The Marriage of Leslie Bolz and Rev'd Braun Campbell
August 25, 2012 Speaker: Guest Preacher
Topic: Biblical Verse: Ephesians 5:1–5:33
Message preached by Rev. Christopher Esget of Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church - Alexandria
Braun and I were sitting at Malek’s Pizza for lunch one day, and after our usual discussion on deep, weighty topics such as specs on the next iPhone and coming video game releases, Braun said, “So I’ve been seeing somebody; her name is Leslie.” And I don’t remember his exact words after that, but the gist of it was, How do you know if you should get married? Not wanting to scare him off, I didn’t share with him what I was thinking, but I will now. It’s the answer of Socrates on whether or not a man should marry. He said: “By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll become happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.”
Braun, today we have gathered to pray that you not become a philosopher! And I am confident that you will not, for more important than all her other qualities, Leslie is a faithful, pious woman who trusts in Christ Jesus.
But straight off with this marriage, we have a significant obstacle. Braun being a pastor, and Leslie working on Capitol Hill – it sounds to me like a major violation of the strict wall of separation between church and state.
But my bad joke aside, perhaps there’s something to be learned from your vocations regarding this new and chief vocation that you receive today: the calling to be husband, the calling to be wife. At yesterday’s rehearsal, one of the wedding coordinators here at St. John’s remarked that she told Pastor Campbell that the opening prayer of their first meeting was the last thing he’d do as a pastor in this wedding.
Well, I know what she meant and why she said it, but I look at it differently. Now, my friend, you begin to be a pastor. Pastor means ‘shepherd,’ and a shepherd is always a shepherd in relation to his sheep, given into his care to feed and protect, driving away enemies and leading to safety. “I am the Good Shepherd,” says our Lord Jesus; not agathos, good merely in a moral sense, but kalos, noble and ideal. What makes Jesus the Good Pastor, the noble and ideal shepherd? “I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus is Good, noble and ideal, because He counts His own life as nothing, giving it for the sheep. Thus God’s will for you, Braun, as husband to Leslie is to be a noble pastor, the good shepherd who lays down your life for your wife. You lead in humility, love in service, live by dying. Marriage is ministry.
And Leslie – you have devoted your life to public service twice over, in government and in military service. The old Greek term for public service was leitourgia, from which we get the word ‘liturgy.’ What does the church do in the liturgy, but receive the gifts of the Lord and respond in thanksgiving, respond in praise, respond in sacrifice and service? Thus to be a godly wife is to live in this liturgy, receiving what your husband gives and responding to him as the Church to Christ.
To live in marriage as God designed is to live as pastor and people, as Christ and Church, as head and body, the husband sacrifices and the wife submits, the pastor saying, “This is the Word of the Lord,” and the church responding, “Thanks be to God.” In the liturgy, we confess our sins and receive forgiveness. In the liturgy we are given the gift of union, communion, with God and our fellow disciples, and are blessed with peace. All this is part of the liturgy of marriage as well: confession and forgiveness, the communion whereby the two become one flesh, and living in peace with one another. Marriage is ministry, and marriage is liturgy.
But that kind of marriage is decidedly counter-cultural. Am I permitted at Braun’s wedding to make a reference to a movie that doesn’t have a comic book character in it? One of my favorite films features the work of that great theologian Mark Knopfler. His important social commentary in such collaborative works as “Money for Nothing” and “Sultans of Swing” is surpassed by his score for The Princess Bride. As we are told that Wesley and Buttercup’s kiss at the end of the film tops all other kisses in recorded history, the song “Storybook Love” begins. “My love is like a storybook story, and it’s as real as the feelings I feel.”
And therein lies the problem in determining if you’ll become happy or a philosopher as a result of your marriage. If your love is only as real as the feelings you feel, what happens on the days when you aren’t feeling it? What happens on the dark days of depression, the bitter days of misunderstanding, the lonely days of miscommunication, the disappointing days when you realize once-vigorous bodies have become misshapen by age and illness? If love is only as real as the feelings you feel, then you cannot exchange the marriage vows with sincerity. For you are about to promise to love each other not for as long as your feelings remain real, but until death parts you.
Something else is going on in Christian marriage than the exultation of romance and emotion. Author Gary Thomas puts it this way: What if the purpose of marriage is not to make you happy, but to make you holy?
We, your friends and family and church family, want you to be happy: but God is working here in this great gift of marriage to make you holy. And some of that holiness is going to grow out of working through those times when you are not happy.
Precisely at that moment when things are bitter, God would use marriage to teach us the holy life. St. Francis de Sales describes marriage as a plant that occasionally gives forth bitter juices. But from these bitter juices, one makes the honey of a holy life, as a honey bee gathers that which is bitter from plants and renders it sweet.
Marriage is a ministry to our neighbor, our nearest neighbor, where you work through the bitter experiences of sickness and health, worse and better, prosperity and adversity, and through your care for each other render them sweet.
Marriage is ministry; marriage is liturgy, service; and marriage is martyrdom. As you have been a pastor, Braun, so today you become pastor especially to your wife. As you have been a servant to the country, Leslie, so today you become a servant especially to your husband. And now today you are both called to martyrdom. Consider St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, one of the great fathers of the early church. He was being carried in chains to Rome. Anticipating what would happen there in the arena, where he would be cast to the wild beasts, whose hungry jaws would tear apart his flesh and devour him, Ignatius wrote to the Ephesians, “Now I am beginning to be a disciple.” Here is a man who sat at the feet of St. John and had presided over the church as bishop, and now, in martyrdom, he says he is only at the beginning of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Which means for you simply this: God today calls you to martyrdom, to die to your self in service to your spouse. Do you want to be a disciple of Jesus? Die to yourself, and give all to the one whom God made your nearest neighbor.
Dear Braun and Leslie: the whole church rejoices with you this day. Be glad and celebrate, for you have found a virtuous wife, God has given you an honorable husband. Be comforted also on the days that are difficult, and rejoice even in the days that are dull: for there, around those rough edges and the drudgery of everyday life, God is working in you something wondrous. He is not making you happy for a moment, but holy for eternity. He is making you a minister, He is making you a servant, He is making you a martyr. In this great gift of marriage, God is making you ready for the eternal liturgy, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. +INJ+
Portions of this sermon inspired by the book Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas