Monday, November 22, 2010

Colossians 3:12-17, Wedding Sermon

(A wedding sermon I preached a few years ago)

Colossians 3:12-17
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

P: This is the Word of the Lord
C: Thanks be to God

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The basis for the message this joyous wedding day is the passage from Colossians, where St. Paul describes the new life with which we are clothed as Christians. In this text, _____ and ______ see the shape of the Christian life, as the shape that they desire for their marriage as well. The imagery is of us clothing ourselves with the virtues of Christ. At a wedding, more than at most other occasions, clothing is carefully chosen and considered, to reflect the importance of the occasion. Not chosen at the last minute, just a few hours before the ceremony…or so they tell me! But even as important as these clothes and dresses become for one special day, they are not the clothes of everyday life.
But as Christians, these virtues of Christ—compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and love—these virtues we wear aren’t just for special occasions, or even as our “Sunday formal wear.” No, the Christian is to clothe themselves daily in the virtues of the chosen people of God. Because this clothing reflects our character as Christians. By that I don’t mean what we have made ourselves to be, “the man he made himself” or the “woman she grew to be,” but rather that our character and identity comes from what God made us to be. The crowning virtue, love, which is the bond of perfection, clothes us because God first showed His love to us in sending His Son. His call for us to bear with one another and forgive each other is founded on the fact that the Lord first forgave us. Our response of love to one another is just that: a response. We love because He first loved us.
Christ shows us the shape of God’s love by displaying all of these virtues in His life, and most perfectly in His sacrificial death. He showed compassion by talking with the down-and-out, giving importance to even the concerns of outcasts, and by healing those who were afflicted with illnesses; even raising the dead. He showed kindness by interceding for those condemned by society, stopping a woman from being stoned; reaching out to a despised tax collector. He showed gentleness, extending His love to little children, that His disciples thought were a nuisance. He showed patience, bearing with the disciples when they did not understand; teaching them correctly and opening their eyes.
These were not just random acts of kindness, disconnected from each other. But they were acts that lived out the kind of love that God gives to us. And all these virtues were crystallized in Jesus’ death on the cross, where His compassion, humility, forgiveness and love were seen so clearly, in His willingness to forgive even those who crucified Him. He took up every insult, complaint, sin, and grievance upon Himself, and spoke the dying words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” He is the source of that limitless love, and He clothes us with it. He gives you these new clothes through His Word that dwells in you richly. Christ’s Word and Love clothe us like wedding garments—but these virtues, held together by Love, the bond of perfection—these clothes have a transformative power on your lives.
Going into your marriage dressed with these clothes, Jesus causes His peace to rule in your hearts. We begin to realize that the way we forgive each other is predicated on the truth of His forgiveness for us. Not holding on to grudges or grievances that can be so devastating to any relationship, let alone a marriage. It seems so obvious to talk about the importance of forgiveness, but when the rubber meets the road, we often find it easier to avoid forgiveness.
The author Richard Eyer, who has been married over 40 years to his wife, observed that after their first argument in marriage, he had apologized for being insensitive and unwilling to hear what she was saying. Her gracious response, “I forgive you,” took him back a moment as he realized he probably wasn’t as sincere in his apology as it seemed. He became aware that the words “I’m sorry” had been just a reflex to end an unpleasant argument, rather than “actually admit [he] had done wrong or had sinned against her.” He was not prepared for her forgiveness, because “It’s one thing to admit your fault, even your sin, and quite another for someone to confirm your confession as necessary and to then repay it with forgiveness.” Forgiveness, not brushing sin off, is what God did for us, and what God prescribes for life. Forgiveness acknowledges the wrong done, but does not hold it against that person. Forgiveness says: “this will not stand between us.” When we forgive in our relationships, we forgive the small debt of wrong that someone owes us, because Jesus forgave a much greater debt of wrong for our sins. Here we show that we are clothed with the virtues of Christ, tying all together with love, the bond of perfection.
Love is the bond of perfection, because love draws us out of ourselves, and gives of ourselves to another person. Theologians often speak about how the love that flows between the 3 persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—gives shape to the love of a family, between husband, wife, and child. Love is so great because it turns our focus from where sin will always turn it—namely on ourselves—out towards our husband, or wife, or child. Love isn’t self-centered or absorbed with oneself, but finds its object outside itself, and expresses itself in the variety of ways named above.
You may show a heart of compassion towards your spouse by valuing and respecting their concerns—even when we don’t readily identify with them. You may show kindness to your spouse by regularly finding simple ways to express your ongoing care and love. You may show humility to your spouse by putting away anger from each other and not insisting on your own way. You may show gentleness by not using harsh words with each other or “pushing each other’s buttons.” And you may show patience—the willingness to bear with each other through the struggles and difficulties of life together.
Knowing that in the long run forgiving each other and working through the inevitable conflicts that arise will build a stronger marriage and a closer love. One that has weathered the good times and the bad times, one that is bound together with love, which is the bond of perfection. Christ’s love, embracing your own love, gives that endless source from which you draw on in your love for each other. We draw upon that source of Christ’s love by letting His Word dwell richly in us, which happens in the worshipping community of the church, that teaches and admonishes us in Word and in song in thanksgiving to God. May Christ richly draw you together in marriage, in His love, the bond of perfection. Amen.

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