Sermon: "Let Love Be Genuine"

Risendal-Dorgeloh wedding.jpg

Note: This past weekend I was honored to preside at the wedding of my “favorite cousin's” son, at a winery in the Blue Ridge Mountains east of Charlottesville, Virginia. Erik and Kyra are a wonderful couple, and we are so excited for this new beginning in their life together. The text of my sermon for their wedding is included below.

For Erik and Kyra, on the Occasion of Their Wedding

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Let me begin today by offering a few words of gratitude.

Erik and Kyra: what an honor it is to be standing here with you! I get the chance to be part of these kinds of celebrations fairly regularly, but it is a rare opportunity to be surrounded by family and dear friends. So thank you for inviting Betsy and me to join you for this weekend.  What a gift it has been to us!

To Jack and Kris, and Werner and Karin: thank you for hosting this wonderful weekend. Such a beautiful setting, and a terrific weekend of activities, with a remarkable gathering of people. This certainly is one for the books, and we are so glad to have been included.

To all of you who are gathered here to celebrate with Erik and Kyra, some of whom have traveled many miles to be here: thank you for coming to support them, and to encourage them in the vows they are about to make to one another. Your presence here is an important part of what is about to take place, and on behalf of the Risendals and the Dörgelohs I want to thank you for taking part in this celebration.

Finally to you, Erik and Kyra: thank you for choosing to commemorate the beginning of your marriage with this worship service. It is an extraordinarily hopeful gesture: to invite God’s presence into this moment; to gather this assembly of family and friends to pray with you, and to encourage you; to make promises to God and to each other that this love you now share will be the foundation on which you build a life together.

Thank you all so much. Now let’s get started.

Much has been said about what helps a marriage to stay strong and healthy over the long haul. I once watched a documentary that featured a number of couples who had been married for many years. They interviewed one couple who had just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. When asked what their secret was, the husband responded: “Many years ago we decided that I would make all the big decisions, and my wife would make all the small decisions, and in sixty years we have yet to face a big decision.”

You certainly could organize your life together around that principle, but let me offer a suggestion that perhaps holds more potential. In the lesson you asked Sue to read, the Apostle Paul offers some advice to the group of believers who are organizing the first Christian faith community in Rome. He wants them to build their congregation on a solid and faithful foundation, and recommends something to them that is at the same time very simple and very profound. He writes, “Let love be genuine.”

Now there are any number of other realities that you two could build into the center of your life together. Some are self-serving: like wealth and travel and entertainment. Some are self-enlightening: like reading and study and exploration. Some are self-giving: like working in your community and caring for the needs of others and making a difference in the world. Any of these could enrich your lives in certain ways, and become a blessing to you and to others.

But the Apostle lifts up the possibility of something even more powerful and lasting to place at the center of your life together. He says, “Let love be genuine.”

It is important to pay attention to what he says. He doesn’t say, “Make your love be genuine” — as if somehow forcing love into a certain mold is the secret to the future. He doesn’t say, “Here are some nifty tricks to help you love each other better” — as if one particular set of strategies works better than the others. He doesn’t say, “Love as strongly as you can” — as if the amount of effort you put into loving will push you over the finish line.” No, he says, “Let love be genuine.” As if there is a power in love itself. As if when we entrust ourselves to love, it will take us to where we need to go.

This, of course, is especially true for sacred love; the love that comes to us as a gift from God. When the love of God is allowed to have a genuine presence in our lives; when the love of God is invited to have its way with us; when the love of God is permitted to shape us and mold our experience of family, it becomes a strength far greater than anything else that might attempt to take its place.

You two have been surrounded for years by some extraordinary examples of love. Werner and Karin: I understand that you have been together for some 30 years now. Jack and Kris: you not long ago hit 37 years together. And Ron and Jean: is it true that your marriage has been going strong now for 65 years? A couple doesn’t thrive for that long unless their life is built on a genuine love. I am grateful for their legacy of love, and hope you two will draw some strength and inspiration from them. Perhaps even experience it yourselves!

Along these lines, let me share some advice that came from the Pastor who helped Betsy and me to get married 33 years ago. He said, “Surround yourselves with couples who understand, and who have experienced, this kind of love. Learn from each other, and support each other, and remind each other of how important this is.” I hope you two will do the same. I hope you will find others who are committed to let love be genuine, and in a community grounded in love you will continue to be drawn to the heart of the matter: the genuine love that has led you to this day.

So, Erik and Kyra, let this love from God be genuine at the heart of your life together. Entrust yourselves to this love. Let it shape who you are, and who you become. And invite it to be the foundation upon which you build a loving and supportive marriage that lasts a lifetime.

May the love of God bless you, and those you touch, today and throughout your entire life’s journey.

Pastor David J. Risendal
September 28, 2019
Afton, Virginia

First Reading: Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself. Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time. Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be. And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, 1927. Authorized for publication without a copyright notice in 1933 and 1942. In the public domain.

Second Reading: Romans 12:9-18

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Romans 12:9-8, New Revised Standard Version Bible, © 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.