Hearing today’s Scripture, you may be automatically transported in your mind to a wedding scene because these verses are often read at weddings…
….perhaps The Princess Bride and you are hearing “Mawage. Mawage is what bwings us togetha today.”
….perhaps it is The Wedding Crashers and you are seeing Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson take bets on what Scripture is about to be read. (Spoiler alert: it’s 1 Corinthian 13)
….perhaps you are singing the Beatles hit in your head “All we need is love!”
….perhaps you are transported back to your own wedding ceremony
Whatever it is, these verses are so often associated with romantic love and used in wedding ceremonies. For good reason, too: They hold great wisdom regarding love.
And also....when studied through the larger context of this letter to the Corinthians, we realize they were written not specifically for marriage. The letter was written to a group of people, a faith community, facing many struggles and disagreements. It was a message on how Christ-followers should exercise God’s love among them...men and women, young and old, married and single.
Today is the start of our 4-week stewardship season. The Stewardship committee has done great work in reflecting on Lynnhaven Colony’s mission and planning for 2019. Each week we are focusing on a different word, describing Lynnhaven Colony, as you can see in the graphic on the front of the bulletin. Today it’s love.
Knowing that the author of 1 Corinthians was writing to a faith community and included these instructions on loving one another, I think it’s a perfect selection for us to read.
We strive to be a loving community. We want all people to feel loved here - no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey!
But, how do we love one another?
Is it so easy as to say that we greet each other with a smile and ask how our weeks were and what we’ve been doing and how’s work or the family? How do we live out the love that Jesus modeled for us and we are told to follow?
Loving another human being is active. The way that this Scripture is interpreted may sound a little static “love is patient. love is kind.” Kinda like “the sky is blue.” Those descriptors are great, but don’t necessarily describe the active nature of love.
Brian Peterson (workingpreacher.org) notes that the grammar of this section has “love” as the subject of 16 verbs. Love is the subject and it acts. Love shows patience. Love acts in kindness. Love rejoices in the truth.
Love is not passive. Love is active. We make a choice to love actively. Thinking of a person you have a personal relationship with it - a sibling, significant other, friend - and think of what it takes to actively love them, through all their awesome attributes (and their not-so-awesome attributes), and you’re reminded that love is certainly active.
When you walk into this community, hopefully you choose to actively love the others that have walked in as well.
Another interesting grammatical observation with this passage is how much of the description of love is not what it IS or what it does, but what it is NOT and what it does not do. Love is not envious, boastful, rude, arrogant, irritable, resentful; it does not insist on its own way or rejoice in wrongdoings.
Some theologians will argue that the only way we can describe God is through what God is not - it is called apophatic theology. This type of thinking approaches God as such a huge mystery that it is nearly impossible to say what God is, only what God is not.
I appreciate this approach because of the humility implied with it. It says “I may not know all of what love is, but I know it isn’t THAT.”
It’s especially helpful perhaps when witnessing interactions between people - in any type of relationship - to be able to identify what love is NOT.
Love is not being intentionally rude or hurtful.
Love is not wanting to see another person fail, maybe in a mindset of revenge.
Love is not abusive.
I think this is possibly one of the hardest parts of love...when we are hurt. Our reactions range from very active to very passive - fight or flight.
Experiencing “un-love” from another person does not justify showing “un-love” back to them. Have you ever found yourself thinking, “I hope she gets what she deserves?”
And we don’t have to keep ourselves in an abusive situation - showing love to ourselves.
We don’t have to condone unjust behavior, but we also don’t have to add to it.
Love is not simply experiencing warm-fuzzies. I do believe we have an extremely welcoming atmosphere here and I know I certainly experience many “warm fuzzy” moments here, but love shared is not just warm-fuzzies.
Peterson writes, “true love is not measured by how good it makes us feel. In the context of 1 Corinthians, it would be better to say that the measure of love is its capacity for tension and disagreement without division.” (See Krister Stendahl, "Preaching from the Pauline Epistles," in Biblical Preaching: An Expositor's Treasury (Westminster, 1983), pp. 306-326).
Back in the fall of 2016, during the presidential election season, for one of our Progressive Pints topic, we discussed whether or how our faith interacts with politics. We combined religion, politics, and beer - the stereotypical deadly combination for any Thanksgiving dinner, right?
What I remember most from that night, and I’ve mentioned this numerous times previously, is that two members stayed a good 20-30 minutes afterward so that they could continue talking. They disagreed on many things regarding this topic, and I suspect still do today. However, they chose to hear one another, and they ended their conversation with a hug and “love you.”
Perhaps one of the reasons that these two people were able to work through their disagreement and remain friends is because they knew each other - they knew each other’s families and backgrounds and that they shared similar values, despite their disagreements in how to practice those values.
A challenge when it comes to living out this 1 Corinthians love is taking it outside these walls as well. Hopefully, inside these walls we learn and practice Christ-like love. Hopefully, outside these walls we can exercise Christ-like love.
John Wesley, the prominent theologian behind Methodism, is quoted as saying, “The love of God, and of our neighbour for God’s sake, is patient toward all men. It suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, and infirmities of the children of God; all the malice and wickedness of the children of the world; and all this, not only for a time, but to the end. And in every step toward overcoming evil with good…” (Wesley’s Notes)
That is hard. This doesn’t say that we have to agree with or condone other’s actions. It acknowledges that weaknesses, ignorance, and errors exist. Looking at our Scripture, it says love is not irritable or resentful...which implies that there would be things that can irritate you and make you resentful.
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that things have been said or done inside these walls that could get under our skin. Because we’re humans.
But our mission, if we choose to accept it, is to actively love. To talk it out. To admit our own wrongdoing. To seek wisdom.
Jan Richardson (paintedprayerbook) beautifully writes about love transforming us. She states “Loving is always risky, because we cannot enter into it without being changed. Altered. Transformed...Loving is never just about opening our heart. It is about being willing to have our heart become larger as we make room for people and stories and experiences we never imagined holding. It is about being willing to have our heart become deeper as we move beyond the surface layers of our assumptions, prejudices, and habits in order to truly see and receive what—and who—is before us.”
For this week, how can we let love transform us? I’ve thought a lot this week about all the descriptions in 1 Corinthians 13 and with which part I most struggle...not being irritated or resentful.
With which part do you most struggle? Do you find it hard to show patience? Do you find it hard to not hold a grudge and, therefore, be resentful? Do you struggle with enduring through all things?
Which part can you work on so that you love more fully?
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13