July 2009

Love Hopes All Things

As most of you know, my son Felder was married to Jennifer, his fiancée, on June 6th in Washington, DC at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. This is the church in which Abraham Lincoln worshipped, and outside they have preserved the hitching post to which Lincoln’s carriage was tied. This seemed like a great spot for my son to get “hitched”! I was privileged to co-officiate at the wedding along with Jen’s dad, a retired minister of the United Methodist Church. I spent a lot of time thinking in advance about what I wanted to say about love to these two young adults, which would be honest and true. As I looked back over those words, I felt I wanted to share them with you also. They seem true to me for all of us whether married or not. They express what I believe is true about Jesus’ call in our lives to “love one another as I have loved you”. Following a reading of I Corinthians 13, I spoke these words:

The hymn to love, in I Corinthians 13, is the Mount Everest of relationships. My first memory of it is not from church, but from my 11th grade English class. We read it, with other treasured selections of English poetry and prose, for its beauty of language and thought.

I have since heard and read this passage many times, in churches services, and at weddings. And I continue to appreciate its inspiration and its eloquence. But I have also lived long enough to know how little of it is true for our day to day experience. On many days, my love is not so patient or kind. I am often envious, boastful, proud, and rude. I can get angry easily, and I know what schadenfreude feels like. My love does not stand atop Mt. Everest, it creeps along its slopes, climbing and slipping and climbing again.

These words from I Corinthians express for me the ideal for love. This is the love I want to have. But I am far from there. So the phrase on which I focus is the affirmation that “love hopes all things.” Our love exists in the tension between this ideal, and the day to day reality of our human experience. Our love lives in the hope of such love.

But because we are not yet there, a crucial key to such love is forgiveness. It is essential, for love’s sake, that we learn to forgive each other, and ourselves, when our love is not patient or kind, when we have been angry, or jealous, or arrogant, or rude. It is forgiveness that makes it possible to persevere in our journey of hope toward mature love. And in the covenant of marriage, we commit ourselves to this journey. The bond of marriage seeks to create a safe and lasting relationship, in which we can learn to give and receive the love to which we aspire, and for which we long.

So I charge you both, with all the love I have for you, to go forward from this day: to hope tenaciously, to forgive generously, and to grow in love graciously, day by day, year by year.

I believe what I have said here about marriage, but I also believe it is meant to be true for the church. When we join the church, we make a commitment not just to church in general, but to a specific church for a reason similar to the commitment we make in a marriage. It is an effort to create a safe space for living out a commitment, a bond to a group of fellow travelers, wherein we are learning to give and receive love, with tenacious hope, generous forgiveness, and lots of grace, day by day, week by week, year by year. May it be so for you and me here at the United Church of Spring Valley.