7th Sunday of Easter (B)
Thursday, May 25, and Sunday, May 28, 2006
(sections in plain print were presented from the center of the altar steps; sections in italics were presented from the pulpit)
Dear beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and of His Church to witness and bless the joining together of this man and this woman in holy marriage.
OK, so I know that this is a regular worship service, not a wedding, but for this sermon, I want you to imagine that there’s a bride and a groom here, that there’s bridesmaids and groomsmen. I want you to pretend that you’re at a wedding during this sermon.
Let me explain. The Epistle reading today from the first letter of John, I preached on that passage for an out-of-town wedding I performed a few years ago. Realizing that this text came up today on the 7th Sunday of Easter, I thought it might be good to take this time to think about John’s words and marriages.
You see, when you’re at a wedding, usually it’s hard to pay attention to the sermon. We all get distracted at weddings thinking about the bride and groom, seeing family and friends. We get distracted thinking about the reception afterwards. The wedding ceremony is meant to help us focus on God’s role in a marriage, but frankly, sometimes we might find ourselves only half paying attention.
So today without all of those distractions, today during this sermon and pretend wedding, I want you to hear the wedding sermon I preached based on 1 John 4:13-21, a sermon I preached like I said for some friends from back home, Dan and Rachel. And I began this way. . .
Daniel, Rachel, family, friends,
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from our Lord Jesus Christ!
Dan and Rachel,
OK, I should pause here to explain what a preacher is thinking as he writes a sermon for a wedding. A wedding is the only time a pastor preaches with people right in front of him. A wedding sermon is written specifically with the couple in mind, but it’s a sermon meant to be overheard. While this sermon I’m sharing with you today was very specific about Dan and Rachel, I meant for everyone there to hear it. When you’re at a wedding, the sermon isn’t just some advice for the couple; it’s meant as words for everyone.
The way I think of it there are five purposes or goals of a wedding sermon. First of all, it is God’s Word for the couple being married that day. Everyone at a wedding ceremony has gathered to support the couple, and the best way we can support a couple is to offer them God’s Word.
But then as the sermon talks about the couple and their new marriage, really it can be encouragement for all couples in the sanctuary. What God’s Word has to say to this couple is also true for anyone who is married.
For the people at a wedding who aren’t married yet, the wedding sermon offers God’s Word as direction as they look for a spouse. A wedding sermon holds up God’s vision for a marriage, and that vision is something that unmarried people can carry with them.
Fourth, even for the people who don’t plan on getting married, the wedding sermon provides words from God that we all can use as advice for others. If you were married, but don’t think you’ll ever get married again, if you’re older and your spouse has died, if you’re young and just can’t see yourself getting married, that doesn’t mean a wedding sermon has nothing to say to you. God can still give you His Word about marriage, so that as you support family or friends who are getting married, you can help point them to God’s hope for their marriage.
Finally, and above all else, a wedding sermon should lift up the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. While most people at a wedding are, like I said, distracted by the wedding itself—the new couple, the people gathered, the party—while most people are just thinking about the wedding, it’s not a sermon if it doesn’t show people their Savior, Jesus Christ. A wedding sermon still has the same basic goal as any other sermon: that everyone who hears the sermon will know that their sins are forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
With those five goals in mind, let’s go back to the wedding, Dan and Rachel are still standing at the altar. Listen for those five goals: encouragement for the marriage of the new couple, encouragement for all marriages, encouragement for those still to get married, God’s Word that unmarried people can share with others, and that Jesus Christ is our Savior.
Dan and Rachel, when you told me you would like one of the Scripture readings for this service to be from the fourth chapter of 1 John, the chapter which talks about love, I thought it seemed quite appropriate. Weddings are built around love.
You love each other. Now when you first met in a chat room on the Internet some 5 years ago, you probably did not know that you would end up in love, but you have and you are.
(Dan and Rachel really did meet on an Internet chatroom—originally. They dated for a number of years in person before getting married.)
Dan and Rachel, you probably did not know that you would end up in love, but you have and you are. So this wedding is built around your love for each other.
More than that, you are surrounded by your families and friends who all love you. They are here to celebrate with you, because you are special to them. So this wedding gathering is built around love for you.
Yes, love is everywhere. It is in your hearts. It is in our hearts. It is in the music for today. It is on cards and wrapping paper. It surrounds us today.
But the text you selected, 1 John chapter 4, goes even deeper than all of that. The kind of love John is talking about is more than your love, our love or Hallmark cards. John is talking about God’s love: His love for us and the love He teaches us to have.
Yet, God’s love? How do we really know that God loves us? I mean, look out into the world and it doesn’t seem like there is much love to be found. It would be better to hide in here for awhile since we’re talking about love and seeing it in this marriage, because just outside, there is a world without love. There are families that do not love each other. There is violence and crime. There is disease, sickness and death. There is a deeply troubled world out there. When we look out there, how can we say that God loves us?
Well, John shows us that we do not necessarily see God’s love by looking around us. Rather, God has provided one specific way for us to know that He loves us: Jesus Christ. John says: “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the world that we might live through Him.”
God shows His love to us in a very specific, tremendous act. We have all sinned, done things wrong in God’s eyes, and because of this, we deserve eternal death. But God loves us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus, into the world to live on the earth and live a perfect life that we could not. God allowed His Son to be put to death on the cross, so that we would not suffer eternal punishment. Jesus then rose from the dead three days later on Easter, so that we might also live after death with God for eternity. This is love that Jesus laid His life down for us to save us.
Dan and Rachel, this is the deeper kind of love that is a part of your lives. As you go forward today as a married couple, remember that your spiritual lives are founded upon God’s love for you. When your partner struggles in faith and asks, “How do I know that God really loves me?” point to the death and resurrection of Jesus. God loves you, loves you more than you can comprehend. Remind each other of that love, and may you also share that love with others.
So God loves all of us, and He also wants you to show that same love to each other. But how are you able to love each other? Do you just wake up each day hoping that you’ll feel the same way you did when you first fell in love? Do you sometimes hope for that feeling BUT amongst the trials of life: the long days at work, the little arguments, the days that get you down, amongst all of that, the feeling of love never seems to be there? If that’s the case, what’s a better way? How are you able to love one another? You love, because God first loved you.
That’s what John is saying. We are able to love, because God first loved us. We are sinful and unlovable and do not deserve anything from God. But here’s that tremendous part again: God loves us anyway. We aren’t loveable, but God loves us despite that. Loves us so much that He sacrificed His Son Jesus in order to make us loveable again, in order to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all our imperfections. That’s love: to love someone even when they aren’t loveable and then to try to do anything you can to protect and save them.
Dan and Rachel, that’s the kind of love that you are able to have for each other. Love is not something that comes from the inside. Love is not something you have to conjure up with the right moment, the right lighting, the right music. Love comes from your faith in Jesus Christ. Love is seen in the example that God gives us, and love is a decision that you make today to protect and watch over each other.
In a few moments, you will declare your intention to take each other as your spouse. You will pledge your faithfulness, and based on the writings of St. Paul, your pledges reflect the love of Christ for us.
Now let me pause here and ask you to look in your bulletins there at the sermon in the order of service. There you have the declaration of marriage that I adapted from Lutheran Worship. It’s based on Ephesians 4. Rather than just ending up emphasizing that the woman must obey the man, I went back to Paul’s words and realized that God expects servanthood and sacrifice from both the man and woman.
Look at the Declaration:
from Lutheran Worship as adapted by Pastor Ben Squires
Pastor to Man:
(Man), do you take (woman) to be your wife, to live together in holy marriage according to the Word of God? Do you promise to love her, comfort her, honor her and keep her as Christ keeps His Church, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to her as long as you both shall live?
Pastor to Woman:
(Woman), do you take (man) to be your husband, to live together in holy marriage according to the Word of God? Do you promise to love him, comfort him, honor him as you honor Christ, and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful to him, as long as you both shall live?
Here’s how I explained in the sermon.
Dan, you will pledge to keep Rachel as Christ keeps His Church. Now, Christ keeps His Church through His death on the cross, that death made it possible for those who believe in Him to have eternal life. Dan, this means that you will decide to love Rachel each day so much that you are willing to die for her. This is a decision, a pledge, a daily act on your part, to love Rachel.
Rachel, you will pledge to honor Dan as you honor Christ. Now, as a Christian, you honor Christ with your faithfulness and praise, by serving Him with your whole life. You do not honor Christ because He lords it over you or because He is a tyrant. You honor Christ, because He sacrificed Himself in order to serve you. Rachel, this means that you will decide to love Dan each day so much that you will honor Him with your whole life. This is a decision, a pledge, a daily act on your part, to love Dan.
In this way, Dan and Rachel are a model of God’s love for all of us to see today. Even as Dan and Rachel choose daily to love each other, God has chosen to love all of you. Even as Dan and Rachel choose to make sacrifices for one another, God has sacrificed His own Son for you. Even as Dan and Rachel pledge their faithfulness to each other, God will remain faithful to His promise to protect you and to bring you to everlasting life through Jesus Christ. This is the deeper kind of love that John is talking about, and this is the deeper kind of love that this marriage is built upon.
Dan and Rachel, God loves you. You have eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. You are able to love each other, because God loves you and has taught you to love through your faith in Him. God designed marriage as a gift for you and wants love to be at its center: God’s love for you, your love for God and your love for one another. May your marriage be an example of God’s love in Christ Jesus and may God’s love work through your marriage to be a blessing to you and to all whom you meet. In the name of Jesus, Amen.
And that’s where the sermon ended. Now today there’s no reception, dinner, or dance following the service, and I realize that you don’t even know Dan and Rachel, so instead for you, I send you to celebrate your marriage or the marriages of people around you. And now that you’ve heard a wedding sermon without all of the distractions, perhaps as you go to a Christian wedding this summer—the wedding season, you’ll be able to truly see the goal of that sermon: offering God’s Word for marriages but also offering the Word of salvation to all people. If you go to a Christian wedding this summer, pray for the couple, pray for their marriage, but also pray that all of the people there in the sanctuary will hear that Jesus forgives them and gives them the promise of eternal life.