a very little faith

sermon for 28 June 15 (Mark 5:21-43; 2Corinthians 8:7-15; Lamentations 3:22-33)
[Paul tries to encourage generosity, such a simple, benign detail it could get lost amid big stories of the destruction of Jerusalem and health calamities met with miracles. How do we attend to the day-to-day small stuff?]
We’re often told to “think big,” to “imagine a new world,” or to let our dreams soar. Instead today, let’s get small. Let’s for a moment stop dreaming so big and instead shrink our expectations. To say it more precisely, instead of painting in broad strokes, let’s do some fine-tuning of faith.

This idea is probably going to take some explanation. First of all, this is not to state that you cannot change the world but you can change yourself so do that instead. No. As Christians, we are indeed to be mindful and concerned about and working on changing the world, things like ending malaria and world hunger, like war, like billion dollar budgets and centuries old prejudices. And, biggest of all, that we need to reform our lifestyles which are changing the planet and threatening billions of people and the extinction of species. Yeah, this is huge stuff. But this is our territory, and it’s just plain not right to say you can shut off the news and shut out the world and be a happy little Christian on your own.

Neither, as we’ll see, is this getting small about lowering your expectations of God, of what God is capable of and is indeed up to in your life and for your sake. That all stays nearly unbelievably enormous.

Our task today may be to attend to the smaller, less dramatic stuff, too. As an example: we’ve been given terminology by the insurance industry that says natural disasters are “acts of God,” but in this week of Vacation Bible School, we also spent time exploring outdoors because Martin Luther reminded us that God was just as present in the “tiniest tree leaf.” If our eyes are focused only on huge catastrophes, what do we miss in the small scale of God’s presence?

Now, it’s true that the big stuff can open our awareness. Rather than the worst things driving us away from God, instead that may be when we most seek the connection. Sometimes faith finds you in the most frightful moments. In times of tragedy or facing death can be when we’re most likely to wonder where God is and what God means for us, to try to seek a blessing that speaks a strong word against the overwhelming tones of misfortune.

Our 1st reading did that in a massive way, facing the collapse of civilization.  But that scale seems to fit also with our Gospel reading, right? There are these two big, hard circumstances, the woman suffering in the crowd and the father of the sick little girl. It’s tough to say which person is more…well, the first word that comes to mind is desperate. But that’s not exactly it. See, the word “despair” means “without hope,” hopeless, but these two people somehow still do have hope. That’s why they’re seeking Jesus. Maybe this shows us what a fine line it is, between what we hope and where hope seems lost, that narrow cusp between the relief of good news that sustains our lives and the precipice of bad news that ends in sadness. But not needing to live by extremes is part of where we’re headed with all this, that God is not only last minute make-or-break worst-case-scenario deathbed conversion stuff.

At any rate, the two characters in the Gospel reading are both hoping in Jesus. More than the miracle, the focus is that Jesus is amid regular life, so probably best would be for us to notice that these are ordinary people, that there’s no special claim to blessing, nothing to make it earned. Yet we don’t let it stand as regular life; we have a bad tendency to label people by their brokenness. So, in the story one problem is chronic, with physical and social suffering that has persisted for twelve long years. The other is dramatic and acute, a new illness for a young daughter, a crisis moment, needing critical care.

We notice that Jesus responds, that he offers blessing and good news in the face of both of those tragedies. He overcomes suffering.  And this is just what we expect or anticipate or, again, hope for in our lives. When we’re at dead ends or facing death is when we’re accustomed to turning to God, seeking out Jesus, when we expect there might be a word for us at church.

And most definitely you should hear that that is true. The God who brought you into existence, who raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, will be at your side in every time of suffering or moment of dread, will never leave you, will never stop loving you, will finally breathe into you the breath of new life that will sustain you forever. That is the promise that holds you, the reality we are all heading toward. In those biggest and worst moments, certainly that word from Jesus has value: “Do not be afraid, only believe.” Life in God has the last word. The exuberant, powerful vitality of the Holy Spirit will always win out.

But the question for today, for our expectations and honing our focus, is what else this means. What about when you haven’t been suffering for twelve years, or when your daughter is not at the point of death? What if the woman approached Jesus because she’d been ill for only six years instead? Or if she occasionally got migraines? Or if she had chronic bad breath? Or if her skin was the wrong color, or her sexual identity was unusual? What if she generally felt unlikeable and awkward in social settings? And what if the father came begging at Jesus’ feet because his daughter hurt her leg, or had a runny nose, or because she wasn’t very good at reading, or because she was scared to get in the swimming pool? Or what if he was concerned about his nephew, or a coworker’s grandkid, or somebody else he’d heard about?

The point is, Jesus isn’t only waiting for the most horrible thing to strike closest to your heart, weighing whether you’ve suffered enough for a miracle. Jesus is not dallying off in heaven through catastrophes and disasters, figuring he’ll take care of you later on and that will redeem the rest of this mess. Instead you may know and trust Jesus is with you through every moment, nearer and striving on your behalf more continuously than the respiration and pulse of your body.

Church, then, is not just another commentator to explain the latest gory terror or civil unrest or personal misfortune. Church is where we’re assured that all is indeed held together in God.

And that has meaning for all the non-crisis times of your life; for nice summer days, for the blah of a work-week, for little frustrations, for all the details of life on this planet, not only at the hospital but also the grocery store. It’s not that everything is petty compared to the immense extremes. We need faith for the small, regular moments, as well, since the whole identity of God in Jesus is that the regular is not petty; ordinary life is important, is blessed, is held in God’s embrace. He came to know simple birth and poverty and lakes and hunger and celebrations and friends and strangers, for a sick woman and a common daughter today, for all the crowds. This is what the life of Jesus was, being there in our very regular moments, with the miracle that life should go on.

This is where Paul hones our focus, refines our attention, directs the living of our faith. This faith is not only for going to heaven when you die. It is also for all the days that you live. So Paul reminds us that for genuine love, Jesus embodied generosity, giving everything for your sake. Held forever in his gracious generosity, filled with his abundantly loving life, this shapes what you’re capable of, what you can do, what fruit you will bear, what is so vitally important. For the Corinthians, it meant the ability to contribute more generously and abundantly to the offering collected to support poor people far away whom they’d never met. That blessing flowed naturally from their connection to Jesus.

For you, I’d expect it would reorient your days, that you have life to share and yourself to give away. It enables you to be patient and diligent, not only briefly relieved or else morose as you’re caught up in the sensationalism of the moment’s news story, not only dawdling after some grand miracle hypothetically to erase the problems, but seeing the kingdom of God breaking into our world and your lives in myriad ways, amid times of excitement and enjoyment, of forgiveness and compassion, of creativity and beauty, of encouragement and trust.

Yes, it is most certainly true that Jesus is your savior in the worst times. But he’s also there for you tomorrow, and also for your children, and for your neighbor, and your dog, and people you’ve never met, and the tiniest tree leaf. This is the lavish abundance of our God whose giving knows no ending.

Hymn: God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending (ELW #678)


a funeral sermon

With Thanksgiving for the Life of Dorothy Ann Georgeson

20 June 1937 + 19 June 2015

Psalm 139 & 23; 2Corinthians 4:13-5:1; John 10:1-5, 14-15, 27-29

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Dorothy was a lady in the know. She knew things. She knew you. She knew me.

She was one of the first people I got to know at St. Stephen’s. That was in part because of a special devotion. Each Sunday morning, a little bit after 7:00, she and Barb Kepler would arrive for prayers to get the pastors ready and pray us into worship. It was a meaningful and grace-filled practice.

In more recent times, rather than coming to pray, Dorothy would instead be showing up early on Sundays to drop off bread, the same recipe we’re using as we join at this table in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet and share in the communion of the saints throughout all times and into eternity. She delivered her bread, declaring it was fresh-baked, that she wanted to wake up in the middle of the night to finish it just in time for worship.

I have to confess she made me nervous in doing it that way, worried she had forgotten or that something had gone wrong with the batch or she’d slept through it. But there was no trying to change her, because—as a lady in the know—she also knew what she wanted, and was good at making that known to others. That’s not to call her opinionated or stubborn, but we know she had a strong personality.

I’ll also continue to enjoy remembering, that Dorothy tended this table well. As part of Ruth Circle, the altar guild who organizes the sacristy and makes sure all runs smoothly for communion at each service, and Dorothy herself claimed some of the most special services on Christmas and Easter Eve, which was especially helpful since those slots didn’t have other eager volunteers.

She could also be counted on to share her expertise in the office, helping with projects or covering when the secretary was away. Those times present some of my fondest memories of Dorothy, as she would come into my office to chat. Even if she hadn’t been around church much lately, she knew all the latest news, and she even had a tendency to know some news that wasn’t news, gossip that at least I hadn’t heard about, which left me wondering if it just came from Dorothy’s mind.

There were other things that way, too. Tales that seemed pretty tall. One I recall frequently, trying to picture it. She was asking about one of my camping trips, and told of being a young girl hiking at Devils Lake when she came up on a rattlesnake on the path and stood perfectly still for a long time until it moved. The way she could tell stories made them seem too good to be true. I don’t know if they were or not. But it all seemed to be something Dorothy knew.

That grand, expansive sense of knowledge also went with talking about family. It started to seem like Dorothy was related to everybody! Plus, she almost gave the feeling that I was related, too, that I would know all about them and know their past and know what life was like now. She talked about her husband Rod to me that way, though I never met him. She, of course, talked about daughters and grandkids with deep, endeared affection, delighting in and clinging to you all so closely. She even talked about distant cousins with that kind of strong connection. Heck, she was willing to claim me, to be interested in me and invested in my life. And, I’d pretty well guarantee, that’s the case for each of you here today, too. She could claim to know me even more than she really knew me.

And the important thing about that today is that it’s not just true of Dorothy, but is also true for Dorothy. That kind of knowledge—to be known in the biblical sense—is deep and intimate. It speaks to these cherished relationships in family, and in the family of the church. It persists when you like what you know and when you don’t. This kind of love is something more than we can explain or understand. It just somehow is.

This is how the abundance of God’s promise works, how it finds us out and claims you. People somehow have a feeling a lot of the time that if God really knew them, then they wouldn’t fit in and God wouldn’t really like them. But this is God who knit you together, who watches over every moment of your life, who knows it all to the final detail and last hair of your head.

And this very God is the one who claims you. We keep repeating and reiterating this promise so that you may have confidence in it. It was a promise for Dorothy in her baptism, one that called her by name as a beloved daughter forever, no matter what would come. It’s a promise that still goes with every bite offered at this table, of forgiveness, of being reincorporated into the family of God. It’s the love of Jesus that seeks out the outcast, that goes into dark corners, that leaves no one out, Jesus who dies with you so that even death cannot separate you from God, even that will not leave you alone, even there God knows what you’re going through.

And this being known by God is all that matters. There’s plenty we may not understand, things we may not know. We can’t explain how Jesus is with us now. We don’t know why Dorothy had that bleed on her brain. We don’t know what the last week of life was like for her, what was going on inside of her. We don’t know all that this will mean for your lives in the coming days and months without her. We don’t know when it is that we will get to be reunited with her.

But you may trust for certain that that day will come. Jesus was raised from the dead so that you may know you will be also. God’s love will be stopped at nothing—not sickness or brokenness, not forgetfulness or fights, not even death itself—nothing will ever make God forget you. God knows you intimately, and loves you, without condition. That’s how it was on the best days with Dorothy. And God wants you to know this blessed assurance, which means even now, Dorothy is in God’s eternal embrace, the arms of her Shepherd, bringing her home.


a wedding sermon

It’s impossible to top those words that included this hemisphere’s greatest poet (Neruda, Sonnet XVII) and some of the most beloved reflections on life (Kahlil Gibran, “On Marriage) and history’s single most famous statement about what love is (1 Corinthians 13). It’s a good thing you didn’t throw in any Shakespeare, or I would’ve just been sunk, rendered mute and useless. We could’ve just signed the marriage license and moved on to cocktails. As it is, there’s no way I can add to the three readings on love, so I’m just going to ignore them and talk about something entirely different.

Instead, I want to talk about jobs or work. For your identity, Emily and Seth, that seems like a vital piece (and even that word “vital” is worth noting in its heft; it comes from the Latin for “life”). Again, then, we often think of jobs or careers with the phrase “making a living.”

Don’t worry; we’re making our way back to the wedding and marriage. But in that trajectory, let’s first highlight how jobs become so much of our self-definition. Who am I? Well, I’m a pastor. Who are they? He’s a teacher. She’s a police officer. This even gets to be a mark of our success from childhood, on how well we’ve followed through on declarations of “what I want to be when I grow up.”

Yet having our lives defined in that way can also be problematic. It can mean that if you’re not part of the workforce or in some special role, then you’re left out. Oh, she’s “just” a stay-at-home mom. He’s unemployed. It’s only punching the clock.

Still, some of us do relate really strongly to our career, as shaping or aligned with our identity. That’s true for you two, right? You are doctors. The medical profession is an embodiment of who you are and also how you relate to each other. Your mutual support includes the ability to understand when something has gone wrong at work and instead of just offering care you also need to be cared for. Am I still saying this fairly?

You’ve also recognized that this role is so fulfilling and so involved that there’s a trap also in the medical field of wanting to work too much, to solve all the new problems. You want to help, want to make a difference to society, to “impact the world and make it better” as you’ve said, and obviously there’s always more care that can be given, more to do.

To stay toward the positives of meaningful work, though, let’s focus on your notion of wanting to make the world better. You also described that as a sense of accountability or trying to do the right thing. With that, I want to add in the term “vocation.”

Vocation is another of those words like “vital” that can be used without the full sense or weight of what they mean. Vocation is a more important word, than just a job. This one has its Latin root in “calling.” You are experiencing a calling. In trying to make sick people better and thereby to make the world better, you are responding to a call. You are answering your vocation.

My point is, this prompts a question for us: If you are responding or answering, who is calling you? Where does the voice that calls you into your vocation come from? Even if it’s simply labeled as trying to do the right thing, how do we determine what is right?

A theologian named Fredrick Buechner famously defined vocation as “where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”* It wards off selfishness on the one hand and life-sucking demands on the other. So this isn’t only about what is satisfying or happy, but is also how you’re eager to help where you’re needed, responding as circumstances invite or demand. That sense of vocation may fit fairly well for you, and it may begin to describe the sense of love beckoning you to each other.

But there’s more about where that voice comes from. Some say that the longing to do what’s right is woven into our being, that we have an innate sense of it, or that there are evolutionary reasons for altruism, for acting ethically and humanely, even explanations from evolution for love.

For the Lutheran Christians among us, we say that this calling comes from God. And what is worth emphasizing in our Lutheran view is that this call is really an invitation into life in this world. We don’t believe that God is calling us to flee from the world or escape toward heaven. It’s not that we try to be nice and do the right thing for merits or karma or rewards, to earn points with God.

Our example in Jesus is a call directly into relationships, into life, “for God so loved the world.” In Jesus, not only do we hear that the greatest instruction is to love our neighbors. Even more, we see one who cared for the sick and who welcomed the outcast and who enjoyed plenty of wine at the party. We see Jesus as the embodiment and incarnation of a God who is concerned for your life and the life of those around you and the good of all creation. These are things to delight in and to take care of.

And maybe that, at last, also points us back toward this wedding and that fuller, better sense of vocation and of what you are in life. See, Emily and Seth, it is not only that you are doctors. What we do to make a living isn’t only for getting a paycheck. It is not merely requirements or what makes us happy.

In this Lutheran understanding (which I find has a heckuva lot of truth) our vocation is to be part of this world, engaged with our neighbors. And your closest neighbor, where you find yourselves most primarily and predominantly isn’t at a job. The central vocation and the place most in need of our love and care is within our family, our household. That’s our first place of responsibility, and where we are most cared for.

And so that is why this is a blessed event, a blessed day, because you, Seth and Emily, in this wedding and for this marriage are recognizing the importance of the absolutely central vocation, of being together. You are loved and loving. You are becoming husband and wife, claiming each other as the closest and most important of neighbors, glad and eager to be there for each other. In that, and in this day, you are willing to take up the charge, to answer God’s call, to commit yourselves to each other, to vow what you will be, through better or worse, in sorrow and in joy. And through all of that, it means your love for each other is, indeed, making the world a better place.

You know, it’s a lot of work. It’s worth a lot of prayer and devotion and attention. It’s also well worth a celebration. So blessings and congratulations!

* Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, p119


For the Birds

Sermon for 14 June 15

Mark 4:26-34; Psalm 92:1-4,12-15; Ezekiel 17:22-24
[We think of Jesus’ parables as explanations, but the mustard shrub kingdom is more of a riddle or joke]
Jesus is using horticultural imagery, but if you’re thinking you need to dig out a botany textbook, you’ll miss his punchline that this is all for the birds.

That joke from Jesus came after you already had a heads up in the Psalm. Sure, it’s good news that you still bear fruit in old age (though that could include its own off-color humor). There’s also the line that you’re full of sap. Yup, you are sappy. The Bible tells me so.

If you think these plant puns are corny (that was another one—did you get it?), if they ex-“seed” your attention span, or if you’re wishing I would just “leaf” all this alone, well then your ears are getting warmed up to Jesus’ parable today. It’s meant to be tricky or subversive, a riddle to catch you off guard and make you do a double-take.

So to start back at the beginning, if you think that this agricultural tidbit from Jesus is about how you can grow your faith, or about doing some church-planting (do you notice these are our kinds of terminology?), if you think Jesus gives some instruction to follow, then you’re missing out.

Admittedly, that could be disappointing. In the first part of his parable, Jesus compares faith to the sprouting of a seed. And he says there’s a lot that remains mysterious about that. You can put the seed in good soil and give it water and fertilizer and harvest it when its ripe, but you can’t tell it what to do or even really know why it’s growing and producing.

So maybe if you’re trying to grow your faith and make your life more fruitful, we can say that it’s good to be planted in the right place (like here at church) and to be well-tended (maybe we take that as personal devotions like prayer and Bible reading, or as elements of worship, that you are watered with the forgiving splash of baptism this morning with Braxton James and given nourishment at this table).

But what really makes faith happen? What leads to growth? How do you actually come to believe any of this? Well, that’s a mystery. We can’t force it or prod it or cause it. It’s God’s hidden work going on and ongoing in your life, through day and night. Just like nature, it’s so natural you can try to dissect it but never simply explain this miracle.

If that first part on how faith is produced is frustrating, the second part of the parable may seem absolutely absurd. We could hear this as Jesus describing what his goals are, as his mission statement. In that, it’s opposite to our lofty ambitions. As a counter-example, picture commercials on TV. We’re used to ads telling us the company or the product is the best, the most effective, the most efficient, the fanciest, the prettiest, the newest, the glitziest, the toughest on the market.

Jesus skips that pile of baloney. Instead he goes for something small and obnoxious and problematic. He quite literally and essentially says that his kind of work is annoying, that it gets in the way. It undoes what you were trying to do.

Some of that notion comes through with the background of Ezekiel. Jesus is spoofing on that passage we heard. The prophet used the image of a mighty cedar tree, towering and resilient, an enormous trunk and beautiful bows stretching to the heavenly heights. This is a typical biblical image for kingdoms: strong, rigid, majestic. So as your sights are set on what is biggest and best, this grand tree, Jesus says that God’s kingdom (of course) must be exactly like…a shrub?! A weed. Even worse is the bad company. The mustard shrub invites sparrows to take up residence, birds that gobble up the growth of the good plants.

Or, to tweak Jesus’ imagery, recall instead having a taste of a really pungent mustard, brown with horseradish or the spicy mustard at a Chinese restaurant that makes your nose wrinkle and your head burn and your eyes water. Jesus is giving that sort of image of the kingdom of God.

The obvious problem is that we want it otherwise. We don’t want the dab of spicy mustard kind of kingdom. We want the kingdom to be a delectable cut of steak or a succulent strawberry, just exactly ripe, or to be some premier caviar. We want God to be so elite and exclusive and special as a Dom Pérignon champagne, but instead Jesus arrives with a gallon jug of wine that Ruth Circle buys exactly because it’s the cheapest stuff at the grocery store.

A passage in Isaiah that we hear on Good Friday highlights this absurd notion. It says, “Who has believed what we have heard? For he grew up like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; he was despised and we held him of no account.” (53:1-3)

This unappealing mustard shrub-y guy is the God of the cross, finding his way into the least expected and least desirable places of life. Jesus shows up in the smallest seeds, the littlest moments of your life and the worst places. He takes up residence and takes over. He begins to crowd out the other stuff that you thought was pretty and attractive. He begins if not to overpower at least to distract from all of that other baloney that claimed to be the best and biggest and brightest.

So if you were thinking that God would come straighten out your life, to make everything just right and orderly, to really bless you with all kinds of great stuff, to fulfill your advertising wish list, to be the sort of mighty kingdom that makes all others bow and tremble, well thank God you don’t have that sort of God.

Instead your God provides a place for all the pests, for the troublemakers, for the sick and those seeking refuge, and all the bad company. A God, then, for you, who is with you in common life and not just waiting for exceptional, rare moments, insisting on perfection. A God who is not reserved, but is popping up all over the place to be found exactly where needed, a God in whom you can home to roost. This whole church thing, after all, is for the birds.

Hymn: Tree of Life and Awesome Mystery (ELW #334, 1-3 & Lent3)


a wedding sermon

After those really deep and meaningful Bible readings (1Cor13, Col3), can I just pause for a second to marvel at how it is that we come to be here today?

I mean, sure it’s a beautiful park and nice enough place for a wedding. But here we are on the edge of Middleton, on the west side, for the two of you east-siders, MG grads who didn’t even really know each other, though you were only a year apart. And somehow that has led to this.

Even more, there are the weird coincidences where you just so happened to be ready and at a good moment to move in with each other, and then found it was easier than you expected, that you got along better than you thought you might, that your levels of cleanliness were pretty similar, except that Dillon was more fussy about the kitchen and Nicole about the bathroom. Sounds like a pretty good pairing to me. We could say that it’s a really random chance that all the pieces fit to arrive right here, right now, that it’s remarkable that life turned out this way.

And we’d have to notice that kind of thing is true for you as individuals, too. It is, indeed, weird Nicole that Dillon is this mix of tough and sensitive, that he’ll race dirt bikes on the weekend but also be content to settle down and watch Teen Mom with you. Yeah, weird. An idiosyncrasy, something that’s only true of him as an individual. And Dillon, the same for Nicole, that she’s so sweet and loving, unless you wake her up too early in the morning, and that she’s less into shopping for brand names than you are. These are just your personalities, your own identities.

And these just happen also to be characteristics that go really well together, that appeal to each other. For all the things that could’ve separated you, that could’ve gotten in the way, that might even have ever prevented you getting together in the first place, here you are. And here you are, ready to commit to so much more in life together.

That’s an exciting thing about a wedding, about marriage. It isn’t just saying that things happen to be going really well, better than you had any reason to expect, that it was a nice coincidence and you hope it will last. Instead, this is a moment where you get to say, “hey, you know what, this is really good and it’s worth some effort to try to make sure it lasts.” This is a time when you vow to do the best you can at that, through good and bad.

So I really like the sand ceremony for the first part of that, the image of two very distinct lives that get all mixed up together, that come to be so stirred together you couldn’t possible separate them again, and that form something even more beautiful when they come together.

I’ll invite you now to pour your sand.  [SAND CEREMONY]

(Maybe it’s okay that not all of your sand poured out of your jars. Maybe we can take that as symbolizing that some of your life remains separate? Maybe it also leaves room to add some sand from Cancun into the central jar, as a sign that fun and relaxation together can cap off all the other parts of life?)

But there’s another part to all of it. Maybe we think of that as the glass vase that holds the sand together. So if we’re talking about the two of you coming together, I suppose in some very basic way we could say that you’re held together by a marriage license at the courthouse, that the law says you are bound together.

In a larger, better way, we’d talk about love as the vase. All of those grains of sand could blow and scatter, even with the littlest bit of wind, the slightest disturbance, but held contained in that glass, they will remain together. Your love that is patient and forgiving and works to help each other and to build trust has been doing that and will continue doing that in your lives together.

And it’s no coincidence that that’s the kind of enduring, lasting love described in your Bible readings you chose. See, love is this invisible larger presence. You can describe how your love works or feels for each other, but you can’t prove it. You can witness that your families and friends love you and support you and help you to stay together, but often can forget that important part. And most definitely this is what God is doing for you and between you, holding all of us together in love, sustaining and preserving us, bringing you through difficulties and enabling beauty and joy.

That’s not just a hypothetical question, that is exactly what we have embodied for us in Jesus, a God whose love persists through the worst, and even goes beyond death for new life. A God who celebrates with us in joy and will even join us in the party. A God who will go so far as to sacrifice himself, to give up his own being, for the sake of the beloved.

That is the kind of love you share, Nicole and Dillon. That is what today is about. And that is what holds onto you from this day forward. Congratulations.