A Marriage Psalm


Dear Kennedy and Sara, family and friends: The Psalmody was picked by the couple. Hands down it's the most unusual one I've ever used at a wedding. At first, I thought when they emailed me the selection that it had to be a typo. It wasn't. Though the couple didn't ask me to preach on Psalm 13, I recognize a gauntlet when thrown. Challenge accepted.

Is Psalm 13 a marriage Psalm? It's certainly doesn't start out that way. Three times David asks how long?' How long will you forget me, hide Thy face from me, have sorrow in my heart, and my enemy triumph over me. This theme is so prominent that the Psalm has been called the "How Long Psalm." Spurgeon, the 19th century Baptist preacher, said it was more aptly named the "Howling Psalm" (Treasury of David, 151). The opening verse certainly has the feel of that 1974 song, "How Long Has This Been Going On." But that hardly seems the right atmosphere for a marriage.

I'd say Sara and Kennedy would say different. As would Noah and Hannah in the Bible. Feeling like God has forgotten you was common to them too. You remember of both of them Scripture says, "And the Lord remembered" them. Of course, the God who knows all forgets no one. The God incarnate who has us engraved on the palms of His hands with nails meant for us knows us like the back of His hand. But after a year inside the ark for Noah and after years of childlessness for Hannah both felt the Lord had forgotten them. And you two have lived long enough to experience that too. You know that "how long?" is the cry common to fallen hearts in a fallen world and so is the realization that it is not good for a person to be alone.

"How long," David cries, "must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart" all by myself? It's not wrong let alone sinful to be single. The Lord speaks of it as a special gift and Paul sees that is has special blessings. But not all have the gift, not all get the blessing. In the perfection of paradise, the Lord had to teach perfect Adam this truth. He brought all the animals of the garden before Adam so that he might learn that none of them was a helper answering to his need. At some point, you too realized in the words of another 70's classic "It's lonely out tonight and the feelin' just got right for a brand new love song."

But we're not ready to start singing just yet. Now's the time for praying, and Psalm 13 seems more and more like a fitting marriage Psalm because the second stanza is a prayer. "Consider meanswer melighten up my eyes," David prays. And he prays in the name of the same God you do. "O Yahweh my God." He prays in Jesus' name. Jesus is Yahweh is the Christian confession of faith according to Paul in 1 Cor. 12. David doesn't asks for consideration, answering, and victory over his enemies in his name but in Jesus'. And we're not gathered here today to ask God to bless this union because you're such a good couple, a faithful couple or even because your parents love you so much. All of this is true, but none of this gives us the boldness to pray or the certainty that we will be heard. Jesus' blood and righteousness does. God's love for you in Jesus does.

And you won't really know this till, Lord willing, you're at the wedding of your own children. You know what kind of prayers you're saying now lots of thanks, lots of rejoicing, lots of optimism. And that is fine and is as it should be. But there's another kind of prayer that goes on in the hearts of parents. Since you guys are more country that classic rock, I'll put it in your terms. Though you two have lived independent of your folks for years, though you don't expect us to be responsible for you any longer, we're praying in the vein of Tanya Tucker's "Two Sparrows in a Hurricane." You two are faithful, capable, responsible adults, but to me it's still "Like two sparrows in a hurricane, trying to find their way.." So my prayer is like David's: "Light up their eyes."

Now we're back to classic 70s music and Johnny Nash singing, "I can see everything more clearly now." Notice David doesn't pray that his eyes be opened but that they be given light. Apart from seeing marriage through the light of Scripture, you see nothing holy, nothing sacred, nothing of God here. That's the view of the world you're flying out into. A world that believes at best marriage is a social contract at worst a manmade creation that men are free to use, not use, shape, or deform anyway they please. They believe rather than marriage being something God has joined together it's whatever men decide to join. So, I pray, "O dear Jesus lighten their eyes with Thy Word's view of marriage." Listen to what Luther said in a "Sermon on Marriage." "'Therefore you ought not look at married life from the outside, for when you see it that way you will see that it is filled with temptation and sadness. Instead, you must look at this estate on the basis of the Word, be adorned with it, and in the way that it is instituted. This Word will surely make honey for you out of the bitterest wormwood and will certainly change the sorrows into joy once again'" (Martin Luther's Theology, Bayer, 146).

Anyone who picks Psalm 13 for a wedding Psalm is looking first to the Word not the world, to the Lord of all not to the prince of this world. They see that this Psalm which starts with a howl and leads to prayer ends with a song of joy in the 3rd stanza. Here's how one 19th century Lutheran commentator describes it. "This [Psalm] song as it were casts up constantly lessening waves, until it becomes still as the sea when smooth as a mirror The only motion discernible at last is that of the joyous ripple of calm repose" (Keil-Delitzsch, Psalms, 199). Now back to your genre of music. What song do we sing? Pat Green's 2003 song, "Wave on Wave." Personally, Sara, I would have gone with Pachelbel's Cannon in D, but both convey a steadiness, a steadfastness that leads to tranquility. Of course in Pat Green's song it's the love of a woman that does that for him. He's in water about drown and she finds him. You two also were found in water not by each other but by your Lord Jesus, and He didn't save you from drowning, but drowned you in the waters of Baptism to rebirth a new you.

Here again comes the difference between being the parents and the couple. We remember your Baptisms. We remember our Lord reclaiming you as His own. We remember taking you to the font as sinners and coming away holding saints. And while you thought of today maybe for years, we thought of it for decades. And while couple and parents rejoice in salvation with the realization that the Lord has dealt bountifully with them, the tide of life is coming in for you but going out for us. But this distinction in generations is how our Lord even in Paradise meant marriage to be. "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife." Our Lord tells us this 3 times in Scripture. He repeats Himself for the same reasons we do. To make Himself clear and to be emphatic. The joining of you two as husband and wife for life is the will of the Lord. It is a good, blessed, and joyous thing.

All of this is true, but still today with David we sing of mercy. "Steadfast love" is what NIV and other modern translations use instead of "mercy."

I prefer mercy' and I want you to remember that because at the close of every Communion service you'll be brought back here. The pastor will say, "O give thanks unto the Lord", and you'll say, "For His mercy endureth forever." God's mercy endures forever because His only beloved Son paid for it forever. Having lived the life you and I should have but didn't, couldn't, wouldn't, Jesus took upon Himself the eternal wrath of God that was owed us. God the Father was not at all merciful to God the Son as He hung on the cross with the sins of the world covering Him. All of God's wrath came upon Him wave on wave until the storm blew out, and now Baptism can bring on us wave on wave of His forgiveness, life, mercy, and salvation.

In a few minutes you will make your vows to each other. You both rightly have a sense of what it is to have and hold each other for better, for richer and in health. But for every person here who has been married for anytime at all, the second part of these phrases rings just a little bit louder. You're promising to have and hold each other for worse, for poorer, and in sickness. What a downer, huh? A Jewish wedding custom emphasizes this. The Cups of wine over which "'Benedictions'" have been recited are drank by the couple. It indicates their resolve to share whatever destiny Providence may allot to them in the years to come. "At the end of the solemnization a glass is broken by the bridegroom, as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple, in observance of the national pledge expressed by the Psalmist (Psalm 137.6) not to forget Jerusalem, even amidst the chief joys of life" (Judaism, Epstein, 167).

I too would have you not forget Jerusalem. Don't forget Who went there as a wrath removing sacrifice for the sins of the world, Who went there to experience wrath without mercy so you could remember God's mercy endures forever. And then you with David will "Sing to the Lord" knowing He has dealt bountifully with you. Your heart will rejoice in His salvation. Like a leitmotiv of a musical score, through the song that is your married life together will steal on your ear the melody of salvation. It will always be there. You will hear "Salvation unto us as come" even in the worst days. You will hear, maybe faintly, but it will be there in the background on even poorer days "Ponder anew what the Almighty can do." As for me, I'll be humming "Butterfly kisses." No, that will only be on my schmaltzier days. Most days I'll be humming, "But Thou O Lord have mercy upon us." And "Thanks be to Thee O Lord." Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Wedding Sermon (20191115); Psalm 13