1 Corinthians 13:1-13
The passage that I read from Corinthians today is a very familiar passage. The passage from Ruth may be less well known, but it, too, is a common wedding scripture. Interestingly, Ruth was the assigned lectionary book for today which I thought was perfect timing as in a few minutes we will be celebrating and blessing a most recent marriage in our congregation.
Both in honor of their marriage, and because it happened to be the lectionary passages for today, I want to take some time to talk about love, and commitment, and marriage. Even for those who have never been married or currently aren’t married, I think the same concepts and principles of love apply to our closest relationships with anyone and so it is worthwhile, even on a regular Sunday morning, to spend some time talking about love.
The first passage from Ruth is one I just love. There are wedding rings carved with that statement from Ruth because it is so beautiful and is such a testament to what love, true love, of any kind can look like, “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” And even the next verse, “Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried” speaks so deeply to the depth of love, the commitment, the dedication between these two women. Many conversations have been had about what the actual relationship was between Naomi and Ruth, but whatever you believe it to be, it was clearly a relationship of love, of commitment, and of dedication. Ruth says to Naomi, I will be with you no matter what. Even beyond death, my home, my life, my love is with you. Beautiful, profound, deep. This is what we want our marriages to be. A meeting of minds, of souls, of meaning, connection and purpose. A joining in the deepest sense so that where there were two, now there are one, moving together, walking together, following and being followed, leading and being led. And again, for other relationships too, that commitment to the relationship, that promise of love is vital, is what we all long for. It reminds me of a song that I love by a man named Eric Bibb called “Dance me to the End of Love”:
There's no other place I'd rather be
No other face I'd rather see than yours
Hold me as only you can do
And dance me to the end of love
I'll follow you when you want to lead
You'll follow me sometimes too...
But, despite the roses and the celebrations and the joy of being together, there is another side of love, and of any relationship as we know. For while we are united by our love for one another, we also remain individuals. Even in marriage, we remain individuals even while being brought together. And even the closest two people are never going to agree on everything. We know this. I love the passage from Corinthians because it was written to a congregation in the midst of deep division and strife. Paul’s exposition on love is his sermon to a congregation saying that despite their struggles and discord, despite the anger and hostilities among them, despite the differences, the tension, the fighting, that they were called as Christians to act in love. For love is a choice. It is an action. And that action, even in times when you do not feel love, when you do not feel loving, when you are angry, when you are hurt, when you are struggling, even then, that love, that choice to love requires you to be patient, kind, enduring, hopeful, faithful, and truthful. It requires you to put aside envy, resentment, and even irritation to be present, giving and to take care of each other’s feelings, of each other’s beautiful but delicate souls.
This isn't an easy thing to do in the face of conflict. But every commitment, whether it be to a church, or to being a parent, or to a marriage will have its times of struggle. Struggle in itself is not a bad thing. Within struggle are opportunities for growth in ourselves, and even more, growth in our relationships to one another and to God. But if a relationship is real, if it is genuine, if it has integrity, it will have times of struggle.
And still we are called to love. To stick with the promises made and to work through them. To care for and about one another with integrity, honesty, carefulness and compassion. But let me be clear that I’m not saying that love tolerates abuse. Allowing another to abuse you damages their souls as well as our spirits. There are boundaries even within our love.
Which brings me to something else I would like to share with you today. Kahlil Gibran wrote this in his book, The Prophet. It was written about marriage, but I again think it really applies to any close, intentional, committed, deep relationship.
He writes, “Love one another, but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.”
The Title of my sermon today was Learning to Love. Loving one another, truly caring for one another, unconditionally and fully, is not something I think we are born knowing how to do. When we are born, we love, unconditionally, our parents at least, out of need. But as we grow, we learn how to love more fully by practicing it. Again, I believe, deeply and fully, that love is an action. And that love is a choice. We learn to love every time we do not respond in anger but instead respond with and out of compassion. We learn to love every time we listen to the other, fully and completely. We love every time we are kind, every time we are patient, every time we are compassionate and forgiving. We love when we do put aside envy, rage, resentment and irritation. We love when we make a choice to care for and about the other’s best and highest good and to work towards that. That is loving in any relationship. That is loving in every relationship.