Congratulations Carl and Karen!

September 14, 2011

Student and coordinator for donor support Karen Bishop and alumnus Dr. Carl Ellis were married on August 20, 2011

Rev. Dr. William Edgar officiated the ceremony, reading from Ecclesiastes 4:7-12 and Colossians 3:12-19.   See below for a slideshow and the manuscript of Dr. Edgar's charge.

Congratulations from President Lillback and the Westminster community!

Charge from Dr. Edgar:

Every wedding is joyful. This one is exhilarating. I want to begin by thanking you from the bottom of my heart that you have invited me to be in this position. Barbara and I love you both dearly, and we just could not me more thrilled than we are right now.

At the heart of the New Testament passage just read is love. A wedding without love is unthinkable. The love in this garden is palpable. I believe one of the best things I’ve done in my life is to introduce Karen and Carl. It was not far from here, in the library. Karen doesn’t remember it, but that’s what love does to you! We have two witnesses, Carl and me! The story of the next four years is better than any romance novel you’ve ever read. I just want to say one thing to this crowd, these two are in love! I want to say one other thing. God has done a really, really good thing here!

You’ll notice our passage is not so much about having love as about maintaining it. “Put on love,” Paul says, almost like putting on clothing. It’s an active thing. A daily thing, not once for all. Love is the chief virtue. Put on love above all things, Paul says. And this love comes with all kinds of other virtues to put on: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Wow, these are daunting commands.

What does he mean, put them on? I suppose a moment ago you were both in a dressing room. Fussing with this gorgeous dress, and shirts and ties, you are as lovely now as perhaps you have ever been. But put on love? Where is the zipper? The buttons? How about the belt? But of course, love is not a “what,” but a “who!”

Ecclesiastes helps us here. Love is about friendship. “Two are better than one,” he says. Right. That’s the first step. There are lots of kinds of friendships. Surely friendship is one of God’s richest gifts. Here is how Aelred of Rivaulx (12th century English Abbott) put it: “No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cry of all our temporal ills than a friend, to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share our happiness in time of joy.”

Qoheleth is plain realistic here. Why two? Well because if one person falls the other picks him up. It’s a lot harder if you’re alone.

Marriage is one of the richest kinds of friendship. Now those of us who know Karen and Carl might be thinking, these are among the most independent, self-sufficient people we know. Karen, a major talent in acting, radio, and, oh my, what a voice! Plus, she’s really smart. Carl, one of the brightest lights on the theological horizon. He knows African-American history through and through. He’s an expert on Islam. He invented the term jazz-theology, which, if he did nothing else, would make his scholarship worthwhile. “The jazz approach is not so much concerned with the status of theological propositions as with the hurts of oppressed people. It is communicated not so much by a literary tradition as by an oral tradition. And it is not so much concerned with facts as it is with life skills: knowing how rather than knowing that.” Carl is not against propositions, of course. After all, he has proposed to Karen. But he sees the profound connection between biblical theology and wisdom. But you two are going to have jazz marriage!

But having said this, you can just tell, they are such good friends. Both Karen and Carl are funny. In fact, when we see them together, they are having entirely too much fun! Their talents are merging nicely to this point.

So what’s missing? Well, if you must know, they are both very human. In fact, I hate to say this, and please don’t tell anyone, but they are sinners. You know the saying, his biggest quality is his biggest fault. “His very faults smack of the raciness of his good qualities,” said Washington Irving. How quickly we can hurt each other, how quickly our talents become our ego-trips. Who suffers? Our best friend.

But, look at what the Preacher tells us: we have here a threefold cord. What? A third strand? Yes. What is it? Surely, it is the Lord God. He is the cord that binds.

Blest be the tie that binds
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Before our Father’s throne
We pour our ardent prayers;
Our fears, our hopes, our aims are one
Our comforts and our cares.
We share each other’s woes,
Our mutual burdens bear;
And often for each other flows
The sympathizing tear.

So friendship is saved when the Lord God is in the midst of it.

Now, back to Paul. He will tell us a bit more about what this friendship looks like.

Here he has set an nearly impossible standard. Bearing with one another. Forgiving one another. Be ruled by peace. Have the word of God at the center of everything. Be thankful. Do everything in Jesus’ name. Just try it.

Many self-help guides tell you love can be put on by just applying a few tips. I don’t know if you ever watch televangelists. Of course there are good ones. But so many of them have a quick fix for every problem.

  • “Listless? Make lists”
  • “It takes guts to get out of the ruts.”
  • “Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the number of apples in a seed.”
  • “Failure doesn't mean you are a failure it just means you haven't succeeded yet.”

Sorry folks, but this is really hopeless. Friendships do not last unless there is that third cord. Love, even in marriage, or perhaps especially in marriage, cannot last without something in the mix that is absolutely life-changing. Too many things can and do go wrong:

  1. Living together turns up the volume; anger, sloth, etc. Ruth Graham, wife of Billy Graham, was once asked if she ever considered divorce.  She said, "Divorce? No. Murder, yes.
  2. Bills to pay, jobs to hold down, devotions to attend to, these pressures surely work against compassion, kindness, humility and love. Economic downturn. Blame somebody.
  3. Perfectionism; "my way or the highway."

And yet Paul is assuming marriage and family are good and can work (vv. 18-21). How then? No tips. No moralistic pressure. Just a revolutionary power. It’s the gospel dynamic. And guess what: you already have it. You just need to possess your possessions. Here is how he puts it: If with Christ you died, then put to death self-made religion. If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above. You have died, so put to death what is earthly. You are chosen ones, put on compassion, kindness, etc.

Let me summarize it in the Westminster way. This is pretty good; it’s jazz theology: becoming what you are. The logic here is not mathematical or biological! It’s redemptive.

That is the Christian ethic, and it is revolutionary. Nothing comes close. So the passage is about having love after all. Having it and nurturing it.

Embedded in the heart of this is a principle that is the greatest secret to a good marriage. If one has a complaint against the other, forgive each other. "But I can’t." "He’s done that too many times." "She doesn’t listen." This passage does not tell us “let it go.” Nor does it encourage us to lash-out at the other person. It does say something radical: you cannot hold anything against your spouse. Nothing! How on earth is this possible. It surely is not possible in and of itself. But here is the secret: forgiving one another as the Lord has forgiven you. God holds nothing against you!!

You are both talented people. You have strong personalities. That’s good. But not if it causes you to push the other person around. Or to hold grudges. You need the love of Christ at the center if you are going to have a love that lasts…Marriage is like a commencement. Culmination. But just the beginning. If the Lord is your third cord, then all will go well for you.