I believe that love is the most powerful force in the world and the only true power capable of transforming the world for good! This may seem a strange statement given how ‘love’ is portrayed in popular media. It is generally associated with romantic feelings and human sexuality. ‘Love’ is portrayed through stories of ‘boy meets girl, falls head over heels…’. Many songs and movies with ‘love’ as the central theme use the default setting of two people falling in and out of love and then back in love in a deeper way and living happily ever after. Love is sentimental, sweet, nice and generally in the context of two people in intimate relationship. Sometimes the love of parents for children surfaces in a movie and very occasionally a story takes us into the larger dimension of sacrificial love. Someone give themselves for the sake of others. These stories really move us but possibly also confound us. How is this possible? Surely this is extreme and not the expected norm? It is a good story of a unique individual but not for most of us to emulate. Mostly, popular love stories are endlessly recycled and also seem far from reality – and they are.
This week I will celebrate a wedding and the young couple will vow their love for one another. We will read the ‘compulsory’ wedding passage, 1 Corinthians 13. There will be photographs and smiles, promises and much love will be talked about and shared. Is it really love? Of course it is but all too often we settle for a diminutive form of love and loving. Our expectations have been seriously lowered by the Disneyland makeover of love; of the popular music that promises the world but delivers little. Take a journey through the lyrics of love songs over the years and cringe at the mush and sentimentality. They sound nice but rarely measure up to reality – because life is real and the truth of love more demanding and difficult.
As I celebrate this wedding I will attempt to introduce something of the deeper reality of relationships – they are hard and require commitment and work. This is what love is! Love is not found in the romantic feelings or the bliss of infatuation, as nice and even important as these are in the process towards love. Love is in the commitment to act for the well-being of another or others. Paul writes his profound passage on the back of Jesus’ life and death, of his words that ring through the millennia: ‘No greater love has a person than to lay down their life for their friends!’ He goes on: ‘And you are my friends!’ Jesus’ central commandment for those who would follow him was quite straightforward – Love! Love God with all you are and love your neighbour as you love yourself. He suggests that if we do this, we fulfil everything in all the law and prophets, everything of faith, of God. Love is central.
This love is not soft or mushy but takes a courageous path that challenges people to be better, reach higher and challenges every aspect of our lives. How do we think about other people? How do we respond to one another and those who are different? Do we fear others? This is not the way of love because in love there is no fear. Love takes on the powers that are unjust and unfair, powers that deprive the little ones of life and hope and it does so with courage and strength. Love stands against everything that is wrong in the world but does not engage violence or hatred – it is bigger and better than that. Love doesn’t lower itself to the course ways of the mighty and arrogant, nor does it bear grudges or seek revenge. Love’s power and truth reveals the weakness and flaws in human life and invites us to live in hope and joy in a new way. We are challenged to raise our eyes and look to higher, more profound things that offer spiritual, emotional and physical enlightenment; that liberate us to become more fully, truly and deeply human in the way of Jesus.
Love is the way of wisdom and enlightened living. It values and appreciates the small and large joys and wonders of life and celebrates all the remarkable achievements of the human spirit. Love draws us into a community where everyone has a place and is looked upon equally – there are no levels or layers of importance, assumed, presumed or expected. As Paul says, ‘In Christ there is no Jew or gentile, male or female, slave of free.’ All find their place, equally, at God’s table and in God’s community.
1 Corinthians 13 opens with well-known lines claiming that without love whatever we do or achieve in nothing. If we achieve great things but do not love, they are empty achievements. Great and profound words without love fall flat, like a clanging cymbal. The fundamental context of living and being is love and without love in our hearts, minds and being, we are falling short of who we can be. This is not based on feelings but is an attitude and commitment to work for what is true and right, just and life-giving.
Love is forgiving but it isn’t sickly sweet or weak, overlooking that which is wrong. It works for truth and justice, because justice is what love looks like in public. I think of Martin Luther King jr, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu and many others who have struggled to make love the fundamental reality of their lives and world. Sometimes the powers have crushed them and left them in despair but always love rises from the ashes of defeat for it never gives up and always perseveres. Love is the power that lifts us out of despair and gives us the impetus to go on and work for that which is right and good. We stand against the powers that diminish life and are anti-love; the powers that reduce love to sentimental feelings with a feel-good storyline that leaves us feeling good but unchanged and the world still longing for hope and peace.
Love is this power because the essence of God is love and the source of love is God. John (in 1 John 4) speaks of love also. There he says that God is love; all who live in love know God because God is love. The power of God in the world is the power of love. Such love is the only true power that will change the world and transform human life. It is the power that lifts us above all alternatives and pretenders to a place where we find our true self and the way of our calling in life. As we venture in this way, we are following in the footsteps of Jesus in the way of love. We are challenged to embrace the stranger and love our neighbour. We are invited to lay down our weapons of violence – physical, psychological and verbal – and choose the vulnerable, courageous way of love.
I will attempt to say something of this in the wedding service and hope some of it may penetrate the pleasantries and high emotions of the moment. More than that, I will seek to rise to the challenge of this profound passage with its serious implications for the politics and economics of the world and the transformation of human violence and conflict. I will seek personal choices that are liberating and draw people into the community of God’s grace and bring peace, hope, faith and life. What about you?