**This homily was written and preached for the wedding of Jeff Reeves and John Paradowski at Fourth Presbyterian Church on December 12, 2015. With their approval, I’m sharing it here. It was an occasion of so much joy and such a privilege to be a part of. The world needs more love like theirs!
James 5:7-8 NRSV
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
Philippians 4:4-7 NRSV
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
About 9 months ago, I was sitting in this sanctuary on a Tuesday evening with hundreds of other Presbyterian clergy and faith leaders, listening to a speaker during a conference about what’s next for the church. Right in the middle of that evening’s presentation, word began to trickle in, via ever present media technology, that our Presbyterian denomination had officially approved marriage equality. After about 10 minutes of restrained silence and growing tension, somebody finally raised their hand and politely informed our speaker what had happened and asked if we might have a few minutes to celebrate.
At once, the room burst into applause and cheering (And this is not really typical sanctuary behavior for Presbyterians!). We hugged, we cried, we laughed. It was a powerful moment of celebration after a long, difficult struggle and a long, difficult wait. And it felt appropriate then to be in the midst of a conversation about what’s next for the church and suddenly rejoicing that at least part of what was next was the genuine embrace of love and covenant relationship for all people. And it wasn’t just next. It had arrived.
Just a few months after that, I received an email from Jeff and John sharing their story and the news of their upcoming wedding and asking if I would co-officiate. I was overjoyed and excited at the opportunity. As a member of the LGBT community myself, it is an incredible gift that one of my first weddings would be for such a wonderful pair of men. But the real gift has been getting to know John and Jeff as people—coming to witness their deep love for each other—and getting to be a part of this union between the two of them.
Jeff and John, we have had some powerful conversations over the last few months. It is so clear how deeply you love one another and how deeply you believe in covenant and marriage. When we first began planning this ceremony, you said that you wanted to use some nontraditional scriptures and then we landed on a couple that were related to Advent. In some ways, they seem like an odd choice for a wedding. Rather than scriptures describing how we ought to love one another, we have these texts about waiting and being patient and trusting in God. On the other hand, these scriptures are so perfect for your wedding day, because these virtues of patience and trust in God have been such a part of your journey together.
You know what it is to wait. You have been patient for many long years, loving one another and building a life together even while you waited for our country and our churches to finally recognize the love between you for what it is: a gift from God. You have maintained your faith in one another, in your relationship, and in God throughout all of those years. You have trusted that one day, the world would celebrate with you. And on this day, we do.
Just 6 months ago, the Supreme Court declaring its ruling that marriage equality was a right that belonged to all people: gay, straight, bisexual. All people. And in their ruling, they spoke some words about marriage that I think capture the spirit of what you two have believed and held onto all along. They said:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
You have waited for these words and the fruit of your patience is that they have come. In some ways, this day may feel like a culmination, like an arrival at an endpoint. It’s not though. This day marks a new beginning. Not the beginning of your love for one another, or even the beginning of your partnership together, but day marks the beginning of your marriage. Today, in the eyes of both God and this whole world, you are two hearts joined together in one life. Today, we say not only that the love between you is good (as it so clear and beautifully is), we say that the love between you is, in fact, holy. And in that love, the love of God is reflected.
I encourage you, as your marriage unfolds, to hold fast to the patience and trust in God that have carried you thus far. Let them help you to bear with one another, to forgive one another, to grow together, and to always discover new gifts in your relationship. Let it help you to remember that your life together is itself a gift that is always unfolding.
Patience and trust are important. In this Advent, as we wait with expectation for the coming Christ, we remember the value of these virtues in our lives of faith.
But it’s worth pointing out, that while Advent may be a season all about waiting, Christmas is not. Christmas is about a God who didn’t wait. A God who didn’t wait for the appropriate time. A God who didn’t wait for the world to be ready to receive him. Driven by irrepressible, unconquerable love, God entered into human life in the form of a tiny child right in the midst of this messy, broken world to reach us and hold us and assure us that nothing can separate us from love.
So on your wedding day, even while we praise your patience, I want to also lift up the ways you didn’t wait. You didn’t wait to be together. You didn’t wait for the world to be ready or even for all your loved ones to be ready. You didn’t wait for the law or the church to tell you it was okay. You built a life together, you celebrated your relationship, and you let yourselves love each other and trusted that it was good. And that defiant unwillingness to wait—that too is a gift. It’s a resounding message of hope in this messy, broken world that in the end, love always wins. And that is a message that all of us—and this whole world—desperately need to hear in these days.
So let that holy impatience guide you in your marriage too. Savor each moment as it presents itself. Seize every opportunity to let the love between you be a beacon of hope and joy in your own lives and in this world.
This covenant is between you both and God. But it is also an endeavor that is bound up in community. You are surrounded this day and always, by people who love you. By family and friends and pastors who stand with you and honor your commitment to one another because in the love between you, we see the love of God.
Remember always that your love is bound up in the love of so many others and let all of that love help you to love one another ever more deeply and fully. And remember too that your holy covenant is also bound up in God’s unwavering, unconquerable love for you. Trust and believe that God is on this day, and has always been, rejoicing in your love along with you. Amen.