The Fourth Sunday After The Epiphany
February 3rd, 2019
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
A few weeks before I married my beloved spouse, I found myself surrounded by a number of people from the church attended at the time who had gathered to shower me with love and support before the big day. And in lieu of gifts, they had been asked to bring some passage that spoke to them of love or marriage or something that they thought would be food for me in the years ahead that they would then read aloud and then give to me a copy to keep. And so, I sat in the middle of this room and one at a time, people stood up around and read different passages. Someone read an excerpt from Les Miserables and someone read that famous sonnet by Shakespeare, if only because Kate Winslet says the first lines of it so beautifully in the movie Sense and Sensibility. Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, nor bends with the remover to remove: O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests and is never shaken.
And then someone read a paraphrase, translation of our epistle for this morning. From Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in the 13th chapter. And when I hear these words later on, when I hear those words of Shakespeare that love is not changing when the other person changes. That love doesn’t leave when someone gets up and walks out of the room. And that love is planted in firm and it looks at trouble coming down the way and doesn’t even budge. And when I hear the words from Paul that say love is patient, love is kind, love endures all things. Love doesn’t think about itself. Love doesn’t boast. Love isn’t jealous. I think to myself, ideally yes. Ideally yes, love is patient and kind and love doesn’t have a bad day in its life. Love is doing great. Be more like love. And yet, if I’m honest, in my life, I myself find that love is in fact at least on occasion annoying.
And that on occasion, love asks you to do exactly the thing that you don’t feel like doing when you least feel like doing it. And so, I think that St. Paul would actually have been perhaps more useful to us and perhaps more honest if at this point he could have said, love is hard. Love is exhausting. Love is a full-time occupation. It is round the clock and it doesn’t let up. And recently, I said to God at one point. Lord couldn’t I just have a break? Couldn’t there just be a few hours of the day when I could come home and say whatever I feel like, however I feel like it and it wouldn’t count. Is it because I’m a priest that it’s so hard to have to keep on loving and keep on trying to love even when I fumble around so often?
And more frequently have clarity and hindsight in what I should have done than looking ahead at what I should do now. And as I thought about it, I realized that love being that hard and love being that full-time occupation has nothing to do with and it is not because I’m a priest. It’s because I’m a Christian. And so the gift that comes to us in Paul’s words this morning is this reminder that if you look carefully, he’s not talking about how love feels. He’s talking about what love does.
So, first off, we have the reminder that love isn’t just an inner experience that we feel. It is in part but it’s not only that. It is also an outer and external experience that we actually do, that we actually participate in. And I would wager to say that some of the people among us this morning who exemplify this most obviously and profoundly are scouts. Because whether you’re a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout, you have an oath, am I right? And you have a law and at some point in the oath, it says, you’re going to try and live by the law.
And for those of you who are awake enough at this very early hour, what are the kinds of things in the law that it says a scout is? Somebody give me one. A scout is trustworthy. Fabulous. In the Girl Scouts law, it says that I will do my best to be a number of things including caring, courageous, that I’ll do my best to respect myself and others. And that is what love does. Love is trustworthy. Love is loyal. Love is compassionate. Love does one’s best. And so besides love being simply how I feel on any given day, I may love to run. I may love to watch movies because it makes me feel good and it makes me happy when I do it. But love has more to that because love does things. Love has actions.
And so, if you earn any of those badges on your sash or your vest, you have to do a number of things. And one of the most basic things it seems to me, is you have to show up. You have to actually be at church this morning. You have to be at your meeting. Sometimes showing up is hard in and of itself depending on how late you went to bed or how little coffee there is available. But love shows up. And love puts action into being. Love speaks itself through what love does. And one of the actions that I could lift up for us in this particular church, you’ll note, we celebrate all scouts today especially troop 1005 who meet here and if you’ve ever been on a Tuesday night, you will see them.
And more and more we are looking forward to ways in which we can lift this beautiful troop up and they can find themselves to be more and more at home here to serve. But one of the scout acts of love that you can see any time you come to this church is if you come to the back parking lot. That first garden plot that you go past, that is Thomas Witten’s Eagle Scout Project. It is an act of love. It took showing up. It took the help and the service of many people besides just Thomas. Not least of all, his parents. Love does things. Love is willing to act and willing to serve.
And funnily enough then whether you’re a scout or not. Whether you’ve ever been a scout or not, we have a bit more in common with the scouts than we might think. Because we have a vision here in this church that says what we’re about, what we are trying to do, our oath or our law at it were is that we’re trying as best we can to meet Jesus. We’re trying to find joy. We’re trying to share beauty and we’re trying to serve others. That’s us. And what Paul tells us and what Jesus would backup is that you can do the most wonderful things.
Paul says, you can give away everything you own. You can have all the knowledge in the world. You can understand everything. You can speak every language. And if you don’t have love, it doesn’t make a difference. It doesn’t matter. And we are reminded this morning that you can meet Jesus. You can find joy. You can share beauty. You can serve others. And if you don’t have love while you’re doing all of that, it doesn’t profit us anything. And that’s where Jesus makes all the difference.
We have this sort of anti climatic weird passage from the gospel this morning where Jesus goes back to the town where He’s from. He’s in His place of worship and He anticipates that now that He’s famous, everybody is going to want Him to do the same miracles and the same healings that he’s been doing everywhere else. And He says to them. He doesn’t get very far, but He says to them, look, if you look at the away that God has acted in history. There were a lots of people who were widows but God sends Elijah, not to all of them but to one particular widow in Zarephath and there were a lots of lepers who needed healing but God sent Elijah to one guy in Sidon.
And before Jesus can even finish his thought everybody’s got so annoyed at Him that they’ve thrown Him out of the place of worship. They’ve thrown Him out of the city and they are about to throw Him off a cliff. And what strange way is it then that Jesus has of loving. Because where we may fail on a momentary basis to be patient and kind, where we may fail to think of others instead of thinking of ourselves. Throughout Jesus’ life, He does all the things that Paul talks about in his letter to the Corinthians. And when He has the opportunity even in our gospel reading this morning to win the argument, to tell these people why they are wrong, to put them in their place, He instead let’s go of the argument. He lets them throw him out. He doesn’t conquer them. He doesn’t dominate them. He lets them be as they are and he moves on.
And so, the strange thing is the way that Jesus loves is in fact less about winning, especially over other people. And in fact the way Jesus does it is a little more like the late and dearly departed Amy Winehouse who sang love in fact is a losing game. Jesus will live a life full of wonderful deeds in and of themselves. And He can work miracles and He can heal people and He can undergo suffering and death in life, then that changes everything. With love that becomes the salvation of the entire world and of us.
So, when you serve as a scout, as a Christian, as both, the gift is that when we try and when sometimes by the grace of God, we do meet Jesus and we do not only share beauty and experience it for ourselves but share it with other people and we serve others and we find joy in places that we never expected to. Then we have that two-fold reminder that love is both that inner feeling. That when we try to serve and to praise and to learn, we almost certainly are looking for an experience of that feeling to know that God is absolutely crazy about you and me. That God loves you and always has and always will and at the same time, with that feeling comes putting actions behind that love.
And as we carry out that love in the world, as we find that even when we don’t feel like it, we can be patient and God does give us the grace to be kind and to endure and to hope and to trust. Then in the strangest way of all, we meet Jesus even in our own selves as well as in the world around us. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is hard. Love is exhausting and love is a 24/7 occupation. And at the same time, so too is God’s invitation to us, 24/7 moment by moment, God says, I’m showing up not just in church, not just at scout meetings, every moment, every morning and I will show up with patience for you. I will show up with endurance when you don’t feel you’ve got anything left. I have got you covered. Will you pick up what I’m putting down?
Will you simply come to the table and eat the food of love that I serve you? Taste and see the goodness, the love of God. May you hear it in the gorgeous communion and some in the bells that are ringing, may you feel at some point this service, this day, the ridiculous love that God has for you and may you be crazy enough in love with God to go and carry that out and to put actions behind it.