He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
Stories are important. In life we use stories to teach children valuable lessons about what it means to be a person in the world. We are captivated by the narratives portrayed in both books and on the big screen. Stories can make us cry, they can make us laugh, they can take us out of ourselves, and they can teach us who we really are on the inside.
And, for better or worse, we are the stories we tell.
Your story, the one you two share, is a good one, and frankly one that I’ve found myself telling to other people recently. I mean, could it be any cuter to witness the marriage of a couple who met in the 2nd grade? Think about the Lifetime Movie Channel possibilities! Cameron and Victoria sitting across from one another at the table, helping one another with their reading or their spelling, only to now be standing across one another by the altar.
It’s a good story.
A relationship born out of childhood birthday parties in which the possibility of marriage was not even a twinkle in either of your eyes.
But then the story takes a turn, from the connection catalyzed in Featherstone Elementary School (just on the other side of the road from where we stand) to Victoria moving away.
The story then fast forwards to years and years later, in adulthood, when Victoria moved back into the area for family reasons. And what does she do? She takes the initiative and reaches out to the friend from elementary school. Why? Has she had a crush all of these years and she finally wants to bring it to fruition? Have they been sending love letters back and forth over the decade plus? No.
You were just friends, and friends spend time together.
And so you did. You reconnected and started telling each other stories of the lives you had lived in the time in between. You learned each other’s narratives, you discovered common interests, and varied perspectives.
And with more and more time passing, with more stories being told, you two spent enough time together than you started developing your own story. You went places together, you explored new adventures together, and you even went to parties together.
After one such party, or maybe it was before, (the story is debated), you two found yourselves in the car. All alone with your thoughts and your stories, when you, Cameron, inexplicably wondered, out loud, “Victoria, are we going to do this thing or not?”
That’s Cameron’s favorite story to tell. And though Victoria laughs and brushes it off, I think she secretly loves it. Because in that question the whole of you were, are, and will be was held in a moment of clarity. Cameron’s question was so much more than just the words he used…
Are we going to take the only logical steps in this budding relationship in which I am discovering the truth of myself in you?
Are we going to become the people God has called us to be, by being together?
Are we going to be in the relationship everyone already thinks we’re in?
Stories are important, they are at the very heart of who we are and who we can be. But for as much as stories are important, questions are too.
Jesus stood before the crowd including his disciples and he let them know what it would take to follow him, “Let anyone who wishes to follow me deny themselves and take up their cross. For those who want to save their life must lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, or for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
You can imagine the sounds of crickets chirping as the countless crowds wonder if they really want to follow this guy. I mean, who the hell wants to lose their life? And then he drops the question, a question filled with all sorts of other questions, a question upon which all of who we were, are, and will be is held in tension: “What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life, indeed what can they give in return for their life?”
“Are we going to do this thing, or not?”
Cameron, please hear me when I say this, and please don’t let it go to your perfectly bearded head: Your question for Victoria is the same question placed before everyone who claims to follow Jesus. In that profoundly beautiful, and somewhat funny moment, you laid out all your cards for what would become this moment.
And when Jesus asked his version of your question, it paved the way for what would become the cross and the empty tomb.
I know that it might sound strange to be thinking about Jesus’ death and resurrection at a wedding. You might prefer to hear about love, or beauty, or even faith. And even though marriage might have all those things, marriage is really more about commitment, and courage, and even crucifixion.
Victoria, I never learned exactly how you responded to Cameron’s question, whether it was an emphatic yes, of if you merely beamed. But regardless, your answer is what brought both of you here. Your answer led you to into a relationship that was forged in the fires of commitment and courage and a sacrifice all too similar to Jesus’ life, crucifixion, and resurrection.
And your marriage will contain even more of it.
Marriage, the covenant in which you two are about to enter, is nothing more than the confusing claim and question Jesus offered the crowd. If you want to gain new life in your partner, if you want to step into this new reality, you’re going to have to deny something within you – a desire, a dream, a daring possibility. Because in just a moment, your lives will no longer be your own. They will become inextricably tied around and with the person standing before you, and as we say, for better or worse.
But the absolutely beautiful and breathtaking part of marriage is that those lives, those stories, never really belonged to you in the first place.
Cameron, you have an incredibly dedicated work ethic and you give every little bit of yourself to everything you do, to a fault. No matter what, you tend to put other’s needs first whether it means sacrificing something you want to do, or showing up for someone who might not show up for you. And you’re really funny, or at least you think you’re really funny.
But I, and Victoria, think that one of your greatest qualities is that you are remarkably even keeled even when it might feel like life is falling apart.
Victoria, you care about other people including Cameron more than just about anyone else. You embody what we in the church call discipled selflessness. You are definitely the planner in the relationship bringing a healthy dose of organization and purpose to all that you do.
And, you are extremely punctual, which is made all the more perfect and beautiful since Cameron lives in his own time vortex.
You two are really similar in a lot of ways, and in particular with your commitment to other people. And yet, you are also very different. Frankly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that Cameron you are a hunter and the Victoria you are a crafter, and that you both have separate rooms at your house dedicated to these very different interests!
I keep waiting to hear about the mash-up of these things like Victoria taking the time to knit a camouflage scarf or Cameron building a tree stand with popsicle sticks and a hot glue gun.
When that inevitably strange compilation comes together, I want to see it!
You two are the stories you tell, varied and weaving stories that come together right here, and right now. But those stories never really belonged to you in the first place.
To take up the marriage language again, we are the story God tells, for better of worse. We are the characters in the great novel of salvation, in which every chapter is better than the last, one that goes on forever and ever.
God, for some reason or another, wrote your lives in such a way that you would now prepare to enter into the new blank page of the greatest story ever told.
And lest you two fall prey to the temptation to believe that this was all up to you, and will be all up to you, I want you to turn around for just a moment, and soak up this view. Far too many weddings are focused in this direction alone, and we miss the beauty behind us; the profound wonder of a community of people who made a covenant to hold you accountable to your covenant.
Your stories do not belong to you, because they also belong to all of these people, from and whom through God is penning this one.
When we met for pre-marital counseling, I asked you two to consider what marriage really is. Not according to the world, or your parents, or even a favorite movie – I wanted to hear what you think marriage is. And you said marriage is like having an extreme best friend, in which everything is out in the open. It is a strange and wonderful new beginning together.
And then you said that that getting married here, at this church, made perfect sense because we’re right across the street from where it all began.
How poetic is that?
And so may the author of salvation, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – the beginning, middle, and end – bless you in your marriage so that you may continue to tell the story of you were, who you are, and who you will be.
So, are we going to do this thing or what?