But the Greatest of These is…God

But the Greatest of These is…God

Michael and Lori:

So, here we finally are. After all the planning, and
all the preparations. After all the waiting and anticipation. After I’ve
pulled you through the knothole and dragged you over the coals of all those
pre-marital counseling sessions. Here we are, surrounded by your families and
friends, hoping that everything will go smoothly and turn out the way you’ve
envisioned. It’s an important day in your life, and you’d like it to be

You probably want the same for your marriage, as
almost every couple hopes when they first decide to stand before God and
declare their love, devotion, support, and faithfulness for a lifetime. But
guess what? Today won’t be perfect, much as we all might hope it to be, and
neither will the rest of your lives.

That’s the reality of living as fallen creatures in a
world plagued with temptation and sin. And it’s my duty to confront you and
all people with that, even though it causes some discomfort and often even some
resentment. Our primary obligation is to God, not each other. It’s a loyalty
to, and a belief in, truth—not pleasant-sounding platitudes.

If you’re like most couples, you probably found
yourself asking at some point in the span of the counseling, “Is this really
all worth it? What a hassle and a consumption of our valuable time.” You
might not have enjoyed every moment of that, but I hope that at least some of
it sticks. Not for my benefit, but for yours.

One of the portions of Holy Scripture selected for the
lessons at your wedding today are those familiar verses from 1st
Corinthians—the so-called “love passage.” It’s a frequent choice for use in
weddings, because the word “love” appears so many times, and is spoken of in
great eloquence, with a listing of love’s many praiseworthy characteristics.
In this passage, love is idealized in many ways, so couples hope that its words
will be a reflection of how their own relationship will flourish and grow

That’s a wonderful hope and sentiment, but even a
casual look at list of love’s many good qualities makes it clear that none of
us, including the two of you, are up to the task of perfect love. Try as you
might, you are not going to always be patient and kind, satisfied or meek,
humble or polite. You will sometimes insist on your own way. You will be
irritable and resentful. You will not only secretly rejoice at some of your
wrongdoings or untruths, you sometimes will even rub your spouse’s face in
them, just to get the upper hand.

And the statistics sadly show that married couples’
love for one another does not bear all things, believe all things, hope all
things, or endure all things.

So the real purpose of having a reading like this at a
wedding isn’t to set unrealistic expectations of love that can’t possibly be
humanly achieved. It’s really for us to come to grips with just what these
verses are actually talking about. More accurately, it’s to come to an
understanding of who these verses are talking about. If you remember
correctly, St. John had a few things to say about love, too. And not just in
that portion of chapter 15 of his gospel account we also heard read earlier.

In his first letter to the early church, St. John
wrote these words:

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is
from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because
God is love.
In this the love of God was made manifest
among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live
through him.
In this is love, not that we have loved God
but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our
sins…Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he
in God…God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in
By this is love perfected with us, so that we
may have confidence for the day of judgment.
" (1 John 4:7-17a, with ellipsis)

God is love, St. John informs us, and the way in which
God expressed that love was in sending His Son into the world to suffer and die
for us. Jesus Christ is the manifestation of perfect love, the love of the

Love—true love—isn’t anything we do, certainly not on
our own. God is love, and love is God’s. And once we understand that, it
makes that reading from 1st Corinthians so much clearer to us.

Try going back to that passage and putting the word
“Christ” or “Jesus” into St. Paul’s letter to those early Christians struggling
to live faithfully in a sinful, pagan world. Then, we can begin to
comprehend—as they did—what’s necessary for true love to be ours:

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of
angels, but I don’t have Christ, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all
mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, but I don’t have Jesus, I
am nothing.
If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up
my body to be burned, but I don’t have Christ, I gain nothing.
Christ is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; He
is not arrogant
or rude. Jesus does not insist on His own way;
Jesus is not irritable or resentful;
He does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.

Christ bears all things, believes all things, hopes
all things, endures all things.
never ends…
So now faith, hope, and Christ abide, these
three; but the greatest of these is Christ.
" (1 Corinthians 13, altered)

We talked at some length during our time together
about the need for repentance and forgiveness, and that our human marriages are
supposed to mirror that divine and holy relationship between Jesus and His
bride, the Church. But we know, as Paul says, that our mirrors are dim and
imperfect, because we are dim and imperfect. Yet because we have been
redeemed by God’s loving work in Christ, we have His forgiveness, and His
righteousness and perfection are applied to us through faith.

This is an important day, it’s true. We want things
to be perfect. But vastly more important than this day, or our vain attempts
at achieving perfection, is the day you probably wore other special clothes and
came before God’s people to have water and Word applied to you. That day, you
didn’t make vows to one another and take another flawed human being to strive
together with for a lifetime.

Instead, God made vows to you that day, and He took
each of you, imperfect as you are, and said, “Abide in my love.” For this
reason, we are to take that love, and share it not only with the one person He
has perfectly chosen for us in this life, but with all His creatures, even the
flawed ones.

Share all those gifts and characteristics of love,
then–patience, kindness, humility, truthfulness, endurance, hope, and all the
rest. But above all, share forgiveness, the one gift of love that requires
divine action, and the one gift we all desperately need—for ourselves, and for
one another. Amen.