Kenotic Marriage: A Wedding Homily

This is an adapted portion of the homily I gave at my sister’s wedding this past weekend on the following passage:

Philippians 2:1-11 (NIV)

 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

This Philippians text is one of those highest moments of inspiration in Scripture, I believe, where ordinary language just seems to fall short. So the Apostle Paul resorts to poetry and song to capture the beauty of the Gospel Story. He’s talking about this central and distinguishing claim of the Christian faith – that God dwelled among us as a human being in the person of Jesus Christ.

This passage is probably not immediately associated with marriage in most people’s minds, but in fact it speaks directly to the kind of relationship that God has called Christian couples to have with each other – one that is marked by humility, selflessness, and mutual submission.This is one of the things that’s so counter-intuitive about the Christian life: that when we embark on the journey of following Jesus, we discover that happiness and success is not found in the way that we might expect it be.

The love God for us in Jesus is powerful precisely because it embraces weakness, and because it is willing to go down into the darkest, loneliest and most painful places of the human experience. Paul says about Christ, that though he was in his very nature God, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped. Instead, he humbled, emptied himself (kenosis).

Through Christ, God himself moves into the space of separation that’s created by our sin. We sin against God and we sin against each other. But rather than letting the effects and the consequences of that sin keep us apart, God passionately pursues us. This is what the cross demonstrates. God says, look, you can do your worst — do your worst to me! — and I’m still going to love you. I’ll suffer for you, I forgive you, and I desire to have this intimate relationship with you.

This is the Christian hope! It’s the good news that we believe and proclaim. And it’s also the story that marriage tries to illustrate and live into. There’s this intimate relationship that we get to have with each other — just as we can have with God — that creates a place of safety, comfort, and encouragement, free from the pressure to perform. Which is amazing! It’s an incredible gift.

But we’re are also sinners! We’re imperfect. So we hurt each other. We mess up.

Because in marriage your whole selves get meshed together. Your interests, your trusts and your differences are totally shared. And this changes things. It doesn’t tend to naturally bring about peace. It brings about conflict. It causes your pride and your selfishness to rise to the surface.

The thing is though, because of the commitment you’re making today, you’re saying that when this happens — when there’s hurt and conflict — you don’t get to run away. You stay put, you work it out, and you fight for each other. You fight for your marriage. In doing so, your commitment will sustain you even when your feelings and circumstances do not.

And through this God will teach you to have the mind of Christ, to give up the selfish ambition and vain conceit that the Scripture talks about. And this will feel like loss at first. It feels like dying a little bit. But what you eventually get is something deeper, and stronger, and freer than what you had before. As one writer puts it, it’s like “falling upward” (Richard Rohr).

And that’ when the real joy comes. God will use your adversity, and use your perseverance in the face of that adversity, to make you more like him, to grow you closer together and to actually increase your love for each other.