I promised Kim and Joe and the wedding party that I would keep my words brief today. we really could not figure out how to get the big wedding party up and down quickly, and I am not too big on punishing friends and family members whose only crime is to agree to be in a wedding party by making them stand for a long time--unless, of course, they are hungover from partying the night before. As the bachelor and bachelorette parties were last week, there is no reason for me to be cruel today, is there, ladies and gentlemen? Of course, most of those in the wedding party do not attend St. Alban’s, so they don’t know our normal sermons are nearly 45 minutes in length. Short to us is a half hour!
All kidding aside, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Kim and Joe had selected a reading from Tobit as part of the liturgy of the Word for this afternoon’s wedding. I asked Joe how they came to select the reading, hoping they were familiar with the story. Joe, at first, was proud to tell me that he had selected the reading. As I asked a couple more probing questions, Joe looked like he’d rather be changing diapers than getting grilled by a priest. I promise, Joe, I really was hoping you knew how appropriate the reading was to your and Kim’s story.
I will not do the story of Tobit justice this afternoon, but feel free to read the book later, if any of my summary catches your interest. The book of Tobit, for those of you scratching your heads wondering where in the Bible it is to be found, is part of the Apocrypha. That means it is part of the collections of Jewish writings that the Jews rejected as part of the Old Testament, but that Roman Catholics and Orthodox churches accepted. The story takes place after the Exile. Tobit and his family are living in Nineveh (yes, the same Nineveh as Jonah’s). In a country which is discussing the fate of illegal aliens nearly every day, we can well imagine the existence of Tobit’s family. It’s tough. They have been carried off into Assyria into Exile. Like all those in Exile, Tobit’s and his family wonder whether God has been defeated in the heavens or, worse, has abandoned them for their unwillingness to keep the Covenant.
Tobit is a righteous man. That means, in God’s terms, that he cares for the poor and needy. In particular, we learn that he often provides funeral care for the deceased, even when it costs him a hot meal. The author of Tobit, of course, understands that no good deed goes unpunished. Thanks to the well-aimed droppings of a bird, Tobit is blinded. So, Tobit is old and blind and exiled. He needs to find a wife for his son. It sounds an easy task, but not for someone trying to keep the torah. How does one find a wife faithful to Yahweh in a land of foreigners.
Luckily, a distant relative appears and offers to take Tobit’s son, Tobiah, to find a wife. This distant relative takes Tobiah to meet another distant relative named Sarah. Sarah’s family has a similar worry about continuing their family line. You see, Sarah has been married seven times! Each wedding night, her new bridegroom has been killed by a demon named Asmodeus. No one, and I mean no one, has been willing to be husband number eight! Predictably, Tobiah is smitten by Sarah and marries her. After some haggling with Sarah’s father, Raguel, Sarah and Tobiah are married, according to the torah. As with any couple and in keeping with our festivities today, there is a feast and then a wedding night. Thanks to some great advice from this distant relative and some fish parts, the demon is repelled. The demon is actually restrained in Egypt, but that is a side tale. Sarah and Tobiah arise from the marriage bed to kneel and pray this prayer of thanksgiving that we read today.
The young couple and the escort return to Nineveh and Tobit. It is there that the distant relative reveals himself to be the archangel Raphael, who stands in the presence of God ready to serve Him. God has heard Tobit’s prayers and witnessed his righteousness. Raphael, of course, bound the demon that had tormented Sarah and her family. Raphael cures Tobit’s blindness. And Raphael pronounces God’s blessing on the now combined families.
As I said, I have only touched on highlights. If you want to know more details, feel free to read the story on your own or, if you are particularly moved, see me after the service or at the reception. The highlights should be enough for us to see the life and work of Jesus Christ, some two or three centuries before He walked the earth. A father sends his son in the company of a heavenly spirit to find and redeem a bride--where have we heard that story before? Now, Joe, you know why I was quite pleased with your selection, even if you did not know why.
The reading for this wedding is appropriate in many ways. In the big picture of salvation history, marriages between a man and a woman are supposed to reflect, dimly to be sure, the relationship to which we are all called with God. A man and a woman, who think and process and express and internalize differently, submit themselves to God’s will for their lives. Before God and those present and all those who will later witness their life together, the two begin a relationship of mutual servanthood that ought, ought to bring to mind the mysterious relationship we call the Trinity, three persons in one Unity. Think of those best marriages in your lives. My guess is that they each reflect a Unity that can be obtained only through mutual self-sacrifice and commitment. Ask them, if you have the opportunity and the relationship, and you may learn that love is not the hot passions that society so promotes. Love is a commitment, a determination to care for another even when they do not merit our love.
More specifically to Joe and Kim, though, the reading speaks to some of those feelings they would rather not explore. Both are children of the divorce culture. To say that they were cautious to enter into marriage is a huge understatement. They are both starting to squirm, afraid I will reveal too much of our conversations over the last few months. Know this, both of you, every single one of us here has had those same worries. We have all worried whether we were capable of loving another. We have all worried whether someone else will love us in the way we so longingly desire. Everyone here, whether they will admit it to you or not, has deep dark secrets that convince them they are unlovable in their own minds. So, if anyone here busts your chops a bit about your feeling unloved or feeling worried about making a commitment to each other before God, remember they are dealing with their own insecurities.
We have, of course, all seen the precipitating event which led to this moment as he walked down the aisle carrying a sign that read “Here comes our girl, Daddy.” Some gathered here or maybe intentionally absent have realized that you two went about this a bit bassackwards. We get married and then we have children--that’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? Among your more Pharisaical friends, you may have heard tongues. You might have experienced the same whispers as Sarah, who buried seven husbands before she finally met Tobiah. You both realize his unlikely presence, and so I hope you are open to the supernatural wonder brought to mind in your reading. One of the great things about God is that He is merciful. But He is every bit the Redeemer as He is merciful. Listening to your story and stories, I wonder whether without Baby Colton you two would be here today, committing yourselves to one another before God. I do not mean, by any stretch, that I believed our Lord wanted you to do things the wrong way. I believe simply that He used Colton’s miraculous conception, at least by science and medicine’s standards, to teach you both that you could love and that you were deserving of love. That, Joe and Kim, is just an appetizer of the redeeming love offered by our Lord.
To all of us present, of course, their commitment is evidence of God’s grace in their lives and in ours. Through some time and effort and reflection, Joe and Kim have come before us all and God to declare their commitment to each other. Like us all, they have fought with each other and with God. Yet, in the end, they have surrendered themselves to each other and to our Lord. And that is all He requires. All He asks, whenever we sin and no matter how “big” our sin, is that we repent and return to Him. Whether we are in lands far off from our family or nearer to home, He is ever present and ever ready to forgive all those who come to Him in faith. And that, dear brothers and sisters, is the underlying purpose of marriage. In these ceremonies, you and I are reminded of a Father in heaven who sent His Son to find and to redeem His bride. Nothing, no power of Hell nor any bad choice we might make, can keep Him from finding us, if we simply call upon Him to save us.
Joe and Kim, weddings are tough because they are intentionally public professions of a love which makes us vulnerable. None of us like to admit we are vulnerable. Society reminds us over and over to take and to seize our happiness. You have rejected that advice in light of the power of the Cross over the grave. For that I give thanks and praise to God. I also give thanks to God for your well chosen words for this cloud of witnesses here gathered this All Saints’ Day. Your story, your paths which have led to this day is no less remarkable than the story of Sarah and Tobiah to those privileged to witness them. You have found each other, you have nurtured each other, and now you both have agreed to commit yourselves to one another that is meant to call to mind the covenantal love of our Lord to His bride. And just as His blessings were upon Sarah and Tobiah, they are upon you both. Your own bound demons testify to you that truth. You son testifies to you that truth. And, in the end, that He calls you His own assures you of that truth. Remember, this ceremony, and the feast that will follow, for all the fun you and everyone will have, is just a shadow of the marriage feast to which He calls all of us. Amen.