Two Wedding Sermons: Part 1. The birthday of my life

Recently I have been fortunate to speak at two weddings and so I thought I would share the texts of the two sermons.  Each has been edited to remove personal anecdotes or jokes.  Because each of these were given within a short space of tim, they contain some similar themes, but I hope that posting them both will not be redundant.

This is the transcript of a sermon I gave on 9 June 2012 in the Southend ward.

As I have been thinking about what I might say today a poem by Christina Rossetti keeps coming to mind.  It is entitled ‘A Birthday':

MY heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a water’d shoot;
My heart is like an apple-tree
Whose boughs are bent with thick-set fruit;
My heart is like a rainbow shell
That paddles in a halcyon sea;
My heart is gladder than all these,
Because my love is come to me.

Raise me a daïs of silk and down;
Hang it with vair and purple dyes;
Carve it in doves and pomegranates,
And peacocks with a hundred eyes;
Work it in gold and silver grapes,
In leaves and silver fleurs-de-lys;
Because the birthday of my life
Is come, my love is come to me.

This poem is perfect for an occasion like this. It captures the essence of the day on which we are married because it recognises, or at least so I believe, that this is a day when gifts are given and when gifts are received; but they are gifts of a particular type.

Love is characterised by two things: first it is the act of giving ourselves as a gift to another person. Second it is the act of receiving that other person as a gift.

Marriage is a promise that we will both give ourselves as a gift and receive the gift of that other person for the rest of our lives, and for Mormons for all eternity. This promise is significant because the other person inevitably changes or can be opaque. I would like illustrate what I mean with a few anecdotes.

First, on receiving. Every person is ultimately encumbered with different life experiences, personality traits and various kinds of responsibilities or duties, some of which are often concealed or not fully apparent when we first meet or even while we are dating. When we make the promises associated with marriage, we their whole self, even those parts that are currently unknown to us in the present.

My wife often tells me that she did not intend to marry a balding geek. Now I protest that I did my best to make my geekiness known before we were married. But, really none of that matters because she did in fact marry me. She made a promise to receive me as a gift. People change. They accumulate new personality traits and life experiences which inevitably shape them. In fact, according to e.e. cummings, ‘love’s function is to fabricate unknownness’ but lovers also ‘abide under whatever shall discovered be’.

In tandem with the necessity of receiving the other as a gift is the need to give ourselves as a gift to the other.

In order to illustrate what I think giving ourselves as a gift consists of I will emphasize the opposite of this type of relationship. This is to live love as a form of exchange. When we do this it often sounds something like this: “I cleaned the Kitchen, why can’t you clean the bathroom” or “I cooked last night, you should do it tonight”.

The point here is that when we focus on what we get in exchange for what we give we change the nature of the relationship from a gift to an exchange. This way of approaching relationships is unsustainable for the following reason.

A famous psychological survey found that women, on average, believe they do 70% of the housework while men, on average, believe they do at least 50%. Now it does not take a statistician to work out that there is discrepancy here. If I do 50% of the housework and my wife does 70% we have, between us, done 120% of the housework. What does this mean? People of all kinds do two things fairly regularly when it comes to work. We overestimate the amount of work we do while underestimating the work that other people do. There is a very simple reason for this: I am always around to see myself doing what I do whereas I am very rarely around to see what someone else does.

Approaching relationships as a form of exchange will be dissatisfaction because we will very often feel that we give more than we receive. Whereas, if we give ourselves as a gift to another we are more focused on the quality of the gift we give than on what we receive in return.

These notions of gift-giving and gift-receiving are also present in the scriptures.

According to St. Paul, Jesus models this type of gift-giving through his life and atonement.  He writes (with a little interpretative gloss from me) ‘Husbands love your wives [and wives love your husbands] even as Christ also loved the Church and gave himself for it.’

Further, in a revelation given to JS it states (roughly) ‘For what doth it profit a man [or woman] if a gift is bestowed upon them, and they receive not the gift? Behold they rejoice not in that which is given unto them, neither do they rejoices in him or her who is the giver of the gift.’

Christina Rosetti got it exactly right when she described love as the birthday of her life because this is the day, perhaps more than any other, that should be defined by the gifts we give and the gifts we receive.

Comments

  1. themormonbrit says:

    Very nice. However, I am intrigued by your statement: “People change. They accumulate new personality traits and life experiences which inevitably shape them. In fact, according to e.e. cummings, ‘love’s function is to fabricate unknownness’ but lovers also ‘abide under whatever shall discovered be’.” While I admire the sentiment of ‘love no matter what’, I can’t help but think: what about the woman who falls in love with and marries a man, only to find out later that he is homosexual? What about the woman who marries a gentle, kind and loving man who later on in their marriage develops a violent personality and starts beating her? Are these people also required to ‘abide under whatever shall discovered be’?

  2. As I was writing I had some of those thoughts. Of course there are situations where this type of relationship is no longer possible. It just did not seem like the time or place to explore those possibilities. At the same time, I did not want to alter the remarks in posting them here because that seemed unfaithful to the context in which they were given as well. That would have been another blog-post.

  3. J. Stapley says:

    Excellent stuff. I also like the Moroni bit about how/why a gift is given matters. Seems very applicable to a discussion of relationships.

  4. Great post. My wife is very giving, and just being married to her is a great gift. On a related note, we attended a sealing ceremony yesterday where the sealer said, “[Husband], love your wife just like Heavenly Father loves her, and [Wife] love your husband just like Heavenly Father loves him, and you will never go wrong.” This was an interesting idea to me. Clearly, Heavenly Father loves us differently than we typically think of spouses loving each other (physical attraction, etc.), but perhaps what the sealer was trying to say is that a truly successful marriage is one where the love runs deeper than physical attraction and the world’s ideas of a good marriage. My wife and I just celebrated our five year wedding anniversary, and we remarked on how even though we have changed during the last five years, we honestly love each other more now than we did when we were first married, even though the initial infatuation has faded.

    Oh, and have now shame in being a balding geek. All the great ones are.

  5. The content of the wedding “sermon” is all well and good. But, interested in cultures and ceremonies, I have a question. in my 60+ years living in the western U.S. I have never heard of a “sermon” being given at a wedding ceremony. Not that I have been to many non-Mormon weddings, or even very many non-temple weddings. In temple sealings, in my experience, only the sealer says much. Perhaps Aaron lives in another country?

  6. fbisti, Aaron lives in the UK.

  7. Kristine says:

    Many religious traditions have space for a homily in the middle of the marriage ceremony–they’re usually (mercifully) brief.

  8. Mark Brown says:

    This is really wonderful, Aaron. Thank you.

  9. I always enjoy Reeves-esque sermonology.

  10. themormonbrit says:

    Aaron, I can understand why you wouldn’t want to bring up the possible examples of secretly abusive or homosexual spouses at a wedding. I just wanted to make sure that you recognised that there are certain examples when it wouldn’t be ideal for a couple to be required to stay together and ‘in love’.

    WVS (6) – as do all the best bloggers ;)

  11. tmb, I should have included a footnote and you are right to bring up the potential problems with the view proposed here.

    fbisti, most UK weddings have readings, short (sometimes long) homilies or sermons and/or music. Often the service takes about 45mins. The temple sealing is performed separately. I have never been to a wedding, civil or otherwise, that did not have some sort of ethical or emotional reflection. Cultural differences I guess.

  12. This blog has really gone done hill over the last few months, even the Side Blog made it worth my time to check out this site. I guess things always change for better or worst.

  13. Jim,
    Sorry that you did not find my remarks worth your time – I find that understandable – but I think it is a gross overstatement to infer from my poor post to rest of the blog.

    I have been reading the blog for a few years now and there has been some exceptional content in the last six months.

  14. Jim, seriously? Wait, is that you, Steve Evans? LOL. That was pretty good, but you gave yourself away by dissing one of Aaron’s posts (which anyone who even casually visits BCC knows are superb). Why you didn’t link to my Christmas poll post is beyond me…..

  15. Aaron — Thank you, for your thoughts on giving, and for pointing toward ee cummings. I always forget to remember how good he can be. I am not personally compelled by ‘love at first sight’ and ‘forever after in bliss’ takes on marriage, because I believe there is a lot more will, simple earth-stained will, that goes into love and especially into marriage.

  16. Wait, is this one of those ‘Bleak Oyster’ moments?

    BenR, you are in luck. The next installment uses a very famous Cummings poem. Thanks.

  17. Long ago I figured that men are required by nature to utterly and absolutely need women. Women, on the other hand, can love deeply but generally do not need in the same way or with that intensity. (This is a gross generality, but it is true in the approximate one sigma limit.) There are only two real courses of action, attempted rejection of the need, or acquiescence. Rejection is horrid, vicious and mean.

    If a man will understand that she is giving him a wonderful gift and respond with thanks and celebration, life will be sweet and pleasant. She, being gracious and kind, will not take advantage of this simple adoration, and be honored and flattered. This is the most felicitous of relations.

    Love is in stages:
    1 – I need you, love me
    2 – I am lovable, love me
    3 – If you love me, I will love you
    4 – Your needs are as important to me as mine are, I love you
    5 – Your needs are more important to me than my own, I love you
    6 – my life is yours, a gift, I love you

    We aim for 6 and beyond which is a Christ-like love.

  18. Just lovely. (Anything that quotes Rosetti is already lovely…)

    Re: 120% of housework: of course there’s the part of the husband’s work that needs to be redone… (Sorry for the sexist comment; couldn’t resist as it is so close to my own experience.)

    The concept of receiving one’s spouse as a gift is an image I will enjoy carrying around with me.

  19. Aaron, this is great. I wish temple sealers here in the US would lift the spirit if not some of the text of your remarks and provide thoughtful and beautiful insight into marriage instead of home-spun cliches. I was actually at a wedding a few months ago where the sealer reminded the couple to avoid pornography.

  20. Jacob,
    If I was Steve Evans I would not need to be moderated on every post I make. But you can believe in this delusion if you want your mind to continue to be darken.

  21. Right. Because Steve Evans was loathe to moderate comments, and he also never warned anyone to watch their comments or they would be deleted. Are you sure you have the right blog?

  22. Ah, I see what you’re saying. But you’d be surprised how much we had to moderate Steve :) He insisted on, purist blogger that he is/was! ;)

    In any case, being upset for getting moderated is different from thinking the actual content of the blog has gone down hill. Naturally I’m biased but I’m proud to be a part of BCC for the last 6 months. Some stellar writing here, hands down. Not for everyone, sure. Shrug.

  23. themormonbrit says:

    I’m with Jacob. BCC has been producing some wonderful stuff lately.

  24. LOL at Paul’s 120% remark. Well played, sir, well played.

    Also, yikes, Jim.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 9,823 other followers