Writing a Love Chapter

February 5, 2013

Dear Virtual Church, The following post is a sermon I preached at Elizabeth UMC last Sunday. The Scripture reference for the message is I Corinthians 13: 1 - 13. Paul's Love Chapter is almost irresistible! Be blessed! As a preacher who has done a fair number of weddings, and a person who has attended a lot more weddings than that, I can tell you that the text I have just read to you is preached at weddings possibly more than any other text in the Bible. Can I get an amen? Thousands of dollars on flowers and dresses that you likely won’t wear again, stress and tension… till we get to the big day. The music cues. The groom and I walk into the chancel and turn to watch the bride come down the aisle. Emotion is thick as the big day has come. The couple join hands and face each other as the Scripture is read. They are starry eyed and sometimes teary as they hear the words about what love is like. They promise themselves one to the other a life of love and fidelity that will last till they are parted by death. What a lovely story… when it actually happens. Pity is that in this country, nearly national statistics show that around 40% of those couples end up divorced, or maybe wishing they were. In the history of Christendom, in all the times the Love Chapter of I Corinthians has been read, how and why is that statistic possible? Surely love is not that illusive or fragile, is it? The beauty, poetry, and timelessness of Paul’s words, however, were not written as a wedding treasure. Paul is writing a Love Chapter to this fledgling first century church in Corinth that he dearly loves because he has heard from Chloe’s people that dissention and one-upmanship that are tearing the church apart. The voices of Apollos and Cephas are likely charismatic and people are charmed into a way that empties the power of Christ’s sacrificial love for us. Rhetorical eloquence can charm us off course sometimes. So Paul addresses the issues of unity and calls Corinth and the church for all time to a life in Christ that looks a certain way…. All members of one body, each contributing his or her particular gift to the building up of that body. And the guiding call, not simply a way of believing, but a life bearing the mark of transformation, a life of love. The kind of love Paul talks about is not starry eyed and sentimental, but genuine and unconditional and just plain hard to live. Empty piety is hollow, Paul says. A noisy gong or a clanging symbol. Knowledge and all faith that is lived without love is nothing. Even good stewardship- even the giving that garners congratulations – even that counts as nothing if it is not seeded in love. A faith going through the motions is simply not enough. Paul is calling Corinth to something more. Paul’s Epiphany was on the Damascus Road. His encounter with the living Christ changed him, and like the Magi of Matthew, he went home by another way. The life of love lived in Christ is patient, kind, not boastful or rude. It is not controlling or irritable. It doesn’t gloat when others fail; it rejoices in truth, bearing what ever the world throws at it. It hopes beyond all reason; it endures through earthly trials that come sometimes like tidal waves. Love never ends… we heard that from Solomon….”Love is strong as death.” This kind of love is something hard to fathom in its immensity and depth and height. We cannot fully comprehend such love. Paul writes his Love Chapter as a call to participate in this love even though we can only partially know it. The church through out history has been carried forth by those whose lives give witness in such love. And even though many have been wooed away in the charms of an easy faith, there stand those whose lives embody the love Paul first knows in Christ. If we were writing a love chapter for the 21c. church, what would we tell them? Dear Church, I have heard from the evening news and the cable news networks that fear and phobia are being seeded among you. Mistrust is rampant and acrimony seems to be the order of the day. Where is the love of Christ evident among you? Where is the love that is patient? I have driven around Raleigh. Where is patience evident in the drive? Where is love kind? Where is love that does not throw in the towel when the going gets tough? The editorial “They” say the church is becoming increasing irrelevant. Mainline churches “they” say are growing smaller into oblivion. I like to think of the opportunity that is ours to seize in what come call not so good news. Looking out at the world today is not unlike the pagan landscape Paul saw. Still his words resonate; the Cross has not lost it’s power, Paul. We are coming to understand Christ’s unconditional, sacrificial love in a new way. When we come to the Table of the Lord in our churches on any given Sunday, we taste and see that the Lord is good and are participants again in a story of love that is beyond explanation and understanding. We are writing a love chapter every day we wake in the morning and put on Christ. We have a day, moments at a time, to bear love that is sourced in Christ to every person and part of God’s creation. We can bear patience that is beyond our understanding, and kindness that call us like the woman whose story was recently in the local newspaper who celebrated her 51st birthday in offering 51 acts of kindness. We can love those who are different from us, because our hearts are changed from hardness to hope, and from fear to faith. That is the good news of the Epiphany Season… that we will glimpse Christ and be different in the world. What if all our writing, all our relationships, all our words, all our deeds were a living love chapter? What would our community look like? How would that ripple out into the world? How would we be strengthened to endure all things, hope all things? There is a world eager and waiting for this enduring love and we are the ones called to bear it. It is our turn to write a love chapter. As we prepare to go to the mountain of Transfiguration next Sunday, may we be open to encounter with the living Christ that calls us to another way. And to God be the glory. Amen.  

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December 28, 2012