Wedding Sermon for Rudolph P. Reyes II and Julia Sierra Wilkinson
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue preached this sermon at Christ Church Episcopal
Savannah, Georgia on April 13, 2013.
The Bond Producing Perfection
It starts with a spark.
In our story for this day, that spark came in place where romance rarely blooms, a theological book sale. But for Rudolph Reyes II, seeing Julia Sierra Wilkinson at the sale was that first spark. “Of course, she was beautiful” Rudy told me. That she is beautiful is a self-evident fact, but it is always nice to hear a fiancé to say it. But beyond being beautiful, she was looking through the used books with that same eagerness he felt and even with the same fondness for the theologian Paul Tillich. The two were at a Diversity in Exploration gathering for Harvard Divinity School.
For Julia, as she would be known in Cambridge, she recalls running in to Rudy at the book sale in the Library. She was from Georgia, he didn’t seem to be from the area and they both needed to walk back to the same bed and breakfast. She offered to walk with him. Julia just wanted to be kind to a fellow out of towner. Besides, she thought that she knew the way back and he didn’t.
As it turned out, neither of them knew their way as she lead them through the dark and uncertain streets of Cambridge in an ever circling pattern that kept missing their destination on each pass. Julia appreciated that Rudy never got frustrated. He never made her feel uncomfortable. For his part, the conversation and company were too nice to care whether they ever got back.
They left the weekend and didn’t stay in touch. Each applied to Harvard and Yale. At this point, it could have gone either way. They could have ended up school rivals or fellow students. Independently, with no idea what path the other would take, each selected Harvard. They met again as students and fell into a friendship. Julia appreciated that Rudy had no preset expectations. From the start she could always truly be herself around him. The two started to meet each Tuesday for lunch and they each served for the other someone to bounce experiences off of. They learned and grew together. Julia began to value Rudy’s unique voice, how he saw things differently, and how deeply he loved his family.
There was a spark. There was no denying that. Then there is always the time when you look back and you realize that the spark has become a flame, perhaps a tentative one, but a flame nonetheless. So, they would date and along the way something more grew between Rudy and Julia. He remembers seeing her during the summer she worked at the prison in Atlanta for her Clinical Pastoral Education. Rudy wondered how their relationship would be after the time apart. Talking and catching up after the separation was natural. The two had talked frequently during her summer and they remained, each for the other, someone to share experiences and perspectives. The flame grew rather than diminished in their time apart.
In every relationship there are those turns toward and turns away, discussions, decisions, changes that come. Most of us can’t claim the Holy Spirit’s involvement quite like these two. Not only did both land at Harvard, but most amazingly, in one of those God is showing off moments, they both ended up here in Savannah. Through the seemingly chance mention of a job with the Diocese of Georgia, Rudy came to live in Savannah and working blocks away from Julia, who is now going by Sierra once more. In a highly economic move which strikes me as divine inspiration, Christ Church got an amazingly gifted deacon then priest, while the Diocese got an industrious and talented intern, then Program Manager, and none of this came through any human trying to work it all out for the couple to be together.
But before I get so enamored with the cinematic quality of the story that brings us to the altar this day that I turn a real life relationship into a romantic comedy script with the Holy Spirit as the film’s director fanning the flames of destiny and move on to start planning the sequel where the curvaceous curate and her handsome Hispanic husband have a baby, with the usual plot twists and multi-cultural hilarity ensuing…we have the reading from Colossians to ground us in reality both more complicated and grace-filled than any Hollywood plot.
We heard words of compassion, forgiveness and love that are worth lingering over just a moment before we turn to the vows in this Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Our readings for today were selected with care by Rudy and Sierra and they differ from what one typically hears in weddings. The more commonly read lesson from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians beautifully tells us that
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”
This is, of course, all true. Perhaps more significant, we hear from the letter to the Colossians,
“As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with
compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;
just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Getting dressed is not accidental. There is usually purpose and intention, and often care and choice in clothing oneself. In being called to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness and so on and to bear with one another, and to forgive each other, we are reminded that we are called not to a feeling, but to concrete actions. Compassion, kindness, humility and forgiveness do not just happen. These are choices, decisions, acts of will.
The reading continues,
“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Just because this is a sermon for the wedding of two persons who each earned a Master of Divinity degree from Harvard, I don’t want to get tied up in the Greek text, so without getting lost in the weeds of why this is so, I should note that a closer translation is
“And to all of these things, add love, the bond producing perfection.”
In the Greek text love is not simply a perfect bond. Rather we find that in the act of continually showing Agape love we further cement the bond and this, in time, produces perfection. There is a trajectory to Agape love. Agape is the love Christ showed us. This is the Greek word for a self-giving love which is more concerned about the one loved that about oneself. Even this Agape love is not a perfect bond, but rather in continual love, the habit of love, the bond works toward perfection. The relationship grows stronger over time.
This continual love is how the initial spark, which has become flames burns to be hot coals which last a lifetime.
This day we gather for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Rudy and Sierra come through their vows to make a covenant with one another before God and the Church. While we will see the outward signs of the wedding bands, we will pray for the inward and spiritual grace which is God’s blessing on this union, giving them the strength to fulfill these vows joyfully. Sacraments may seem like a one-time act and certainly they have that quality for we know what God effects this day will not be undone from God’s side of the relationship. But we also know that the one-time act of baptism, which is initiation into Christ’s Body, the Church, is to be followed by a lifetime of choosing to follow Jesus. Likewise, in ordination Sierra made a life-long commitment and she more fully becomes the priest God has called her to be through being a priest each day in every situation she finds herself.
This is true for each marriage. One does not merely choose to marry and that’s that. You also choose over time as you make choices again and again with your mate, and your family, in mind. This is true also for all of our important relationships. For those who are single, you too make decisions which can build up the bond over time in relationships with family and friends and co-workers, strengthening the love you already share with others. This is a very godly act as God not only chose to love us at some given point, but God loves us each day and as we live into our love for God, that bond grows as well. Each of us constantly makes decisions which build up or tear down each relationship we are in. As Sierra told me, “This is not cruise control.”
Not cruise control, indeed. In saying “I will” Rudy and Sierra decide now to recommit to one another each day anew every day of their lives. The readings they selected are so very realistic in that they point not to a static choice, but to a continually renewed covenant. Each of us clothes ourselves anew each day. Beyond cotton, wool and so on, Rudy and Sierra commit to clothing themselves with compassion, kindness, patience and above all love. They commit this day to forgiving each other. They commit to loving one another as Jesus has loved us all. This covenant, carefully tended is what will feed the hot coals that are the fire of their love so that fifty years from now a whole new family that grows from this union will still be basking in the warmth of that love, which will have grown to become a sign of the love Christ has for the Church.