What's Love Got to Do With It?
(A Wedding Sermon)
Dear Ellery and Meghan, in 1994 when I used Tina Turner's question "What's love got to do with it?" for a wedding sermon, the song was 10 years old. When I used the title again it was about 20 years old. Now the song is a real golden oldie, but nevertheless the question is still relevant: What does love got to do with marriage?
Everything, according to the world. In TV's and movies, the first question the parent, friend, or sibling asks of the person who says they are going to get married is: do you love him or does she love you? Actually, today that question is of the person thinking about moving in with someone or of the teen deciding about sex outside of marriage. But those are whole other sermons. This one is about marriage and in the world love is the basis for marriage. A loveless marriage is not just "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." It's a trap. No one wants to be trapped in a loveless marriage.
Love the emotion coming from your two hearts is supposed to be the basis for your marriage. The thing we have for anything from songs, to movies, to books, to clothing I love that song; I love that movie, book, or sweater to pets, hobbies, and sunsets is to be the bedrock of your life together. And so love determines the length of your marriage. Pay attention in movies, TV shows, or real life when couples write their own vows. They almost always have the "love" clause. The groom or bride looks his or her intended in the eyes and says with Linus-like sincerity: "I will be true to you as long as we both shall love." The fact that we can say with all sincerity, "I use to love fill in the blank" should expose how fragile and downright silly thinking marriage can be based on human love is, but that's not the worst of it.
We're going where virtually no society has gone before. Love is not only the basis of marriage and determines its length; it determines who can get married. Love is license for men to marry men and women to marry women. As long as two people for now it's two adults and two humans but it won't be for long love each other, none dare call that anything but marriage. As heterosexuals try to do anything to stay out of marriage: live together, causal hook ups, friends with benefits, homosexuals have stormed state and church demanding in the name of love the right to marry.
What's love got to do with marriage? Everything according to the world, nothing according to Tina; it's only "a second hand emotion." The ancients would agree. Plutarch, a pagan contemporary of St. Paul, said, "'Just as a high wind upsets a boat without a pilot, so Love makes stormy and chaotic a marriage of two people'" (Homosexuality Gr. & Rm., 459). 18th century British lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, said that the moon in honeymoon didn't refer to the period of a month but compared the love of newlyweds to the changing moon which is no sooner full than it begins to wane. Yes, love is fickle, fallen, and fleeting in sinners, and the Lord and giver of life didn't base His Divine Institution of marriage on something so frail. Indeed, your love is be grounded not on you and grow not from you but from God's Divine Gift of Holy Wedlock.
This is how it was till the age of Romanticism. Before Romanticism people married and looked forward to the individual love that would arise within the marriage bond. After Romanticism people married on the basis of love already experienced (Thielicke, Sex, 102). Marital love, pre-Romanticism, was thought to arise from what God has joined together. "Haven't you read," Jesus asks, "that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female, and for this reason the two will become one flesh?" C.S. Lewis points out that God describes marriage as one flesh'. "He didn't say a happily married couple' or a couple who married because they were in love'" (Screwtape, 95) are one flesh but God makes it so. Lewis further warns of a couple entering marriage thinking their love will get them through the worse, poorer, and sicknesses of life because by the time those come around the enchantment of new love has worn off (Ibid., 141).
"Whoa" I mean both the horse-stopping kind and the woe that the angel pronounces over fallen Babylon. Your families didn't come halfway across the country to have their dear children launched onto the rocks of marriage before they even set sail. And how can I be so dismissive of their love for each other when St. Paul commands, "Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church;"? And won't I myself ask each of them to vow "to love and cherish till death" parts them? And even before they vow to each other I will ask them to consent publicly to the question, "Wilt thou love her/him?"
First, neither St. Paul or this Paul is talking about how they feel but how they will act. Second, Lutherans have historically given their consent by answering not "I do" but "I will". We promise how we will act not how we do feel. Ellery and Meghan promise to act towards each other based on what God does here today, and God does a miracle. He makes out of two one. It's no longer up in the air whom they are to love for the rest of their lives. There's no doubt whom Ellery is to love, comfort, honor, and keep; there's no doubt whom Meghan will love, comfort, honor, stand under, and keep. Thanks be to God the drama of high school and college where this boy is dating this girl who likes that boy who doesn't like that girl is over. Done is the yo-yoing of emotions so intense that they are unsustainable and unable to build a home on.
The first references to love in the Bible ought to teach us this. God makes Abraham's love for Isaac an accusation: "Take your son, your only son whom you love." Isaac's love for a particular food leads to the open conflict between Jacob and Esau which will explode into one between Israel and Edom which will not be resolved till Jesus a descendant of Jacob stands before a descendant of Edom, Herod. Then there is Jacob's love at first sight for Rachel which makes 7 years of service for her light but makes for heavy hardship as well. And Leah, his other wife, thinks she can somehow win her husband's love; and like any married person dreaming this she wakes to a nightmare of disappointment. Not till Deuteronomy 7:7 is the word love used of God for us, and there we find God has set His love upon us and there is absolutely nothing in us that causes Him to do that.
What's love got to do with marriage? Absolutely everything if we're talking about God's love in Christ for the fallen children of men. This love is unconditional but cost Him everything. To set His love on us, He had to satisfy the demands of His own Word. He said only perfect people deserve to be loved by a perfect God. "Be thou holy for I the Lord Thy God am holy." As much as I like Ellery and Meghan, I can tell you they're not holy. No matter how hard they try, how much they promise, they would never be good enough for God to set His love upon them. So, God the Son took on human flesh and blood to be born under the obligations of God's holy law. And God the Son lived the perfect, holy life demanded, required by that Law. He did not sin in thinking, speaking, doing, but because the fallen children of men had, did, and do He was punished. God the Father set His wrath on His perfect, beloved Son and was pleased yes that's what Isaiah says to crush Him. On the cross, God's wrath crushed out of Him all the blood, sweat, and tears, all the suffering, damning, and dying required to put out not only His wrath but the fires of hell. Easter morning God declares to a world of sinners, you are free, forgiven, loved.
Wait a minute; back up. God's gift of marriage was instituted before Easter; it was even instituted before the Fall. It was instituted in Paradise, in a perfect place. Go ahead and process that. Paradise wasn't complete without God's gift of marriage. Read Genesis 1 and 2, God does a Detective Colombo thing. We're all set to believe creation is complete, good, and ready for Adam. But wait; one more thing. It's not good for the man to be alone. Are you kidding me? You think God just now realizes that? No, look at Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. As God from heaven is giving the spark of life to Adam on earth with a touch from His right hand, underneath God's left you see Eve. God all along knows what Adam even in Paradise will need to learn. That it isn't good for him to be alone; he needs a fitting helper, and only God can give him that. This is Luther: "If God Himself does not give the wife or the husband, anything can happen. For the sage says that parents provide goods and houses for their children, but a wife is given by God alone [Pv. 19:41]" (LW, 44, 8).
What's love got to do with your marriage? Everything if we're talking about God's love for you in Christ. For your marriage is a gift of that love. We sing in a hymn that it is not in God's heart to harm us. I looked for the specific hymn and all-knowing Google gave me 5.3 billion results. Even by your 50th anniversary I couldn't sort through them all. What was more instructive about the search results asking for a hymn about it not being in God's heart to harm us, is the first page of the search results were about our fallen human hearts. The first was about giving your heart; the second loving someone with all your heart, and the third about love being your choice. What's going on in your heart, mine too, will never rise above Jeremiah's judgment: "The heart is crooked above all things, And it is incurable--who can know it" (17:9)? Evidently Google does, not us.
We don't go by our heart but God's Heart, Jesus. Since there is no condemnation to those in Christ, since those buried with Him in Baptism also rise to walk about just as Jesus did in a new life free from sin, death, and devil, since He bodies and bloods you to a lifetime of forgiveness, life, and salvation, you can believe, are to trust, that the joining God does here today is all good. Your marriage will have varying degrees of your love, but it will have all of God's love all the time. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Wedding Sermon (20190316)