Love...in one word (a homily)
I was asked to officiate the wedding of my childhood best friend so I reluctantly came out of ministry retirement to do it. The reason I became ordained in the first place was to be able to officiate weddings for the young adults I used to mentor. I love writing homilies for weddings because it gives me an opportunity to reflect on the deepest human emotion we're capable of. This one was especially meaningful since my friend knows me well and trusted me to be involved in this special day. My views of love have changed and deepened over the years, and this reflects my latest thoughts on love.
Love in one word
This is so…what’s the word: surreal. I was going to say Meta, but Mark Zuckerburg has already claimed that word. As some of you may know, Darryl and I were childhood best friends.
When my family moved to Haines City in fifth grade my parents signed me up for little league and I was randomly, some might say divinely, placed on Darryl’s team and his dad was my coach. That’s where I first got to know the house of Stangry.
Darryl’s sister Courtney would sometimes come to practice and do summer salts and practice baton. In middle school Darryl’s mom was my pre-algebra and algebra teacher.
Then the Stangry clan joined the Methodist Church where my dad was their pastor. So for me to be officiating Darryl’s wedding is definitely surreal and meta. I think our 8th grade selves might even say it was rad. I remember when Darryl told me about Kristin for the first time, he described her as this FSU fan who was super smart, fun, pretty and I remember telling him he had me at FSU fan. Seriously from then on I was rooting for her and Darryl to end up together like many of you in the room. As FSU fans we really haven’t had much else to route for so we needed this! Today it doesn’t matter what your team is, we’re all on team Darryl and Kristin am I right?
Their relationship has stood the test of time and today they are pledging their love to one another before God and witnesses in the sacrament of marriage.
I want to say a brief word about love. When I say a brief word I mean literally a brief word. My homily is titled: Love in one word. Now I could just say the one word and be done, this would be the shortest homily ever, but I’m going to drag it out a little bit to build up the suspense.
I know it's a little arrogant to think I can narrow down love into one word when the apostle Paul devoted several letters and even a whole chapter to describe love (he used 273 words to be precise, not that I'm comparing).
1 Cor 13 is great, but it's a little too idealistic. I wish Paul would have told it like it is. If Paul were writing today, this is how it might have been like:
"Love is messy, love is real. Love is doing the dishes when you don't feel like it. Love is sharing the remote or letting the other person decide what to watch on Netflix. It's putting the toilet seat down even though technically it takes just as much effort to lift the toilet seat than to put it down, but that's neither here nor there." All I'm saying is if we're going to narrow down love to one word then we're going to have to cut out the fluff. So I'm going to tell you the one word I think sums up the essence of love...in a minute but first I'll tell you what it's not. It's not perfection. Many of us conscientious types have a deep desire to do things the right way, to be perfect. You know get an "A" in love. Love isn't interested in perfection so give up any false notion that you will love perfectly. I don't even think it's a good goal. And before you bring up the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, "be perfect as the heavenly father is perfect," the Greek word for "perfect" is actually the word "complete", it's wholeness, it's more the Jerry Maguire definition of love. But the one word I'm thinking of is even deeper than the idea of one person completing another person. Honestly, I think Jerry was a little codependent. Love is more than needing someone to complete us to fill up or fill in the lonely spaces in us. But I'm getting ahead of myself. So what is it? The Sunday school answer would be Forgiveness or grace. I mean the New Testament pretty much says so. Disagreeing with Paul is one thing but challenging the entire NT that's a whole other thing. Grace is a strong contender. It's definitely in my top five but it's a religiousy word that most of us don't use outside of church except for when we use it in a transactional sense like a grace period for a coupon or a bill. Grace is essential in marriage but I think there's another aspect of love that is needed to even make grace possible so for that reason, grace is not my top word. I know I could really milk this, but I think Ive dragged this out long enough. The word that best exemplifies love to me these days is: vulnerability. This is a relatively new concept for me. For the first twenty years of marriage I had an idea of love as perfection, something I had to get right and get perfectly but I've discovered in the last few years that there is something sweeter and deeper that happens when we're truly vulnerable with someone. You don't usually see this portrayed in the movies because it's FREAKING SCARY! See vulnerability is taking down your walls, the walls we all build up to protect ourselves from getting hurt. It's letting someone else see us for who we really are. And then it's accepting them for who they really are. It's being naked and not ashamed. It's taking off the masks we wear and bearing our souls, our beauty and our brokenness, our pretty and our pain. Vulnerability is the deepest kind of intimacy or as I heard recently "into me you see." The gift of marriage is having someone who you allow to see into you and let's you see into them. Vulnerability is Jesus the rabbi taking off his outer garments in the upper room so the disciples can see his humanity. Vulnerability is offering yourself to another with no filters. It's really the opposite of social media with our finely filtered self-ies. Some of us are lucky enough to have family and friends we can be vulnerable with. People who can cheer for us when we're high but who won't desert us in the darkest moments of our lives, the dark nights of depression, grief, failure, and tragedy. But marriage is this covenant, this pact that is much different than a contract, it's a vow and a promise to see and be seen by one other in ways like no other. Love is grace, and love is completeness, and yes, love is vulnerability. Before you recite your vows, I want to disavow you of any notion that there is such a thing as a perfect marriage or worry free life or ideal self.
The trick in marriage as in life, is not to be your ideal self but to be your authentic self
The goal is not even to have a happy marriage but to have a marriage that can be a strong container to hold all of the complex emotions we all experience.
This allows you to see into one another, past the facades and the exterior walls, into the inner sanctums of the heart where you can know and be known.
Marriage requires vulnerability because marriage itself is vulnerable. Marriage does not guarantee that you will avoid struggle, in fact in some ways it brings more struggle and heartache, but it does mean you have a companion on the journey of life who can be with you through the mountains and the valleys. Someone to see exquisite sunsets on beautiful days and to sit by your side on those inevitable dark nights.
A special person who gets to see all of you, or at least more of you than anyone else and probably sees parts of you that you can't see in yourself. Like if you have anything in your teeth or if you have any heaviness in your heart.
Because in the end, what's better than someone who completes you...is someone who can hold all the parts of you, the sad, happy, scared, angry, hilarious, wounded, healing, and hopeful parts, and love you for all you are.
Thats why I don't wish on you a perfect marriage or even a happy marriage but a vulnerable marriage. Because you can have happiness without love but you can't have love without vulnerability.
We thank you God for love, for the knowing that is deeper than all knowing. For making yourself known to us so we could make ourselves known to you and to one another. We thank you for not staying far off, but coming close, showing us your scars, accepting ours, being open to being hurt so you could show us how to repair, letting us see the divinity of humanity and the humanity of divinity. We thank you for the marriage sacrament which we know is more than a one time ritual, but an every day invitation to the vulnerability of love. Hold Darryl and Kristin in this love as they hold each other. In Jesus name we pray Amen.