This weekend I was asked to officiate the wedding of an amazing young couple. I’ve known the bride for her entire life, and have really enjoyed spending the last year helping the two of them prepare for this big day. It was the first time I’ve ever participated in a ceremony with someone whose role was to be “the dog handler”. Rick and Megan’s faithful companion, Reese, preceded the bride down the aisle. With their permission, I am sharing the sermon from the wedding. The primary text for the ceremony was I Corinthians 13. I hope that the format of this message does not impede its truth.
So for a couple of months I’ve wrestled with the task of trying to pull together a wedding sermon for Rick and Megan. If you’ve been to a wedding here before, you know that I often try to find a concept or an image to hang onto, or an example that will make the message real and more memorable. I have to admit that I was stumped so badly that one afternoon last week I sneaked over and had a few words with their dog, Reese.
“You’ve got to help, girl. There’s a big problem!”
“What is it, Pastor Dave? Is Timmy stuck in a well?”
“What? No! What is it with dogs and Timmy being stuck in a well? No, this is serious. I need some help coming up with an idea for a wedding sermon for Megan and Rick. I figured that you know their relationship better than anyone. Can you help?”
At once Reese warmed to the invitation. She smiled, and pulled out her reading glasses and lit her theologian’s pipe. “Now, Dave, tell me: what’s the text from which you’re working.”
I started to say that the couple had chosen to sit with I Corinthians chapter 13, but was interrupted when Reese let out a growl and snapped off her glasses. “Oh, for crying out loud,” she said. “Paul? You’re listening to the Apostle Paul?”
I was flabbergasted. “Um, Reese – is there a problem?”
She glared at me and said, “Philippians 3: ‘Beware the dogs. Beware the evil doers…’ Seriously, Dave, our kind has fought for centuries against that kind of species-ism, and this guy keeps putting it out there… Words matter, Pastor Dave. You should know that.”
I replied, “Yeah, I get that, but I didn’t pick this reading. They did. And look, Reese, I’m not gonna lie. I’m stuck here. And Rick and Megan, well, they really look up to – um, they really love you a lot.”
That seemed to calm her down, and she got quiet for a moment. “Dave, you’ve known Megan longer than I have, and we both love Rick. Come on – this isn’t rocket science.”
She continued, “I Corinthians 13 is about how we are called to treat each other in relationship. Ever since these two have started sniffing each other, I’ve tried my best to show them, in my own example, what love requires. Every day, I’ve tried to hammer some point of this home for them so that they could see it and maybe imitate it.”
I stared at the wise dog blankly. “What are you talking about, Reese?”
She sighed, and said, “OK, Pastor Dave, I’ll break this down for you since your human minds move so slowly. No wonder it takes you seven years to do what we can get done in one! Sheesh.”
“Every day, when Megan gets home, what am I doing, Dave?”
“Um, well, to tell you the truth, I have never thought about that.”
“Of course you haven’t. No human ever has. But ask Megan: no matter what I might have been doing during the day, the minute I hear her car pull up I’m wagging, I’m jumping, I’m slobbering… Do you know why I do these things? Because I love her. Sure, I was taking a nap, dreaming about that basset hound over on Virginia Ave., but when she shows up – or Rick, for that matter – I put what I’m doing aside for a couple of moments and I pay attention to her. And do you know what?”
“Tell me, Reese.”
“It’s working. You should see it – they are paying attention to each other! I’ve seen them put down those stupid little screens and talk to each other. Sometimes they even slobber all over each other.”
“And even a guy as dense as the Apostle Paul would say that when you pay attention to someone, you notice things. So when one of them shows up and seems to be upset, or sad, or needs – I don’t know – a little extra cuddle or something – I can do that. And if I can do that, surely they can do that for each other, right?”
I nodded pastorally. “You’re making a lot of sense, Reese. Especially for a talking dog.”
She wagged her tail and continued, “Here’s something else that I’ve noticed, Dave. It ties in with Paul’s advice to keep on growing and keep moving in life and in faith. Sometimes when they come home, one or the other of them will say something about being tired and just wanting to rest. They sit on the couch and they turn on the television, and then it’s like they’re just gone, you know? They tune out, and it’s like they are not there anymore. When that happens, it’s up to me to remind them that there’s a big world out there. I mean, there are paths to hike, friends to meet, fire hydrants to smell… we can’t stay inside our homes or ourselves all the time… I hate to say this, but if you ask Megan, she’ll tell you that sometimes she gets a little irritated by the fact that I’m always pulling on my leash when we’re out. I think we all need someone to push (or pull) us along from time to time so we don’t get stuck.”
“Ah, I see. Are you saying that a good relationship keeps you moving and growing into maturity? That all of us, sometimes, need each other to help us get into healthier patterns of life?”
“Yes!” she barked, and then she even licked my cheek. I tried not to notice.
“And there’s something else I should say, in case Rick mentions anything.”
I nodded, encouraging my canine friend to go on.
“Listen, when he takes me out and we run into a bunch of other dogs, well, sometimes… it’s just… Look – he’s likely to say that I don’t get along well with other dogs. I think he’s got the wrong idea. What I’m trying to say is that at this point in my life, I don’t needa lot of other dogs. I’ve got those two. It seems to me that love and marriage is about identifying someone special who is a gift from God in your own life, and paying special attention to and cultivating that relationship. Of opening up to that one in ways that you are not open to anyone else. I’m just showing him what it means for me to be faithful, that’s all.”
At this point the dog looked at the clock and said, “Listen, Dave, you’d better get out of here. Megan’s liable to be home any moment, and I’ve got a couple of things to get done before I start fussing over her again.”
I thanked Reese, and as I made my way to the door, she said, “Dave – are you going to be using the traditional language for the declarations of intent and the vows and so on?”
“I think so,” I said. “I can’t see any reason not to.”
“Perfect!” she smiled. “You’ll be using a word that describes what I’ve been trying to give them ever since we got together. You’ll be asking them if they intend to pledge their troth to each other.”
“I will indeed,” I said.
She continued, “Most folks there will have no idea what that word ‘troth’ means.”
“Tell me about it,” I sighed.
“Troth is what I’ve been giving these two: unconditional love and acceptance, loyalty, faithfulness, and honesty. Troth is about promising to give the best of yourself to someone else, and to grow the parts of you that aren’t the best. Troth is what Paul wrote about to those folks in Corinth, and it’s what I’ve been trying to show Rick and Megan for years. Now, you and the folks at church can help confirm them in their vow to pledge and keep troth with each other forever. It’s what they want, it’s good for the world, and it is all rooted in the love of God for his people.”
I headed for the door and put on my hat. With my hand on the knob, I turned, and there she was, waiting expectantly. I felt like I should say something more than “thanks for the talk,” but I wasn’t sure what it was…
She gave a single bark, and said, “Go ahead Dave, you can say it. It’s all right.”
“Say what?” I replied, reaching in my mind for the right words.
“Who’s a good girl, Dave?”
“You are, Reese. You are.”
Now, Megan and Rick, you can choose to believe that little story or not. At the end of this eventful day, I’m not sure how much of it you’ll remember anyway. So let me just conclude my message with this thought: you know that people can treat each other poorly – sometimes so poorly that we use the expression, “I wouldn’t treat a dog the way that she treats him…” Let me ask you, in the name of Christ, to reverse that. Let me ask you to treat each other the way that your dog treats you. To make a daily, spiritual practice of honoring each other, accepting and loving each other unconditionally; be steadfast and loyal; keep troth. If you do that, you will fulfill the will of Christ in your lives, enrich your marriage, and work toward the intentions of God in our world. Thanks be to God! Amen.