“The ‘Gift’ of Love”

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part;
but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Luke 4:21-30
Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land;
yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

The Gift of Love

I have to say, I have a hard time having a sermon title by Tuesday. Well, let me rephrase. Having a sermon title is easy. Having a sermon title that is interesting, thought provokingly clever, AND relevant to what I want to say is a whole ‘nother thing.

To be honest, I was reluctant to even use the I Corinthians passage as a sermon text, because, really, what can I even begin to say about it that you haven’t already heard a thousand times, or that you don’t already know? That won’t be boring to you? I mean, come on. Faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.

Still, it’s this passage that seems to fit best with the things I’ve observed and experienced this week that I think maybe I need to share.

2f1d74150486b146e252c6207f667732So. “The Gift of Love” goes along nicely with that sweet, gentle  passage from
1 Corinthians we heard read earlier. It’s all satin ribbons, unicorns and rainbows, isn’t it? It’s THE most popular scripture for wedding ceremonies. It was one of the scriptures read at David’s and my wedding.

But if you look at it in the context in which it was written, that’s not really the main point.

It comes on the heels of 2 other passages about the body of Christ, both of which we read the past two weeks here. Paul has been exhorting the members of the young church at Corinth to persevere and play nicely with each other. He’s talked about how all the members of the church have gifts of the Spirit, and how all the members are like the Body of Christ, with all parts being equal and necessary — the first century version of “there are no small parts, only small actors” kind of thing.

And now this – that all our actions with one another need to be guided by love or the center just won’t hold. Everything else will fade away; love is the only thing that remains.

Then, there’s that bit about seeing through a glass darkly or in a mirror dimly, now but later we will see face to face.

THAT’s key.

If you connect the body of Christ part with the all- you-need-is-love part, it leads you toward thoughts like, well, what if I’m an ankle in the body of Christ. I don’t know what it’s like to be an earlobe. All I know is being an ankle. I can’t see the whole thing. We can’t see the whole thing. Only shadows and occasional glimmers of something so much brighter and clearer we can’t bear to look at it.

Ever try it? This “love” thing? For real for real?

maxresdefaultI don’t know if 4th grade curriculum is still this way or not, but when I was in 4th grade and Bonnie Hughes was my teacher, she had to teach us about nouns and verbs, and various other parts of speech. Circle the noun in the sentence and underline the verb.

As a kid I was a voracious reader; I loved books and stories, and I was reading above my grade level way before I knew how to analyze what I was reading. But that actually worked against me when we began to identify nouns and verbs. I remember Mrs. Hughes reading sentences aloud, and we had to write down all the verbs in each sentence she read. Seems like there were a lot of sentences – I don’t remember how many, but when we got our papers back from being graded, mine said “ – 45” in red at the top. Minus 45! I was crushed!

We had a little conference at the teacher’s desk. The sentence was “The storm raged outside the house.” I said the verbs were “raged” and “storm”, because the storm raged, and you could be raging mad and storm through the house. Another sentence: “The wolf ran into the woods.” Verbs? “Ran,” of course, and “wolf,” because it was entirely possible to wolf down food. I was making up scenarios right and left to accommodate all the words she was reading; if there was a word that could be used as a verb, then by gum, I wanted it to have its day and be listed! Mrs. Hughes very gently and clearly explained it depended on how the word was used within the context of that sentence as to whether it was a noun or a verb. The light bulb came on, and I did fine after that.

Love is kind of like that. It’s a noun and a verb. And not only that, as a verb it is both transitive and intransitive. Transitive means it has a direct object.   I love cats. He loved music. She loves power tools. Intransitive means it can kind of hang out there alone: I love. He loved. She loves. Love does indeed keep going and going and going, without bounds, without limits.

That’s what makes it strong and beautiful and HARD.

Love is patient and kind and generous and – and that’s easy enough when the person or people you’re “loving” is 1) loveable – e.g., nice, friendly, sincere, honest, clean, and not asking too much of you at inconvenient times. Someone who isn’t too needy. Someone who is basically of sound mind and health, someone who has something to offer in return. That’s loveable.

If the person is obnoxious, loud, says offensive things, talks too much, sees everything differently than you do, it gets to be a little harder. Still doable, but harder.

Then there are people like my friend, Clyde. We’ve known each other our whole lives. Grew up together. He has schizophrenia, and lately, the things that used to be anchors holding his life together have changed. He lives on his own, with a disability check and a little bit of supplemental income from a trust his mom set up before she died. He doesn’t drive but lives close enough to grocery stores, the pharmacy and fast food to be able to get out some on his own. My level of involvement in his life hashqdefaultalways been to make sure he had a ride to and from choir practice and church, and to talk to him like a regular person. He got off his meds last summer, though, and that’s when loving Clyde became a lot harder. As meeting his needs necessitated more involvement and personal investment from me, I had to look at myself harder than I really wanted to. Loving Clyde had become an intransitive
verb. No end to it. No boundaries. No end to the need for it. That’s hard. Love never gives up or fails or takes a holiday.

Try loving the scamming panhandler who’s got your phone number, or the belligerent drunk person, or the mentally ill folks who don’t or won’t or can’t listen to logic…

Try loving your church neighbor when you’re at odds with each other over the way some church decision needs to be resolved.

Love is not for the faint hearted.

You want to love God and Jesus? Jesus had been reading scripture in the temple at Nazareth, saying that the scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it. And what he had just read had to do with God being there not just for the Jews and Israel, but for the Gentiles and the rest of the world beyond Israel. The upshot of it all is that God is God even for the Gentiles and the world outside Israel, AND God has a penchant for the poor.  That’s NOT what they wanted to hear. So, the people chased him out of town and would have thrown him off the cliff if they could have caught him.

Love. Not for sissies.

Here’s the thing I’ve been really noticing and thinking about this week, and it comes in the forms of an observation about perspective, and good news.

The perspective part is this – like the bulletin board here in the pastpresentfuture_resizedhallway says – you spend your childhood making faces in the mirror – Middle age is when the mirror gets back at you…My perspective has changed, and getting to know you is changing it even more. I think when you get to be “middle aged” it’s like you are equidistant from the beginning to the end – and you now see that there IS most definitely an endpoint. It’s a shift in how you look at things.

Most of you are already there and have moved beyond that point already. We THINK we know what something is, what it’s like, what it will be. But once we get to it, nothing is ever what it seemed like it would be when it was still a long way off. Hence the truth of the saying, “Be careful what you wish for! (or pray for!)”…………..

Loss of spouse, friends, health problems – money problems – no guarantees – families that were once close-knit and happy become scattered and isolated. Lives end abruptly, too soon. Sometime strokes or other debilitating illnesses trap a person longer than they want to be here. All of us have scars from having loved. To love is to live, to live fully leaves scars from involvement, from your heart and soul being ripped apart and seared through and torn and trampled. Even the church that’s supposed to be here for you in your “golden years” no longer exists in the same way.

We can look at it as a betrayal, as though we somehow got short-changed, and get mad at God, turn bitter; or we can remember that the odds of any of us being alive at all are too astronomically high to comprehend. And, we have received not only God’s gift of LIFE but God’s ongoing gift of love. The love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never ends.

That’s powerful stuff.

That’s what you are helping me see, as we get to know each other. YOU are love, in action.  The way you care for one another, the way you greet each day with a smile and a “thanks be to God!” – no matter how you’re feeling.  How it all fits together? None of us knows. Through a glass darkly, in a mirror dimly – but in the fullness of time, God’s time, sometime, we’ll know.

Meanwhile, faith hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.

Thanks be to God.

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