I stood in the chancel with the bride and groom. The moment’s significance was infused with the Spirit’s presence as we turned to the most familiar of wedding scriptures:
If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
My homily encouraged the couple to nurture their love. I briefly reminded them to practice patience and kindness. I assured them it was hard to be loved as a rude braggart who always fought for his/her own way. And I made the interpretative leap that such behavior was not what the Lord intended as two become one flesh. For two to become one, I declared that one does not absorb the other; rather, one so enhances the other through the love of God that, to quote the band Mumford and Sons, love sets you free “to be more like the man, you were made to be.”
The ceremony was beautiful. The love was tangible. All in attendance were filled with joy, at least until the reception.
The reception was great. The food was excellent. The DJ was on point. The first dance choices were entertaining, and the cake was worth the wait. The problem was, only the couple carried love beyond the church sanctuary.
I surveyed the reception hall, and I noticed a table of church members that identify as liberal. At the next table, I spotted the more conservative crowd. And even at our table, the one with the minister and the organist, we avoided religion, politics, and church business so as not to offend anyone.
Of course, a wedding reception is not the place for debates about partisan issues, church personnel matters, or the decorating committee’s recommendation about carpeting, but the thing I noticed was that the table makeup at this reception hall mirrored the table makeup in the fellowship hall on Wednesday night. Everyone choose a safe table where it was easiest to love.
When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 13, he was trying to hold things together. The Corinthian church struggled with issues of theology and practice. They held different points of view on non-essential matters, and they embodied their faith differently. Yet the love chapter exists, in part, as a sort of glue to hold this congregation together even without perfect uniformity of ideology, theology, or the creedal stance.
Implicit in the Gospel call to love is the complicated reality that to love is our task, even when everything is not perfect. Christians must embody grace because we all fall short.
If we all were perfect in our love, Paul could have skipped the note about patience.
If we were always easy to get along with, Paul would not have written that “love is kind.”
And if we were always going to get things right in every instance, we would not read that we should “keep no record of wrongs.”
To love is not to get everyone in line. Instead, to love is to embody grace, to forgive, and to seek to live together despite our differences and imperfections.
I offer this because it is too easy to notice only the labels that divide us. Every church and wedding reception is full of people who are set on edge because of what they saw on Facebook or the news. Nevertheless, the call is still to love.
So whether we feel at home in our congregation or feel on the outs because of a decision, the call of God is to love, even without a uniform ideology. Whether we are excited about the vision committee’s direction or scared that the emerging mission statement leans away from our preferred hopes, the call is still to love because 1 Corinthians 13 is not just for couples. It is for the church.
Preachers prepare couples for the future by reminding them that they know they have a marriage after they survive their first fight. The reason for this is because returning to love through forgiveness after an argument is what makes a marriage a relationship and not a fling. The same is true for our churches. We have been through tense times, and there may be more tense times ahead, but the path toward the good news is a path paved in love.