1 May 2016: A sermon about love when everything’s falling apart.

Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Today’s text is likely a familiar one to you: “the Love passage.”  The language is beautiful, sounds pleasing to the ear, and you’ve probably heard it read at a wedding or two, whether it was a religious ceremony or not.  Of all the passages in the Bible, it’s arguably the most popular.  And of often it gets used in settings like weddings or anniversary celebrations when we want to hear a word of sentimental, emotional love. But the way Paul is using love here is so different from the way we use this passage today.  Paul is using love to address the church in Corinth that is about to rip itself apart.  The love that Paul is describing goes well beyond the sentimental kind.  It goes a little something like this:

Two boys, brothers, were out playing soccer one day, and an argument broke out.  Pushing and shoving soon followed and the older brother looked at his younger brother and said, “Go ahead, punch me.  Give me an excuse to crush you.”  The younger brother kept his distance, moving not farther or closer to him.  The older, even more angered, shouted, “C’mon, take a swing.  I dare you.”  His younger brother just kept shaking his head no as my professor continued to taunt and ridicule him.  Finally, his younger brother, tears streaming down his face, chokes out one simple word: “no.”  This enrages the older brother so that he marches right up to his brother, shoves him a couple times, and yells, “C’mon!  Hit me!”  The younger brother stands there, and says “No.  I will not hit my brother.  I will not hit my brother. I can’t hit you David. I love you.”

This story was about one of my seminary professors and his brother while they were growing up, and one he liked to tell often.  And it describes the kind of love that Paul is talking about to the church in Corinth, perhaps. The love Paul is describing has a sentimental tone to it, just like this story perhaps.  But it is also love that takes a definitive stand; one isn’t supposed to be a punching bag for the other.  It is a love that says “yes” and “no” at the same time, a love that engages in struggle rather than avoid or suppress it, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things: the power of being community.

 I read an interesting article in the NY Times this past week titled, “If not Trump, What?”  The columnist, David Brooks, writes that Trump’s rise isn’t so much signaling the coming of the apocalypse, but rather his voice has given a platform to voice the frustration that people feel: faithful years spent at one company only to be fired 2 years from retirement, opportunity only being open to those who have enough money to afford the right educational credentials, suicide rates are at a 30-year high; it’s the notion that one national survey shows that 75 percent of Trump supports feel that life has gotten worse for them in the last 50 years and that the idea of the “American Dream” is out of reach.  Brooks argues that the reason for this is that all these things make people feel like they’re alone in this, that they’re left to face all these things in isolation.  It’s created an “every person for themselves” America.  Get what you can….because if you don’t, someone’s going to take it from you.

Brooks says the response, perhaps, is for all of us to “go out into the pain” that exists in our community.  To step beyond our sameness and what’s comfortable.   He writes, “Maybe the task is to build a ladder of hope. People across America have been falling through the cracks. Their children are adrift. Trump, to his credit, made them visible. We can start at the personal level just by hearing them talk.”  In other words: love.  Love as an expression of how God has loved us first in Jesus Christ – cross and resurrection.  Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things – the power of being community.  The power of being church.

I have been asked by more than a few of you in my time here what I mean when ask so often, “what does it mean to be church?”  Today’s text provides that answer: we love.  Being church is expressing the divine, sacrificial love of Christ that unites us together as church.  It is a love that sets the terms for how we are to be church together, and it goes beyond just being “nice.”  Perhaps the “love passage” would sound better like this:

“Church is patient; church is kind; church is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  Church does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but church rejoices in the truth.  Church bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

What if the good news in the midst of anger, fear, and isolation Brooks speaks of is the unity found in communities of love?  What if the gift Jesus has given the world is the community that expresses the divine love of the cross and resurrection – the church? What if the good news Brooks speaks of is the unity and love experienced in being church – both with those inside these walls and those outside of them?  It is something to think about, and perhaps, something not too big for our us to comprehend and imagine and do alongside God.  Amen.

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