Park Ridge Community Church
Park Ridge, Illinois
Anne and Ben.
This is a day of new beginnings.
Dressed up ourselves, we are dressing up this day, this very evening hour, in the costumes and customs meant for such a new beginning. You feel it. In the pricey corsages. In the beauty of the ladies. In the shoes, polished. In the haircuts. In the nervous musicians. In those who are cutting a fashion edge, and in those who aren’t. In the mayhem, merriment, mischief, misunderstanding and mystery of marriage. Your marriage is an evening of new beginnings.
For the gathered congregation, who are less visible and so less stressed than the bridal couple and party, it is possible to sense and see in this new beginning a reflection of others. You mirror other first moments. Some will remember your births, like all births, your crinkly pink emergence from water into light. Others will recall a first day at school, a first trip away overnight, a first injury, a first failure or success. They will link this moment to other beginnings. Yours and theirs.
We will let them have a moment to do so. We will let the congregation reminisce for a moment as we up front here together announce the good news, declare the gospel, of a new beginning.
1 John and Matthew 5 bring a startling word. It is a new word. God is not known in power but in love, says John. The blessed are not the strong but the weak, says Matthew. The poor, including the poor in spirit. The mourners, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, including those hungry for the good. The merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted, including those persecuted for a good cause. It has been fifty years since there has been a generation committed to the least, the last, and the lost. You just may change that. It will take work in public policy and in law, a lifetime or two of such labor. Yes, John and Matthew acclaim a new good, a good news. John’s wording, rightly rendered, cuts very close to the bone. He who does not love has not begun to know God (trans. A. Wilder). We are met this evening by a divine presence, good—eternally good, new—eternally new. Good. News.
Some from the congregation, though, reverie lifting for a moment, may wonder…
Is there really anything new? Including right now, is there really anything new? Here and now even? I have been to this service before. I have heard these words before. I have heard this preacher before. Didn’t I see him at some other wedding? I might even have heard this sermon before. Is he using old material? I feel like I’ve been here before. Generations come and go. Rapidly. The sun rises and sets. Repeatedly. Youth gives way to age, the limber and the nubile stepping aside for the lumbering and the nettled. Regularly. “Once in a thousand times, it is interesting” wrote Thornton Wilder. Doubt shadows faith, like Ecclesiastes follows Isaiah: “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun…Is there anything of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been, in the ages before”. All that, by the way, is in the Bible. Doubt, a realistic, hard, cross examination of life, is a part of faith. It is bass note and grace note in the song of faith. And when old habits cling, and when old hurts linger, and when old conflicts flare, and when old disappointments appear, we wonder—it is a bone heart cry—we wonder just what exactly is new about anything.
We will let the congregation cogitate on that for a moment, while we listen to the mysterious gospel song again. They can think about doubt for a while. We will let them. After all, they brought it up.
Is there anything new?
I am convinced that you two, at least, believe so. Otherwise, you would not have had the temerity, the courage, to stand here. Where did this courage, con fide, come from? Somewhere. You have been loved. So you can love. You have been trusted. So you can trust. You have been respected. So you may in turn respect, trust and love one another. There is plenty of reason for your courage and your confidence in what is new. You feel it, for one thing. You have known something new in your own experience. A glance across a crowded restaurant, a new face, and you are mesmerized. The new discovery of mutually loved habits and values, and you are enthralled. The experience of newly shared simply joys—exercise, nature, fishing, camping—and you are emboldened. You know what Paul felt, if not fully yet what he meant: “the old has passed away, behold the new has come”.
The ‘new’ of biblical faith lives on the far side of the old, not the near side but the far side of the old. You might call this faith something real new. New that has weathered a good shellacking of the old.
Faith admits, faces, and endures the old. And moves through and moves on. Jacob believed in something new and said, ‘surely the Lord was in this place and we knew it not’. He walked in wonder, but he walked with a limp. Ruth believed in something new and said, ‘entreat me not to leave you or to turn back from following after you. For where you go I will go and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.’ Ruth committed herself. But to enter the new she had to lose the old, even at the cost of homesickness. Paul, idiosyncratic enervating Paul, believed in a new creation, and so delighted in a new life. ‘Let love be genuine…’ He had faith in the new, but it was new born from and bearing up under the old. With limping Jacob and homesick Ruth and oddball Paul, you have faith in something new. At least I think you do. And you are now saying that you do.
You know, I sense that the non-sleeping part of the congregation grudgingly agrees. They have to admit it. Here is the hint of something new in a vow taken. Here is a glimpse of something new in a ring offered. Here is a glimpse of something new in a handshake, handclasp, prayer and kiss. Your novel hospitality has brought us from Michigan in the north and Dallas in the south, from Boston in the east and San Diego in the west, from the banks of the Erie Canal (Albany, Utica, Oneida, Syracuse, Rochester) to the Wisconsin lake shore, from the country roads of West Virginia to the barbecue pits of Kansas City, and has included a cloud of witnesses from Depauw and Ohio Wesleyan. Someone even came from London. London, England that is. What has brought us all this way?
A new creation. A holy estate. A mystical union. Something adorned and beautified …
This is a day, an hour, an evening of new beginnings.