A Wedding Sermon

On April 12th, I officiated at a wedding in Canada. I’ve done that a few times now and I enjoy the opportunity. I believe in marriage. The following sermon is based on some of the words that I’ve spoken at these various weddings.

Anyone can get married, provided they make the right arrangements. But what makes for a good marriage? a successful marriage? a marriage that lasts? How can we experience all that marriage is intended to be?

Many of us know how difficult marriage can be. For those of us who are married, we have experienced the challenge. Maybe we've experienced failure in different ways. For others of us, maybe we've observed some of the challenges, or maybe even observed the breakdown of a marriage.

I’m sure that most of us would say that the key to a good marriage is love. But what kind of love? What kind of love do we wish for those who are entering married life?

I'd like to identify three aspects of the love that is required in a marriage.
1) love that gives
2) love that forgives
3) love that endures

I don't consider myself an expert in marriage or love, but after ten years of experience, I can say that I'm still excited about learning and about growing in love with my wife, Amy. By God's grace we are still enjoying marriage. But we have struggled too, and sometimes the learning has been painful. But, in the end, we're committed to experiencing all that God has intended for our marriage.

So even as I prepared this message I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own marriage, my own commitments, and my own struggles. And I want to encourage all of us to consider what this means for us, whether you're married, or intending to get married. This message is not only for the bride and groom, but it's for all of us, myself included.

1) To be happily married, you need to have a love that gives. True love is generous. It overflows. It spills over from one life to another. True love is extravagant. It seeks to give what is most valued.

If we enter marriage only for what we can get out of it, then we're entering it for the wrong reasons. We get married because we have something to give. And primarily, what we have to give is ourselves. And that's really what happens in the vows: the groom commits himself to the bride; the bride commits herself to the groom. They give themselves to one another.

Sometimes we express ourselves and our love through the giving and receiving of things, of material possessions. Sometimes, as with the rings in this ceremony, the gifts are symbolic. They symbolize something deeper, something more profound. The most we can give, the best we can offer each other, is our very selves.

When Christians talk about love, they talk about God. The Bible teaches us that God is love. There's a statement in the Bible about love that says, "We love because he first loved us..." God sets the standard. But he doesn't just set it, he meets it. He doesn't just define it for us, he gives us an example to follow. He shows us his love. He acts it out. God proves His love toward us. That's what the Cross is all about. That's what the Gospel is all about: the love that God has for us. It’s a love without conditions, a love without boundaries. It’s a love that gives.

What did God give? He gave himself. As human beings we needed help, and God sent help. But he didn't send someone else – he came himself. He came down to earth as Jesus Christ and lived among us. He gave himself for us – that's what kind of love we're talking about.
In the Gospel of John, it says that God loved us so much, that he gave. He gave us Jesus.

Love is generous. Love motivates us to give of ourselves. Unfortunately, that doesn't come naturally for us. Selfishness is something that comes naturally. One thing marriage has shown me is how selfish I am. Becoming a father has taught me how selfish I can be.

When we get marriaged, we're tempted again and again to say, "What about me? What about my needs?" Love teaches us to give without expecting something in return. Love teaches us to become servants in our own homes, looking to the needs of others.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus says that he "came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." It’s a love that gives. It’s a love that looks beyond ourselves and sees the needs of others.

In marriage, we are meant to give ourselves to one another. Today, the bride and groom will give themselves to each other. The temptation, down the road, is to withdraw from each other, to hide things from each other, to hold back, to pretend, to conceal, to neglect one another. But if marriage is to succeed, each partner will need to give of themselves, to be open and honest, to be vulnerable, and to be themselves.

2) For marriage to succeed, you also need a love that forgives.

One of our most basic needs, as human beings, is forgiveness. Why? Because we mess up. It's a part of being human. And when two human beings make a covenant together and make promises to one another, there must be forgiveness built into that covenant, or else it will fail. Why? Because, even in marriage, we mess up. Somewhere along the line we fall short of those commitments, and we don't love in the way that we should.

So, what happens when we don't measure up? What happens when we break promises? Do we end it? Do we give up? No, we learn to forgive and to be forgiven. And we get back on track with our commitments.

As Christians, we again look into the heart of God to understand this aspect of love. God’s love for us is a love that forgives. The Bible teaches that God is eager to forgive. He loves it when we come to him and say, "Please forgive me." His heart overflows with mercy and grace toward us. And when we understand how much God has forgiven us, it is so much easier for us to forgive others. God wants to set us free to love one another with a love that forgives.

No marriage can ever survive without forgiveness, without both people being able to admit failure and weakness. Both parties will continue to make mistakes. They will need to ask for forgiveness. They will need to be able to say, "I'm sorry, please forgive me". And, of course, both parties will also need to accept that apology from one another and say, "I forgive you".

When we hold grudges, when we keep a record of other peoples' mistakes, it simply means that we have not forgiven. And there is nothing more destructive in any relationship than unforgiveness. When we refuse to forgive, it destroys us from the inside.

In marriage, we need a love that forgives.

3) A third component that is required in a good marriage is a love that endures.

I have three young daughters, and I’ve had the privilege of watching each one of them learn to walk. I’ve been reminded with each of them how important it is to keep trying, to be persistent. They didn’t let their mistakes drag them down. They didn’t get discouraged easily. They stumbled and fell many times, but they kept getting back up. They kept trying. They endured.

Marriage is a journey, hopefully a long journey. There will be different seasons. There will be rough parts of the road. There will be times when your love for each other will be tested. And you may be tempted to run. You may feel like giving up. You will need a love that endures. You will need a love that says, "There is always hope. There is always a reason to keep going. There is always opportunity to renew your vows to each other."

God is patient with us. The Bible says that he is "gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love." The Bible is filled with stories about people who stumble and fall, and about how God's love endures toward them, how God's love carries them, and restores them.

Today is a beginning. It is an opportunity to look into the future. If you choose a love that endures, then your future looks good. Your love will grow. Your love will strengthen and deepen. Your love will mature. And you will experience God's blessing in your marriage.

It is my hope and prayer that the bride and the groom will experience a love that gives, a love that forgives, and a love that endures.

I'd like to close with the words of the Apostle Paul from his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. For some of us, these are familiar words, but let's all open our ears and hearts as we listen to this description of love, the kind of love that we've been talking about, the kind of love that is required in a marriage.

"Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast,
It is not proud, it is not rude,
Love does not insist on its own way,
It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices in the truth.
Love always protects, always trusts,
always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails".

as I hope

the beauty outside is stunning
yet I remain at a distance
for a time I am separated
by walls, yes, but also windows

I can see what awaits me
a table is being prepared
the food of which I have tasted
memories now that I savour in faith

I dwell among those who wait
those who look with longing
I seek this world that calls me from afar
and learn to listen as I hope

The Mumbai Passport Story

I should know better. I've traveled in over thirty countries during the past twenty years without ever losing my passport. But on a recent trip to Mumbai I did just that, and I experienced the great grace of God, and of people too.

First, a couple of good excuses. One, I was really tired. Two, I was sick, or at least still feeling under the weather after suffering a bout of sickness earlier in the week. I took the late flight out of Delhi, and even that was delayed, meaning I arrived into Mumbai after midnight. I slept for most of the two-hour journey and I was downright groggy when we landed. Needless to say, as I stumbled out of the airport into the sticky air of Mumbai, I wasn't feeling my sharpest.

The trip to Mumbai was work-related, though I didn't have any responsibilities until the afternoon of the next day. My plan was to take a hotel in South Mumbai and then spend a good part of the morning exploring the old city before I made my way to my first appointment. Due to my late arrival and the distance to South Mumbai, I figured my best option for transport was a taxi. I knew it wouldn’t be hard to hire one, and I had checked out a couple reliable sources before the trip to see about how much it should cost.

As expected, when I stepped out of the arrivals area, I was immediately approached by a young man who was offering the services of a taxi. He asked the usual questions and we began negotiations. I decided to trust him, and we made our way to the curb as he made arrangements on his mobile phone. Within seconds, another man joined us from one direction, followed by a taxi from another direction. It often amazes me in India how many people can be involved in a seemingly simple business transaction. And that was only the beginning.

Before I entered the taxi, we agreed on a price, slightly more than I expected, but still reasonable. As I hopped in the back of the taxi, the driver was joined up front by the second man in on the deal. The young man whom I had originally met bid us farewell and presumedly returned to his post at arrivals.

As we sped out of the airport, the second man asked for payment, something which I thought was slightly unusual, but not completely unexpected. (During our three years in India, we’ve grown accustomed to that combination of feelings.) So, somewhat reluctantly, I fumbled for my wallet, which was tucked away in my back pocket along with my flight itinerary and my passport. As I handed over the money, the driver affirmed that this was normal procedure, which didn’t exactly convince me that it was.

As we rounded a wide corner, just two minutes into the ride, our taxi pulled over to the side of the road next to a long line of taxis. The second man promptly jumped out and approached a group of drivers. I inquired about what was happening, but the driver just begged for my patience. I saw what I thought was a transaction with another driver, and then sure enough, I was asked to switch taxis and assured that this new driver would take me to my destination.

I was slightly irritated by the complexity of the whole event, though I was also impressed again by the ingenuity of the Indian mind. It was quite obvious that this second driver was receiving less for my trip to South Mumbai than I had paid to the man who was making the arrangements. For him, the profit might be the equivalent to a Canadian dollar or two, maybe a meal or two for his family. It was at my expense, but I’ve learned not to feel cheated in this kind of scenario. I had willingly agreed to the price. Sure, I didn’t expect that it would be so complicated, but maybe to expect simplicity betrays my foreignness more than anything else. In this situation, I’m sure that everyone who had a part in the dealing reaped some benefit, the young man back at the airport, the first driver and the man who seemed to be the manager of it all. The second driver, as well, I’m sure was getting a fair price for my ride to South Mumbai.

As I shuffled out of the back seat of the first taxi, I collected my lone bag then I glanced back to make sure nothing of mine was left behind. In the dark of the night, I could see the white paper of my flight itinerary still on the seat. I reached back and picked it up, before making my way over to the second taxi.

My new taxi driver looked as though he was still in his teens. He seemed friendly and happy for the chance to be gainfully employed. We were together for not more than thirty seconds before I realized that I did not have my passport. My mind quickly traced the happenings of the past few minutes. Almost immediately, I thought back to my flight itinerary lying on the seat. I had little doubt in my mind that my passport as well had slipped out of my back pocket at the same time as I had pulled out my wallet. Even though I had checked the back seat and found the white paper, had my eyes missed the darker passport? It was a careless mistake, and despite the fact that it had all only happened minutes before, it seemed that my passport was as good as gone.

Without hesitation, I ordered the taxi driver to turn around. In my broken Hindi, I explained my predicament. As soon as he had the assurance that I would pay him for the extra trouble, he spun the taxi around and headed for the airport. We stopped briefly at his taxi stand to check if the other driver had stayed on there, but he hadn’t.

As we rushed back to the airport, I kicked myself repeatedly and pleaded for God’s grace. Flooding into my mind were various accounts of the value of foreign passports on the black market in India. I had recently read stories, set in Mumbai itself, about Canadian passports being sold for more than $10,000 US. I despaired.

Once at the airport, my mission was to find the men who had earlier helped me there. With desperation in my eyes, I scurried over to the arrivals area and quickly spotted the young man who had first found me. When he caught sight of my eyes, at a distance of about twenty meters, he immediately turned and ran the opposite direction. Presumedly, he thought that I was back to blame him for ripping me off. Fortunately, I was faster than him. When I caught him he was already together with the second man, the manager, who was quickly ready to subdue me by paying me back the extra money he had made.

When I explained that I was only looking for their help, they were both relieved. I told them about the very important "piece of paper" that I had left in the first taxi (not wanting to be too specific about something as valuable as a foreign passport). They were invigorated and quickly went to work to locate the taxi. The manager called the first driver and conveyed to him that we urgently needed his taxi again. I was comforted that their little network was so well intact and the lines of communication so effective. The taxi was on its way, but I still had no guarantee that the passport was safe inside. The two men with me laughed about all the panic, and encouraged me to relax. I tried to laugh, but found myself too focused. I was tense, but hopeful.

The intervening time, as we waited for the taxi, was probably a matter of two minutes. Of course, it felt like an eternity, as they say. By now, others had gathered around the commotion, including my new taxi driver. Finally, my friends spotted the first taxi swerving into the far side of the parking lot where we were now standing. I gulped. As the driver screeched to a stop directly in front of us, we all surged toward the back door. As the door swung open, I could see it immediately. The lights of the parking lot shone in to reveal my passport, resting on the back seat. I lunged in and picked it up, then standing beside the taxi in full view of the crowd and all the angels, I kissed it and gave loud praise to God. The crowd also stood amazed and entered into my rejoicing.

I was humbled. God had been gracious to me. And though my new friends apologized to me for the difficult situation, I made it abundantly clear to them that it was my error alone that brought on the hardship and that I very much appreciated their help in rectifying my problem. They laughed again, and this time I joined them.