Wuv... True Wuv...
Go ahead. Ask me what my favorite "chick flick" is.
The Princess Bride, that's what. The pic at the top of this entry gave it away, I know.
There are three reasons why it is my favorite "chick flick."
1. It's not a chick flick.
2. The only kissing is at the end of the movie... where it's supposed to be.
3. It has Andre the Giant in it.
Any of these reasons could stand alone in their own right as pretty dang valid reasons why The Princess Bride is atop my list of romantic films. But when the aforementioned reasons are lumped together, I don't see how anyone could argue against it.
There is a scene in The Princess Bride that makes me giggle a whole lot...the wedding scene where Peter Cook, playing a priest with a speech impediment presides over Princess Buttercup's almost wedding to the evil Chris Sarandon (and I hear he's still pretty evil). Here it is.
Wuv... true wuv... gotta love that.
I've been reading and re-reading 1 Corinthians chapter 13 this week because I am preaching from it on Sunday. Sometimes I use 1 Corinthians 13 when I preside at a wedding. I rather like the word preside. I've now used it twice in this short essay, and I haven't even gotten out of the introduction properly. I've often wanted to bust out with my best Peter Cook and begin my wedding homilies with , "Mawage...is what brings us togever today..."
Instead, I usually read 1 Corinthians 13... because it's the Love Chapter. At least that's what we call it. But when you get down to brass tacks or whatever it is that you call it when you find the heart of things, you find that the Love Chapter is not at all romantic, not sentimental and certainly not something the Apostle Paul (who wrote it) would have dusted off when he presided (3 times!) over a wedding.
The truth of the matter is that 1 Corinthians 13 could not get any farther from sentimentality if it wanted to, which I imagine that it often does considering the way we drag it there more often than not.
Our ideas of love hover in the realm of sentimentality and romance. The great poet Tennyson once wrote:
I hold it true, whate'er befall/I feel it, when I sorrow most;/'Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.I recently did an impromptu poll on my Facebook account about people's favorite romantic movies. Here is the link to the comment thread. They are awesome, funny, and also very revealing about how we view love and love stories as a culture.
Not a lot has changed over the course of human history. Here's some irony for you. Over 2000 years ago the Apostle Paul was writing about "Love" to a group of people who lived in the great city of Corinth. Corinth's patron goddess was Aphrodite who happened to be the goddess of "Love."
Here's where I break open that old chestnut about the different forms of "Love" in Greek: phileo (brother love--as in "hug it out...") eros (the romantic, erotic, steamy kind) and agape (the impossible, God-kind). The people in Corinth would have been all about the eros and the phileo, and not so much the agape. Agape was too hard to do and even harder to understand. It wasn't necessarily the most fun or the most rewarding--at least in the short term, according to religious types like Paul who extolled it's virtues. Besides the way that the Christian teachers and leaders re-defined agape made it almost impossible for regular folks to attain it, feel it, experience it and share it.
It is also the kind of love that the Church is called to exhibit. And the people who make up the Church are called to exhibit it to God, to one another and to the world. But the people who make up the Church--throughout the centuries of its existence--have failed and continue to fail to do so in pretty impressive ways.
I love my wife. But I don't always get the chance to show it in the romantic/eros kinds of ways that I would like to simply because we are both very busy and we have two boys to raise. Raising kids is time-consuming, I've learned. So is having a career. So is life. We do work on our relationship, though. I love the romantic weekends that we manage to eke out throughout the year. I am blessed with parents and in-laws that live near us and who will care for our boys when we decide to get away together. As refreshing and wonderful as these romantic getaways (and they are, my friends... oh they are) are they cannot and should not be the sum total of our relationship. Our relationship is forged in the fires of day to day sacrifice for the sake of one another and through this is made all the stronger for it. When we are at our best, we are laying our lives down for each other for the sake of our relationship and the growth of our family.
And sometimes that involves getting busy at a resort and spa. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more.
But most of the time it means being willing to do whatever it takes to make our relationship better on a day to day basis... with a five year-old calling from his bathroom that he needs his butt wiped, and a teenager that needs to be driven to the mall.
The Apostle Paul was not writing his treatise on Love in a vacuum. The context is the Church, and Love in this context is a quality or character attribute that is to be shown forth in the actions of the members of the Church---Christians, in other words--to God, to one another and to everyone else. Paul knew that the church at Corinth was failing to follow what he once characterized as "the more excellent way." So in an effort to help them understand what needed to be at the center of all they did and said, Paul wrote perhaps one of the most famous passages of the Bible. When we read this passage with the old romantic and sentimental notions tossed out the window, we can see that Paul was presenting a way of being Christian that transcended the regular practices and attitudes of his intended audience.
Sadly, it also transcends the regular practice and attitudes of those who would call ourselves Christians all these many years later.
I find three movements in this passage that could really help transform the Church and the Christians who are within it. As a nod to my Baptist roots and the good ole 3-point sermons that are embedded in the deep dark recesses of my memory I offer the following:
1. Love Is... (vs. 1-3) the foundation of all that we do and say in the Church. Or at least it should be. All of our spiritual actions are meaningless without love. The Apostle Paul said that without love all of his words all of his doctrines, religion, faith, etc. were nothing more than a "resounding gong" or "clanging cymbal." Apparently this is a cultural reference to two things: the bronze megaphones used to project an actor's voice in Greek theater and the bronze cymbals used to summon deities in pagan worship--specifically the worship of Cybele, the goddess of fertility that was worshipped in Corinth. One translation of the first few verses of Paul's letter goes like this:
Your high-toned speech has become like the empty echo of an actor's speech or the noise of frenzied pagan worship.There are all kinds of things that we say and do in Church that sound really good to us. We'll pray formulaic prayers, tell people that God loves them, pretty much go through the motions of looking and sounding like Christians. But if the motivating factor of what we are doing is not love, then it's just noise in the ears of God.
2. Love Requires... (vs. 4-7) Paul outlines 15 characteristics of Agape/Love in the middle section of 1 Corinthians 13, and he does so for a couple of reasons: First, he wants the early Christians at Corinth to understand what love looks/doesn't look like, and Second, he wants to give them a blueprint for how the Church (and the people within it) should look. Here's the thing, the Church should be the place where we learn what it means to love unconditionally. Unfortunately, it's often the place where people feel the most judged and excluded. It's also the place where gossip and hypocrisy reign and where people put their own desires and wants over the needs of others. We need to be able to step back even from our most cherished aspects of Church life and ask, "Why am I doing this? Is it out of love? Or something else?" It's too easy for us to focus on the need for reformation in the Church--to make it into the Community of Christ that Paul is writing about here. It's a lot harder to own our own role in making that happen. Christians need some reformation in their hearts right about now, I'm afraid.
3. Love Wins... Paul uses this great word katargein to describe what will happen to all of the things that we seem to hold so dear when it comes to our Christian journey. The gifts of prophecy and tongues are included in this list, but so are faith and hope. Faith & Hope? Are you serious? You betcha. John Calvin (who is 500 years old this year) taught that both Faith and Hope were absolutely necessary for human beings to follow Christ in this life, but in the presence of God they would no longer remain, or even be needed. They would be realized. But Love... now that's a different thing altogether. Only Love will not be rendered obsolete. Paul essentially begins where he ends. If Love is the one aspect of our relationship with God that will "never fail," then why aren't we striving to practice it? Why indeed? Because we can't see what lies ahead, for starters. We are distracted by the shadows through the "dark glass" that Paul talked about---or can't make out the distortions in the mirror (another way to interpret his "glass darkly" comment). If all we live for is the moment, then we miss out on what really matters.
The Church and those of us who claim to be part of it need to change. We've glossed over the meaning of love as it relates to God and one another for so long that we've lost our very identity. We need to get back to basics, and find the right answer to the question that we should all be asking when it comes to our faith, our life, our very being... "Why am I doing this? Is it out love? Or something else?"