Sunday, January 31, 2010

1Cor13-Love sermon

Jeremiah 1:4-10; 1 Cor 13:1-13; WPC Santa Fe; January 31, 2010
A very deliberate and sincere message for the day. 

Jeremiah's call story is marvelous and typical at the same time.  Marvelous, the hand of God touches his mouth! Typical in that God comes personally to Jeremiah, commissions him to do God's will and speak God's word. Then there is the doubt, insecurity, fear: “I can’t do it! And finally God always reassurance: “yes you can!” 

Isn't that how each of us was called too? Hey, you down there, yeah you.  Get busy doing what I told you to do!” Regardless of how marvelous or typical our call was: Each of us has been called in various ways nonetheless! Sometimes we trivialize our calling, was it really God? Now what was it God wanted me to do?”
But it’s really quite simple.
Yes it was God, and, as we have looked at the last few chapters of 1 Corinthians we see that God wants us to not make ourselves out to be better than our brothers and sisters but to serve our brothers and sisters.  God wants to remind us that in community we all belong, and mysteriously are the body of Christ, and today we see that God wants us to act in love

At the end of chapter 12 of his first letter to the Corinthians, after talking about all of these wonderful spiritual ways of being the body of Christ the apostle Paul gives us a little teaser...a way of saying, oh, but I haven't finished yet, do read on. He says...but let me show you still a more excellent way.  

So this week, we talk about the more excellent way: Christian marriage.  Ha! Tell me it's not true.  How many of you who have been married chose to have 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, read for your ceremony. 

The way that love is defined in this passage is certainly appropriate for the context of a marriage: Spouses loving one another in this way would make for a healthy long lasting relationship.  But, marriage I'm sure was far from Paul's mind when he wrote this.  Paul is writing to a group who is trying to be a community of believers with one another but is struggling at what that means. He uses words like envy, because this is what the Corinthians had (3:3);  boasting, this is what Corinthians do (4:7; 5:6); Puffed up, the Corinthians are (4;6)[1]  

Paul is reminding that community that their true calling and purpose is to live a loved filled life, so that we may be unified and whole with each other and with God. Love=the most excellent way.

But what does love really mean?
Words are so easily deconstructed—can mean most anything you would like for them to mean.  Hollywood and the music industry would have us believe that love is all about sexualized relationships
But, Paul defines love his own way—a godly way, I think. Love is patient, kind; 
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; Love is not irritable or resentful; Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Do you like this definition? There is not much arguing with this ideal.
Okay, now take a second.    
And think about your life this past week
When were you not patient or kind?
When were you envious or boastful or arrogant or rude? 
When did you insist that you were right and someone else was wrong?
When were you irritated with a co-worker or even a spouse or a child?
When did you resent having to do something related to church or work, or home or family?  

Take a second and let’s examine ourselves and our experiences….

Could you have chosen love instead?  Do you see what Paul is getting at?
Is loving the most important thing we will ever do?
The thing that will ultimately matter?

I’m not doing this to make any of us feel guilty, but simply to show that while we hold up love as an ideal, we fail to live a life lived in love.  And so we fall short of experiencing God for who God is, and we fall short of experiencing relationships for what they really could be.

Love matters in terms of our relationships with others: Jesus says in luke 6:38, “Give and it will be given to you;  When we live a life of love toward others, we will find that we will be recipients of love also. 

It matters in terms of our relationship with God.  So often in our churches we think: If I really learn theology and doctrine, Then I will know God!
But John of the Cross says, God does not allow us to know the divine-self by knowing. God only allow us to know the divine-self by loving.[2] 
It is by loving, taking on a mind of love, the mind of Christ, that we really know God. Love God. And Love others.

Why is it so hard? Or let me re-phrase that: no wonder it is so hard.
Sadly, part of the reason why living into our calling as loving people who is so difficult is because our religious institutions—the ones that are to teach us how to love—haven’t taught us how to love. Instead of teaching people how to live into the way of love, religious leaders may concentrate on marginal issues:
Can women or gay people be ordained?
Is contraception permissible?  
Is evolution compatible with the first chapter of Genesis?
Instead of bringing people together in love, these preoccupations lead to exclusion; they draw attention to the differences between "us" and "them".  
And so we live at odds with one another in our own communities, and at odds with others of different beliefs, be they other Christians or people of other religions. And say of others, their beliefs are wrong because...well they are different from mine. And hatred continues to cause so much turmoil around the world.  I suppose psychologist Carl Jung was right when he said that a great deal of institutional religion seems designed to prevent the faithful from having a spiritual experience.[3]  

Where is the love? 

For Paul love is not simply the most excellent way that is too difficult to attain; but its something that we can do, and that works, and can transform our own lives for the better, and transform the world for the better.  

“Before love, I was so childish, so selfish, absorbed in my own needs, and wants and desires.” 

When Trasie and Ruby Gene were both sick to their stomachs on Friday night, I had to fight my urge to not act out of love.... I was tired; I didn't want to tend to their needs.  But, had I lived into my calling in the world, to fulfill God's purpose, I would have acted out of love, and my attitude or actions as I was cleaning it up after sick people who couldn’t make it to the bathroom....

“But when I become spiritually mature….” Do you see what Paul’s getting at here?

I take myself out of the center of my little world and put others there.  It’s not logical. It’s very right brained.  It has to be experienced. This is a deeply spiritual practice this love thing.  A practice—a way of life.
Every time we are tempted to speak unkindly of an annoying colleague, a bossy sibling, or even an enemy country, might we consider the way of love: and, in that moment, transcend our ego?  
[The late Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “When we put ourselves at the opposite pole of our ego, we are in the place where God wants us.”][4]

And by getting to the place where God wants us—I can only imagine is an awesome place to be—I don't hate my enemies, I don't even need to;
I don’t need to get someone back for wrong doings;
I don't need to worry about someone who spoke badly of me, two weeks ago even two years ago…;
I don’t continue to replay harmful and hurtful scenarios over and over in our minds: was she right, was I right?[5]   
And there is no selecting or profiling who is and is not worthy of love, because everyone is.
Spiritual maturity is what Paul calls it.

What is God’s calling in our lives?  
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.

And on that day, we will be fully known, and loved for who we are just as we will fully know what life is meant to be when lived in love.

[1] Christopher R. Hutson’s article on 1 Cor 13, “exegetical perspective”. Feasting on the Word, ed. D. Bartlett, BB Taylor, WM/JK Press, p 307.
[2] As quoted by Richard Rohr in “Holding the Tension” audio series.
[3] Karen Armstrong, “Compassion’s Fruit,” AARP Magazine, March & April 2005, 60-62.
[4] As quoted by Karen Armstrong in  AARP
[5] Richard Rohr, Holding the Tension, Audio Disk 2

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