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February 23rd, 2013

Joanna Rowe and Will Kay

First (Scots) Presbyterian Church – Charleston, SC

February 23, 2013

Joanna and Will, I often say this at a wedding, but it’s never more true than it is today.  Linda and I feel honored to be here with you both on your special day, and I feel special that when I asked you why you wanted me to officiate at your wedding, you answered, “I grew up with Pastor Bob and wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Twenty years ago next Friday I became your pastor, and your Dad was chair of the committee that brought me to Hickory.  The Rowe girls were, well, little girls when we came, and as of today we finish the trilogy of weddings.

But you’re not just a “Rowe girl,” Joanna, you are a unique person, beautiful and fun-loving with a great heart, a rare combination of professional and princess.  As the minister said to me almost 35 years ago at our wedding, I say today to Will, “The Bible says finding a good wife is rare, but by God’s grace you have found Joanna.”  She’s a gem.

As for Will, you too are, as they say, “a catch.”  The more time I spend with you, the more appreciation and respect I have for you.  Having now counseled all three Rowe daughters and their husbands, I think Joe and Sharon went 3-for-3 with great sons-in-law.

Will, your speech last night at the rehearsal dinner was so memorable.  You honored all of us by noting how rare it is in a man’s life to have the important people in your life all in the same room.

Then you turned to Joanna and expressed your love so passionately that her sister Pamela exclaimed at our table, “I want to marry Will!”  And her sister Kelly was so moved to tears that she was worried her eyes would swell beyond repair and called out, “Will, sit down, dammit!”  You have a charming way with words, but you are also gen – you – wine.

Today is about a transition of sorts – from courtship to marriage.  In advance it feels like a very natural transition, but as you look back on this day you will find it marked a dramatic turn in your relationship.  Marriage is harder by far than courtship, but also much more rewarding across the years.

To mark the transition from courtship to marrage, I love your choice of Scripture from Ecclesiastes 4, that “two are better than one.”  This entire poetic verse beautifully expresses the joys and benefits of companionship.

What you may not have realized is that these verses are an island of hope in a sea of despair.  As a whole, Ecclesiastes is not a very positive outlook on life.  It is the expression of a man who calls himself  “The Preacher,” and has achieved all of his goals in life – money, pleasure, fame, the things people in any age seem to think will make them happy.  The Preacher has found them, to use his word, “empty.”

Chapter 4 is mostly about the emptiness of work.  Every job starts out promising, but after a while inevitably becomes some form of “toil.”  The Preacher has decided work, too, is “empty.”  The saddest emptiness, he says, comes to a man who gets rich at the expense of any pleasure or balance in life, cutting himself off from all meaningful relationships, so that he has no one to share his success with.

At that point the Preacher says, “Two are better than one.”  Having someone to share life with makes work rewarding.  It gives you someone to lift you up when you fall down.  When you’re cold – literally or figuratively – you can warm each other up.  You also have someone to come to your defense when a cruel world goes on the attack.

He’s not just talking about marriage, but marriage is a great place to apply what he says.  Marriage is a harbor in the vast and restless sea of life.  That’s why Charleston is such a great place to get married.  A ship out on the sea is vulnerable and alone.  A ship in the port is secure and safe and in good company.

No ship can stay in the harbor all the time – it’s made to sail the open sea.  But the storms of life are frightening and confusing, and it’s nice to know in one another you have a harbor.  The Preacher is confused and frustrated about life, and he knows having a companion makes life better.  You will often find the outside world confusing and frustrating, and will be glad you have someone to come home to.

I pray that as time passes it will become even more important to be the harbor than to have a harbor.  Be one another’s refuge.

That raises one final point I want to make about marriage, and it relates very much to your choice to be married here in First (Scots) Presbyterian Church.

The part of marriage that is most difficult is being married to a sinner.  Will, you’re marrying a broken, needy person.  Joanna, you’re marrying a wounded, selfish man.  That doesn’t sound like a very nice thing to say on your wedding day, so I hasten to say that it’s no more true of either of you than of me or anyone else here.

I asked you why you chose this church among the many options in Charleston, and you said it was because of Will’s Scottish heritage and the fact that you are both now Presbyterians.  I don’t know if you know how much your German Reformed heritage, Joanna, has in common with Scotland and Presbyterians.

The reason Scots are Presbyterians is because John Knox, their spiritual founder, visited John Calvin in Geneva, Switzerland, said it was the most perfect place on earth since the time of the Apostles, and took what he learned back home to Scotland.  The Presbyterians of Will’s Scottish lineage are close cousins to Joanna’s Swiss-German Reformed heritage.  Reformed and Presbyterian Christians consider ourselves in the same branch of the Christian family tree.

One of the points of commonality in our shared heritage is that we believe what the Apostle Paul said of himself is true of all of us – we are all “the worst of sinners.”  We are all like the writer of Ecclesiastes in that we tend to seek but cannot find meaning in life on our own.  We are unable to have a relationship with God unless he takes the initiative.

The Bible calls it grace.  Presbyterian and Reformed Christians emphasize the sovereignty of God – his rule over all things.  But we also emphasize the wonderful truth that those of us who find ourselves insiders to this faith realize we were all too broken and selfish to get here on our own.  It had to be a God thing.

We love seeing and naming God-things in this branch of the Christian tree.  We love looking at you two at saying, “What a great match!  It must be a God-thing.”  But we also love to remind you – and ourselves – that the faith you have expressed as the basis of your bond is also a gift of God, and gift made possible only because Jesus died and rose again for you, and only because God chose you to be his.

I don’t know all that was in the mind of the Preacher when he said at the end of the passage you chose for today, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

But there’s a very real sense in which the two of you aren’t enough to make this marriage go the distance.  I don’t have confidence in your marriage because you’re two great people.  I have confidence because God has chosen you for himself and for each other.  To the degree that Christ is the third strand in your cord, that you see him as the reason you are loved and can love, and that you look to him as your ultimate harbor and helper, your cord will not be quickly broken.  Amen.

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