The Wedding of Jeremiah and Lori Shaw
Spray Beach Chapel, Long Beach Island
September 16, 2011
1 John 4:7-16
Today’s first reading was taken from the First Letter of John. It was written pretty late by New Testament standards – sometime near the end of the First Century. It’s a passage that’s often read at weddings, so for at least some of us the language is familiar. And like everything else that’s grown familiar there’s a danger that we no longer see or hear what it means – what it’s really about.
“God is love.” That sounds almost trite. We might shrug and ask, “What else is new?”
The First Letter of John was written for a Christian community broken by division. We don’t really know what caused the division, but it’s no surprise. You may have noticed that heated arguments and bitter separations are pretty common among religious people…
The author of First John realizes that these followers of Jesus have missed the whole point.
The whole point is love.
In this passage, written originally in Greek, the author of First John summarizes how for Christians the whole point is love. And he’s not the first follower of Jesus to realize that the whole point is love.
Half a century earlier St. Paul wrote about love in a letter to the Corinthians – another passage that’s often read at weddings.
In that letter Paul writes, “and now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Both the author of First John and St. Paul agree: the whole point is love.
Now, of course people in Greece and elsewhere in the ancient world knew about love before Christians came along in the middle of the First Century.
In fact, the Greeks had three different words for love.
There was eros, which generally referred to physical love.
And there was philia, the affection among family and friends.
And then there was a third kind of love – a kind of love that almost never appears in Greek writing before the New Testament. This third type of love is agape – selfless love.
For people in the ancient world, agape - selfless love - was almost unheard of. Both eros and philia offered pretty obvious benefits – physical pleasure and the security of having people around who would watch your back.
But, people wondered what’s the benefit of agape? What’s the benefit of selfless love?
One modern writer has described agape this way, “It is utterly impractical and makes no sense, but it is real. It comes from God.”
Not only does agape come from God, but, as the author of First John realized and proclaimed, God is love – God is agape.
God reveals God’s selfless love in creation – in this dazzling universe, this beautiful planet, and in special places like this island.
For us Christians God reveals God’s selfless love most clearly in Jesus. In the selfless love of Jesus, God says, this is who I really am. And in the selfless love of Jesus, God says to us, this is who you really are.
It turns out that we are made for agape – we are made for selfless love.
Of course, we often forget - or try to forget - that we are made for selfless love and instead look for other, less loving ways to find fulfillment – and fail every time.
Fortunately, every once in a while we get a wonderful reminder that we are made for agape – we are made for selfless love.
And so here we are today. Here we are today witnessing the love of Lori and Jerry - this agape story that is also a classic Hudson County love story that began when their paths crossed one evening in a Hoboken bar.
In talking – through the modern miracle of skype - with Lori and Jerry to prepare for today it was clear to me (even through a fuzzy computer connection) that their hearts are wide open to each other. From nearly the start of their relationship they shared the hurts that come from being on earth for a few decades. From nearly the start they shared the fears about what the future might bring. And from nearly the start they shared the hopes of what a life together could be.
Now, today in this ceremony they are formalizing the gift of selfless love – the gift of agape – the gift that they have already given to each other.
You and I are here as witnesses. We’re here to pray. We’re here to celebrate. We’re here to promise our support whenever times get tough.
And, if we keep our eyes and our hearts open we’re also here to glimpse the agape of God in the love shared by Lori and Jerry. We are here to glimpse in the love shared by these two wonderful people the love that is patient and kind, the love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
We’re here to glimpse in Lori and Jerry’s love the selfless love of God – the love that never ends.