Today I officiated my first wedding for Kevin Colpitts and Mary Vafiadis, a couple who was visiting our church when my wife Cheryl and I preached a sermon on our egalitarian understanding of marriage and decided they wanted me to marry them. Kevin and Mary are very grounded, beautiful people who are exploring Christian spirituality. As part of their counseling process, we practiced praying together, which is the most important part of my marriage even though we don’t do it with as much discipline as we should. So here is my sermon with which I used the same text I use every year for our confirmation retreat: Ephesians 4:14-16.
Ephesians 4:14-16: “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
Kevin and Mary, I picked this scripture for your wedding as both an affirmation and a challenge. The more I get to know both of you, the more amazed I am at how grounded and responsible both of you are. You are so much more mature than I was at your age. You have goals for your life and plans for achieving them. You both work very hard and try to use your money frugally.
You communicate very openly and are genuinely more interested in understanding and affirming the other than in being the one who is always right. You try to bring dignity and a constructive perspective to your conversations without suppressing any conflict. You have an unusual lack of pettiness and emotional neediness in your interactions with each other. You are both very real, solid people who are the opposite of many people in their early twenties who are tossed to and fro and blown every which way, like Ephesians 4:14 says.
We did learn that according to Myers-Briggs, you are almost exact opposite personalities with the exception of one letter, but of course that just means you are the perfect complements for each other. We have talked about the importance of proactively seeking out each other’s needs and speaking up when there’s a problem instead of just letting it go until all the little things build up.
I have no doubt that you guys will do that very well. I have known a lot of couples who have reasonably healthy marriages whose relationship chemistry is not nearly as solid as yours is. So I can say with complete sincerity that I am absolutely confident that the first wedding I have ever officiated will be the last one where either of you will get to stand where you are right now.
Here’s my question: who’s got your back? When you decided you wanted me to marry you, it was after my wife and I preached a sermon in church that spoke to you deeply. My wife and I have a beautiful marriage, but we would not still be married if we had to take on the world alone, just the two of us. We have had a lot of people holding us up every step of the way, people who are constantly praying for us, people each of us can call when we’re mad at each other, people who aren’t afraid to call us out when we’re out of line. And most of all, we have a God to whom we have both decided to submit our lives entirely, which forces us to be honest with ourselves and each other.
This scripture from Ephesians is about growing into one body that is “building itself up in love.” Marriage is about becoming one flesh, but it’s not the two of you alone on a lifeboat in an ocean of humanity. Certainly you should make sure that you spend many hours alone together. That will be so important especially when kids enter into the equation. But for your marriage to have the support that it needs, you need to not only become one flesh with each other but one body with a whole community of people who will love and grow together with both of you.
The people in this room are an important part of the community of support you need. You have called them forth as witnesses to your marriage, which means that they have a responsibility to you. It is very normal and healthy to have friends and family members that you can call to voice your frustrations about your relationship. You obviously need to be discrete about this, but you absolutely should not try to keep it a secret when you’re having struggles.
Despite the way our society seems to be confused about this, your marriage is not a private matter. Whether or not you two make it matters to our community, just like having a big toe that isn’t broken matters to my foot. If your marriage is strong and beautiful, then God will use that to make the marriages around you strong and beautiful. If your relationship deteriorates, then it will impact every other relationship you have and the relationships those other people have as a ripple effect. So just as our community has a responsibility to support you in real, tangible ways when you’re struggling, you have a responsibility to our community to show us what love looks like, so that those of us who have forgotten will be reacquainted. And you’re already doing this very beautifully. You have certainly been an inspiration to me.
Now this last challenge will reflect my bias as a Christian pastor. But I wouldn’t share it if I didn’t believe it with all of my heart based on what has happened in my life. Several years ago, I was a youth pastor for some inner-city kids who really needed a mentor in their lives. I ended up spending so much time with these kids that I severely neglected my wife and my children. We had a really bad fight, and we almost didn’t make it. We both said very hurtful, vicious things to each other.
But the reason we made it was because we could put our anger and pain on Jesus’ cross and ask each other’s forgiveness. We could “speak the truth in love.” That one phrase from the Ephesians scripture captures the essence of a marriage that works. Whether there are other means out there in the world religious or otherwise to create a healthy foundation for marriage is not for me to say. What I can say is that the reason you saw my wife and me in church washing each other’s feet and preaching about how richly God has blessed us with each other is because our marriage is built on the cross of Jesus Christ. I believe very strongly that the best way to grow together into one flesh is to grow “into Christ” as Ephesians says.
If I have a selfish ulterior motive for saying any of this, it’s because the body of Christ desperately needs both of you. You are both so strong and beautiful. God is going to use your marriage to inspire many people. I want to have the privilege of being one of the people who is blessed by your love in years to come. I don’t want this to be the last time that I see you. I have no doubt that the One who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion in the time that He ordains. Keep being strong and beautiful. I love both of you very much.