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“The Groom’s Big Day” – A Wedding Sermon

CALL TO WORSHIP

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isaiah 61:10).

CONFESSION

Let us confess our sins to God:

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed – by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. 

We have failed to prepare ourselves for Christ’s promised return. We have adorned ourselves with sin, instead of with your holiness. 

We are truly sorry, and we humbly repent. 

For the sake of your Son, our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us. Clothe us with his righteousness, that we might walk in your will and delight in your ways, to the glory of your name.

Amen.

READINGS

  1. Ephesians 5:21-33 – Wives and Husbands
  2. Psalm 67 – May God Be Gracious to Us and Bless Us
  3. Revelation 19:6-10 – The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
  4. Matthew 25:1-13 – The Parable of the Ten Virgins

HOMILY

What makes a great wedding?

Is it the fragrance and color of the flower arrangements? The particular grandeur of the venue?

Is it the number and camaraderie of the guests? Or the quality and sound of the music?

Is it the menu at the reception? Or perhaps the selection at the (hopefully open) bar?

I hope it’s not the quality of the sermon!

But, really, what makes a wedding great?

Surely (gestures toward bride and groom) these two have something to do with it.

Is it, perhaps, their physical appearance? His rugged handsomeness? Her stunning beauty?

What about their relationship? Is the wedding great because of the intensity of their love for one another? Their glorious dreams for the future? The optimism of this moment between them?

What is it that makes a wedding great?

I guess, if most of us had to pick, we’d say that a wedding is great if the bride is happy. Right? I mean, even if the weather stinks, the singers are off-key, and the sermon is just absolutely awful – if the bride is happy, everything is OK. Right?

Which is a great reminder that weddings are about people, not performances.

However, I’m here today to tell you all that, sure, you can have a good wedding if the bride is happy.

But, if you want a really great wedding – if you want a really great marriage – then it’s really all about the groom.

Great weddings, might I even say heavenly weddings, are all about the groom.

Now, either you’re not listening or I’ve probably upset you!

Really? Has the preacher lost his mind? Is he some sort of chauvinist pig?

This is the bride’s big day! That’s why her outfit is more impressive! That’s why we all stand when the bride walks down the aisle!

Are we really going to take this moment away from her and say that it’s all about this handsome chump here?

Well, no.

Heavenly weddings are all about the groom, but you (gestures to the groom) better not use this sermon as an excuse for anything resembling male chauvinism!

Because, for one thing, I’m an egalitarian!

And, for another, I’m not talking about you (gestures to groom), her (to bride) bridegroom, but rather to Christ, our (gestures to everyone) bridegroom.

Great weddings, and great marriages, are all about Christ, our Bridegroom.

Take a glance at the Bible readings on your order of service everyone.

Did you catch the names on the wedding invite in Revelation 19? We’re not invited there to this wedding, of this woman to this man, but the wedding of the Church to Christ himself!

This is the same marriage Paul speaks of in Ephesians 5. In both passages, the Groom, Christ, takes center stage.

You see, in the ancient Jewish culture out of which the Bible came, weddings were done a bit differently.

Modern weddings often center around the arrival of the bride to her groom, but these ancient Jewish weddings really hinged on the arrival of the groom to his bride.

First, what would happen is the groom would pay the bride’s father her bride price.

After this, the couple was betrothed – legally joined together, although not physically, for they still were not fully married.

Instead, they went their separate ways. He went to prepare their future living quarters as an addition to his father’s household. She went back to her father’s household to prepare herself – including the preparation of her beautiful wedding dress.

After the groom had completed their home, he would gather his friends to go and get his bride. She and her companions would have a ballpark idea of when he would come, but the exact hour was a surprise. So, the bridal party had to stay ready.

This is the scene we read in Matthew 25, where things went wrong. Five members of the bridal party were ready for the bridegroom to arrive, but the other five were not ready to join the evening’s lamp-lit procession.

Ideally, the bride and all her friends and family would be awake and ready to join the groom on the journey back to his father’s household and their new living quarters. Once there, the real party began!

Which, by the way, if things have sounded real intense up to this point, let me assure you: these people knew how to party! The wedding celebration would go on for days and days, launching the couple into their new life together.

Now, why in the world am I telling you all this? I mean, first I steal the bride’s thunder, and then I give you a Jewish history lesson?!

Here’s why (looks directly at bride and groom): your wedding, and your marriage to each other, finds its true meaning and glory as a part of Christ’s Bride – the Church – preparing herself for the Bridegroom’s return.

Great weddings and marriages are all about the Bridegroom.

What does that mean for you? Well, as we read in Ephesians 5, it means you are to love each other sacrificially and humbly.

After all, our Bridegroom died for us. He cleanses us from sin. And he sets us apart as his holy people. Will your marriage be an image of this kind of love for each other?

Look around the room, you two.

Now look at each other.

I think it’s safe to say that you will each bring the other more joy than anyone else in this room. However, I think it’s also safe to say that you will cause each other more pain than anyone else in this room.

Because you are sinners.

You each, like us all, have fallen short of the glory of God. And marriage is about to make you especially aware of your spouse’s sinful flaws!

Thankfully, though, that’s not the end of the story. Thankfully, your marriage can point beyond itself, and therefore be truly heavenly.

For you both have been bought by the very blood of Christ – a steep bride price if there ever was one!

You have both been betrothed to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is preparing a place for you both in his Father’s household.

And you are therefore both called to prepare your wedding garments through holy living – especially in how you love one another as husband as wife.

Should you love each other as Christ loves his Bride, your marriage will be a powerful witness – through both laughter and tears – to a world which desperately needs the Bridegroom. It desperately needs the Bridegroom to return and wipe away every tear, to right every wrong, and to make everything new.

Do you know what that’s going to be like?

It’s going to be like a wedding banquet.

In Revelation 21(:2-4), John writes:

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Now, we can anticipate that joy and celebration at the reception later today!

But we also get a glimpse of what’s coming when we partake of the Lord’s Supper.

Just as God has not left the two of your alone, but has blessed you with each other’s companionship, Jesus has not left his Church on her own, but promises to be with her in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the wine.

Therefore, every time someone comes into contact with you as a Christ-centered couple, I pray they are reminded of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And every time the two of you, and all of you, partake of the Lord’s Supper, I pray you’ll remember that heavenly weddings, and the very best marriages, are all about the Bridegroom.

Amen.

 

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Son of Man, Can Your Bones Live?

(Sermon preached on Easter Vigil, March 26, 2016. For an idea of the readings which preceded the homily in this service, see here.)

What would it have been like, on the first Holy Saturday?

What would it be like, tonight, if Jesus has been dead for almost 33 hours?

All the hopes and dreams of tonight’s readings – shattered. Blown away by the cold winds of death. Jesus of Nazareth lies in a dark grave, and we, his shell-shocked followers, gather to make some sort of sense of this week’s events – to salvage some sort of hope from this week’s wreckage.

And so, some sorry snots get up to try and encourage us. They open up the Hebrew Scriptures and read about our great God.

  • Remember, when He made the heavens, earth, and humans?
  • Remember, when He rescued Noah?
  • Remember, when he stayed Abraham’s knife-laden hand?
  • Remember, when he rescued us from Egypt?
  • Remember, when he promised to bring us back from exile, restore our fortunes, and open our… graves?

It’s too much, too soon. Shut up and sit down! Leave us mourn and weep awhile! Jesus is dead! The one we thought would save us is dead!

It’s been over a day. It’s been almost 2,000 years.

Can these bones live?

Can these bones live?

The question haunts us. The answer is so obviously “No! Of course not! They’re bones! No flesh, no breath, no life!”

And yet, God asks Ezekiel. And He asks us. Can these bones live?

And sure, we know the answer, but sit with this awhile.

Can these bones live? Can Christ’s bones live?

Surely this question must have flickered in someone’s mind on the first Holy Saturday. And, yes, we know the answer, but sit with this awhile.

Look at the world! Dealing in death, day by day. Wars. Famines. Floods. Diseases. Droughts. Death.

Can these bones live?

Look at the Church! Claiming with her lips to follow Jesus Christ, and yet so often proving with her life that she wants no such thing. Scandal. Hypocrisy. Idolatry.

Can these bones live?

Look at yourselves! I’ll be honest, the question “can these bones live?” is put to every preacher facing a congregation! If the Spirit doesn’t move, I’m throwing hot air at dry bones!

Can your bones live?

But then, look at me! Just as scandalous, hypocritical, and idolatrous as any – and yet here I stand, presuming to proclaim the Word of God to you.

Who do I think I am? Can my bones live?

Can all these dry, dead bones live?

Friends, there’s a reason why we’re here, though it’s so dark, so late. Sure, it’s to bring in, bright and oh so early, the celebration of Easter.

But it’s also because keeping vigil is what the Church does every day. We keep vigil for the sake of a suffering and dying world. We keep watch for our bridegroom to return and wipe away every tear, to right every wrong. We stay awake at the world’s late hour, surrounded by so many dry, dead bones.

Can these bones live?

Yes. They can. But, what do they need in order to do so?

First, they need some WATER. Did you notice how often water has appeared in tonight’s readings?

  • The waters of creation, out of which God called the dry ground – out of which He formed human beings.
  • The waters of judgment, through which God saved Noah and his family in the Ark.
  • The waters of redemption, through which God rescued Israel from the Egyptian house of slavery.
  • And the waters of cleansing, by which the Lord promised in the prophets to wash away His people’s guilty stains.

Water, water, everywhere! Except the dry valley.

I think the dry bones need some sort of water.

They also need some sort of SPIRIT. You know, God’s Spirit, His breath, His wind, who hovered over the waters at creation.

  • Who filled the first humans with life.
  • Who led God’s people.
  • Who inspired and preserved the words of Scripture we read this evening.
  • Who rushed upon the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision – making them into a great army, alive!

Dry bones need the Spirit.

But, the question isn’t “Can these bones get wet and windy?” It’s “Can they LIVE?!”

And, if they’re going to live, they’re going to need a RESURRECTION.

  • They need the defeat of their most ancient enemy: Death!
  • They need Death’s reversal! They need Death’s death!
  • They need exactly what God promised Ezekiel: to open their graves, and lift them up, living!

Amen! Glory, glory, hallelujah!

But, if I hear Ezekiel’s glorious vision read at the first Holy Saturday, I’m tempted to lose it at this point. To bitterly ask those gathered:

When?! That sounds great, but when?! When is God going to do this?!

For over five hundred years since Ezekiel, we’ve been falling into our graves over and over again – and staying there! Sure, it’s no longer in Babylon, but we’ve been invaded and harassed and dominated here in Judah ever since!

Is it really that much better to fall into the grave under Rome’s heavy heel, like Jesus?

Why not Babylon’s?

Why not Assyria’s?

Heck, why not Pharaoh’s?

When is God going to turn things around?!”

Thankfully, I wasn’t in the audience back then. But we’re here, tonight. And maybe you’re similarly tempted to lose it and freak out sometimes in church!

All this pretty Jesus-talk, when for over 2,000 years the Church has travailed in the midst of a deadly and dying world.

We thank Jesus for our oversized meals, cars, and houses, while thousands fall into their graves around us – tired, hungry, destitute, and alone.

So, on the first Holy Saturday and the 2,000th, the question is roughly the same:

When?! When is God going to turn things around?!

And the answer is likewise the same. We sang it, earlier:

When?

THIS IS THE NIGHT.

When did God open the grave?

THIS IS THE NIGHT, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell, and rose victorious from the grave.”

So, can these bones live? Yes!

Can Christ’s bones live? Yes! For on this night, some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ got up from the tomb. He was alive. He was dead. But he is now alive again.

Can our bones live? Yes!

How? Because Christ has provided the resurrection, the Spirit, and the water we need.

Because, through the waters of baptism, we receive the Spirit and the resurrection.

Now, we aren’t going to baptize anyone tonight. We’ll have to wait until later this morning to do so. But we are about to renew our baptismal vows.

  • Through our baptism, we are preserved, like Noah, from the waters of Sin and Death, in the Ark, the Church.
  • Through our baptism, we are ransomed and rescued, like Israel, through the waters of the Red Sea.
  • Through our baptism, we are cleansed with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, as God promised through Isaiah and Ezekiel.
  • Through our baptism, we are buried with Christ in his death, and are raised with him in newness of life.
  • Through our baptism, we are empowered and emboldened to proclaim the good news to a desperate world that JESUS CHRIST IS RISEN.

So, we can assure the world that their bones can live, because Christ has died.

We can rest assured that our bones can live, because Christ is risen.

And we can keep watch for the sake of a suffering world, because Jesus Christ will come again.

Amen.

Reading Recommendations? Barth’s & Bonhoeffer’s False Gods

Hi internet – especially all you Barthians and Bonhoefferians (-ites?) out there.

I’m in the process of compiling a reading list, and I could use your suggestions.

Here’s my goal: to explore the possible relationship between Barth’s critique of the “No-God”(Nich-Gott) and Bonhoeffer’s critique(s) of viewing God as a “stopgap” (Lückenbüßer) or “working hypothesis.”

As far as primary sources go, I plan to focus on the Romans commentary, Garrett Green’s recent re-translation of CD §17, and Letters and Papers from Prison.

As for secondary sources, right now I’m starting the list with Tom Greggs’ Theology Against Religion. I’ve read this twice now, and it has been a major inspiration for the project.

I’ve also got my eye on Michael DeJonge’s Bonhoeffer’s Theological Formation, Ernst Feil’s The Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Andreas Pangritz’s Karl Barth in the Theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Jeffrey Pugh’s Religionless Christianity.

I’m also working my way through Sven Ensminger’s Karl Barth’s Theology as a Resource for a Christian Theology of Religions. While this looks very helpful for a larger project on Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the theological critique of religion, I’m still looking for sources that deal more directly with Barth’s “No-God” and Bonhoeffer’s God as “stopgap” or “working hypothesis.” 

Do you have any reading recommendations for me? 

OR, even better: Have any of you translated Hans-Joachim Kraus’ Theologische Religionskritik into English yet? Because that would be fantastic.

Three Recent Sermons

It’s been a grueling past few weeks at Beeson. Our Spring Break happens to coincide with Holy Week this year, and it can’t come quickly enough!

Part of the hard work has been preparing to preach three sermons for class. However, the opportunity to study and preach God’s Word is a joy that outweighs the burdens of preparation!

I have preached twice in the past month on Psalm 32. First, I delivered a sermon (“The Refreshment of Forgiveness”) designed for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year C, for Dr. Doug Webster’s Preaching Practicum.

Then, I preached/presented on the same passage for Dr. Allen Ross’s Exegesis of Psalms (“Psalm 32: Psalm 1 for Screw-Ups”).

Preparing and preaching these very different sermons on the same passage was a good reminder of the inexhaustible richness of Scripture.

Most recently, I got to compose a “crisis sermon” for Dr. Webster’s Preaching Practicum (“Lamenting into Worship”). One of my classmates preached a post-9/11 sermon. Another, post-Pearl Harbor! These were great sermons, but I chose a different route: preaching to a congregation after the death of a well-known church family’s baby.

This was a stretching experience, to say the least. I pray I never have to preach this sermon in real life, but it was a good reminder to preach the good news to myself that God hates death more than we do.

You can listen to and/or read “The Refreshment of Forgiveness,” “Psalm 1 for Screw-Ups,” and “Lamenting into Worship,” along with my other sermons at the Sermons Page of this site.

Now, there are much better preachers out there in the world, so if you’re short on time, go listen to them preach! But, if you’ve got the time to give these sermons a listen, I would greatly appreciate your feedback as I try to improve as a preacher and teacher of God’s Word!

~Josh

Prayer for a New Semester

I want to share with you the following prayer, based on Oratio S. Thomae Aquinatis ante studium, which Thomas Aquinas would pray before studying, writing, or preaching. We prayed it responsively before class with Dr. Piotr Malysz at Beeson Divinity School, where the Spring 2016 semester begins tomorrow.
“O God, Creator of all that is,
From the treasures of Your wisdom,
You have arrayed the universe with marvelous order,
And now govern with skill and might.
You are the true fount of light and wisdom.
 
Pour forth a ray of Your brightness
Into the darkened places of our minds;
Disperse from our souls the twofold darkness into which we were born:
Sin and ignorance.
 
Grant to each of us:
Deftness of hand,
Keenness of mind,
Skill in learning,
Subtlety to interpret,
And eloquence in speech.
 
And since you have given us the privilege to share in the loving, healing, reconciling mission of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, in this age and wherever we are,
 
May your Spirit make us wise;
May your Spirit guide us;
May your Spirit renew us;
May your Spirit strengthen us.
 
So that we will be
Strong in faith,
Discerning in proclamation,
Courageous in witness,
Persistent in good deeds.
 
May You guide the beginning of our work,
Direct its progress,
And bring it to completion.
You who bring all that is good to its proper end,
Now prosper the work of our hands.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
 
Amen.”