Beulah

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Weddings are stressful.
In fact, as a priest,
it has been my observation
that when it comes to
the rites and rituals of the Church—
blessings, baptisms, burials, and more—
the one that causes
the most stress
in people’s lives . . .
is weddings.

There’s all the planning,
all the costs,
all the complex relationships.

Honestly, it often feels to me
like weddings are less about
the bride, the groom,
and what God is doing in their lives,
and more about whether
Great Aunt Edna is happy.

Oh yes, weddings are stressful.

So imagine what it must have been like
when a poor young couple got married
in a little town called Cana in Galilee.

It was their special day,
and at that time
in that part of the world,
special days were hard to come by.

People were poor and had very little joy;
so weddings were a big, big deal.

After the wedding,
the family would march the new couple
through the entire village,
taking the longest route possible
so everyone could see them.

Villagers would put crowns on the couple’s heads
and treat them like king and queen for a day.

And at the time of the wedding,
there was the banquet.
For people who had so little,
the banquet meant so much.

So imagine what it would have been like
when your mother’s friend Mary shows up—
which is cool . . . you sort of expected that
Miss Mary from next door might come—
but she also brings with her
her adult son Jesus
who nobody has seen for months
because he has been off God-knows-where,
doing God-knows-what.

On top of that,
her son Jesus brings a whole gaggle of new friends—
these “disciples” of his—
and they crash your wedding party!

Now, I’m sort of joking,
but I’m sort of not.

It says in John’s gospel that Jesus was invited,
but you can definitely tell
that there were more people than expected.
Why? Because the wine ran out.

You can also tell that
Mary felt some responsibility for it
because she leans over to Jesus
and says, “Son, you have to do something.”

But what you can also hopefully tell
is that having Jesus and his friends
at your wedding
is never a liability.
He doesn’t take away from it.

Having Jesus and his friends
at your wedding
is a blessing.
He only adds to it.

The changing of water into wine
at some poor, unnamed couple’s wedding
is Jesus’ first miracle,
and it shows us a lot of things.

It shows us that he meets us where we are.
It shows us that he is about bringing people together.
It shows us that he has come to lavish us with joy.

I have been at weddings
with all kinds of guests of honor:
a wedding attended by multiple bishops
from all across the country;
a wedding attended by a sitting United States senator,
complete with armed protective service;
and a wedding attended by the Clemson Tiger mascot,
who, I must say, is really good on the dance floor.

But the weddings that have meant the most
have been the weddings where the real guests of honor
are Jesus and his friends.

Whenever I preach at a wedding,
one of the things I’ll often do
is to ask the couple
to turn and face the congregation.

It’s partially so they can see all these people
who have come to love them and support them . . .
including even Great Aunt Edna.

But it’s also so the congregation can look upon them.

And what I say is this:
Today is very much about you,
and the thing you are doing,
and the love that you have come share.

But even more than that,
today is about God.
It is about the thing that God is doing.
It is about the love that God has come to share.

On this day,
you two stand before us as an icon
of God’s redeeming, reconciling love.

That doesn’t mean you’ll always get it right.
In fact, by the end of today,
you will probably have gotten it wrong
at least seventy times.

But at least in this moment,
you show us by your very lives
what God is doing in this world.

Only God can bring people together.
Only God can make two into one.
Only God can create the promise of a life
of ongoing love, healing, forgiveness, and grace,
which is exactly what you will need
if you are to make it,
because, frankly, it’s exactly what all of us need
in order to make it . . .
including Great Aunt Edna.

Some pastors crassly joke
that they would much rather
do a funeral than a wedding.

Funerals are usually more honest;
they’re easier to plan;
and unlike the married,
the dead stay dead.

Well, this week I was put in mind
not of any great wedding songs,
but of an old funeral hymn.

Honestly, it’s not one of my favorites,
but I know it is to many of you,
particularly those of you
who may have grown up Baptist or Methodist.

It’s “Beulah Land.”

On the surface, “Beulah Land”
is a song about heaven,
and its lyrics go like this:

“I’m kind of homesick for a country
to which I’ve never been before.
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
for time won’t matter anymore.
Beulah Land, I’m longing for you,
and some day on thee I’ll stand.
There my home shall be eternal:
Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land.”

But do any of you know
what “Beulah” actually means?

Believe it or not,
it’s right there
in today’s reading from Isaiah.

After all that Israel and Judah have been through—
after all the pain, forsakenness, and desolation—
God finally looks on them and says:
“I am about to give you a new name.
You are about to be a crown on my head.”

As the King James Version puts it:
“Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken;
neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate:
but thou shalt be called Hephzibah,
and thy land Beulah:
for the LORD delighteth in thee,
and thy land shall be married.”

Y’all, the word Beulah
literally means “married.”

God’s promise to Judah—
God’s promise to us—
is that we are not alone.
God has taken us to himself.
Like a bride before her bridegroom,
we are protected,
we are cared for,
we are loved.

We are our Beloved’s,
and he is ours,
and nothing can take that away.

Turns out, “Beulah Land” is no funeral song.
“Beulah Land” is a wedding dance.

So, what’s the grace for you today?
The grace for you today is at least threefold:

Number one:
when Jesus crashes your party
and shows up in the midst of your life,
he may bring disruption in his wake,
but he brings blessings, too.

Number two:
in Jesus, God is doing the long, slow work
of bringing people together,
of fashioning us all into one,
of reconciling all people
to himself and to one another . . .
including—you guessed it—
even Great Aunt Edna.

And number three:
you belong to God.
You don’t have to be homesick
for a far-off country,
for that country has already come to you.
You are God’s beloved,
and your name is Beulah.

Amen.