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