My friends Angela and Tony asked me to officiate their wedding, which turned out to be on the same weekend as the Pittsburgh Marathon. As I studied the scriptures (Romans 12:9-13, I Corinthians 13:4-13, and Mark 10:6-9), it seemed as though there were some parallels at work. I offer this to all my friends who run and who are married…with Angela & Tony’s blessing and permission to share.
Do you know what this is?
You may recognize it as facsimile of what could be a genuine Runner’s Bib Number from the Pittsburgh Marathon. Each runner has a distinct number that will be used to track her or his time and other participation in the event. This year, you can design your own bib to be worn in the race. As you probably know, the Pittsburgh Marathon will take place this weekend. It’s estimated that 30,000 people will participate in one of the races connected with this event – the full marathon, the half marathon, the 5k, or others. And you may know that in an average week, there are 41,426 marriages in the USA. Those numbers are close, and I’m sensing that most of us know someone who is running in the marathon this weekend, and most of us know someone who is getting married this weekend. So it seemed appropriate for me to compare what we’re doing here with what will be happening downtown in a couple of days. So as we prepare to share in the formation of your marriage, I need you two to identify yourselves.
There are a number of similarities between getting married and running a marathon. One that I hope springs to mind is the importance of proper preparation. I hope to God that nobody who intends to get out there the day after tomorrow and attempt to run 26.2 miles will be doing so without having engaged in significant training. Effective runners know that a race is preceded by months of proper diet, exercise, and other regimens. The day of the race itself, there will be stretching and warm-ups and carb monitoring, etc. In the same way, there are things that you do to prepare for your marriage. You heard a number of these exercises in Paul’s letter from Rome. Honor each other. Be joyful in hope. Be patient in trouble. Be faithful in prayer. Share. Be gracious. These are not merely good ideas. These are not things you ought to get around to once your schedule settles down a little bit. These are essential practices in which you can and should engage every single day. Anyone who attempts to run the course of a marriage without engaging in these training exercises every day is likely to be about as successful at marriage as I would be on the Marathon course come Sunday morning – that is to say, an abysmal failure.
Another similarity between the event on Sunday morning and that which we celebrate this evening may seem obvious: there is an official “start” and there is a course laid out. At 7 a.m. on May 5, someone will fire a pistol on Liberty Avenue and the runners will begin the trek that will take them through the entire city, crossing five bridges before entering the finish area in Point State Park. In Mark 10, we read that a marriage begins with a “leaving”. We recognize that relationships are being redefined today. You are no longer primarily a son or a daughter; you are most essentially a husband or a wife. And while there is an official beginning, there is also a journey at hand: we are told that you “become” one flesh. That word, “become” is important because it does not imply that there is some instantaneous change that takes place this afternoon – the guy in the black dress and white scarf stands up here and does a little heavenly hocus pocus and all of a sudden you are there. No, there is a becoming. You start today. But you’ve got a long road in front of you.
Of course, what is the thing that the runners in Sunday’s race will long to see as the day grinds on? The finish line. No matter where they are in the city, they will be envisioning themselves coming down the Boulevard of the Allies, ready to enjoy the celebration of a race well-run, a race survived. This might sound strange, since for the past ten months, you’ve been meeting in my study telling me how deeply in love you are, but I’m here to say today that love is the finish line towards which you are striving in your marriage. Did you hear the way it’s described in I Corinthians? Patient. Unselfish. It never keeps a record of evil, it never is self-seeking, it always protects, always trusts, always hopes. It never fails. I know that you are “in love” – but would you say that your love has achieved that kind of status yet? I doubt it. That kind of love comes to us when we have engaged in the training and pounded the pavement for a number of years.
So I hope you can see that there are a number of similarities between the marathon that will begin on Sunday and the marriage that begins this afternoon. I want to close my message with the observation that there are two essential differences between that event and this one.
When someone registers for a marathon – any marathon – that person has to fill out a lot of paperwork. That, of course, is no different than a marriage. There are licenses, fees, and so on in both places. But did you know that there are two classifications of runners in a marathon? You are either an “elite” runner, competing for the trophy, the prize money, and perhaps a shot at the Olympics or some other world-class event, or you are an “amateur” runner.
An “elite” runner has to be able to point to a record of success in previous races. She or he has to prove that they’ve run the course in a certain time, for instance. One guideline suggests that an “elite” marathoner (male) regularly finishes the 26.2 miles in two hours and forty minutes. I could probably do that…on a bike…downhill… “Elite” runners have shoe contracts, they are featured in runner’s magazines, and hope to be able to make lots of money by defeating the rest of the field.
Amateur runners, on the other hand, are in it for the event itself. While I’m sure that everyone who enters the race on Sunday could use an extra $8,000, nobody I know has any expectation of winning it. My friends are just hoping to finish.
Listen, Angela and Tony, because this is the truth: every marriage is an Amateur Marriage. I have stood in front of a lot of couples who have made the same outlandish promises that you’re about to make, and never once have I met a couple of proven, seasoned professionals who could point with confidence to all the reasons that they just knew they would make it. Once, I did a wedding with my friends Ruth and Gene, who had been married for 51 and 48 years before their spouses died, and even they, with their 99 years of marriage experience, began as amateurs. Every marriage is an Amateur affair. Every marriage is launched, not on the basis of incredible past success, but on the reality of a promise – a promise that needs to be lived into and grown into and hashed and rehashed every day for the rest of your lives.
This is a medal that is given to the people who finish the marathon. It’s on a decorative ribbon, and it’s sufficiently impressive so that it can be displayed at the office or in your den, and when people come by you can point to it and say, “Oh, that? Yeah, I finished the marathon. Yeah, I ran it.” These medals are given to the people who complete the race. You don’t finish? You don’t get a medal. This is for successful runners only.
You know that we don’t give medals in marriage. I hope you’re not walking into this thinking that you’re going to leave with a ribbon to put on your desk saying that you’ve done something. Nope, when you’re married, we give you one of these the instant that you start:
You need to wear this, starting now, to remind yourself and everyone around you that you are still running this course. There’s no room in a marriage for sitting back and thinking that you’ve already done something. Instead, you need to remember that you were here, and that you are heading for the finish line, and that while the course may seem like a difficult one on some days, it’s a beautiful run.
So, my friends, stay the course. Keep practicing those things that Paul wrote to his friends about in Romans. Remember the grace of becoming that Jesus promises to you – that each day, you’ll be at a different place in the course than you were before. And know that love lies ahead – that when you run with grace, with hospitality, with joy, with forgiveness, with hope, with patience – that there is love along the way and that love only intensifies as you near the finish line.
You are a couple of amateurs. You know that, right? So work hard. Be gracious when you stumble. And keep running. And know that you are not the only people who have made promises today. Your friends, your family, your God – we are here. And we will be. Cheering all the while. Thanks be to God. Amen.