Just Who Let You in Here?

It is uncanny how the Holy Spirit sometimes seems to be working in overdrive.  This past week Jai and I flew East to Connecticut so that I might officiate at our younger son Christopher and Alexis’s wedding.

Jai and I headed out a few days early so as not to be caught in the same sort of massive airlines schedule kerfuffle as we encountered when we attempted to fly to Vancouver for our Alaskan cruise with these two.

We drove out to the venue, the Waveny House in New Canaan, a huge mansion built by the Lapham family in 1912, sited on three hundred acres.

As we drove up a long drive to this massive edifice, it had its intended effect – we were most impressed.  On the day of the wedding, we had arrived as the catering crew was wheeling in huge round tables and setting up chairs.  We made our way upstairs to the bride’s room and the groom’s suite.

There was Christopher and some eight or nine groomsmen and one groomswoman, Erin.  She and her brother had grown up in Alaska with our two boys beginning in preschool.  She is part of the family.

This was shaping up to be a most joyous occasion.

The same as in Jesus’ Parable of the Wedding as told in our gospel lesson for today from Matthew.  This was another story to illustrate the mysteries of the Reign of God at the end time.

All sorts were invited but many proved unworthy.  They ignored the invitation.  They made silly excuses.  Some even mistreated and killed the messengers.

So, as all was ready and the fated lamb slaughtered, this king again sent out messengers to invite any and everyone they encountered.  As the guests assembled, there was this one fellow not wearing the customary wedding robe.  A party crasher perhaps?

“’Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’  And he was speechless.  Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”

There’s lots of scholarly commentary on this lack of a proper wedding robe.  What I take it to be is evidence of a piss-poor attitude.  At such joyous celebrations no Debbie Downers or Bobby Bummers are needed, thank you.  Definitely not ready to join Kool and the Gang, “Celebrate Good Times, Come On!!!”  If not the outer darkness, at least the penalty box with him!

No rain needed on this parade.  Though someone forgot to tell this to the weather forecaster.  A tropical storm blew into New England and our rehearsal started off with a deluge.

While the outdoor site for the ceremony was a huge, covered porch able to fit the hundred or so guests, it was still cold and a bit windy.  The women with their bare arms and shoulders were definitely chilled.

Finally, the moment arrived.  I walked up the aisle followed by Christopher.  Then Jai on the arm of our oldest, Jonathan.  Then all these wonderful young men and women of the wedding party.  Splendid in their formal attire.  These young kids, previously in jeans and sweats, clean up real nicely!

As Alexis approached on the arm of her father, I noticed a lump already forming in my throat.  Their smiles were radiant.  Though the sky was overcast and still drizzly, she sparkled like the sun.  Christopher’s face was incandescent.

I knew I had to keep remarks short.  Days earlier when I had told Bishop John that I was given five to eight minutes, he commented, “John, I’ve never known your sermons to be anywhere that short.”

So, I began, “Friends and family, we are gathered in the Name of All that is Holy to join this man and woman in marriage.”

I was mostly keeping it together.  Though I told them of my wife’s admonition about some of my sermon stories, “You can’t tell that.”  “Why not?” I asked.  “You’ll cry.”  “They’re used to that,” I would respond.

I told them, that though they thought they knew each other pretty well – actually they had been together about five years – there would still be some surprises ahead.

I recounted that soon after Jai and I were married, asking her what she knew how to cook.  After a pause, she offered, “I can make tuna salad sandwiches.”

“That’s all?” I thought.  “That’s all!?”

We’re going to have tuna sandwiches until death do us part?

Meanwhile, Jai, as she gazed upon several piles of dirty clothes strewn about the floor was wondering, “What did his mother tell him?”  “John, don’t put your dirty clothes in the clothes hamper!  Leave them on the floor, otherwise what will your wife have to do?” 

Is that what his mother taught him?  No Prince Charming here!  Piles of dirty clothes unto death do us part?

Surprises there will be.  Count on it.

I reminded the couple that their new relationship will reveal the divine mysteries of human existence.  When Martin Luther abolished the monasteries in the 1500s, the monks asked him, that without the regular hours of monastic prayer, how would they now know the will of God?”

“Go get married,” he told them.  “Your wives will tell you what God wants you to know.”  And likewise, we might add, your husbands.  Holy insight will be born of this new relationship as in no other.  That is your gift to the other.

By the time each had said their written vows to one another, we were all a bit choked up. 

I followed with the traditional vows.

“Forsaking all others, Alexis, do you take this man to be your wedded husband…?”  Yes, then Christopher, “Do you take this woman…?”  Yes, “To love, honor, and cherish in sickness and health.  For richer or poorer?”

After pronouncing them husband and wife, before I had a chance to say you may kiss the bride, they were locked in a tight embrace.  John Ford Coley got it right, “Love is the Answer.”

I closed with words from 1 Corinthians on love.  I told all assembled that this was for them as well, these words on love.  It is patient, kind.  Does not insist on its own way.  Bears all.  Forgives all.  It is the glue to our humanity.  Among all that passes away, it alone endures.  I think this is what I said.  By this time all three of us were quite emotional.  And there was not a dry eye in the house.

I introduced to the assemblage, Christopher and Alexis Forney, and we then we all smartly proceeded back down the aisle.

For my toast after dinner, I mentioned that in Greek Orthodox weddings crowns are sometimes placed over the heads of the couple to signify that they are now king and queen of a new creation.

They are joined to create a new family rooted in the love and values they bring to their marriage.  They are creating a whole new reality to be a blessing to each other and to their families.

I mentioned that I had seen a coffee cup that said, “I don’t have any favorites among my children…but if I did, it would be my daughter-in-law.” 

Not only are we creating a totally new reality, but the gifts and talents they bring to this relationship they bring to their community.  To America.  They are creating a family that looks like America.

To that agonized question, “People can’t we all get along?”  I told all that the faces in this room were the answer to that plea.  A resounding YES.  Here is now a new family that looks like America.  And I am blessed and proud to be a part of what is being created today.  Right here in this room.

So off they go, “side by side, singing their song.”  God bless ‘em.

Indeed, this is a foretaste of that divine “Kin-dom.”   No Debbie Downers, no Bobbie Bummers, PLEASE!  You come with attitude…to the penalty box with you!

Marriage is understood as a sacrament because it is through such union that we have the opportunity to grow into our fullest selves.  To grow up.  These days our understanding of this union is much more capacious than back in my day.  With marriage equality, this blessing is extended to all.

They’re now off in the Catskill Mountains of New York enjoying a brief honeymoon.  You do know what the honeymoon sandwich is, don’t you?  Lettuce Alone!

I still remember the hate and vituperation at All Saints, Pasadena, when one of Jai’s best friends, Mark, was joined with his male partner, Phil, in a ceremony of commitment (same sex marriage was not yet permitted in California).   Yet, despite all the outrage, their union, and later, marriage, lasted far longer than many straight marriages.  Sadly, years later, it ended in “unto death do us part.” 

The joy of deep human companionship, especially through marriage, is a picture of eternal life.  Our congregations should reflect the same blessings.  If your church does not, you’re in the wrong church.

Find a church that challenges, informs, celebrates good times, lifts your heart.  I believe that’s a good part of what we do here at St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach.  Sunday after Sunday.  And often midweek. 

I have been richly blessed to have shared in this transcendent moment, this taste of “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” with my wife Jai, Christopher and Alexis and a whole new family.  With scattered friends across this nation.  And with you here at St. Francis.  Proof positive that God is Good…All the time!   Amen.

The Newlyweds Toasted

The families with the newlyweds – the next day

October 15, 2023
20 Pentecost, Proper 23

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney
Isaiah 25:1-9; Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9; Matthew 22:15-22

“Just Who Let You in Here?”

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