Tobias and Sarah on their Wedding Night. German stained glass, c. 1520.
A homily for a wedding on June 15, 2013. The scripture readings are Tobit 8:5-8, Psalm 67, Colossians 3:12-17, and John 15:9-12.
When planning a wedding, early on, I give the couple a listing of scripture readings that are suggested for use by the Book of Common Prayer. From this listing, Stephanie and Chase have picked what we have just heard.
The Gospel from John is often chosen. Jesus is telling his disciples to “abide,” to keep faith, to keep on, to persist, to stick with it. Stick with the truth and teachings of God, as Jesus has embodied them. If you do, if you live in sync with God, then you’ll not only be happy. Happiness is a feeling, and feelings are notoriously unreliable. Instead, Jesus says, you’ll be joyous. You’ll be filled with a joy that is full, complete, and absolutely unimaginable. It’s joy that allows you to abide even when you’re not in a good mood, even when there’s no money, even when there’s uncertainty, and even when there’s sickness, and even through death. This is because joy points beyond the here-and-now. Joy points right into the heart of God.
Chase and Stephanie also picked the Letter of Paul to the Colossians, which has that lovely image about clothing yourself with love. Wear love like a new outfit that fits just right and makes you look amazing. Let love be what people see first, so that when they first spot you coming down the street, they say, “Look, here comes love!”
Psalm 67 is a great psalm for a wedding—filled with praise, and blessing, and more joy.
But the most peculiar choice of a reading is in Stephanie and Chase’s choice of a reading from the Book of Tobit. On the surface, the reading sounds just right for a wedding. Someone named Tobias has just married someone name Sarah, and they’re full of joy, so they sing a song to praise God. They mention Adam and Eve, the goodness of two teaming up as opposed to one going it alone, and they dream out loud that “we may find mercy and that we may grow old together.”
While we could call it a day with these happy, joyous readings from scripture, the choice of Tobit practically begs us to explore the context, to think a little about where that prayer comes from. Beautiful, though it may sound, for Tobias and Sarah, their love did not come easily. The life of faith was an adventure for them, an adventure enriched by marriage.
The Book of Tobit is from that part of the Bible called the Apocrypha. These are scriptures that— while ancient—were not included as canon, or official scriptures, in the Hebrew Bible. Christians have read them, but have ended up with a kind of split decision about their authority. Beginning with Martin Luther, the Apocryphal books began to be printed in a separate section of the Bible, and over the years, some more Protestant traditions have left them out of Bible altogether. One would not tend to hear readings from these books in more Protestant churches, like the Presbyterians or the Baptists.
Sometime, when you have the chance, read the Book of Tobit. Read it online or get a Bible with the Apocrypha in it. It’s a great story. If it were made into a movie, it would rival the Lord of the Rings. There’s death and drama, fortunes lost and regained, illness, illusion, there’s a demon and there’s an angel. The Angel Raphael makes his biblical appearance in this story.
The Book is about Tobias, whose father is named Tobit. The father loses his eyesight, loses his livelihood, and the strains even take a toll of his marriage. And so Tobias, the son, is sent on a journey to reclaim some family money. The Angel Raphael shows up disguised as a guide, and Raphael helps Tobias get to the homeland.
Meanwhile, in this land far away, there is a distant relative, the lovely Sarah. Lovely, but cursed. A kind of demon hovers over Sarah. She gets engaged, and each time, the husband falls dead. This has happened seven times. People were beginning to accuse Sarah, so she is predictably, distraught.
Meanwhile, the Angel Raphael helps Tobias on his journey and they reach the distant homeland. Everyone agrees that Tobias and Sarah should be married. Since Raphael has given Tobias a weapon to chase away the demon, they both know that Tobias will not die when he marries Sarah. But Sarah’s father doesn’t have so much faith. In fact, the day of the wedding, her father begins to dig a grave, so that when Tobias dies, they can cover up the evidence. But Tobias and Sarah are married, they live healthily and happily. The demon is chased off, and they return to see Tobias’s father, who is now healed of his blindness, and all praise God.
That’s some story, isn’t it? The point I’m trying to make is that this lovely prayer of praise we hear in our reading today does not come easily. It is not glibly offered. Instead, it rises up out of a depth of pain, suffering, and waiting. It happens because Tobias and Sarah are able to abide—to trust in God, to wait, and to believe that love will carry them through.
Chase and Stephanie, there are at least three points I want to offer you from this fantastic story of Tobit. The first is to praise God. The second is to learn from your parents. And the third is to look out for angels and let them guide you.
“Praise God,” which is to say, thank God for each day you have. Even when it’s not a particularly good day. Even when you’re mad at yourself, each other, and the world. Even when someone you care about is in trouble. Talk to God. Thank God for the good that is in you and each other, and ask God to help.
The second thing is to learn from your parents. In the story of Tobit, the parents don’t always get it right, but Tobias and Sarah stay in relationship with them, listen to them, watch them, and learn from them. Your parents have done the very best they could. Along the way, there are doubtless a few mistakes, but there’s also much wise counsel. So continue to learn from them and lean on them.
And finally, look out for angels. In the Hebrew, the word used for angel is the same word used for a messenger. So one can never be too sure. Is it a stranger who comes at just the right time—or an angel? Is it a friend who bales you out, or an angel? That idea or insight or apology that rises out of you without your control—is it you, or is it an angel inviting truth?
Praising God, leaning on family, looking out for angels, Stephanie and Chase, I pray that your marriage will be a blessed adventure and all of us here join in that same prayer for you that Tobias and Sarah prayed—that God would keep you in his mercy, bless you, and allow you to grow old together.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.