We are here today because you …. [names] …. have invited us to be with you in this very special moment in your lives. I count myself among those who feel very much honoured to witness to the celebration of your love for each other, and the blessing of God upon your marriage.
Indeed, I suspect we are doing this because you want your relationship — which began years ago — to endure long after this day. You want your relationship of marriage to be strong and long-lasting. You want your marriage to be rooted, and grounded, in the love you share, and the love given to you.
We want this because we know the challenges that will come to your marriage. The storms of life will come: Disappointments. Failures. Illness. Circumstances of life often beyond our control cause us anxiety, fear and suffering. And these can have devastating results on our marriage.
We are enjoying this moment together outside. And we can easily see much of the natural beauty of creation, including the many trees surrounding us.
Trees have been in the news lately, what with hurricane Irene and the record number of tornadoes across this continent over the summer. Billions of dollars of damage, and most of the lives lost in the recent hurricane due to fallen trees in the storms. It seems the trees were the focus of much of the problems from the wind storms.
I just have to look outside in our backyard where the top of a birch tree was ripped off in that wicked storm in Pembroke last month. This image reminds me of an important quality of a healthy marriage: Radical love – rooted love, grounded love – the love of God given to us, and born in our hearts, each and everyone one of us gathered here today.
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: “The wise man in the storm prays to God not for safety from danger but deliverance from fear.” So it seems to me that the issue is more about our response to the storm rather than the storm itself. Wise people are able to respond in ways that help not hinder their way forward through the storms of life. They are somehow able to remain rooted in themselves and in spiritual truth – I would say, the presence and love of Christ.
And Jesus demonstrated a radical kind of love. “Radical” means the “root” of something, the “source” of whatever it is you are describing. How is this radical love manifested in our lives? What are some signs of the love for which we gather this day?
The one thing we tend to overlook in assessing all the damage wreaked on the land from the wind storms – is all the trees, even ancient ones, that withstood the onslaught. What is it about these trees that have contributed to their endurance?
- Healthy trees have an innate ability to bend, to yield, in adversity and in the storm. True strength of character, in a relationship, comes not in remaining rigid and unmoving and stuck-in-a-rut. Otherwise, you’ll break. True strength of being is not about flexing power and muscle and bull-dozing through your point-of-view in an uncompromising, unyielding fashion. True love does not, in Saint Paul’s words, “insist on its own way” (1 Corinthians 13:5). The trees that survive the storms and endure over time are trees that from their youth on, have bent over almost touching the ground in the storms. They have not been shielded from the wind but exposed to them right from the start. I think this is wholesome advice at the beginning of a marriage; usually it’s in the first year or so that the greatest challenges to the marriage surface. The art of compromise, the intuition for mutual giving and receiving is balanced in a healthy two-way marriage. Some of the oldest trees, the Redwoods in California, I am told, intertwine their roots together; and elsewhere, even the tops of the trees offer mutual support through their branches being inter-connected. What a lovely image for marriage, in meeting the storms of life. True strength equals mutuality, compromise.
- Trees already have everything they need in their very DNA, their make-up, to not only survive but flourish: The leaves are created to capture the light from sun, converting the sun’s rays to life-giving nutrients and oxygen; the bark protects; the roots are planted in the earth for water they need to grow. Often in marriage it’s easier to focus on the negative, especially when stress-levels rise. But that is a choice. Let’s not forget the positives. And they are many: you already have everything you need in order to make this work. You already have everything you need, not only to survive, but flourish! The second insight is to see the good in each other, acknowledge it. Why? Because we already have “the technology” in us. As much as we are limited, broken people, we are also wired for goodness.
- I heard this week a statement that has stuck: “To love, is to be still.” On occasion I have walked early in the morning through a forest. At dawn, a forest is normally quiet, and still. It is truly a beautiful time and place to be. In that stillness love grows in my heart for all of creation. Sometimes in our hectic, high-octane, busy lives, we distract ourselves to oblivion. We are moving constantly, rushing here and there, getting this and that, that we can forget to breath. We forget to be with ourselves. To be still before the Lord (Psalm 46:10). In my marriage many of the precious, loving moments I spend with Jessica are those times in the canoe, paddling silently. Or, sitting quietly beside each other watching a sunset, or reading quietly together. “To love, is to be still.” Nurture the quiet, still, small voices in each other. Remember, God came to Elijah not in a whirlwind or fire ablaze, but in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12). Silence is the language of God. And, God is love. (1 John 4:8)
Trees that grow out of their roots, ultimately reach to the sky. People committed to each other in marriage grow out of this radical love, the love God, the glue in your marriage. Married couples ultimately reflect the love of God to the world. Like the tops of the trees reaching to the sky for light and life, our lives reflect and receive and yearn for God.
You are getting married according to a Christian tradition, because you want God to bless your life together. And we worship a God, we praise a God, we give thanks to a God, who went the distance – so to speak – in proving his radical, self-giving, love for us all, in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave himself in love, showing us the way to overcome the storms of life together and trust in the ever-present love of God in us and with us.