Sermon: The Marriage of Yonas Mekonen and Stephanie Lange

On November 18th, our ILS Lower School teacher, Yonas Mekonen, and our Immanuel Lutheran Church Kantor, Stephanie Lange, were united in marriage at Immanuel Lutheran Church. Pastor Christopher Esget performed the ceremony. Please join us in extending best wishes to Mr. & Mrs. Mekonen!

Pastor Christopher Esget
November 18, 2018

Immanuel Evangelical-Lutheran Church, Alexandria, Virginia

I imagine that from the time she was a young girl, people were saying that Stephanie sings like an angel. She looks like an angel, too – the kind you might find at the top of the Christmas tree, or in the sky singing to shepherds at Bethlehem. 

But those of us who know Stephanie know that she’s no angel. If she was, she couldn’t be part of the seraphim—they’re the angels of fire. Fires have a way of getting out of control around Stephanie. (It’s a good thing Yonas is a good cook.)

Besides, does an angel make her sisters sing backup while she cranks out love songs from Titanic?

But the truth is, Stephanie’s spectacular. Once she’s in your life (or your balcony!), you don’t ever want her gone. Yet here’s why Stephanie is no angel: because angels in the Bible are completely different from today’s sentimental images. Angels are not sweet but scary. Angels are not feminine but masculine. Their voices don’t soar to the top of the church but rumble low, shaking pillars. God’s angels are big and strong. Angels look more like Yonas than Stephanie.

You know I’ve joked about putting stickers on the church with your picture on them, Yonas – you know, the body-building picture where you’re flexing your muscles. They’d be perfect at the door, like a security sticker that says “Protected by Yonas.”

Today in holy marriage, that’s what being stamped on Stephanie: “Protected by Yonas.” And if I’m reading my Amharic dictionary correctly, Mekonnen actually means angel. Angels protect God’s people. So that’s your first job as a husband, Yonas. Fulfill your name. Be Stephanie’s angel. Guard her with all your might. Protect her. Watch over her. Let no evil come upon her. This is forever, Yonas. Guard her, stay by her to your death.

Mekonnen sounds to me like another Amharic word, Mekane. The name of the Lutheran Church in Ethiopia is called Mekane Yesus, which means “dwelling place of Jesus.” It’s a beautiful name for a church, and it’s also, Yonas and Stephanie, what your marriage is called to be.

Your marriage is called to be a living embodiment of what we heard in the Bible readings you selected for your wedding: Jesus says, “Abide [dwell] in my love.” And in Revelation, the beloved Yonas, or as we say in English, the beloved John, says, “The dwelling place of God is with man.”

God made man with the incarnation in view. Incarnation means becoming flesh or taking on a body. It’s what we celebrate at Christmas, that God became man in the womb of the virgin Mary. This wasn’t a plan B, simply a remedy for sin. From the foundation of the world, God intended to be with man in a physical, embodied way.

While churches are often overrun with “spiritual” talk, we relate to each other as embodied creatures, and Christianity is a very physical, embodied religion. We splash people with water, we lay hands on people, we burn candles and wear special clothes, we eat bread and drink wine, and confess that in it Jesus is truly present in His body and blood.

Life is physical, which is why in a little bit, Yonas is going to say to Stephanie, “With my body I honor you.” And God today blesses them to have a special embodied relationship unique to a husband and wife. This is part of the dwelling together, the abiding together that God means for families.

And yet, there’s so much more to it than just bodies interacting. In this fallen world, human beings have settled for the marriage act without fulfilling the marriage commitment. This is not because our human desires are too strong, but too weak. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

So the special physical relationship between a husband and wife is not just about bodies interacting, but about the love that drives all of your interactions. 

Love makes no demands. It does not say, “Satisfy me!”

Love issues no ultimatums. It does not say, “Do this, or else!”

Love keeps no record of wrongs. It does not say, “I will never forget how you hurt me.”

Love does not say, “Fulfill my desires!” Love says, “How can I best serve my wife?”

Love does not say, “Serve me!” Love says, “How can I honor my husband?”

A couple can live together, but not abide together. A couple can be physically intimate but never open their hearts to one another. Stephanie and Yonas can have a successful partnership. They can so order their lives that they get their bills paid and manage not to kill each other. They can even enjoy each other’s company, sing, eat injira and tibs, and then lift weights. But God wants more.

When Jesus says, “Abide in My love,” He calls each Christian to be deeply connected to Him. The Christian is content; the love of Christ supplies everything needed. This “abiding” means to be at home; where one is both jubilant and calm; there is growth and an increase in joy, but no restlessness or dissatisfaction. The Christian is conformed more and more to who Jesus is and how He shows love and imparts grace.

When two Christians are joined in holy marriage, they are creating a home together, an abiding together that only fulfills God’s calling when it is founded on that first principle of home. The Christian home abides in the Gospel of Jesus. The Christian home is content and rejoices in who God is and what He says.

Then, having that, the husband and wife can abide in each other because they have already begun to abide in Christ’s love. Your home, Stephanie and Yonas, is to be the Mekane Yesus - the dwelling place of Jesus. Yonas Mekonen, you are the angel of this home, the guardian and protector. Stephanie is the crown, the glory, the queen and treasure. Fill your home, Stephanie, not just with singing but with the song of faith. The Mekonen home is the Mekane Yesus - the dwelling place of Jesus.

Forget what is past. Behold, today God is making all things new. My dear friends, the LORD bless you and keep you. +INJ+