Sermon Text: A Castle, A Wedding, and Happily Ever After
Here comes the bride...and the bride, and the bride, and the bride, and the bride, and the bride, and the bride, and the bride.
In 2019, I am officiating at eight weddings. For me, that’s a higher than average number.
Two weeks ago, I did a wedding at a castle. The bride had a childhood dream of having her wedding in this castle — Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay up in the Thousand Islands. So we had a princess marrying her prince on a warm sunny day at the castle — a dream come true.
Their biggest dream, of course, is to live happily ever after. That’s what every couple hopes. During my little homily at the wedding, I had to tell them that “happily ever after” takes a whole lot of work. As a 43-year veteran myself, I know what I’m talking about.
And not only do I have 43 years of being married under my belt, I’ve been officiating at weddings for 33 of those years, and I’ve seen a lot. “Happily ever after” does not come easily.
Let me tell you something you might not expect: I am never surprised when a marriage does not work out. The success rate in our nation right now is about fifty per cent. The success rate of the weddings I’ve performed over the past 33 years is about the same. So much for my brilliant pre-wedding counseling, right? But I’m not surprised.
I am more surprised by marriages that are stable and joyful. That’s because marriage is hard work. Let’s face it, all human relationships are hard work. Making and keeping connections with people is work. It takes empathy and unselfishness and compromise. These are skills that take some effort.
But it’s all worth it. Love is worth it. Connections are worth it. Relationships are worth it. It’s the best work of all.
Human beings are meant to be social, meant to be connected, meant to be in relationship. Solitary confinement is the worst punishment of all. It drives people insane, and sometimes even kills them. We are relational creatures.
Think about how the Nicene Creed describes God. God is one, yet three. God is complex — the creed calls God “Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” God is a community of persons.
And we are relational creatures, born for community. Maybe that’s part of what they mean when they say we are created in the image of God.
And then there is this striking pair of facts: those we love the most are, by all accounts, the deepest source of joy and meaning for us. And yet the ones we love the most are the ones who can hurt us the most.
Not all of us are married, of course. But all of us want and need close relationships. We need people who will have our backs. We want to be there for people we care about.
All the studies of human health and happiness show this clearly. All the best philosophies from Epicureanism to Existentialism agree. And the best religious and spiritual teachings do, too.
Married or single, it’s clear that human connections, human relationships, are central to who we are. But it takes work. It takes empathy, and unselfishness, and compromise. These are skills that take some effort.
While we were up in the Thousand Islands for the wedding at the castle, my wife and I made a nostalgia trip. We drove an hour to Potsdam. We found the Methodist church in town. We stood right outside the door on the front steps. That’s the door we walked out of in May of 1976 as a married couple for the first time. We also found our first apartment, too. It took some detective work after 43 years!
Seeing all this brought back memories. It brought joy and delight. It brought contentment. But it also reminded me of how little I knew when I was 20 and newly married. I had the basics, thanks to my parents and teachers. But I had a lot to learn about the work of making relationships thrive.
Through luck and hard work, my relationship with Paula has become the greatest blessing in my life. I wish the same for everyone. Relationships are work, but it’s the best work of all.
Years ago, I wrote a song for the kids of St. Mark’s. I stole the tune from the old French song “Frere Jacques.” It’s a reminder of the most important thing about us: we are made for relationships.
I’m a Christian, I’m a Christian, here’s my hand, here’s my hand
One hand touches God and one hand serves my neighbor
Jesus lives, here in me.
The song was inspired by the words of a wise spiritual teacher. She wrote this:
One of my favorite images of the Christian life is of a person standing with arms outstretched. One hand, in faith and prayer, touches God. The other hand is extended in service to the neighbor. Thus is a person cruciform, touching God and touching neighbor.
And if you ask my daughter what life is all about, she can’t pronounce the letter “R,” so she says, “Wee-lationships.”
Relationships...that’s what it’s all about.
Stay in community.