At the Marriage of Larsen Wharton and Caroline Shaver
October 9, 2021
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina
John 15:9-17 (NIV)
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
CHOSEN FOR LOVING SERVICE
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear Larsen and Caroline,
You have been being prepared for your life together your whole lives. Godly parents taught you to be chaste, not because they wanted to control you or even to be weird, but because they wanted you to be ready to become one flesh with each other not only physically but spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and relationally. God has made you for each other and for no one else. That is the wonderful, mind-boggling, and even terrifying thing about the promises you are about to make to each other. It is not that those who have made bad choices and have failed in marriage, or before marriage, are beyond God’s grace and mercy. Rather, God has made us for joy and not merely for pleasure. When you give yourself to each other completely and solely this day and each day, you will reflect the sacrificial love the Lord Jesus Christ has for His Bride, the Church.
Now, you both know that the love of which the Lord Jesus is speaking in John 15 and 1 Corinthians 13 is agapē. The best synonym in English is service. The best picture of this love is the Crucified Jesus, who gave His life not merely for those who love Him or for those who are intrinsically lovely or somehow deserving of His love. Rather the Lord Jesus has poured out His life blood on the cross for sinners like us, who can claim no merit of our own. That is agapē. And that is the life to which you were called when you were baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. You are His. And that is the life to which you are being called as husband and wife, as father and mother, and in all your other relationships in daily life and work. Because you are His, marked with His holy cross and sealed with the Holy Spirit, you are called to loving service.
You know there are other Greek words for love. Eros is that yearning for each other that properly finds its end in the gift of children. Storge is the love for each other that families share. Philia is the love for neighbor that drives us to do the good works for the neighbor’s benefit. Each of these has a strongly emotional content ranging from passion to nurture to empathy. But as children of God purchased at great cost on Calvary’s tree, you are called to agapē.
Many years ago I asked a man celebrating his golden anniversary how he had made it through fifty years of marriage. He smiled and said, “Well, you have to decide if you want to be right or if you want to be happy.” He was being playfully serious. Eros will come and go. Storge can be exhausting. Philia can be ego-driven and become a quid pro quo for people who need approval. Agapē is cross-shaped. It is a choice to lay down your life for each other. Larsen, you will lead by putting your wife and family before your own wants. Caroline, you will place your husband and family before your own immediate goals. Your life together will be often joyful and often difficult. There will be days and nights when you don’t feel like loving service, but you will look at the ring on your finger and at the cross on the wall, and you will lay down your life like the One whose own you are. Nobody loves changing diapers or cleaning toilets, but you both will.
Now that is not the way of our God-forgetting culture. Having been Christian home-schooled first and then having gone on to a secular education, you are not unaware of the devil’s empty promises. You were raised to know a better way, the way of the cross, the way of loving service. Caroline, in your work with Students for Life, you will hear heart-breaking stories of children thrown away and of women and even men who know the misery of having been lied to by this deceitful culture. Larsen, in your work in the financial industry, you will see miserable women and men who have sold their souls to gain the world. And you both will remember who and Whose you are, because you will attend the services of God’s house faithfully and be reminded that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you with His Word and Sacraments. As you lay down your lives for each other, for your family, and for your friends, you will look like Jesus. And, oh what joy you will know when you give your lives away in loving service.
So, God’s first promise to the man and woman made in His image was to be fruitful and multiply. You are not too young to become parents. The oldest among us married young, had families young, and lived seventy or more years together as husband and wife. That’s not the world’s story, and you can see a world in shambles because of it. Do not be afraid to be different. The world needs to see a better way. Hopeless people need to see agapē at work in your lives.
Today is a day of great joy and celebration. Take your time, enjoy this day, and fix it firmly in your memories. For, as you age, many of us will leave you for another shore, and you will show the pictures from today to your children and grandchildren and share your happy memories. You will prepare them to be faithful husbands and wives and godly parents. You will teach them by example, for better and for worse, as your parents have taught you. Today, you are fearfully and wonderfully becoming one according to your heavenly Father’s good and gracious will. The past is prologue. Christ Jesus has chosen you for loving service. You are never alone. Our love and prayers go with you. Christ Himself is out in front blazing the way. The Holy Spirit is behind you pushing you forward together. Your heavenly Father’s arms are stretched wide as you journey home together. This is Christ’s command: Love each other!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Rev’d. Dr. Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington NC 28403