They're Married! Again!
On Pentecost we were privileged to witness the vows of Ashley and Phillip, who wanted to have the wedding they didn't have when they got married the first time, twelve years and five kids ago. So how do you preach a wedding for a family of seven? Well, here's how I did it.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
You probably noticed that this is not a very wedding-y text. The truth is, the Bible doesn’t actually say a lot about how to have a good 21st century marriage; it’s not the Bible’s job to be an advice manual. We learn from the Bible how to be the best humans we can, and how utterly dependent on God we are for every breath we take, and beyond that, God trusts us to work out a lot of the details on our own.
Plus, Phil and Ashley, y’all have been at this marriage thing for a long time. I’m not sure what I could tell you that would be better than your own experience of commitment through the ups and downs of everyday life. You have had babies together. You’ve lived through war together, literally, in ways that most of us have not. You’ve endured long separations; economic hardship; health issues; and spiritual desolation; and you’ve done it all together. I don’t think it seems reasonable that you need advice for how to stay happily married.
So we have read this ancient story about the spread of a very local message to a globalized distribution of the news that God is God of heaven and earth, not just local, not just for some people, but for all. Like all history, it’s in the past. But like all history, it has a couple of clues for us today, clues that I thought you might find interesting given where life finds you today.
Here’s our first clue: the women who gathered by the river with their leader Lydia were spiritual, but not religious. For one thing, they weren’t Jewish, so they didn’t come from a heritage of deep faith and religious practice. Their hearts were inclined toward God, but they gathered informally by the river, not in the synagogue, not in the temple, not in any of the designated holy places. Like flowers leaning toward the sun, they leaned toward the Divine, without a great deal of clarity about what they believed – only the sense that something or someone greater than themselves is the Director of the cosmic project.
So the apostle Paul, the church’s first theologian, impressed with their searching, fills in some of the details about God’s intense love for all of humanity, and they decide to take a chance and believe it. That’s how the early conversions to Christianity always were – somebody deciding to take a crazy chance that it just might be true, that the God of the Universe might just be reaching out to them. And then acting on that chance, they took the incredible risk of faith. It was not easy for them; it was never simple. And that might be a familiar feeling to you, that Christian faith feels something like jumping off an intellectual cliff in your mind. But the story of Lydia and others like her show us that that’s the way it’s always been, even for the very first believers. Don’t trust anybody who tells you that believing in God, and believing that God is for you, is easy, or a foregone conclusion. The believers who are notable enough to make it into our sacred book are the ones who believed it against all odds.
The second clue for your marriage that we find in this text is that Lydia’s decision to take that leap of faith affects her whole family. The text says, “She and her household were baptized into Christ.” This is a pattern in the New Testament – that when one member of the family puts their trust in God as God is made known to us in the person of Jesus, the whole family often comes along. There are numerous stories like this – Cornelius the Roman centurion, the unnamed Philippian jailer, Crispus the synagogue leader, and now Lydia the textile merchant, just to name a few.
Things are a little different today – we tend to be much more inclined to let every member of the family make their own, autonomous decision about what to believe and how to orient their lives around those beliefs. But the inescapable truth, even today, is that you two, Phil and Ashley, are householders, you are the chiefs of your own little tribe, and as such, you have a great deal of influence over these children you’re raising together. Brendan, Ella, Evelyn, Barrett, and Brock are already becoming the kind of people they can see that you are.
They are already prioritizing the things you prioritize.
They are already putting their trust in whatever you put your trust in.
They are someday going to work as hard as you work, and love as deeply as you love, and practice mercy insofar as you have been merciful.
They will give generously of their lives in direct proportion to how generously they witness you giving of yours.
Not to put too fine a point on it: your kids’ lifelong engagement with God our Father, the Maker of heaven and earth, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is in your hands. And it won’t be enough for you to talk about it with them. They’ll have to see it in action. They’ll need to witness your own attachment to a community of disciples who are all trying as hard as we can to follow Jesus down this faithful path to the heart of God, our own hearts’ true home. I want to urge you to make that a commitment of your continued life together, for their sake, as well as for your own. Someday, when generations to come tell the story of the Hersman family, they’ll say how the Lord “opened the hearts of Phillip and Ashley,” and how all your household came to know the Lord, and how together you all lived happily ever after.
And listen: because you are here, you are off to a good re-start. Standing here in front of God and all your beloveds, you are declaring yourselves to be making a fresh start even as you continue the love you began well over a decade ago. We are so privileged to witness your new beginning, and to witness the vows you are ready to make to one another.
(And they did. They spoke very lovely vows to each other, and the gathered congregation vowed to help them.)
Phillip and Ashley, before God and in the presence of this congregation, you have made your solemn vows to each other.
You have joined hands with your children to symbolize the wholeness of your family.
Therefore, by the power vested in me as a minister of the gospel of Jesus the Christ, I now pronounce you husband and wife, father and mother, partners for a lifetime of love through whatever comes your way.
Those whom God has joined together, let no one separate!
I give you Philip and Ashley, Brendan, Ella, Evelyn, Barett, and Brock! The H-- Family!