September 4, 2010

A Wedding Homily for Two Dendrologists

Romans 12:9-18 contains wise instructions for all Christians,
and therefore it is no less pertinent for Christians who come together in marriage.

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

No doubt you are familiar with the expression, "He/she can’t see the forest for the trees."

As I understand it, the saying is a reminder about the danger of getting lost in all the many details of life, thereby missing the bigger picture, the true meaning of, say, work, or relationships — perhaps especially, marriage. "He/she can’t see the forest for the trees."

Well, who I am to debunk a time-honored idiom? But I would nevertheless like to offer you and all spouses gathered here today something of a minority view. Forests are lovely to behold, when a sweeping view affords itself, but I would say that in marriage, on most days, there are only trees.

In our era, many persons thump their chests and tout loudly the lofty ideals of “traditional marriage” or “family values” or other such forests of grand importance.  Sure, I am as interested in great ideals as the next pastor, but the more grounded truth is this: Great marriages — living, loving, lasting marriages — are started, not with a vision of grand forests full of tall ideals, but with the little saplings sown in everyday action.

The regular planting of honesty, encouragement, mutual support, truth-telling, fidelity, and the like ... These are what matter most in a marriage, because, over time, these saplings are what grow into the kind of thick, hearty forest canopy that not only provides safe shelter for your marriage, for each other, that canopy also becomes a home that blesses many others: children, family, friends—even enemies, if Jesus’ teaching is to be headed.

We all want to “fall in love,” and this is great, but for spouses—especially Christian spouses, already called to a ministry of actively loving each and every neighbor—the urgent question after today becomes How do we stay in love? How do we practice love in real-life encounters? How will love be transacted on a plain ole Tuesday morning in marriage, when the running conversation of domestic life calls for moments of honesty, respect, assertiveness, listening?

You chose for this day a reading from Romans 12, which for our purposes turns out to be a veritable greenhouse of such saplings:

let love be genuine
hate what is evil
hold fast to what is good
practice mutual affection
honor each other
live peaceably

These little shrubs, planted every day, are what grow into great forests for life.

And so don’t worry so much about a year from now, 5 or 10 years from now, about growing old together and living up to everyone’s tall but sometimes rootless ideals. Instead, as you travel through these woods together, I invite you simply to deal with the tree right in front of you: this conversation, that decision, each and every opportunity for "outdoing one another in showing honor."

So maybe here today, at your wedding, maybe we coin a new expression:

In marriage, at least, don’t miss each tree for the forest.

Let the living God manage the great forests
of the life you now inhabit together, the macro.

Instead, each morning, its is yours simply to ask in the micro,
What good seed of God’s shall I plant for my spouse today?