I presided at a wedding yesterday. I like to do weddings. It’s wonderful to see two people committing themselves to stay together forever, for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, until they are parted by death.
We all know, though, that there are a lot of times when it does not work out that way. I don’t need to stand up here and tell you the statistics on divorce. You all know them. For most of us, it’s not just a statistic anyway. I’d bet that every person here knows someone who’s been through a divorce. Some of you have been through them yourselves.
If you have, please understand that I do not intend anything I say today to be a criticism of you. There are divorces in my family, too. Divorce happens for a lot of reasons. It’s not my place to judge you, and I don’t intend to. If I say anything that comes out like I am, please come and talk to me about it, because that’s not what I mean to do.
Because the rate of divorce is so high, and because it has been high for quite a while now, the way our society looks at love and marriage has changed. As we continue our sermon series “This is Country Music”, I think our song today illustrates that. As we’ve said before, songs become popular because they have something to say that makes sense to people. The song for today is called “Love Done Gone” by Billy Currington. It’s a really catchy tune, and I like the melody and the instrumentation and stuff, but think about what this song says about love. As we’ve been doing, we’ll listen to the song, and then we’ll talk about it. The words are below:
There’s nothing in that song about love lasting forever. There’s nothing there about staying with each other for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, until we’re parted by death. This song does not define love that way at all.
This song defines love as something that, by its very nature, is here for a little while, and then it’s gone. Think about what love is compared to in this song. Snowflakes when it gets warm. Leaves in the fall. Bubbles in champagne. Money lost in a slot machine.
That strikes me as really sad. This song seems to have given up on the whole idea that love can last forever. It’s like that’s not even a possibility. The singer really does not seem particularly sad about the fact that love has disappeared. The song takes the attitude that love ending is inevitable. There are no regrets, it’s no one’s fault and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. Love just goes away. That’s just the way it is.
I think that attitude is really prevalent in society today, especially among younger people. They see marriages that have lasted fifty or sixty years or more, and they think that’s really neat and all, but they don’t see it as a possibility for them. It’s not that they would not like to have a marriage like that, they just don’t see it as one of their options. That kind of marriage is a leftover from an era that’s gone, like rotary dial telephones and 45 rpm records. It may have had its place once, but it’s just not the way the world is any more.
I think one of the reasons we’ve come to look at love that way is that we’ve come to look at love as an emotion. Look at what the song defines as the ways to tell love has gone: .
That’s not what love is. It’s part of love, of course. Love cannot be completely unemotional, and I’m not saying it can. But think about our reading from First Corinthians. That’s one of the most famous passages in the Bible. In fact, it’s called the Love Chapter. It’s the Apostle Paul giving us a definition of love.
What’s interesting about that definition is that nowhere in it does Paul talk about emotions. Nowhere in it does Paul talk about feelings. For Paul, and for us as Christians, love is not about stuff that selfishly makes us feel good for a little while. Love is not about temporary feelings and emotions. Love is about actions and commitments.
The first two things Paul says we need to do when we love someone is to treat them with patience and kindness. Patience and kindness are the exact opposition of selfish feelings and emotions. Most of us are not instinctively patient and kind. Those are things that involve our heads as much if not more than our hearts. We can only treat someone with patience and kindness if we’ve made a commitment to that person and have decided that we are going to act in a way that shows that commitment.
The next three things Paul says about love is that it does not envy, it does not boast, and it is not proud. Again, these are things that are the exact opposite of selfish feelings and emotions. When we think someone else has a better deal than we have, it’s hard not to envy them. When feel like we’ve done something pretty good, it’s hard for us not to brag about it. It’s hard for us not to be full of ourselves when we think we’ve accomplished something. We can only get rid of our envious, boastful, prideful feelings and emotions when we’ve made a commitment to put someone else ahead of ourselves and have decided that we are going to act in a way that shows that commitment.
Paul goes on. Love is not self-seeking and it is not easily angered. Again, the opposite of selfish feelings and emotions. Most of the time, when we get angry, it’s because we’ve put ourselves ahead of someone else. Not all the time, but an awful lot of the time. We want things to go our way. We may have the best of intentions in wanting things to go our way, we may truly believe that everything would work out better if we got our way, but we’re still putting getting our way ahead of loving someone else. Again, we can only get past that when we’ve made a commitment to put someone else ahead of ourselves and have decided that we are going to act in a way that shows that commitment.
Now, we need to point out that this commitment needs to run both ways. If one person is committed and the other is not, that’s not going to work. At the same time, we cannot always be testing someone else to see if their commitment is as strong as ours. That’s what Paul means when he says love keeps no record of wrongs. We cannot use what we see as someone else’s lack of commitment as an excuse to not act in love.
I could go on with the other things Paul talks about, but you get the point. Here are the most important things Paul says about love, though. Love always perseveres, and love never fails.
In other words, Paul says love is the exact opposite of what our song says it is. Love is not something that is here today and gone tomorrow. Love is something that is permanent. Love never ends. If it ends, it was never really love in the first place. That’s true even if the relationship comes to an end. If you truly love someone, there’s a part of you that always loves them. You may not want them back, you may decide you’re better off without them, you may have found someone or something else better, but still, if it was really love, there’s a part of you that loves them, because real love never completely goes away.
Our love for each other is supposed to be like God’s love for us. God’s love for us is not like snowflakes in the sun or bubbles in champagne. God’s love for us lasts forever. Our love for each other is supposed to be forever, too.
It can be, if we make the commitment to make it that way. If we are committed to putting someone else ahead of ourselves, and if we act in a way that shows that commitment, love will never be done gone. Love will persevere, and love will never fail.