Ryan and Bridget, when I think of wedding sermons I think of a few particular qualities. They should be short. They should include personal stories. They should mix in a little advice about marriage. And they should end with encouragement. This week, as I considered those qualities this, I thought to myself, “I am in so much trouble.” Because that’s just not the way I write sermons. But I’ll try to keep it short at any rate.
Ryan and Bridget, there are two kinds of words that we find in the Bible. Words of command which tell us what we must do, these words we call Law. And words of promise which tell us what God has done, these words we call Gospel. When we can’t tell the difference between them we can get into the weeds pretty fast. Figuring out which is which makes a huge difference in any Christian’s life. And even more so in the life of a Christian couple.
So with these two words, Law and Gospel, let us look at the scripture you chose from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians.
“Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” These are the five highly desirable traits that Paul lays out for the church at Colossae . He tells the church members that they are to clothe themselves in these traits. And you both believe that you are to clothe yourselves in these traits too, otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen the scripture. I dug into the words just a little bit so that we could have a clearer picture of what they mean in practice.
- Compassion means to suffer with another person. To enter into their sorrow and difficulty without blame nor condemnation.
- Kindness means to act with grace towards another person, to show them your favor. Its opposite is severity.
- Humility means to voluntarily submit to the other person, to be unselfish. Its opposite is pride.
- Meekness means a quality of gentle friendliness, strength that accommodates to another's weakness.
- Patience means emotional quietness in the face of unfavorable circumstances.
These words that Paul chooses, these words that you have chosen, are wonderful. Who wouldn’t want to have a spouse who embodied these qualities?
The problem, as we all know, is that these are not easy qualities to have for oneself. On any particular day it might not be so hard to be patient or kind or meek, but what about that day when you’re not feeling well and when your dearly beloved spouse is being a jerk? What do you do then?
Well, to be clear about this, St. Paul has laid out these five qualities as commands. These five things will constitute, at least in part, the law of your marriage, the way that you’ve agreed to behave towards one another. The thing about the Law is that it is dreadfully hard to keep. And the failure to live up to these standards will start wearing on you. “Bridget always does this......” “Ryan never does that.......” Grievances build up. Bitterness creeps in.
Luckily, St. Paul is no pie in the sky idealist. He knows, just like you know, what human beings are really like. He knows that you will fall short, just like we all fall short. And so he begins to talk about forgiveness. “Bear with one another, and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Forgiveness, of course, is the act that wipes the slate clean. Forgiveness lets go of resentments. Forgiveness gives up bitterness.
But there is a problem. And again, I’m sure you both know this. Forgiveness is easier said than done. Resentments can become dear friends. Nursing a sense of grievance can seem very comforting and safe. Forgiveness becomes impossible.
At the end of the day, even though forgiveness seems like such a good thing, it is just another command, another thing that we are supposed to do, but find impossible. This is the nature of that first word, the Law. It seems good, but it is impossible.
In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul describes this situation very well, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
Now it is time for that second word, the word of promise, the Gospel. Where is this word of promise in these verses that we’re looking at? It is right at the beginning, the first four words. “As God’s chosen ones.” God has chosen you, Ryan; he has chosen you, Bridget, to be his. He made a decision about your sin; he decided to do something about it. Here is what he did. He sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to become a servant, to suffer and to die.
With this in mind, I want to repeat the five highly desirable traits that Paul has laid out.
- Compassion means to suffer with another person. To enter into their sorrow and difficulty without blame nor condemnation. Jesus has done this for you.
- Kindness means to act with grace towards another person, to show them your favor. Jesus has done this for you.
- Humility means to voluntarily submit to the other person, to be unselfish. Jesus has done this for you.
- Meekness means a quality of gentle friendliness, strength that accommodates to another's weakness. Jesus has done this for you.
- Patience means emotional quietness in the face of unfavorable circumstances. Jesus has done this for you.
What does this mean? It means that you are forgiven. It means that all your shortcomings are not counted against you. It means that you have the promise of eternal life.
“That’s well and good, but what about my marriage? What does this have to do with that?”
God’s forgiveness of each of you individually is the foundation of your life together. It does not mean that God gives you the power to do these things, to be compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient. God’s forgiveness is not some kind of power to be a better person.
Instead, God’s forgiveness is something more like this: as his chosen ones, it means that both of you will be living as disciples at the feet of Jesus, both dependent on him daily to give you all that you need. This is the meaning of another famous saying of St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
Bridget and Ryan, by your own efforts you would never be able to live up to the standards that you have set for yourself today. This law of behavior is more than any man or woman could follow.
But hear this good news, this gospel: it is Christ living in you, his chosen ones, who will show compassion and kindness. It is Christ living in you, his chosen, who will be humble and meek. It is Christ living in you his chosen, who will forgive and keep on forgiving. And it is the love of Christ in both of you that will bind you together in a love of perfect harmony. Amen.