(Taylor and I inside a temascale in Guatemala circa 2010)
Here is my sermon for the wedding of Taylor Mertins and Lindsey Rickerson this weekend. One of the privileges of a long pastorate in one place- unusual for the United Methodist Church- is that I’ve gotten to see Taylor grow up and I’ve gotten to grow a friendship with him. He’s gone from a youth at church to a friend and now a colleague.
Theirs was a special occasion and so I offer it here too.
The texts were the Shema from Deuteronomy 6 and the ‘walking trees’ do-over miracle of Jesus with the blind man in Mark 8, a text only a seminary student would choose for his wedding…
It’s not often that someone like me gets to do a wedding for someone they know so well.
And I know Taylor pretty well.
For example, I know that if I can work a Kurt Vonnegut quote into this sermon today that that will be the highlight of Taylor’s wedding day- sorry Lindsey, but you know it’s true.
On any given week, I know which movies at the box office Taylor will want to go see, and I know that never will any of those movies ever stand a chance of trumping Taylor’s completely irrational love for the Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic.
I know which novels I can recommend to Taylor that will get him to read every other novel by that author, and I know which novels will reduce Taylor to man-o-pausal tears.
I know that if you really want to upset Taylor and get his boxers in a twist then all you have to do is insist, with convincing seriousness, that NASA faked the first moon landing on a soundstage in Texas.
I even know that Sylvia, Taylor’s grandmother, isn’t happy that I just said the word boxers.
I know Taylor pretty well.
I know Taylor has sat back there at the sound board and listened to dozens of wedding sermons delivered by Rev. Dennis Perry over the years; and as a result, I know the bar for this wedding sermon is pretty low.
I know Taylor pretty well.
And I know that if you ask my youngest son, Gabriel, about Taylor, he won’t refer to him as ‘Taylor Mertins’ or ‘Rev’ or ‘Taylor’ or even my nickname for Taylor that Taylor hates so much that I can’t speak in this room.
No, I know Gabriel will say ‘my friend Taylor.’ That’s what Gabriel calls him.
I know Taylor pretty well.
And though Taylor and Lindsey started dating just 3 1/2 years ago, I know Lindsay pretty well too.
I spent 8 days, 24 hours a day with Lindsey in Guatemala this past summer, which is more time than any Christian should have to spend with church people.
I’ve shared an outhouse with Lindsey. I’ve shared a sweat bath with Lindsey. And I’ve pitched mortar to Lindsey. So I know Lindsey pretty well too.
I know how incredibly shy and reserved and introverted Lindsey is. I know how she’d never dream of giving Taylor a piece of her mind or setting him straight, and I know that if you’re not at least smiling right now- I know Lindsey better than you.
I know Lindsey pretty well.
I know that Lindsey knows the best way to connect with someone is to ask questions of them, to express genuine curiosity and interest in them. Which sounds obvious. Until you start counting the number of people who actually do that.
I know Lindsey pretty well too.
I’ve seen Lindsey chop cement blocks with a machete so I know the hand Taylor reaches out for today is a steady one, one that can be trusted.
I know both of you pretty well.
Taylor, I’ve seen you grow up. I’ve seen you sing off key at a monastery in France, and I’ve seen you lead worship on a mountain top in Guatemala. And Lindsey, even though you speak pretty good Spanish, in Guatemala I’ve seen you convey more of your heart with your just eyes and your body language than with any words.
I’ve seen a lot of both of you. I know both of you pretty well.
But the truth is-
I haven’t seen the ‘you’ you truly are.
The truth is-
I don’t really ‘know’ either of you.
I don’t know you to the degree we’re called to know and love God: with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength and all our soul.
To that extent, you’re both strangers to me.
I don’t really know either of you.
Of course, as any married person here can tell you, neither do you.
Really know each other. Really see each other.
Like Taylor, I’ve taken hours and hours of counseling classes. But it’s in my own relationship that I learned the fundamental rule of marriage. I call it Jason’s Rule.
Jason’s Rule goes like this:
You never really know the person you’re marrying until after you’ve been married to the person you’re marrying.
You never really ‘see’ the person you’re marrying until after you’ve been married to the person you’re marrying.
As any Duke grad and divinity school girlfriend will recognize, Jason’s Rule is just a shameless rip-off of Hauerwas’ Rule: ‘You never marry the right person…because you never know who it is you’re marrying.’
Whether you have a terrific relationship or a terrible one, Jason’s Rule- it’s fool proof.
You never really know and see the person you’re marrying until after you’ve been married to the person you’re marrying. And if that sounds scary, just consider that Jason’s Rule- like Hauerwas’ Rule- has an even more frightening corollary:
You are never as fully seen and known as you are seen and known by the person to whom you’re married.
Marriage isn’t just a process in which you discover who the stranger is that you’ve married.
Marriage is a process in which you discover who the stranger is that you call ‘you.’
If the fullness of what it means to love is to know the other with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, then to be loved means that our heart and mind and soul and strength are fully exposed and seen and known by another.
And God, that’s scary. Because it’s not often that our heart or mind or soul or strength measure up to our own estimation of them.
To borrow St. Mark’s image, until we’re seen and known by another in marriage the ‘you’ you call you is like a fuzzy tree walking around. And that’s terrifying. It’s why even the best marriages aren’t easy.
Of course, it’s also what makes marriage such a beautiful leap of faith.
Because when we’re in love, before we’re married, not only do we have an incomplete understanding of the other person. We have an incomplete understanding of our self.
We bring in to marriage a self-image that’s been formed by the judgments and praise of people who don’t know us as well our spouse eventually will know us.
So as we live our lives with someone else, we discover that we’re not the same person we thought we were.
Because in a marriage, there’s not a lot of room to hide. Your heart and mind and soul and strength- they’re like ‘trees’ coming into focus.
It’s not that there’s no secrets in marriage; it’s that there aren’t as many secrets as we would like.
It’s not just the other person’s flaws and imperfections that are revealed in marriage. It’s your own.
And even in the best of marriages, it’s not long before you’re thinking:
You don’t appear to be the same person I thought you were.
I know that might sound like bad news, but it’s not. Not only is it not bad news, it’s what you’re promising to each other.
In fact, it’s why I think our Catholic friends are right to call what you’re about to do a ‘sacrament.’
As any seminary graduates here know, the definition of a sacrament is ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.’ You need the outward, visible sign for it to count as a sacrament.
And so with the Eucharist, you’ve got the broken bread and the cup of wine. Check.
And with Baptism, you’ve got the poured-out water. Check.
And in Marriage, we’ve got…you two.
Today you two become the tangible, sensible, seeable sign of God’s ineffable, incomprehensible, unseeable loving grace.
Today you two become one of our best opportunities to see and touch God. Today you two become a sacrament. Like the water in the font or the bread and wine on the table. And the whole point of sacraments is change. Transformation. Perfection.
We baptize to wash away and to immerse into a new life.
We don’t break bread and pass the cup hoping it will help us remain exactly who we are and neither do we give rings and give away our future hoping that that future will find us the same people we are today.
Sacraments- visible signs of God’s invisible love- are meant to change us.
Transform us. Slowly and over time.
That’s why marriage is such risky business.
When Taylor married his sister, Haley, a few months ago, he had the them turn around to look at all those gathered in support of them. Today I want to do something like the opposite. I want you two to look at each other.
(Here I had a a couple groomsmen hold up a large mirror in front of them)
I want you two to look at each other because today the two of you are not just saying ‘I do’ to the person standing next to you, the person you’ve come to love and cherish and delight in; you’re also saying ‘I do’ to whomever or whatever that person is going to become, by becoming married to you.
And that’s something that is unknown and unseen to the both of you.
That’s the risk you two take today, but as far as the Church is concerned it’s a beautiful risk.
It’s what makes this an act of faith.
The people you will be at the end of your life together, after your heart and mind and soul and strength have been known and seen by the other- the people you will be will not be the people you are right now.
Today, with vows and rings, you give yourselves over to be transformed by being seen and known by the other.
Today you covenant to let the sight and perceptions of the other shape you anew so that your marriage will yield different people from whom you are today.
By the promises you make today you become for us not just a sacrament, but a parable…of the love of God.
By your commitment to go forward with each other even though the way cannot be seen, will never be certain- you remind us of how God loves each of us.
You are a sacrament.
A sign that I hope will eventually change every one of us.