Thursday, December 16, 2010

God Loves Naked People

The following is a transcript of my wedding sermon written as my final Homiletics assignment. The psalm referred to here is Psalm 139. I used the names Paul and Thekla as my fictional married couple--props to you if you get my church history joke.

God loves naked people. God created us naked. We’re not born with suit and tie (or skirt and heels), right? Most of us remember from Sunday school that Adam and Eve went about those primordial years au naturale, blissfully unconcerned about it. Adam never looked at Eve in those days to say, “Eden feel a bit drafty today?” Rather, Genesis tells us that “the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”[1]   Our creational account is packed with so many firsts and prototypes, and one of them is the first marriage. We see in the unfallen Adam and Eve an effortless vulnerability and self-exposure, doubtless a powerful context for incredibly deep interpersonal knowledge. For the kind of fellowship God intended humans to have, even as he said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.”[2]   Imagine what friendship and romance would be like without selfishness, without distrust, without lies and violations. That’s the holy peace, the blessing God desires for all the families of the earth.

Of course we know that it didn’t stay that way. Our lives are deeply complicated by the problem of sin and human failure; our relationships so often broken and hurting. We long for peace and deep sharing with others, but we’re our own worst enemies. And just as sin originally drove Adam and Eve to cover their nether-regions, the brokenness, pain and transgressions in our lives cause us to cover ourselves. I am not, this afternoon, advocating public nudity or anything so crass. I am merely pointing out what most of us at least intuitively know—we just don’t share our deepest selves, our figurative nether regions, with everyone. Sometimes with anyone. We’re afraid to be fully known, because in our nakedness we are ashamed.

In our psalm today, the composer says to God, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”[3]   That’s some intense x-ray vision. Sort of like a cosmic full-body scanner like they have at airport security. As uncomfortable as those contraptions make us, the God of heaven and earth sees way more than the TSA.

But the psalmist isn’t boycotting this divine invasion of privacy! He sings, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is so high that I cannot attain it.” And rather than squirm uncomfortably at the thought of exposure, he invites God’s penetrating gaze: “Search me, O God, and know my heart… See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” This should surprise us because it’s not normal human behavior to want our wickedness exposed. We hide. We run for cover. Just as the first husband and wife did all those millenia ago. But the psalmist understands God in a way Adam and Eve didn’t grasp, or were deceived into doubting. If God knows everything, why not let him deal with you? And if God is good, holy, just, merciful and omnipotent, who wouldn’t want his involvement?

So what does this have to do with marriage? Believe it or not, marriage involves nudity. Shocking, I know. The way our secularized culture treats marriage, however, dilutes the point I’m about to make. Through pre-marital sex, people expose themselves physically to one another without the concordant psychological, emotional and spiritual exposure that a lifelong commitment to another person entails. Its sinful precisely because it divorces body from mind, separates our beings in ways never meant to happen. Sexual “liberation” is sexual slavery. My point here now is that Christian marriage in a very sober sense means a lifelong commitment to someone before seeing them naked, figuratively and literally. Marital faithfulness means not running away when you begin to encounter the depths of the person you love—when they begin to encounter yours. It’s an intentionally intrusive set up—listen to this Paul and Thekla—designed by God to refine and sanctify you. It will not always be fun, but, with the Lord’s help, it will ultimately be good.

The liturgy we hear today tells us that marriage “signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church, and Holy Scripture commends it to be honored among all people.”[4]   The marriage covenant speaks of a higher covenant, a commitment made by God to humans without the stipulation that they take off their clothes. In other words, God doesn’t commit to us based liking what he sees when he looks at our true selves. If he did, we’d never make the cut.

Paul and Thekla marry today knowing some things about each other. They know that they both enjoy backpacking in the mountains. They know that they both enjoy old movies and good wine. They know that they both love serving and loving others as part of God’s people. And we, as their community at Church of the Resurrection, can attest to the good things they share as well. We have witnessed their love and commitment grow and mature this last year, and it is because of this that we have gathered together with them today.

However, just as we witnesses do not share in the closest and most personal parts of Paul and Thekla’s romance, so also Paul and Thekla have yet to share the deepest and most intimate parts of their selves. Marriage will mean exposure, both figuratively and literally, for our dear friends. I am here to declare today to you, Paul, and to you, Thekla that the dark corners of your souls will be unearthed by your life together. Places of darkness, pain, fear and sadness will inevitably surface. Not because either of you are particularly bad human beings, but precisely because you are normal human beings. Even Christians cannot escape this fate, as being new creations in Christ is a lifelong process of sanctification and not a one-stop, instantaneous transformation. Marriage will be a crucial part of your pilgrimage toward heaven, a process of love and refinement lasting decades.

So don’t be surprised when you find yourselves in your first fight! It’s going to happen! One day you’re going to look at the other person and say, “Surely this isn’t the beautiful creature or the godly adonis that I married!” Watch yourself when those thoughts and feelings come to the fore. Because those are the moments that a strong marriage is made of; because it’s how you respond when your loved ones fail you that determines the strength of your closest relationships.

Let’s turn our thoughts back to God for a moment. Unlike the way Thekla can know Paul or vice versa, God knows our best and brightest attributes as well as our deepest depravities as a matter of fact. So when God makes an offer of commitment and love to you—and he has—it’s demonstrably more astounding than the one you made or may one day make on your wedding day. More astounding than what Paul and Thekla are about to do today. Though we know they are doing a beautiful thing. That’s the marvel and the offense of the gospel, the loving and faithful commitment of God to people who by no means merit such a gift.

How is it that then Christ is the bridegroom, and we are the bride? Women take to this analogy naturally, but men tend to struggle with it. It seems flowery and girly. But when the Bible speaks this way about Christ and the church, we need not picture an iconic and kissy romantic embrace a la The Princess Bride or somesuch. Though it is a profound encouragement that, when asked what he had to live for, Jesus did not mutter “to blave.” True love, he says! For the joy set before him, he endured the cross. And yes, when he returns, he will shame the metaphorical Prince Humperdinck of this world.

But we can think of Christ as the true bridegroom today because we know that he knows us deeply and intimately, yet he has chosen us. That is the gospel. Christ sees us naked, yet he offers redemption to us. God loves naked people. And so I charge you both today—you Paul, and you Thekla—“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”[5]   Go thou, and do likewise. Amen.

[1] Genesis 2:25.
[2] Genesis 2:18.
[3] Psalm 139.
[4] BCP, 423.
[5] I Corinthians 13:4-8

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