University Congregational Church
Aug. 14, 2016
“Movies & Stories: Love Actually”
I Cor. 13
What is love? It’s a question many people have tried to answer from William Shakespeare to Ewan McGregor. There are many different answers to that question. Love is trust. Love is dependency. Love is a squishy feeling inside. Love is sex, as one honest girl said.
Henry Kissinger once said: “Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes- There’s too much fraternizing with the enemy.” But for all the different answers, one thing is certain. Everyone is looking for love in one form or another. And it’s no surprise given the effect of knowing that you are loved by someone else. The great bard himself, William Shakespeare wrote: “When Love speaks, the voice of all the gods makes heaven drowsy with the harmony.”
The opening passage from the brilliant Richard Curtis in the film Love, Actually approaches love from another angle. For those of you who don’t know the film, it deals with love in all its facets, between siblings, between lovers, between colleagues, between families. It shows love in its edifying and creative possibilities and it shows love destroying and damaging. These are its opening words:
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion is starting to make out that we live in a world full of hatred and greed. But I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. It’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there: mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge; they were messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”
Love can be a meaningless abstraction and, on the other hand, can be used to mean anything we want it to. As ethicist Richard Hays puts it, “[love] has become a cover for all manner of vapid self-indulgence” or, to quote Stanley Hauerwas: “The ethics of love is often but a cover for what is fundamentally an assertion of ethical relativism”. Love is used as a sanction for everything and anything; love is employed as a tool, even, perhaps, a weapon, in the battle for the minds and souls of the world around us. However, contrast this love with the love of the Bible, which calls us to repentance, discipline, sacrifice, and transformation. It as Mother Teresa who said: “There is more hunger for real love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”
Our culture doesn’t always value this, but the Hebrews had a name for someone who loves by will. They called it ahava. It is a love of the will. Sometimes love is romantic – rose petals and violin and candles being lit – “Oh, honey, I’m not going anywhere.” But ahava is love when there has been tragedy, death, hopelessness, and chaos everywhere, and you say, “I’m not going anywhere.” True ahava – true love – is more concerned about giving than receiving. Being the center of someone’s attention isn’t love. And love isn’t about getting some feeling or fix. Ahava is about giving devotion and time. Giving is the vehicle of love. Meaningful relationships have mutual giving. Love may focus on receiving, but ahava is all about giving. There is a difference. Consider that the Hebrew word ahava is not an emotion but an action. It is not something that happens “to you” but a condition that you create when you give. You don’t “fall” in love – you give love!
Ahava says, “I’ve seen the ugly side of you and I’m staying.” Yet we would view that in our culture predominantly as unhealthy. “Surely God doesn’t want you for that. Your life is so short. Are you really going to spend it like that?” In our culture, love can be flippant. It can shift and change at any given moment. It is not sustaining, and it is not safe. If you want to try to get a handle on why people are putting off marriage or not getting married at all, you only need to look at how we’re defining love. Why would anyone want that?
Really, this finds its roots in the Romans and their view of love. We’ve just lapped it up like fools. If love is purely emotive, then what’s to stop Cupid in his little diaper from lighting me up when I see a movie with Richard Gere or Robert Redford? All of a sudden, Eric doesn’t look so wonderful. Or some of the guys at the North YMCA. But what can I do? It’s Cupid. I just fell out of love with Eric. I’m now in love with the guy on the bench press. He doesn’t require much from me.
We don’t even have language for love anymore… because we love fajitas. We love our dogs, and yet we still say we love our spouses, and we still say we love our parents, sisters and brothers. We don’t even have language that would allow love to be deep for us. We don’t even know what we’re saying when we say that anymore. Most of the time when we say, “I love you,” what we’re really saying is, “You make me happy. You make me glad, so I love you.”
This is a weak form of love. It will not sustain moving forward. It will require some ahava in order to make it past the initial infatuation. This is one of the problems with modern relationships. We don’t know how to ahava. Instead, the one we love most of all is ourselves. Others who make us feel happy and satisfied receive our love, because of what they do for us. But the moment the other person doesn’t make a big deal about me and my world – why, that’s when the problems start.
Yes, I want emotions… I want my chest to flutter when Eric walks in the room, and it still happens periodically by the grace of God. But there have been many days that it’s ahava.
• People go through chemo and lose their hair.
• People sometimes get laid off.
• People go through depression and despair and grief.
• Children aren’t always easy to love.
• Your parents get old and you end up changing their diapers.
• A car wreck happens and bodies are affected.
None of this is sexy. Nothing about these things makes your spouse say, “I’m glad I married this one.” Do you know what you need in that moment? You need ahava in that moment. But ahava isn’t just for couples. It is for anyone seeking relationship…personally or in a faith community.
On that day where you’re exhausted and just being the worst parts of you, what you need is ahava. You need someone who says, “Yeah, I’ve seen that. It’s ugly, but I love you. I’m not going anywhere.”
Most of you are familiar with Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, chapter 13 (which is known as the love chapter). I share with you a different version – in poetic rhyme, by Fr. Sean Mullen:
I’m a gong; I’m a cymbal! Hear me roar; hear me clang!
Without love all I do is cajole and harangue!
Without love it’s as though all I have has been filched!
Without love, I’ve got nothing, I’ve got nada, I’ve got zilch!
Love is patient and kind; love’s not boastful or rude;
love is lovely and blind; it’s not sneaky or shrewd.
Love believes all things, bears all things, doesn’t gripe or complain;
love endures all things, hopes all things; but gets wet in the rain.
Love’s not pushy or greedy; love tells you the truth;
love’s not touchy or needy; nor the domain of the youth.
love’s lasting, it’s endless, goes on, never stops;
love’s eternal, not friendless; hate’s the bottom: love’s the tops.
Love’s the answer, the way; it will keep us together;
love’s a dancer, it’s gay; makes you light as a feather!
Love’s splendors are many, and love’s all you need;
Love’s genders are any: love can never mislead.
When I was a child like a child I spoke,
childish thoughts were the best that my mind could evoke.
But now that I’ve cast off my childish ways,
I feel I could preach about love here for days!
For now we can see in a mirror most dimly,
and so to our vision, God’s love can seem primly
to meet our desires, our dreams and our yearning,
but somehow we know something greater is burning
within us: the chance that some day by God’s grace
we’ll stand in his Presence and see Love face to face.
In that day what to us in this moment looks woolly,
will at last be available to be looked at fully.
Now faith is important, it’s great, and it’s grand;
the thing on which Luther could take quite a stand.
Saved by grace through our faith, that’s been done once for all,
since the tree and the apple, and the serpent, the Fall.
And hope springs eternal for sure, does it not?
It’s about what comes after the grave, if not rot.
There’s faith and there’s hope, these two still abide,
but the thing about love is, it’s deep, high, and wide;
it connects us to others, to those far and near,
and in moments of terror, perfect love casts out fear.
Butcher, Andrew. WordPress. Published in Stimulus, vol. 13, November, 2005.
Buttery, Nathan. “Love, Actually”. St. John Newland. March 7, 2004.
Chandler, Matt. “The Initiating Love of God”. The Village Church. March 31, 2013.
Mullen, Fr. Sean. “Love, Actually”. St. Mark Church, Philadelphia. Jan. 31, 2016.