and about being married, it isn’t about getting things right or about being more moral-than-thou, or even about happiness being found in preventing or fixing messes. It’s about the process of living, being surrounded by mercy, granting one another a future by offering forgiveness. Instead of getting all the stitches right, it’s a pattern for gaining life in spite of the mistakes. My prayer for you is that thirty years from now, as you talked about at the rehearsal dinner last night, Ryan, the two of you will see how it all came together and how it started with the seal of your vows today.
So now you’ll start. You’ll use your promises to each other to make it happen. I bid you to stick with it. Don’t fall for the cow flop of the world’s picture of life. Grab onto each other and, literally, love the hell out of each other. Now let’s git ‘er done.