Surprised By Love

David told me a few weeks ago that he’d like one of the scripture readings for his wedding to Ahmed to be about Abraham—Abraham, after all, is the common ancestor of Islam and Christianity (and Judaism, of course). I thought it was a great idea—something that honored Ahmed and David’s shared heritage and their shared values. And there are lots of stories about Abraham in the Bible that could cover that ground.

When David told me he’d made his selection, I didn’t think this particular reading we just heard was the most obvious choice—a story about Abraham and Sarah being so old that conceiving a child seemed impossible to them (but—spoiler alert—they got pregnant anyway). And I found myself thinking it over quite a bit—this choice.

Those of you who know David know he’s an intentional fellow. He must be trying to tell me something. Right? And I could only come up with one theory. And, so, the next time I saw David, I pulled him aside, and I said, “David, I’m your pastor and you can tell me anything. Are you pregnant?” God works in mysterious ways!

And David said, “No.” And then he said, “But I have been surprised. I didn’t think this kind of love or a marriage were going to happen for me—especially at this point in my life. I’m not pregnant, but I am surprised—and I’m happy.”

No doubt, Ahmed has also been a little surprised too. In fact, if you had told him, when he was growing up in Yemen, that he’d one day marry a husband in New York City in a church of all places!—I bet you might have gotten a laugh out of him. It would have just seemed too farfetched, too foreign, too impossibly comical. And, so, Ahmed and David have both been surprised by love.

And, hey, maybe some of you were surprised as well. As Ahmed and David are both well aware, they are not your average couple! Their love has refused to be held apart by the expectations, the conventions, the prejudices, or even the well meaning advice of others. Despite it all, two men born in two different countries, born of two different races, born to two different religions, born in two different decades have fallen in love. It’s not a love that everyone in the world is going to get, right? And they know that! They are unique. They are not something you see every day.

In our second reading this evening, the author of 1 John tells us not to be surprised if the world hates us. Well, that’s depressing. And I imagine that some of you have felt at some point in your lives that the world felt just that way about you. I know that David has felt it. I imagine Ahmed has too—at home and abroad. What about you? It ain’t easy, is it?

The response of the early Christian community to this hatred is similar to the response of the LGBTQ community to homophobia and transphobia—the response was to find a community of likeminded people to love and to allow that love to overflow the rigid restrictions of Patriarchal family patterns. Christian believers called one another siblings, brothers and sisters, and it freaked the Romans out because the Christians were escaping from the controlling confines of the Pater Familias. The LGBTQ community has similarly found chosen family, come out of the closet, and laid claim to their right to marriage, all while refusing to let their love or their relationships be defined for them by others.

When the world rejects us and reviles us, our hope comes in our commitment to our response to the hatred. We are to love one another—to love one another with a love that breaks the rules, to love one another with a love that accomplishes the impossible, to love one another with a love that completes our joy. Talk about rule-breaking love, 1 John says that this love moves us from death to life. That’s not just rule breaking—let’s face it some rules are good to have—this kind of love is death-defying, resurrecting, world-healing. It takes suffering and turns it into joy. It takes an ending and makes it into a beginning. It takes something that is utterly hopeless, and it laughs! It laughs not in disbelief or out of nihilistic mockery, but in the surprise of a joy fulfilled. When Sarah gives birth to her first baby in her 90s, she remembers her doubtful laughter. She remembers God’s response to her laughter. And she names her baby Isaac, which means “laughter.”

And, so, we too have to laugh in the face of a world that cannot laugh, that cannot let go, that cannot stop trying to interfere with what love is doing, that cannot stop saying, “No, that is impossible, that is not allowed.” Our love is our joy, and it is our defiance. The author of 1 John isn’t saying love those who hate you (which nobody really likes—that’s another sermon). First, we need to take care of ourselves. And 1 John says, in the absence of love, in the face of hate, love one another, and you too might be surprised.

Who knows? You might be surprised to discover that God is not the blood-thirsty warrior, or the exacting lawgiver, or the absent superpower that God has been rumored to be. When we choose to love one another, to save one another from the powers of death, and to surprise one another with joy, we just might discover that God is love. This isn’t about cutting God down to size. Loving one another is a spiritual practice meant to connect us heart of all creation. And for those of us who don’t care much for the angry old man in the sky who’s obsessed with being worshiped and preoccupied with punishing us for loving the wrong people in the wrong way, committing ourselves to the theology that God is love—that the highest spiritual principle of all, and the very embodiment of God in nature is our love for one another—can be life changing. That kind of love can bring us back to life. That kind of love blesses us all, blesses the whole world.

Now, the whole world might not like it. It might never be the most popular opinion—that love is highest principle and the best understanding of the God of the universe. So, those of us who believe it, and want to declare living, joy-filled love in the face of dead, empty hate, we can’t just be armchair lovers. We need to get our hands dirty, so to speak. We need to be committed to real, on-the-ground, practical, living, experimental, tangible lovin’. We need to love in all the ways that we have been made to love, and we need to support all the ways that others have been made to love. Especially, when that love surprises us! Let that love be a sign to us. Let it be like God saying to us, “Hey, check this out! Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? Is anything too wonderful for love?” If the love is mutual, consensual, and honest, if it gives more than it asks, and moves the people that it touches from death to life in a world that ain’t easy, then that love—just as it is—is sacred, true, and holy, and that love, by whoever is lucky enough to lay claim to it or witness is, should be celebrated, and honored, and blessed.

Notice we haven’t said anything about love being PERFECT. Ahmed and David, your love is good. It ain’t perfect. Even on the days or the weeks or the years when it feels perfect, it ain’t perfect. But that’s OK. There’s no such thing as a perfect match. And, so, your good love is also going to take the hard work of commitment, open and honest communication, compassion for one another and yourselves, forgiveness of one another and yourselves, gratitude, emotional vulnerability and fortitude, and endless compromise. If you remember anything from this sermon, I hope you remember this: that true love is not a feeling. True love is a faithful action—it’s a commitment to a way of being with one another that has to be worked out again and again.

And Ahmed, Broadway United Church of Christ has known David for years now. And we’re just beginning to get to know you. And we’re glad, Ahmed, that you are here. You are welcome here, Ahmed, just as you are. And thank you for this opportunity to celebrate love. It’s our honor to be here with you.

For all of us, Beloved, let’s love another! You can do it in a church! You can do it in your marriage! You can do it with your chosen family! You can do it with your neighbors or with strangers! But, I implore you, find a way to meet God by doing the hard and joyful work of loving one another somewhere.

Let’s start with this wedding. We’re all surprised! We’re all laughing! We’re all ready to bless this marriage!

Let all the people say, Amen!