What is love? Chris and Catrin have heard this question several times in the last few months as we have met together. We’re accustomed to thinking of love as an emotion, something we feel. As we opened Scripture and looked at the picture it paints of life in this world, we learned that love is not an emotion. Love is an action; love is a verb. Love is certainly tied in with emotions, but love manifests itself in action. Love demonstrates itself in how we act towards one another. That’s what St. Paul was driving home in his great “love chapter,” 1 Corinthians 13. Love is patient and kind, it does not envy, it keeps no record of wrongs and all the rest. Chris and Catrin, the love you feel for one another today will change. Ask your parents. The love they have for one another now is different from the honeymoon phase puppy love they had years ago at their own weddings. The emotional side of love is now deeper, rooted less in how one makes the other feel and more in how much both realize that the person to whom they are married is the fulfillment of God’s Word in Eden: “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make him a helper comparable to him.” All of us who are married can speak to that. Love changes and matures. Love as an emotion changes. Love as an action does not change. The actions themselves may change, but love will always be manifested in its purest form as an action.
That’s why, in the vows, Chris and Catrin will say “I will.” They promise that their love for one another will manifest itself in lifelong action—loving, comforting, honoring, keeping in sickness and in health, and pledging marital fidelity towards one another as long as they both shall live and everything that entails. We ask them to make promises about their actions, not their emotions. Their emotions will fluctuate. There will be times when they don’t feel happy with one another and times they can’t imagine how they could ever feel one ounce of anger toward the other. And sometimes those two wildly different emotions will come in the same conversation! They can’t control or predict how they will feel. But they can control what they do and therefore they can promise to love, honor, and keep one another even in times of sadness and anger and disappointment.
As St. Paul explained in the Epistle Reading we heard just a moment ago, this love that Chris and Catrin have for one another that will show itself in their actions is not their own, but is a reflection of the love God has for each of us in Christ Jesus. That love was costly. God loved the world by giving His only-begotten, innocent Son to be tortured and killed for sins He did not commit. God handed over His only Son as the payment the Law demanded for our sin. Jesus was our Substitute, an offering made in our place so that we would be spared the accusations against us. By the selfless, giving love of Christ we are made clean, spotless, without blemish or sin. Heaven is opened to us and all believers. God has been faithful to us, even in the face of and despite our own unfaithfulness.
Chris, that is the kind of love God expects you to have for Catrin. Men—married or not—this is the kind of love God expects you to have for your wives or that woman who might be your wife someday. God expects you to do everything to protect, care for, and nurture the one who has been given to you as your helper, your companion. This love doesn’t walk away when it’s angry or give up when it doesn’t want to go on. This kind of Christ-like love continues to act in spite of how you feel. Just as you feed, support, and take care of your own body, you are supposed to feed, support, and take care of your wife.
Catrin, in exchange for this selfless love, God asks you to obey Chris. Women—married or not—this is the kind of love God expects you to have for your husbands or the man who might someday be your husband. This is not an archaic tradition, wording we use because it is steeped in history. If your husband is acting in Christ-like ways, always putting you in front of himself, you are asked to do what he asks of you, knowing that he isn’t asking from self-gratifying motives. He is asking you out of love, love manifested in how he acts towards you, how he does everything in his power to support you.
Chris, Catrin. You’ll fail at this. Ask any of us who are married. None of us are perfect. When your love for one another is imperfect, when it has faults and failures, don’t give up, don’t wring your hands. Turn to Christ. His love for both of you as individuals and as husband and wife is perfect, it never fails, it keeps no record of wrongs. Just as God in Christ forgives you all of your sins, extend that same forgiveness to one another. That love, showing itself as forgiveness—not counting the other’s sin against them—covers a multitude of sins.
You can do this, we can all do this, because God is love and He first loved us. His love frees us to love Him and to love one another, to love our neighbors, our spouses, our children. In Him and by Him who laid down His life for us, who is always eager to forgive the penitent and restore the fallen, we learn to lay down our lives for one another, to be actually and truly tolerant of one another’s weaknesses. That doesn’t mean we excuse sin, but we look past the flaws in one another, seeing the loveable even when they seem unlovable. Everyone is struggling. Everyone is hurting. You never know what people are going through or why they do what they do. But God does, and He loves them anyways. In Him, we can also.
Chris and Catrin, let Christ be the center of your marriage. Find forgiveness, comfort, consolation, and joy in Him. You are Baptized, forgiven all your sins in the Blood of Christ. That love of God, which is demonstrated in the death and resurrection of Jesus, will sustain you all your days. As your love for one another grows and deepens, may the love of God bless your marriage.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.