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July 31st, 2017

Torean and Jessie, I can’t tell you how much it means to me to be here today for this special day.

I can’t say this about very many people, but I know the exact date when I met both of you, at least I think I do.  And I know the place.

I can’t even say that about my own wife.  We were college classmates for a year before we starting dating, and I don’t remember which day my freshman year I first met her, or which class we were in.  I’m just very glad we met, since we’re now in our 40th year of marriage.

You two I remember – when and where. It was November 19, 2012, which many people here will recognize immediately as the day Madison and Maddox were born. I had heard from Pastor Paul that someone who had been attending contemporary service had given birth to twins up at Frye.  I went to the hospital to visit, and I met both of you that day.

In the years since, I sat down with both of you on more than one occasion, getting to know your stories.  I remember thinking along the way, this is a tangled tale of lives with lots of layers.  I wonder if it will ever get untangled and on a solid footing – spiritually, emotionally, financially.

And look!  Here you are.  I realize in one sense this day is only one slice of your life and this wedding doesn’t mean you’ve moved all at once from a deep dark past to a perfect future.  Life doesn’t work that way.  But this wedding is a powerful symbol of what’s been going on inside you both, of what God has been doing in you and for you, and of his promise to finish what he started.

You standing up here with Megan and Nathan, Madison and Maddox – that is a stunning display of God’s grace, a story of a church family at its best, a story of persistence and determination to straighten out what was crooked and move ahead together.  I can’t tell you how proud I am of both of you and how blessed I feel to be your pastor.  I love you both and love your kids and want to be part of the ongoing God working in your lives.

So, “Jessie and Torean are getting married,” as I’ve seen repeatedly in my Facebook feed over the last few weeks.  Here’s my comment about that.

Welcome to prison.

Hold it, though.  I probably don’t mean that the way it sounds at first.  And besides, it was your idea, not mine, to have the prison theme for today.  It is the first line of the Scripture you chose.

The Apostle Paul begins this remarkable text by saying, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then….”

In his case, he was literally in a Roman jail cell.  But he didn’t have to be there.  If he’d have been at home minding his own business, he wouldn’t have been in jail.  He was instead out there doing God’s business, and it landed him in prison.

So in a sense, he was there voluntarily.  He was there because he had chosen to follow Jesus with his whole heart, and if that meant being confined or even being killed, he would choose Jesus over what this world falsely calls “freedom.”

“I am,” he said, “a prisoner for the Lord.”  Sitting there in that cell he knew he was more free than his jailers, more free than the citizens in the marketplace of Ephesus, more free than the emperor himself.  He had chosen the perfect freedom of being a servant of Jesus Christ.

Marriage is actually a lot like that.  Marriage is a beautiful, freeing, secure, safe confinement.  Sometimes you feel more confined than other times, but always remember that this person who takes your breath away has also confined himself or herself to love only you, to be with only you, to keep going through the hard times as well as the good times, then marriage is a beautiful prison.

When you look around you at the people who think they are “free” because they can play the field, you also realize they never have the security of knowing there’s always someone to come home to.  They never have the joy of watching four beautiful kids grow up, of being such a potent, stabilizing influence in shaping the next generation.  They never have the deep contentment of knowing they are honoring the Lord Jesus Christ.  So when you see them, you realize what a beautiful thing it is to be a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ and of each other.

Paul goes on in these verses to say how to function in that voluntary, beautiful prison.  Keep remembering who called you – and decide you want to be worthy of his grace.  He loved you right where you were and made you part of his family by his death for your sins and by his resurrection to life eternal.  He still loves you day by day as he works in you.

So, Paul continues, be humble, gentle, and patient, because that’s how he is with you.

Bear with each other’s flaws, because you know you have your own.

Make every effort to keep the unity you have in him.

The Holy Spirit will help you, so you’re not alone.

More than 39 years after Linda and I voluntarily confined ourselves to each other, there’s not a day, not even an hour, when I would have it any other way.  I pray the same for you.  May God deeply and richly bless your together-life.  Thank you for the high privilege of calling myself your pastor so that I can be a witness here of your bond with him.  We are all, joyfully, his prisoners.

Welcome to marriage. Amen.

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