“We’re not really Christians or anything, but will you do our wedding?”
A lot of pastors would say no. “If you just want to get married, the county courthouse is right over there. What would you want a Christian wedding for, if you don’t follow Christ?”
I had always thought I would be one of those pastors. When I was in Bible college and seminary, the arguments always seemed compelling to me. Christian weddings are for Christians. Help them build a strong foundation with some good premarital counseling, and then do the wedding. Kimberly and I did this when we got married, and it really helped — seemed like a great idea to pass it on to others. In fact, a couple of my mentors would refuse to do a wedding if the couple wouldn’t submit to fairly extensive premarital counseling first. I had another mentor that wouldn’t marry a couple that was already living together, because he felt it made a mockery of the marriage ceremony. He would have them live apart for six months before he would do the wedding. I planned to emulate these guys.
Man plans, as the wise man said, and God laughs.
I was a few years out of seminary and working in a church plant when a couple approached me and asked if I would marry them. They were already living together, and they had three kids: one his by a previous relationship, one hers by a previous relationship, and the youngest (a six-year-old) theirs.
Premarital counseling? What for — to prepare them for the hard realities of shared life together? These weren’t starry-eyed kids; they’d been together longer than Kimberly and I had. (I would have more to offer them now, but I had to make a decision based on what I had to offer them then.) Have them live apart for six months? They had a kid.
For me, it came down to something very simple. I had a six-year-old in my church whose mommy and daddy should have gotten married long since. They were willing to rectify the situation. Was I?
In that situation, all my earlier aspirations stood revealed for what they were — a kind of perfectionism. Yes, I will marry you if you’re doing everything right. Yes, I will marry you if you’re not carrying too much baggage. Yes, I will marry you if you conform closely enough to the ideal situation in my head. Yes, I will marry you if you’re good enough.
Jesus doesn’t treat people that way. Why should I?
Back in the day, the 14th-century English village church was the center of the town’s social life — and usually, the literal center of the town. Everybody was a baptized Christian. Of course, some folks in town would be more devout than others, but however impious you might be, when the time came to get married, you marched down to the village church and tied the knot. Did the village priest deny you because you didn’t live up to his standards? Of course not. The priest recognized his role in maintaing a healthy society. Marriages are good for society. Blessed marriages are even better.
Are we willing to take a place at the center of the society and bless that which is good?
Sadly, too often, we are not. What we have today is boutique Christianity, with hundreds of different designer labels. Skinny jeans and obcure musical tastes? Welcome to hipster church. Upper middle class, golf and sailing? Welcome to the country-club church. Intellectual and sharp-tongued? Meet the young, restless and Reformed. Want to indulge your taste for politics? We got everything from Jesus-was-a-Republican-hawk to Jesus-was-a-hippie-before-it-was-cool. This is an infinitely customizable Christianity, a hobby religion. A Christianity that has been relegated to the sidelines of culture, and likes it that way. This is a Christianity that has forgotten how to face the issues that come with standing in the center of the town square, and is afraid to remember. A Peter Pan Christianity that doesn’t want to grow up.
This is a Christianity that believes in marriage but won’t perform a wedding unless both parties are presentable enough to join the club. A Christianity that will condemn a couple for shacking up, but refuse to marry them; condemn them for their wounds, but refuse to heal them; condemn them for staying away from church while making them absolutely unwelcome. A Christianity that blesses God, and curses men, who were made in the image of God. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. What if following Jesus meant serving my community rather than demanding that they live up to my expectations? What if I chose to be a servant rather than a master? What if I chose to bless rather than curse?
Well, then I’d be an outpost of the Kingdom of God, a place where His blessing was being expressed on earth as it is in heaven. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?
In my experience, the simple decision to be a blessing, and to openly and unashamedly speak God’s blessing over people — that simple thing made me a friend of people who had nothing in common with me, a leader of people I don’t have the charisma to lead. I obeyed what God said to do, and He gave me favor far beyond what I could ever have gained for myself.
In short, I found myself standing in the town square, wondering how in the world I got there. Not in any official way — I’m not running for mayor or anything — but simply as a matter of grassroots, relational reality. The influence and favor God gave me raise all kinds of issues I don’t have a clue how to handle.
But God has not given us a spirit of fear.
“We’re not really Christians, but will you marry us?”
Do you know what I hear now, when someone asks that? I hear longing for the Kingdom of God. I hear people who don’t really believe that God is there for them — but they kinda hope maybe He will be. They want God’s blessing, although they don’t really know why. I hear a couple asking me if I will put just a tiny bit of leaven in the loaf that is their life together. They don’t want a lot; it’s not like they’re religious or anything. Just a little bit, right over here in the corner.
Will I do it? Sure I will. I know how leaven works.