[I write a column called Better Living for a chain of suburban Cincinnati newspapers. I adapted my lengthy Valentine's Day Thoughts post here and turned it into a column. Hopefully, the same basic message comes through.]
I recently made a discovery: Although I’ve prepared a fresh sermon for every wedding over which I’ve presided during the last twenty-one years, I really only have one wedding sermon.
It follows a pattern similar to those old anti-drug public service announcements in which we see an egg in a frying pan and hear a voice-over announcer say, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?”
I start by saying, “This is love” and then typically quote the words of Saint Paul in the Bible’s famous “love chapter,” First Corinthians 13. Paul says, among other things that, “...Love cares more for others than for self...doesn't want what it doesn't have...doesn't strut, doesn't have a swelled head, doesn't force itself on others, isn't always ‘me first,’ doesn't fly off the handle, doesn't keep score of the sins of others, doesn't revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back [and] keeps going to the end” (That’s from verses 4-7 in The Message paraphrase).
If put to a vote, most people, no matter their religion or even if they have no religion, would agree, “Yep, that's what love is like.” They’d also acknowledge that for relationships to work, love like that--committed, perseverant, forgiving, charitable, selfless--has to exist. This is love.
Which brings the next point in my one and only wedding sermon: No human being can love like that on their own steam. “Yes, I can!” you may object. Speaking for myself and, I’m confident, for all but one of the six-billion inhabitants of the planet, I can only say, “You may be the exception, but I doubt it.” We’re so mired in ourselves that no matter our good intentions, resolutions, or passions, at some point, our capacity to love spouses, children, parents, friends, and neighbors with the love that Paul portrays will break down. We’ll gloat when we’re right, take the bigger piece of cake, make dinner plans without consulting our spouse, go berserk when the child does some innocuous thing of which we don’t approve, and smirk when Mr. Success gets his comeuppance.
Love, it turns out, is not about what we feel. Feelings change. Love is about what we do for the good of others, often in spite of how we feel. So, we know what love is and how essential it is for the success of our relationships. We also know we can’t muster that kind of love under our own power.
So, here’s the third part of my one wedding sermon: The love that we can’t personally manufacture, we can import from God. This is how I talked about it in the wedding message for my friends, Jim and Nancy, last year:
“When I blow it again in my life [failing to muster real love],...I need to ask God to fill me with [His] love...And [I’ve learned that] a God Who went to a cross and rose from death, all because of His passionate and unconditional love for us...’ answers that prayer."
To have the love required to make all of our relationships work, we need to go into the import business. Those with surrendered hearts and open wills can import the love they need for strong marriages, good family relationships, and wonderful friendships when they ask for them from the God Whose heart of passionate, committed love has been made plain for all to see in Jesus Christ.
If you’re ever present at a wedding over which I preside, the words of the sermon I deliver may differ from this. But not the message.