29. October 2022
Holy Matrimony of Anthony and Brenna (Winter) Wittliff
“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord.”
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
A.J. and Brenna, you made it! The day you have planned and worked for is here. You are entering into a covenant with one another, making great promises to each other. As with any covenant, you are contractually obligated to keep those promises. You will not agree to any exit or escape, except by natural death. And your parents, wedding party, family, friends, all are witnesses, along with my duty as officiant. As witnesses, we are obligated to keep you accountable to the agreement and faithful to the promises. Heavy stuff!
But as we know too well, we’re not good at keeping even the most basic and simple promises. Our world, churches, and families are riddled with oath-breaking, unfaithfulness, transgressions, and violation of the social contract. I’d like to tell you that this won’t happen to you. But, unless I’m mistaken, neither of you are perfect, holy, just, and entirely good. You’re each bringing your own “baggage” into this marriage. There’s some encouragement that you get to help each other carry the other’s flaws, but I can’t promise it’ll be easy. And sometimes it’ll seem impossible and you’ll want to throw in the towel and give up.
From the perspective of God’s Word, it’s a miracle that this world, the church, or the family hasn’t fallen into complete disorder and beyond repair. It’s only by God the Father’s divine mercy and long-suffering that all creation hasn’t be entirely wiped out under His righteous judgment. His anger is just at our rebellion against His good order of creation, including the mess we’ve made of the world, church, and marriage and family. But while His anger is but for a moment, His steadfast loving-kindness lasts for eternity. So, God is at work even now restoring, repairing, and even resurrecting our corrupt and fallen world.
If you alone were responsible for the success/failure of your marriage, you might be able to make it to 10, 25, or 47 years. As you grow old together, you might be able to figure out how to keep that hostility between two sinners at a low simmer. And God-willing, you’ll even have beautiful moments of intense love punctuate through.
But A.J. and Brenna, you know that God has even more promises for you than just figuring out a way to get along and live together, even working together to establish a household and home. God sets before you the work of Christ Jesus, the bridegroom, for His bride, the Christian church, made holy and washed white in His blood shed for her forgiveness.
The text from Hosea we heard a minute ago is God’s description of what He does to restore us to faithfulness to Him. “I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, And you shall know the Lord.” You’ll note that righteousness, justice, lovingkindness, and mercy are all attributes of God alone. And only God is faithful to us, even as we are unfaithful.
I chose to spare the congregation the most severe language about what a disaster we’ve made of our marital relationship to God (see Hosea). God describes it in the most strident terms of marital unfaithfulness, enough to not only make us blush, but to hide ourselves in shame for our adultery.
I know it’s not the most pleasant topic for this afternoon, but it’s one that God doesn’t want us to forget. Because, nestled in His Word of judgment, there is the promise of His faithfulness. God keeps His covenant promise with us to be His people, even despite us. His faithfulness doesn’t depend on our faithfulness to Him. He will move heaven and earth to redeem us from our adulterous sin. He will do what is necessary to satisfy the penalty for our transgression.
God’s faithfulness is ours in His Son Jesus. Jesus suffers the whips and cords, a torturous death, and the rejection of everyone—even His Father. He does this to forgive you, A.J. and Brenna, from your unfaithfulness, to save you from a life seems a downward slope to death, and promises to bless you and keep you today and always.
That’s the message of the Scriptures—God preserving what He has made, joined together, and promised to bless. He preserves the first marriage of Adam and Eve, even as their elder son murders his younger brother. Over and over, God’s people seem to be hell-bent on separating what God has joined together. But God the Father, Son, and Spirit are constantly at work through the saving gift of your baptism and the ongoing nurture of His Word to guard, preserve, and uphold your marriage.
So, yes, you’ve made it to this day. But it is only the beginning of what God is doing for you. He has given you to each other, because it is never good for you to be alone. He will give you to delight in each other’s company. He has given you each other’s family for encouragement and support. He has promised to bless you, that you will be fruitful and multiply. And these gifts God the Father gives to the just and unjust alike.
But you stand before this altar today because you would have even more. You would hear how God is faithful to you, even as you have been and will be unfaithful to each other. You hear how God in Christ forgives you over and over. His steadfast loving kindness in Jesus’ forgiveness overflows in forgiveness for each other. That’s a gift the world cannot give but is yours through Jesus’ blood, delivered by promised, and received in faith. My prayer for you is that your marriage find itself dwelling richly in this forgiveness. You have the gift that can see you through whatever might try to tear you apart in Christ’s forgiveness given daily in His church.
So, let’s start there. A.J. and Brenna, in the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all your sins 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, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin