This past summer and into the fall, I met with a couple who had been referred to me by a mutual friend as a potential officiate for their upcoming wedding.
This couple, I learned, was not the “church-going” type, and yet they felt strongly that they should be married by a “real” minister. Secretly savoring the words, “real” minister — with unbecoming pride, I asked for more information in order to help better understand what was being asked of me.
I learned that this couple did not have a church family; And that they didn’t have a problem with God but they were pretty suspicious of religious people in general.
Huh. There’s some of those identity projecting walls Susan spoke about last week.
But, since I have jokingly referred to myself as the, “Irreverent Dawna Welch” —– on probably too many occasions —– I had an idea of why she might have thought of me. Still, when our mutual friend came to me about this couple –— the couple that wants to be married by a “real” minister but doesn’t trust religious folks, I immediately responded by saying, “Well, what in the……. H-E-double hockey sticks does that mean??
She just smiled at me and said, “It means you are perfect for the job!”
So, I agreed to meet with them. And I’m glad I did. During our very first meeting, I listened to this couple talk so endearingly about why they wanted to get married and just how much they were looking forward to becoming life partners. And I also heard their all too common story about being hurt and disappointed by the church communities they grew up in. And finally they shared…. a rather lengthy list of what they did and did not want in their wedding ceremony.
I was ready to sign on the dotted line and agree to officiate their wedding but, I had one more question, I asked this couple if they were open to pre-marital counseling, which is a time of intentional discernment to evaluate the strengths and challenges that couples each bring to a relationship and what role a faith community can play in supporting and accompanying them along the way. I was not testing their love or commitment to each other. But, I was testing whether or not they really wanted a church wedding, as opposed to just really wanting to get married in our church.
That happens more than you’d think. This place makes for a fantastic wedding photo album!
In the end, this couple happily agreed to pre-marital counseling, but … before they accepted my offer to officiate – they had one last question for me. They wanted to know how I felt about 1 Corinthians 13, and if I had ever used it in a wedding ceremony. I told them that I actually never have read that text in a wedding but, I had used it for a funeral once.
To this they seemed –– well….. first a little perplexed and then greatly relieved. What I didn’t tell them was how much I loved this text, and how I thought 1 Corinthians 13 is actually the perfect wedding text – but, not for the reasons you might think.
Do you remember the first time you heard that section of 1 Corinthians 13 Elizabeth just read? Was it at a wedding? Maybe at your wedding? It is truly beautiful. Retailers have certainly taken notice – that’s for sure!. 1 Corinthians 13 is printed on everything from wedding bands to dinner napkins to balloons.
Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth has practically become a slogan for marriage, a love poem recited at the height of togetherness, when a community throws a huge party, when everyone gets dressed up, and celebrates the love and unity, of two people, two families joining together in this one high holy moment.
And see ….that’s the thing…..Paul wasn’t writing the Church of Corinth to congratulate them on reaching this pinnacle of holy communion with God and each other. He was writing the church because they were struggling to stay together! He was writing to a community that was s l o g g i n g through the muddy waters of difference and disagreement – which let’s face it – is an unavoidable product of most interpersonal relationships.
I don’t mean to be a buzz kill here. But the kind of love that Paul is talking about is a radical communal love that enables individuals to imagine life in a community where unity and difference can co-exist.
That is too important to lose to romantic captivity.
And it is precisely within that context that 1 Corinthians 13 becomes the perfect wedding text. In the simplest terms – relationships are tricky and Paul is not only acknowledging that reality, he is introducing an ethic that will allow the Corinthians, and us, a path through the trickiest times.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I appreciate the reminder that the work of love is not as simple as handing over a box of chocolates and a dozen roses. Oh and speaking of Valentine’s Day …. Maybe some of you heard an NPR segment recently about the NECCO Company that produces those candy conversation hearts? So, when a new parent company swooped in and purchased the ailing Necco, the Sweetheart factories did not have enough time to set up production for its yearly 8 million hearts for the 2019 Valentine’s Day season. Everywhere, customers are frantically searching for the small treats to no avail.
Again. Sorry to be the bearer of bummer news.
But, you know what??? I say, just as well – those candy conversations perpetuate a myth about love that I think are just not helpful. But…. I do have some suggestions for the 2020 production line that I think are more honest. I would like to see a dish of candy hearts that say,
“I took the trash out”.
Or how about “Let’s eat take-out on the couch and watch Downton Abbey”.
And you know it’s real when one of those hearts says,
“You look good with hairy legs!”
Now that is the kind of conversation that says, you are fully seen and fully loved!
Look, scripture tells us that the Church of Corinth was not a homogeneous community. This was not a group of like-minded people with similar backgrounds and experiences, all dancing in the same rhythm of life, quite the contrary.
This text tells us that within this fellowship there were married and unmarried men and women, widows and children, converted gentiles, Jewish leaders, slaves, and free people, the poor and the wealthy – and all of them with different gifts and skill sets, thoughts and opinions. That kind of diversity – for any social community (including ours) is going to come with both benefits and challenges. As far as the Apostle Paul was concerned, God had called this church to be diverse and they had to learn to get along within it. And because Paul knew that diversity unloved leads to division he schooled them with this call to unity – with an ethic of love above all else.
But, make no mistake – 1 Corinthians 13 is not a static list of attributes, “love is…this” or “love is… that”. It is a call to the practice of love. As the quote at the top of your bulletin says, this practice “requires you to be kind when you are angry, patient when you feel anxious, compassionate when you judge others, caring when you feel apathetic, trust when you’ve been wronged”.
Let’s be clear. Paul is NOT saying, pretend that you never get angry, frustrated or disappointed from time to time with brother Zeek or sister Anna. The deeper wisdom of Paul’s words are – COUNT ON IT, acknowledge it, feel it – then move forward in love, with kindness, without arrogance or focus on wrongdoing.
Relationships are tricky. Life in community is hard work.
Theology professor, Shively Smith calls it: “an up at dawn, feet on the ground, tools in hand, working kind of love.” She goes on to say, “Love is the way by which we talk to each other, eat with one another, fellowship together, and affirm all. Love transcends our self-imposed caste systems and personal biases. It forms whole and holistic people, who are anchored in the well-being of others. Love will not let us down if we genuinely live in it together.”
Sure, love is a message for weddings, and Valentine’s Day, and anniversaries. But, it is also a message for funerals and the day your credit card bill comes due, and when your children are fighting, or you’re listening to the State of the Union.
It is the practice of Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Because everyday … love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude, insist on its own way; or rejoice at wrongdoing. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love is the constant goal. And Love never ends.