Andy and Emily,
The language of Isaiah 62 in the lesson that was read a few moments ago is breathtaking. God declares a love that is pretty much insane, disorienting. God, who created the worlds from nothing, who could uncreate it all and start again from scratch in an instant, is completely and unalterably taken with Zion, He is obsessed with Israel. Isaiah has spent many chapters foretelling the coming judgment, the coming doom of Judah for her infidelity, for her wickedness and unfaithfulness. Jerusalem will be destroyed, the temple will be burned, and Godís people will be dragged into exile. And yet here at the end of Isaiah, God is swearing His loyalty, swearing is undying affection and love for His people. This seems schizophrenic. Itís almost as if the book of Isaiah could be summarized as God saying: I hate you; I love you. No wonder many scholars try to explain the radical shifts with multiple authors. It canít be the same author, and by implication the claim is: this canít be the same God.
Itís actually rather scandalous to think of our God in such a position, crying out in agony at Israel, denouncing her in one breath and insisting that the future holds a glory and a peace for them in the next. You have seen enough in real life or in movies or television to see this kind of drama, this kind of sensationalism. God blessed both of you with faithful Christian families where you saw the grace of God at work in your parents and their marriages, you grew up watching the reality of forgiveness unfolding before you. And you have come to embrace that grace. You have claimed the promises of God given to your parents concerning you, and by Godís mercy, you have likely not had to endure the heartbreak of betrayal, the agony of abandonment, the raw, the emptiness of confusion, when all feelings go numb. And it really is the blessing and mercy of God that you have been spared this pain. But you know itís out there.
You might be tempted to think that there is no possibility that your marriage, your family, your home could ever undergo such a curse. In a good sense, it seems so foreign, so distant, so impossible especially on day like today, but in this world where sin still looks for a hold in our hearts, where Satan still lurks like a prowling lion, where the lures of the world still practice their fake beauty, it is still possible for glory to be turned to shame. It is still possible for beauty to be turned to ashes, for dancing to be turned into mourning.
Thereís an old adage that you have probably heard before: familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps this is related to another common adage: distance makes the heart grow fonder. While there might be small ways to acknowledge the points of these sentiments. In the big picture, if they are true, people who get married are crazy. Marriage makes no sense. Because now, beginning today youíre going to get really familiar with each other. And there will be hardly any distance. Does familiarity breed contempt? Does intimacy make the heart grow less fond?
The Bibleís answer to these questions is: it depends. The plan of God, the purpose of God from the beginning has been a community, a family in and with the Triune God. For man to be created in the image of God is for people to have a family resemblance with God. The image of God implies Godís design that we should be family and that He is our Father. But in a fallen world, there are always two options before us. Every day, every moment we are offered the path of gratitude or the path of grabbing.
The path of grabbing sees the hurt and the hardships in the world and grabs things for self-defense. Some people grab for money to defend themselves, some people grab friends, others grab jobs or food or drugs or sex. The world is a scary place, so look for something that makes you happy, something that makes you feel safe and grab it. This is the way of selfishness, the way of self-serving. In this view, since there is no good and gracious God providing and caring for you, you are your own god, and you must provide for yourself. You must secure your own happiness. You must grab it. But this is actually the source of all the heartbreak, all the betrayal, all the broken families we see in our culture. If you are your own god, then your mission in life must be for everyone to serve you. And when two people get married who think they are gods, this is a recipe for disaster. Thereís no such thing as a god settling for second place. If you are god then your hopes and dreams and whims must be considered first, and this means war. This means a home full of conflict, full of turmoil, full hurt and confusion. The way of grabbing is the way of death.
But the path of gratitude is entirely different: it sees the world and life as a gift from God, as an unending Christmas, and at the center of the universe is the great Christmas tree of the cross of Jesus. And there, all the pain and hardship in the world is undone, where Godís perfect Son took all the evil of the world, and our guilt and shame and grabbing and carried it all away. In the cross of Jesus, God displayed His great hatred for sin and death and broke its back all in the same moment. The agony of the cross was the agony of love. On the cross, Christ our God cried out: I hate you; I love you. I hate what sin has done to you, and I love you and will take it away. And while it still hurts from time to time, and this world still trembles with the Fall, the promise of the tree is healing. The promise of Good Friday is Easter. And so the world is a gift whatever we are allotted, and then on top of everything else, God promises to raise us up to live forever. God says you can enjoy all the gifts now, and then weíll do it again forever.
Does familiarity breed contempt? It depends. It depends if you walk by the way of gratitude or the way of grabbing.
So this is my charge to you, strive to make this saying false in your lives. As you begin another generation of faithfulness, looking to Jesus and finding life in Him, donít allow your familiarity with this good news to breed contempt in your home. And the surest way to keep this gratitude fresh in your home is through the grace of forgiveness. Confession of sin and forgiveness done from the heart is always a miniature Good Friday and Easter. Whenever you sin, and you own it as sin, you get to die, and then in that confession and the forgiveness that follows, you receive life, you are raised up from the grave. In a home where there is constant confession and forgiveness, regular reconciliation and restoration, the familiar good news only becomes better good news.
Andy, my charge to you in particular is to emulate the love of God for His people as you love Emily. In the passage from Isaiah, it says that He does not rest, He does not hold His peace until Jerusalem goes forth in brightness like a lamp that burns brightly, till Jerusalem is a praise in the earth. God pursues His bride with an unceasing, unhindered, unbroken love, and He cannot be deterred. He cannot be put off. He cannot change His mind. But Godís love is not merely sentiment. Itís not merely a feeling, a sensation. His love is His plan to glorify His bride. His love is His mission to make her a glory in the earth. Godís agony in the prophets is more than just frustration with Israelís sin, it is a preview of the cross itself, when God took it upon Himself. Husbands are not called to take away the sin of their wives. We canít do that. Only Jesus can do that and has done that. But Paul does call husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her to purify her. Itís true that only Jesus saves us from our sins, but Husbands are called upon to imitate that self-sacrificing love. Andy, one of the besetting sins of men is laziness. It doesnít always look like a slob or a bum on the outside, but the lack of love with a mission is shying away from taking responsibility for your wife and home. Love is creative, love looks for ways to serve. Love looks for new ways to bless. Love is glad to give up personal rights for the glory and blessing of the other. And just as God intends for His bride to become a crown of glory and a royal diadem, so too as you lay your life down for Emily, she will be your crown of glory and royal diadem. Andy, today you are being crowned. Emily is your crown.
Emily, my charge to you in particular is to receive Andyís love. Israelís great sin was a wandering heart, taking Godís love for granted, and ultimately looking elsewhere for love, for purpose, for safety. Today, you are lovely, today you are glorious. You and Allie picture for all of us, the glory that God has promised His bride the Church. And you are doing this today by receiving Godís gifts, by receiving the love of your parents and family and all of Godís people here gathered to honor you. You know that there is a fleshly, self-seeking vanity that the world cops as glory that we want nothing to do with. But there is a true, godly feminine glory and beauty that is breathtaking and terrible. When a woman is loved she becomes a glory, when a man rejoices over a woman, she becomes famous. This would seem like a fairly easy task, just let Andy love you and be beautiful. But in Godís providence, the only way for you to receive this love and be a glory is for you to give yourself away. A besetting sin of women is fear and worry, and while many women become fairly adept at masking their insecurities, itís still there causing frustration and confusion. But you must die to your fear and worry. You must not make Andy your God, your Savior, but you must see in Andy the grace of Jesus for you. In and through your husband, God pictures in a small way His love and care for you. Very shortly, if not already, you will know that Andy is not perfect, not sufficient for all your needs, all your cares, all your worries. But God is, and He gives you Andy as a token of His infinite love, a token of His infinite care over your life. So die to your fears, die to worry, remember that you have already died and your life is hid with God in Christ, and then gladly, thankfully receive the love of your husband and so be a glory and a praise in the earth.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Charles Chambers says
Thanks Toby. Excellent sermon and charge. I’ll resist temptation to make a joke about Andy’s almost fainting during you’re preaching. Could I ask to use a modicum of the last part of it for a sermon I’m preparing for this coming Sunday on God’s Family. It fits like a glove (for others beyond me I hope). Pray for me, this is the only the second time Kenny has trusted me with the pulpit and I want God to use me.