OK, more wedding talk. How can I not with this text?
In the romantic comedy Wedding Crashers, Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play friends who crash weddings as a way to meet women. After countless experiences, they are experts on weddings. In an early scene, as the bride’s sister steps to the lectern to read scripture, Wilson says to Vaughn, “Twenty dollars, First Corinthians.” Vaughn replies, “Double or nothing, Colossians 3:12.” Then the reading begins: “From Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.”
Our text this morning is one of the best-known passages in scripture because of its use at weddings. It is easy to understand why. It is one of the most beautiful expressions of love found in the Bible.
Like Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers we almost expect it at weddings. But I wonder if we’ve fully considered what it’s saying to us. Despite the hundreds of times I’ve used it, or heard it, one question still jumps out at me.
How can it be that love is more important than faith? Much of our time is spent teaching that faith in Christ is the key to everything. I Corinthians includes faith and hope, yet it says love is greater. How is it that we can extol the greatness of love at the expense of faith?
There is something deep within us that knows love is the most important thing. It gets overlooked in our hectic pace of life and it’s easily forgotten amidst the many priorities vying for our attention. But in the truly significant moments of our lives, it always comes to the fore.
There is a line in the movie Love Actually that reminds us of this. The movie explores ways that love takes shape in our relationships. In the opening scene Hugh Grant’s character says that whenever he is depressed he imagines the arrival gate at the airport. There love seems uncomplicated as people receive and embrace the ones they love. As he reflects on this, he adds, “When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge. They were all messages of love.”
We know how important love is. We know that it is the key to relationships. We know that it is what gives meaning to life. And we all live in the hope that our lives will be filled with love.
But there’s a problem. As much as we yearn for this, we’re all fumbling our way through life trying to figure out how to do this thing called love. Think about it. How many marriages begin with two people truly wanting to love one another, yet end up struggling day to day to express that love? Why is it that in raising our children, we can become so frustrated that we no longer know what love looks like?
I think it stems from the simple truth that we need help with love. We need the kind of help that aids us in tapping into the source of love itself. For if we can’t do that, I’m not sure there is hope for any of us. We’ve all had times when our relationships have become so frustrating and painful that all we can muster is a veneer of civility that covers our anger and hurt. To ask us to love in those situations is well beyond our personal capacity. When this occurs, it doesn’t help to ask us to look deeper within ourselves, because the love tank is empty. For years I struggled with so much anger and bitterness over a family member, that I lost my will to love that person.
I suspect I’m not alone. Many struggle when we look inside ourselves and can’t find the capacity to love. It’s not that we’ve given up. It’s not that we stop trying. We continue to hold the hope that somehow, in some way, things will be different in the future.
We need to change the way we think about love. After millennia of human history, if there were a secret to tapping into the love within us, you’d think we’d have found it by now. It certainly isn’t for lack of wanting or trying to generate love between us. But like the song says, I think we’re looking for love in all the wrong places. I don’t think we’re the source of love. I don’t think love comes from within us. I think love comes from something outside of us. This explains why, there are times when no matter how hard we try, we can’t always force love from within ourselves.
Years ago a colleague shared the struggles in his marriage. He admitted that he had never expressed the simple words, “I love you” to his wife. Later that evening, in a tense phone conversation with her, he suddenly out of nowhere, I heard him say, “Ah, I ah, I love you.”
“How sweet” I thought, expecting to witness a magic moment between them. But the next thing he said was, and this time with an angry tone: “No, he didn’t make me say it.” Apparently the state of things for them led his wife to feel his expression was forced or fabricated. Love doesn’t work like that.
The good news is, they were able to work through their struggles. Things changed for them when they began to learn that they could no longer generate love from within. They needed to look beyond themselves. They discovered that their faith became a conduit to God’s love, which allowed love to weave its way into their relationship once again.
Their experience answers our thorny question, how can love be more important than faith? Paul’s answer is that it is because faith is the instrument and love is the goal. This makes love “the greatest of these.” But we must never forget, and this is critical, that while love may rank higher than faith, we may not be able to love without faith.
The great theologian Emil Brunner notes this in his book, Faith, Hope, and Love. In probing the relationship between faith and love, Brunner wrote: “…faith is nothing in itself but the openness of our heart to God’s love.”
Faith is the instrument that opens us to God’s love. It puts us in touch with the source of love itself. Faith allows us to draw from that source so that the love of God shown to us in Christ can also show itself in our lives.
This is crucial in being able to love. You know those moments in a relationship when things have become so complicated you no longer know what love looks like? Rather than trying to generate love from within us, in those moments we need to turn to our faith so that we open ourselves to the source of love itself. It’s then that love can find its way into our relationships. This gives us the hope that no matter what is going on inside of us, through our faith God is able to help restore our capacity to love and be loved.
May Paul’s counsel guide us that God’s love may flow through us.