Sermon preached February 3, 2013
Texts: I Corinthians 13:1-13
Play a bit of The Beatles, “Real Love.” Real Love
“Real Love” is the last Beatles single to reach the Top Forty charts here in The United States. It did so in 1995, fifteen years after John Lennon had been killed. How is such a thing possible? Multi-tracking – layers of sound. Lennon had recorded a demo tape of “Real Love,” but had never released the song himself. While working on their anthology project – a film and cd collection about their history, the other Beatles recorded their voice and other instruments and mixed their layers of music with John Lennon’s layer. The result – “Real Love.”
Love itself has layers, dimensions. Many of you may already know that the Greeks had multiple words that we translate “love.” Where the word “love” appears in the New Testament, it may be different words in the original Greek.
One layer of love that gets a lot of attention in our culture, gets the most attention in our culture, is what our culture typically means by “love” is romantic love. In our culture romantic love is often thought to have some of these features. Each person has a single soul mate, a one and only. Our task is to find that person, and when we do we will know it. Further, “it’s sad to belong to someone else when the right one comes along” – that from a popular 1970s song. Love means never having to say you’re sorry – that from a popular early 70s movie. Such love just hits us, bubbles up, but can also leave. Psychoanalyst Stephen Mitchell writes about this in his book Can Love Last? (187): Popular culture tells us that “chemistry” is crucial in love…. The excitement is either there or not there.
Is this layer of love, this love that we spend so much time on in our culture – our songs, our movies, our television, really the heart of love? Bluntly – No. It is more “reel love” than “real love.” Our idealized notions of romantic love are often misleading or simply plain wrong. This is probably where you should all feel kind of sorry for Julie. I sound pretty unromantic here.
To be sure, there is a truthfulness in some of our popular notions of romantic love. I hope those in love in this way do feel that their partner is a soul mate, and uniquely so. I do hope that there is a passion in such love that rises up and carries us away sometimes. However, there is some danger in taking this as the heart of love, even of romantic love. If love is all about chemistry, and the feelings seem to have ebbed, does that mean you did not locate your true soul mate? Some seem to think just this.
This idealized romantic love bifurcates, splits love and effort, love and intention, love and the ordinary. We want to experience in our romantic love being carried away sometimes. That’s o.k. Yet this is not the only layer of love. It is not the only layer of love we should think about, and certainly not the only layer of love we should be living. It is not even the only layer of romantic love. The passionate dimension of romantic love can ebb and flow. It needs other dimensions of love. Stephen Mitchell: Chemistry certainly contributes to creating the components, but there is a choice, a commitment in loving, that cannot be reduced to its emotional ingredients…. The cultivation of romance in relationships requires two people who are fascinated by the ways in which, individually and together, they generate forms of life they hope they can count on. (194, 201)
There are more layers to romantic love than reel love often imagines. Real love is more than that, and real love is more than romantic love. Real love is a love which is intended to guide all our living, from our romantic relationships to the way we relate to people every day, to the way we think about our life together in society and across the globe.
Real love, the heart of love, the deepest layer, is the love Paul writes about in I Corinthians 13. Paul was not concerned with romantic love here. He was not penning a poem for the wedding of his first cousin once removed, though weddings are often where we hear this text. In the movie The Wedding Crashers there is a scene at a wedding. The priest says that the second Scripture reading will be read by the sister of the bride. As she makes her way forward to read two men talk. “20 buck, First Corinthians.” “Double or nothing Colossians 3:12.” The sister begins, “Now a reading from First Corinthians.
Paul was writing not for a wedding, but for an early Jesus community that frankly was having some big problems getting along. This is the kind of love with which you should live – a love that is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. It is a love that does not rejoice when things go wrong, but rejoices when people act truthfully. It is a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Here are a couple of other translations which help us get at what love is about. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting (Contemporary English Version). Love puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back (The Message). It is this love that Paul has in mind when he concludes his letter to this feuding Jesus community – “let all that you do be done in love” (I Corinthians 16:13).
But real love is not just our task. The love Paul describes here is the love with which God love us. God is not mentioned in this chapter, but early on in the letter Paul is clear that God’s grace and God’s Spirit is active in this community when they are at their best. It is God’s love which is a model for our love.
This is love, real love. This is the love with which we are loved by God. With us, God is patient and kind. With us, God rejoices when things go right. With us God is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, trusting, enduring.
This is love, real love. This is the love into which we are invited to grow. John Wesley, in a quote I’ve used with some regularity over the years, once wrote this: By perfection I mean the humble, gentle, patient love of God and our neighbor, ruling our habits, attitudes, words and actions (January 27, 1767) This is our task, this is our calling as followers of Jesus. Knowing how deeply we are loved by God, love. Love with real love. Failing to do that, we become a lot of noise in an already too noisy culture. Failing to do that, we become a lot of busyness in an already too busy world.
In this real love there is intention. We want what is best for others. In this real love there is effort. We want what is best for others and are willing to do something about it. This love is intended to shape our ordinary lives, our day to day interactions – in our most intimate relationships, as well as our relationships at school, work, in the community. This love moves us to care for our culture, our society, our politics, our environment. We ask hard questions about the meaning of love for issues such as gun safety, climate, immigration, same-sex marriage, taxation, war and peace, bringing together individual freedoms and common care for one another. Real love does not shy away from tackling such issues, but it also shapes the character of our discussions. Real love leaves no area of our lives untouched.
Real love is our task, our goal, the way. In our journey toward becoming more loving as followers of Jesus, we need to return again and again to the heart of God’s good news in Jesus – God loves us with real love. Amen.