Monday, September 28, 2009

Wedding sermon I

Ecclesiastes 5:1-7
1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
2 Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.
3 As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow.
5 It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.
6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, "My vow was a mistake." Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands?
7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God.

Most of you might not know that this is the first time I am delivering the message at a wedding. Such a job is usually allocated to those who are spiritually mature and wise because of its importance. I assure you that my family ties with the bride, who is my sister, has nothing to do with me being assigned the job. That would be wrong. Rather, it is because of much non-stop begging and plain shameless bribery on my part, that I now have this honor of doing this sharing. Standing here now, it was all worth it.

Many people have the perception that this message segment of the wedding ceremony is about giving out encouragement and advice to the wedding couple. That would be a grievous mistake. If C or J needs last minute advice before entering into marriage, then we are asking for trouble. No, they have been well prepared by Rev. BY in pre-marital counseling and they are stepping into this marriage confident and ready. J and C, are you confident and ready? Yes, especially for J. That was the reassurance I drilled into him after the panic phone call from him last night.

If I am not here to give out encouragement and advice, then some of you may wonder what this message segment is for. This segment is the anchoring capstone that reinforces every other element of the wedding program. This segment aims to explain what we are doing here and why we are doing it. Simply put, the message here should bring out the meaning of the wedding. J and C, and to all guests, this wedding is rich in meaning. And for such a momentous task, I’m sure you are all glad that I have carefully planned my entire life’s study on this topic into 24 theological theses each of at least ten thousand words. It may take an hour or two to finish each of them, but we will doubtlessly agree that a little sacrifice in time is incomparable to the gain in being enriched by the full meaning of today’s event.

Let me now quickly jump into the first of the 24 thesis because we have 15 sub-points we have to cover. In thesis 1, point 1, we first note that in a Church wedding, you are having a wedding in a Church. I’ll repeat this because I understand it is very profound, and some of you might not catch it. In a Church wedding, you are having a wedding in a Church. Awesome truth isn’t it? It took me a long time to realize it. And you know what’s more? The Church is the house of God. Sure, God is divine and not constrained by space, but we say the Church is the house of God because God intends for his believers a designated place to offer their prayers and worship. It is an actual physical space to sense the presence of God that is everywhere.

So when you put two and two together, a Church wedding is a wedding in the presence of God. C and J could have made their wedding vows at the Registry of Marriage, or a hotel ballroom, or a garden, but in choosing to do this in a Church, it is a way of expressing their wedding vows in the presence of God. Very often, the meaning of an event is linked to the choice of its location. The swearing in of the new American President will happen at the White House just as the memorial service of the 9/11 victims is always held at ground zero. And similarly, it is in the presence of God we are witnessing their marriage.

The bible gives a few warnings when we are in the presence of God. To guard our steps, to listen and to be few in words. What is the reason for such warnings to be very careful and cautious? Because “God is in heaven and you are on earth”. What this verse means is that: God is really God. There is a heaven and earth difference in status and holiness between God and Man. It doesn’t mean that God is indifferent to us in terms of distance, in fact God cares. Rather, it means God is supreme. It doesn’t mean that we need to be terrified, but it does mean that we should have respect in this place because God is not to be mocked. In our prayers and in the things we say, we are not here to bargain or to impress God. Rather, in this place, the words that we express to God are precious, precisely because we know that God is really God.

Therefore, it is a good reminder to all who are present today the significance of today’s wedding ceremony. J and C in expressing their vows in Church, have also placed themselves as man and woman before their holy God. As believers, they have stepped into this place with prudence, and they will be uttering words that are well chosen and deliberate. If it is not so, the bible call those who mumble nonsense before God “fools”. The bible call such people fools not because of intelligence, but because of their mindset. Fools believe in God. But they believe that God doesn’t care what is going on. They believe God doesn’t act, as if he is asleep. So they think they can do anything they like and say anything without consequences.

J and C are no fools. Well, at least not the biblical definition anyway. Kidding. As true believers, they know God is really God, and words before God are not to be taken lightly. And the biblical word to you is that when you are here to make your vows, you must fulfill it. This may sound overly serious, but I think it is romantic. Promises and oaths have become meaningless these days, even between lovers. People naturally place no value in spoken words, preferring to protect themselves with prenuptial agreements. They will rather have lawyers that will come to their rescue, than trusting in each other in the first place. But I think wedding vows in Church is romantic for true believers. Because in saying what you mean, and meaning what you say, you begin a vulnerable and trusting relationship. Most of all, you have chosen to trust God in keeping your marriage holy.

The marriage vows can be condensed into remaining faithful and true in all circumstances as long as we both shall live. To be faithful and true your entire life all the time! That seems like a difficult vow to keep. But that I think is the beauty of making such a vow before God. It is an admission that this is a serious act of faith, at the same time, it is also placed before God as a sacrifice to be changed as an act of grace. The present J and C may not be good enough to keep to such a vow. But they are not alone. They are Christians with the presence of God. As long as everyday, they grow to be more Christ-like, it is always a possibility, and we have many old couples in church to prove that.

J, the marriage will not be an easy road. I know, because I too married an MGS girl. Their school motto is “To master, to grow and to serve.” Serving is last, but to master, that comes first. It’s good that you know this early. Still, I have personally lived more than 2 decades with C, and escaped alive and sane. I think you’ll do just fine. Many people think that a marrying a girl with an older brother is hard, because he’ll be all over-protective and such. I give you comfort that there’s so such thing. But you might be wise to note that I’m a leader in a 600 strong church. If my sister comes crying to me, you might just suddenly become the most fervent person praying on earth. Praying for your life.

C, this union with J will not be a bed of roses. Sure, my earliest impressions of him were really good. He’s charming, well dressed and self-assured. Sometimes, just thinking about him will lead you into a trance that makes yoouuu… where was I? Yes, but having said all these, you are marrying a guy. The bible tells us that woman is made from flesh and bones, but man is created from dirt. So what can you expect? If you can transform him to anywhere remotely near perfection, believe me, God will be taking notes from you. So appreciate his gifts, and as to his flaws, I give you this tip: Ban him from soccer when he misbehaves.

I’m saying all these to say how touching it is that they are making the marriage vows before God today. Because you know that whatever they are saying, they are going to fulfill it. They are not doing this because marriage is going to be easy, but precisely because in the long road, it is at times difficult. And they need to remember this day where they have said these words before God. The bible says “many words are meaningless, therefore stand in awe of God.” So the fear of the Lord is the key to your marriage and in the keeping of your marriage vows. As for my many words, I will keep them short and little before God, and the rest, the other 14 sub-points of the first thesis and the other 23 theses, I have burned into a DVD for both of you to watch every night.

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