Text: 1 Corinthians 13.1-8a
This sermon was prepared for an assignment for my Preaching class at Wartburg Theological Seminary. The assignment was to select a text and write a sermon for a wedding between “Ralph” and “Jasmine.” It was delivered on 6 May 2009.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been to a few weddings where one of the scripture readings was taken from the thirteenth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth. “Love is patient, love is kind…” – I think that I saw some lips moving out there in the pews while we were hearing that read to us today. It’s easy to see why a lot of people like to have this read at their weddings. We see a picture of a perfect love – and who doesn’t want to think that love is perfect at a wedding? This is the big day! Lots of people see the wedding as the way to get the marriage off on the right foot – get this right, and everything comes easily, right? Piece of cake, right? No… problemo?
I gather from your laughter that you know better. Ralph and Jasmine and I know better, too. And I suspect that most of you know better than to think that a perfect wedding day is a guarantee of a perfect marriage. This passage isn’t actually about marriage, it’s about spiritual gifts that come from God. And the thing about spiritual gifts that come from God is, if we could pull this stuff off on our own, we wouldn’t much need God, would we? Let’s read that list again:
“Love is patient, love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
“But wait!” we cry, and rightly so. “Marriage isn’t always like that.” So true. Love may be patient, kind, etc., but lovers are often not. Lovers are sometimes impatient, unkind, envious, boastful, arrogant, and downright rude. And on we go down the list right to the end – sometimes love ends. Sometimes that’s our fault, sometimes it’s their fault, and more often than not it’s no one’s fault at all, but it happens. When I hear this passage at weddings, I worry if it isn’t setting the bar a little too high or putting all of the burden on our shoulders. Love may be all of those things, all of the time, but none of us are. What, then?
I think the key to all of this is remembering that love is a spiritual gift from God. This spiritual gift comes to us through Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate embodiment of self-giving love. Who can be completely patient, always kind, never envious or boastful or arrogant or downright rude? Only Jesus Christ. If we, then, who would love each other, want to love perfectly, we may not just look to Christ as an example and then try to emulate him by our own ability. We can’t do it, it won’t work because we’re just not good enough. But the one who died on a cross in perfect love for our sake and who was raised again to life by the perfect love of God the Father can, through the Holy Spirit, become our love.
Ralph, Jasmine – you have already received each other as God’s gift and blessing. Now we pray for this gift from God: to have the love of Christ live in your hearts so that your love may be filled with the forgiveness which you first received from the Lord.
We’re gathered as witnesses to the promises which bind your hearts and families together into one flesh. And as we are here in this place as witnesses, we are surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us, including Ralph’s first wife Sally and Jasmine’s father Fred. We are surrounded by two families being joined as one. Friends, families, co-workers, all joined together as one to ask God’s blessings for you as you begin this life together. We commit to supporting you so that you may have the love, forgiveness, and resilience that makes a successful marriage, which is founded on and constantly turns back to Christ.
Ralph, Jasmine, and all who love and would be loved: the God of all love, blessing, forgiveness and consolation bless you, keep you in God’s love, and guide you to everlasting life in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.