Download or listen to the Wedding of Frederick Wentzel and Kristina Schmitt: “The Good Things of Marriage” (Matthew 19:4-6)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is always a privilege to perform a wedding and to bring God’s Word to bear for both the couple and for those who gather as witnesses. But it is a privilege for me especially today, because I had the even greater privilege of bringing the Word of God to Kristina and Gabriel in baptism, as God clothed them with His Son and promised that they will share in Jesus’ resurrection. And I have to confess that I prayed for this day; I have prayed that your faith in Christ would continuously grow and that God will make you a family that is a pillar of this congregation, a family that bears witness in your life together of His promises to all people. That will not be easy. Although it is a scandal, divorce is not limited to unbelievers. Christians have to fight temptation and selfishness just as hard as anyone else—actually, they should fight harder. This world is not kind to those who are married; even—perhaps especially—to Christians who are married. Marriage has become outdated, unfashionable, undesirable, limiting. And yet, people continue to do it!
In Matthew 19, which we just heard, Jesus declares the intention of God for marriage “from the creation.” He gives us a glorious picture of marriage untainted by sin: “From the beginning [God] made them male and female…and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave behind his father and his mother and he will be joined to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.’ Thus, they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matthew 19:4b-5a). And if you read the first two chapters of Genesis, you see that the original husband and wife were perfectly joined together; they loved each other completely; they trusted each other completely; they had no doubts, no suspicions, no self-esteem issues. They were unified, and they served each other as if she was his and he was her own body. The fact that they were naked and were not ashamed is not simply about clothing; it is about the fact that they had no barriers whatsoever between them, nor was there any barrier between each of them and the God who had made them.
That’s not how it will be for you. Everything evil that Adam and Eve lacked at first, everything that would have damaged and interfered with their relationship, is now a part of marriages in this creation. You probably don’t need to be married for twenty years to know that, despite your best intentions today, you will often want to serve your own desires, rather than your spouse’s. Your love, if it is to be measured in feelings, will often rise and fall. Your trust of the other person is not simply there, but it depends on how the other person measures up to your expectations. I cannot guarantee that you will not doubt or suspect the other person, or that the things your spouse will do will not lead you to doubt yourself. In fact, if I was a bettor, I would put the odds heavily in the other direction. I hesitate to tell you this, but marriage will magnify your faults and minimize your strengths. Both of you will serve as a mirror for the other one, and most of us see in that mirror what we would rather not see. G.K. Chesterton wrote about marriage: “If Americans can be divorced for ‘incompatibility of temper’ I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible” (G.K. Chesterton, “The Free Family,” What’s Wrong With the World). Sin twists and distorts every good purpose of marriage, so that we might well want to ask with the disciples of Jesus, “If this is the situation of a man with his wife, it is not good to marry” (19:10)!
And, yet, here you are. And it is good for you to be here, because it is not good for the man to be alone, nor for the woman, nor for the child. Fred, God has given you a wife, and Solomon says that “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” (Proverb 18:22, ESV). Kristina, God has given you a husband, and Gabriel a fatherly protector. David says God Himself is a father to the fatherless and settles the solitary in a home (Psalm 68:5, 6). These are good things in this creation, things in which to rejoice even when sin interferes. But, more than that, now you both have someone with whom to walk through this life. You have someone with whom to live, someone for whom you can pray daily, someone whom you must be willing and ready to forgive every single day. With all of these responsibilities and all of the pressures around you, where will your strength come from to live each day in repentance, love, and service to each other?
Well, marriage points to an even greater good, something that’s not even within you. That good is what St. Paul is getting at when he says that the marriage of a husband and a wife contains a mystery: the marriage of Christ and His Church. Paul instructs wives to submit to their husbands, not because they are worthy of it, but because the Church submits to her Lord who loves and saves her. He instructs husbands to “love your wives,” not because they are worthy of it, but because “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that he might [make her holy], having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that He might present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27). It is Jesus’ blood, death, and resurrection given to you in Holy Baptism, in which you live every single day, that covers you and will strengthen and sustain you. Otherwise, there is no hope, either for your marriage or your lives. Jesus makes His promise of forgiveness to you, because He knows that human promises, even the greatest ones, fail often. He has made Himself one flesh with you, and still feeds you with His Body and Blood, because He knows that men and women often do tear asunder what God has joined together in one flesh. Fred and Kristina, He alone is your hope, He alone is your life, as individuals and together; so take refuge in His Word and Sacraments, because there you will find the new hearts and the new minds in which you can forgive and love each other—not only with emotion and sentiment, but by willing choice and action.
As you hear His Word together, as you receive His Body and Blood together, He will make you into a picture of what He is doing for His Bride, the Church. In His promise you can trust completely, in His promise you can rejoice completely, in His promise you can love each other, and in His promise you can live until death parts you, knowing that not even death can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus your Lord.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/9/11