Here comes a very familiar reading. Well, it’s familiar to me. I can’t count the times I have heard a portion of our Epistle lesson read at one wedding or another, or mentioned as a possible reading at a wedding.
But first: what Paul is talking about at the beginning of this reading is something fascinating to me, and something that turns so utterly on its head that I am utterly captivated.
Could you imagine if you could speak in the tongues of humans and angels? It would be so cool to be able to speak every language ever spoken. It would be so amazing to have the ability to simply bowl people over with words pouring out of your mouth, to proclaim anything in the tongue of angels. I recognize that it seems like every time the angels speak in the Bible, the people around to hear are absolutely terrified, but it could be pretty spectacular.
Could you imagine the abilities that would come with all prophetic power and to know and understand all mysteries and have all knowledge? That would be an awesome superhero level of powers! Well, sure, life might suddenly get pretty boring and uninteresting if you knew everything all the time. And I have to admit that I have never known any group of people to really like a know-it-all who always has an answer, but all that knowledge and power would be pretty amazing.
Could you imagine if you had all the faith? We’re talking incredible amounts of faith that could make the trees bend low and move mountains as God could if God wanted! Life could get so much simple if we could just make all people, everywhere, just do the right thing already. Well, sure, it might be good for a little while to make everyone and everything do exactly what it is that we think they ought to do to make a better world, but we’ve seen what happens when one person makes all the decisions for all the people – it doesn’t seem to ever end well.
Okay, but could you imagine giving away everything that you owned, trusting in God so completely that you could do exactly what Jesus tells that young ruler: get rid of everything and just follow. Now, I’m pretty sure I love Jesus, but I have to admit that I also love all the things that I have worked for and collected to make my life better. I often dream about what it would be like if I didn’t have to worry about money, or things, or all my stuff: if only I could run away and be a hermit, live a life devoted to service and only take on what I need to get through the day. There’s something appealing about that dream…
But, Paul says – even if we had all those really great abilities… Even if we gave everything up, even if we became the greatest saintly spiritual human being to have ever existed, but didn’t have love, it would mean absolutely nothing.
Okay, love. Love we understand, don’t we?
But, then Paul explains what love really is, and I get so frustrated hearing all of the things that love is… because it seems like such an impossible standard.
Love is patient… well, if this past week has taught me anything, it’s that I am far more IMpatient than I am willing to admit, far too often.
Love is kind… well, I get told I’m kind a lot. And I have kind eyes, a kind face. Have any of you been in the car with me driving around Regina? I’m anything but kind. When I drive, young people love to be in my car, my friends giggle and guffaw in the back seat, while my spouse asks me: “Should I drive? It seems like you have some anger about driving…” Point is, not terribly kind.
Love isn’t envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. Oh boy… I am an envious being. I like to toot my own horn sometimes. I look down on people sometimes. I can be incredibly rude when I’m hangry. I know that what I might call ‘blunt’, other people call just plain rude.
Love does not insist on its own way… but, what if I’m right? Still no? Well… tick that one off too.
Love is not irritable or resentful… can we just skip this one? See?! There’s that patience thing again.
Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Are we getting a sense of the impossible-ness of this standard?
Despite the itemized list of all the things that I am not all the time, I am really drawn into what Paul is saying in this reading.
Last week Paul was talking about how we are all interconnected – we are all part of this great body made up of many and diverse working bits and parts, of which Christ is our head. We are connected. And we are all called to interconnection – to relationship with one another, rooted in love.
Not some flowery, romantic kind of love; not an itemized list of seemingly impossible standards; not a love that lets us sit back and bask in the lovely feeling that makes us feel warm and fuzzy and oh so happy – but a love that begins with God, that moves back and forth, a love of mutual connection, and a love that calls us to action.
This love is a radical love that encourages us to imagine life as a community where unity and difference can co-exist. To realize that even though we all have a part to play in the body of Christ, we don’t know what every part is going to play. Remember those nose-hairs? Those nose-hairs probably don’t know what the toes are doing or why, and the fingers probably don’t know how the ears and eyes are to best do their work. Which is good to admit, because it opens avenues of wisdom and opportunities to learn from each other. It also means, however, that we can’t really judge if each person is doing their part perfectly correct, or dictate how each person ought to be doing their part.
Nor should we, because we’re not meant to be those know-it-alls. Paul reminds us that we are to love one another. We all can have and use all these exciting and incredible gifts, but love is the thing that pulls it all together; love is the thing that makes everything else work.
I think this is the root of Paul’s message to the Corinthians. They really need to hear about love in the midst of their community lives. In the midst of divisions and different abilities and different gifts and different roles – love makes it all work for everyone.
And here’s the kicker, as Paul reminds us: Love never ends.
Because it’s God’s love. It’s the love that God has had since the beginning of creation, the love that has no knowable depth or end. It’s the love that is poured out like water at baptism, washing us in this symbol of forgiveness and renewal, acceptance and drawing in. It’s a love that comes as bread and wine, a meal that reminds of us the love that went to a cross and into a tomb. For us. It’s a love that resurrected and conquered sin and death.
That’s the love that brings us together. That’s the love gives us each a place in the body of Christ.
That’s the love that isn’t selfish or arrogant, it concerns itself with all others.
That’s the love that doesn’t seek its own power and its own way, love seeks the way to benefit the good for all.
That’s the love that God plants in each of us.
It moves us toward those around us, instead of in on ourselves.
And even though we may only get a small part of what that love is like, some of the time, we can hold to that promise: everything else in life will surely come to an end, but love… God’s love, never ends.
Love is movement.
So, pursue love. Seek to know love, however partly, so that we might all know love. And at the same time, know that God has already given all that love to you. And in the end, we will know it fully, clear as day.
Let us pray:
Thank you for first loving us; for washing us in the warmth of your love for all creation, and for bringing us together into the midst of your loving way. Help us to remember that though we stumble and live lives that are sometimes the opposite of love, we can all cling to the promise of your love and begin anew, putting aside the ways we have gone before. Empower us to live love into the midst of each of our communities and to share what little we really understand of love with a world desperately wanting to know your love.
- Karoline Lewis “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13” Workingpreacher.org
- Rick Morley, “the excellent way” Rick Morley: a garden path
- Melissa Bane Sevier, “Love on the Move” Contemplative Viewfinder
- Anna Shirey “Through a Mirror Darkly: Getting Friendly with Mystery” The Labyrinth Way