Sermon for Pentecost 11
Colossians 3:1-11 + Luke 12:13-21 + Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:18-26
Although the school year is quickly approaching, it’s still summer time, which means, it’s still the time for weddings. It’s been over a year since we’ve celebrated a wedding here. Yesterday Amy and I celebrated our 12th anniversary. I can still see her walking down the aisle in her beautiful white dress that now sits neatly folded and boxed up in our master closet.
But you’re not here today to hear about my wedding. You’re here to hear about yours. You’re not here to hear about Amy’s wedding dress. You’re here to hear about your wedding dress, and especially about your Bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
Maybe you think I’m referring to that great day when Christ will return and bring the Church, his Bride, to that heavenly wedding banquet, as Scripture describes it. But, no, I’m not talking about a day in the future. I’m talking about right here, right now, today. Consider Paul’s words to the Colossians with me this morning. His message can be summarized this way: Remember that Today Is Your Wedding Day – Still.
Those of you who have an NIV translation of the Bible will notice, if you look up Colossians 3, that the title added to that section by the NIV editors says, “Rules for Holy Living.” I’m not one for defacing God’s Word, but that title isn’t part of God’s Word, so it would be fine if you took your Bible and crossed it out. The Christian life isn’t about following the rules. Does that surprise you? I’ll say it again. The Christian life is not about following the rules. In fact, that title contradicts what Paul had just said in the verses right before our text at the end of chapter 2, where he makes the point that “following the rules” is the earthly way of looking at life. It doesn’t work to make you right with God, because you’ve already failed so miserably at following the rules.
You think life is about following the rules? Listen to what Paul says in our text, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” Then he adds, “You must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” That would be great, wouldn’t it? If only you just follow the rules.
But notice how many of the rules aren’t things you can so easily control – all of them, in fact. The wrath of God is coming because of – what? Not just things like murder or adultery, but because of greed, which is idolatry, because if you’re constantly thinking about your possessions or getting more things (like the rich man in today’s Gospel), then you’re not submitting to the will of God who’s given you what you have to use for his purposes. Instead you’re pursuing your own will, your own desires, your own purposes. Are you following the rules yet? The wrath of God is coming because of lust and evil desires. The wrath of God is coming because of sex outside of marriage, and because of anger and wishing evil on someone else and dirty jokes and potty mouths. Are you following the rules? Is your heart crystal clear?
No. God’s wrath is coming against all who live like that, breaking his rules in thought and word and deed. Which is why there was only one solution: to avoid being condemned to death on Judgment Day, you had to die before Judgment Day. You died with Christ.
Christ Jesus followed the rules in thought and word and deed – and was crucified for it. Now, God says, “Repent of your wickedness and trust in Christ, who died in your place.” Life with God is not about following the rules, but about faith in Christ – faith that comes alive in the waters of holy baptism and ties us to Christ with a sturdy bond – his death your death, his life your life.
So closely are believers united to Christ in baptism that the Scriptures refer to this bond as the bond of “Holy Matrimony.” They picture Jesus as the Bridegroom and his believers – his Church – as the most holy Bride, raised to new life by faith in Christ, given a holy status before God by faith in Christ, cleansed by the washing with water through the Word.
But here’s the thing: The Bible does not just picture your Baptism as a wedding day with Christ that has come and gone. Today is your wedding day – still. Baptism brings you into a wedding day that, as God sees it, begins with your baptism and ends only when Christ comes back to claim his Bride and take her home with him, to reign with him and to live with him forever in glory. That’s what he means when he says, Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
The Christian life is not about following the rules. It’s about a whole new perspective on life and death and earth and heaven. If you see this earth as your home and this life as your time to live it up, then you’ll go ahead and spend your days making a good life for yourself, storing up wealth as best as you can, spending your thoughts and your energy and your money in order to make yourself happy here on earth.
But if today is your wedding day – if what you’re seeking in your heart doesn’t live on this earth, but sits at the right hand of God, if your mind is not busy contemplating earthly happiness but eternity with Christ who loved you with an undying love, then you will live differently – not in order to follow the rules, but because today is your wedding day! And your Groom is about to walk through the church doors at any moment and sweep you off your feet and whisk you away to the heavenly feast.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned it to you before, those reality shows about brides-to-be going shopping for a wedding dress. They’ll spend up to $10,000 on a dress that they’ll wear for one day out their lives. Honestly, I think that makes them like the Rich Fool in our Gospel. No day on earth is worth being dressed like that, not even your wedding day. It’s vanity personified. Even so, when the bride-to-be buys a dress for $10,000 and the wedding day comes and she puts it on, I can guarantee you, she will be extra careful that day. She will not go for a roll in the mud. She will not allow any dirt or stain to get near that dress. She will not pin some gaudy costume jewelry to it or sew any cheap patches onto it or iron on any disgusting message. And if any lint sticks to it, any smudge gets on it she will not rest until it’s removed and immaculate again. It’s her wedding day, after all, and this dress has to be perfect.
What if the wedding day is between Christ and his Bride? What if her dress cost, not $10,000, but every drop of blood of her Bridegroom? Won’t she – won’t you be careful how you live? Those sins Paul mentioned, sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips – those things don’t belong on a wedding dress like this. Those things are not fitting for the Bride of Christ. You’ve taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Today is your wedding day, and Christ Jesus himself has bought you the beautiful dress you wear, the new self that is beginning to look more and more like God. Today is not the day to indulge your sinful nature any longer. Today is not the day to live your life carelessly or to stain your new self with foul language or bitter speech. If you look into your heart today and you find greed there, or lust, or anger – get rid of it! Get rid of all the nastiness and bitterness and self-centeredness in your life, not for the sake of “following the rules,” but because Christ is all, and is in all who believe in him.
Today is your wedding day – still. And your wedding dress doesn’t ever get placed in a box and stored on a shelf. It’s easy to set your hearts on things above while you’re sitting here, listening to God’s Word. It’s easy to remember to be careful not to get sin all over your wedding dress while you’re sitting here in church. Will you remember that today is your wedding day – still – when you leave this place and go out into your cars, into your homes, into your neighborhoods and workplaces? Remember to keep your wedding dress clean there, too. Remember that, even there, you are the Bride of Christ, his representatives in the world, wearing – at all times – this priceless wedding dress of a new, holy self, raised to new life with Christ Jesus. Remember, every morning when you get up, that today is your wedding day. Remember your baptism and the old self that is drowned in daily contrition and repentance. Remember the new self that arises to live for God. By the end of the week, you’ll need another reminder, no doubt. You’ll need to hear again – here – the voice of your Bridegroom, and you’ll need to receive again the forgiveness of sins in his body and blood, the foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet, where all that remains of your earthly nature will be gotten rid of forever. Amen.