Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the most famous Christian leaders of the resistance against Hitler’s Third Reich. He had made his way out of Germany for a little while early on, but he refused to stay out. “I shall have no right,” he wrote to a friend, “to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…”
After working tirelessly for several years to encourage and lead the faithful Christians in Germany, he was finally arrested by the Gestapo on April 5th, 1943. He spent two years in concentration camps, and was finally killed in Flossenburg by special order of Himmler on April 9th, 1945, just a couple of days before Allied troops arrived. One of Bonhoeffer’s most famous works is the book “The Cost of Discipleship.”
Bonhoeffer’s comments and observations in that book are given particular weight and glory by virtue of Bonhoeffer’s own death. He famously says, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” In the forward of the edition I own, GKA Bell writes of that statement: “There are different kinds of dying, it is true; but the essence of discipleship is contained in those words. And this marvelous book is a commentary on the cost. Dietrich himself was a martyr many times before he died.”
Bonhoeffer describes the call of Jesus as “nothing else than bondage to Jesus Christ alone, completely breaking through every program, every ideal, every set of laws. No other significance is possible, since Jesus is the only significance. Beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.” (58-59)
In our text for today from Matthew’s gospel, Jesus calls two sets of brothers: Simon Peter and Andrew and then James and John. But it might seem odd to choose this text for a wedding homily. On the one hand, this text seems singularly unromantic. It seems out of place, even a bit crass for a beautiful ceremony like this.
Here we are in our finest clothes: we have a beautiful young woman being given to a handsome, faithful man. And I’ve just read about a bunch of dirty fisherman and their smelly nets and boats. And on the other hand, there’s nothing here about love, nothing about making love, husbands, wives, having babies, Adam and Eve naked in the garden, all the usual sorts of topics for wedding sermons.
And I’ve also begun with a rather morbid introduction about a martyr and a reminder of the great evils sinful men are capable of. But if Bonhoeffer is right, if it is true that “beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters,” then it is true here. It is true right now at this wedding ceremony. If beside Jesus nothing else matters, then beside Jesus this ceremony doesn’t matter. Your beauty, your faithfulness, the flowers, the candles: nothing else matters.
And that’s the point of the text: Jesus is not at all concerned about the abruptness of his call. He does not apologize for interrupting. And elsewhere he makes it clear that He is interrupting. He means to interrupt. In Mark, Jesus calls Levi while he is sitting at his tax office. Jesus orders Levi to leave his occupation. There is no indication that Levi gave his two weeks notice or even notified his superior.
In Luke 9, the time table is even more explicit. When Jesus calls a couple of people they ask to first go and bury their father or to go home and say goodbye, and Jesus responds by saying, ‘No, follow me now, or else you are not fit for the kingdom of God.’ Jesus says to his would-be disciples: Follow me. Follow me now. He interrupts their lives.
We are here celebrating the marriage of Chris and Abby, but if beside Jesus nothing else matters, then this occasion must be oriented to that. This wedding must be oriented to the Call of Jesus. And so this celebration is not merely a union of a husband and a wife. It is that, but it is far more importantly, a commissioning service. Today the Lord Jesus is calling you to be His disciples. And you might say, well we already were his disciples yesterday, and that’s true and right, but Jesus calls and he does not stop calling.
He begins to call many of us from our infancy, he begins to call some of us when we are older, but He does not stop calling. He calls us every Lord’s Day in worship. He calls us through His Word and in the sacraments. He calls us through friends and family who faithfully remind us in word and deed. And so this is yet another Call of Jesus. And Jesus says to both of you, Chris and Abby, follow me. And you might say that’s a nice moralistic lesson, but there must always be concrete acts of obedience in order to follow Jesus faithfully.
And there are at least two concrete acts of obedience before each of you today. First, toward Jesus himself, the command is once again to repent and believe. And this command goes broadly to all here in attendance. If you are harboring any sin, if you continue to withhold some aspect of your life from the Lord Jesus Christ, as an ordained minister of the Lord Jesus, I am authorized to command you to stop it. Whatever little idol you are clutching to, drop it now. Whatever you are clutching at, you may not have it. And Chris and Abby, this must be the foundation of your marriage. Drop everything today; drop everything tomorrow. Bonhoeffer says that the faithful disciple “simply burns his boats and goes ahead.”
And this leads us to the second command which is specific to Chris and Abby. You are called today to marry one another, to love one another, and to give yourselves fully to one another. And really, the challenging part of that command is to keep doing it, to die doing it. You must each become martyrs for one another many times before you die. And Jesus fully intends this as an interruption. Like all faithful disciples, you are both leaving family behind in various ways. James and John left their father Zebedee in the boat and followed Jesus. And each of you are leaving father and mother in different ways to be united as husband and wife.
But it’s a glorious interruption. You two have been living lives for the last number of years as members of different families, differing styles, differing tendencies. You have had plans of your own, and in God’s goodness He has brought you together. And you’ve been drawing closer over the last couple of years. But even with all that planning, all that getting to know one another, you will soon find that it is a great deal more than you ever imagined. In God’s goodness, He designed marriage such that two completely different people are knit into one. And what really is impossible apart from the working of God’s grace is glorious and wonderful, but you must know that Jesus calls you to do this today, now. Jesus bids you come and die. And that means that from this day forward you cannot live as you did yesterday. You cannot live as singles any longer. That life is over. Jesus calls you to die and to begin a new life today.
Lastly, notice that in our text Jesus calls pairs of disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men. Of course these are two sets of brothers, but in your case, Jesus is calling you as a pair. Fundamentally, you are a brother and a sister in the Lord first before you are husband and wife. Since beside Jesus nothing has any significance, your first identity is with Jesus. You are first related to Him as brother and sister, and Jesus has called you together to be His disciples together. And all Christian marriages are this.
Every Christian marriage is a commissioning where Jesus calls two people to be His disciples together, to follow Him together. We see this in Acts where Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos aside together and explained the way of God to him more accurately. Of course there are specific gifts and callings given within the general call of discipleship, but you are nevertheless called. You are called to follow Jesus now, today. You are called to leave behind all that hinders you from following this call in obedience, and you are called to this together.
The point of marriage of course includes all the things we said at the beginning. But perhaps one of the less mentioned purposes of marriage is so that you can follow Jesus more effectively. This is the most important part of the help you are called to provide to one another. You are called to be disciples of Jesus, to follow Him wherever He commands, to drop what you are doing, to burn the boats and simply follow. And you are called to assist one another in doing this. You are called to egg each other on, to remind each other regularly, daily, incessantly, that beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.
Paul says husbands do this through loving their wives like Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. And wives do this through submitting to their husbands as to the Lord. You must be martyrs many times before you die, and these are your orders. In order to die well, we all get to practice dying every day. And this is most certainly true in marriage. Dying to self, living for each other – Chris loving, Abby submitting – this is the daily martyrdom that Jesus calls every husband and wife to. But this is the call to discipleship, the call to grace, the call to freedom and joy and blessing. So Chris and Abby, I call you to this grace, to this blessing, to this glory because surely beside Jesus nothing has any significance. He alone matters.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.