Love – No Matter What

“Love – No Matter What”

1 Corinthians 13:1-10 (13:7) – January 30, 2022

            With February right around the corner, many people start thinking about hearts and flowers. Thinking about chocolates and candy. Sweets for the sweet, as the old saying goes! Yes, Valentine’s Day is just two weeks away, and stores and card shops are full of red and pink displays and hearts and roses.

            As many hear this chapter on love from 1 Corinthians 13, some people wax sentimental. This chapter is a favorite to read at many wedding services in the church. “Everyone will nod along with a smile on their face. They’ll be remembering a wedding somewhere where these words were used to somehow capture the essence of this wild and crazy promise being made before the gathered overdressed assembly, this human enterprise that escapes human capabilities on a regular basis. [Or,] they’ll be remembering the Pinterest or Instagram post in fancy calligraphy, or the needlepoint in Grandma’s sitting room.” [1]

What if I were to tell you that love – the Bible’s definition of love – does not have anything to do with red and pink store displays, or hearts and flowers for Valentine’s Day?

            As we reflect on the biblical definition of love, let’s see what Paul says love does NOT do. I’m turning again to the wonderful modern translation of Eugene Peterson, The Message. “Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others.”

            That doesn’t sound much like lace and chocolates, hearts and big red bows, does it? No romanticized consumer version of love here! Do you recognize this honest, genuine kind of a feeling in the people you are close to, in the people you call family? Loved ones, and ones you cherish? This description is more of a love that is right down to earth, an honest, genuine feeling that is real and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty.

            Let’s see a little more of what Paul says love does NOT do: “Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel.” When I read all of these things love does NOT do, sometimes I get discouraged. It’s like I can’t measure up. I could never be that kind of person or be described that way; could you?

This enlarged, continued description of the biblical definition of love sounds too good to be true. For real people, I mean. To me, it sounds a lot like Mother Teresa, or Fred Rogers, two people who are considered to be the pinnacle of loving, caring people.

Wait a minute! Have we talked to God about this? Paul has been telling us for almost two chapters in 1 Corinthians that God freely gives believers spiritual gifts. What is more, Paul says that love is the absolute best of these different, diverse spiritual gifts. That means that God gives out love freely! With both hands! Right here, Paul is describing the gift of love that comes through people from the Lord. Isn’t that some of the best news ever?

I don’t need to scramble and strive to love, trying really, really hard. It’s not all me, putting together my own faulty kind of caring. No! God freely gives gifts of love to God’s children. God helps us to show love and caring, kindness and unselfishness. That is such a relief for me, and such a blessing to others!

We believers here on this earth may stumble on our way of walking the Christian journey, and that is okay. We do not need to fulfill each and every part of this long, involved definition that Paul given to us, either. And, it is not just up to our fallible striving or hard work to be the most loving and caring Christian believers possible. No! God will help!

When I think of God’s love, I think of certain people who modern society might not consider. Two individuals come to mind, who I knew years ago. Both are with the Lord now, and both had the diagnosis of Down syndrome. Both people were as loving and caring as anyone I have ever met. Both were selfless, totally concerned for others, and unfailingly kind, loving and giving. Isn’t this another example of love, according to the Bible? Isn’t it what love is all about?

Let’s take a final look at the last section of Paul’s definition of love, according to God. The previous entries or parts of the description were couched in the language of what love was NOT. At last, Paul describes what love IS. “Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.” These are positive, affirming, uplifting traits, indeed.

We may not be able to walk the walk or talk the talk as perfectly as Paul describes here. “But we can stand in Paul’s certainty that there is a new way of being alive in the world, a new way of seeing the world and everyone in it. Must we simply accept everything going on in our messed-up world with a smile and nod? Of course not; evil exists. But we aren’t always the best at identifying where the real evil resides. Paul argues that it would better to lead with love.”[2] Again, you and I cannot generate this kind of spiritual gift in and of our own imperfect humanity, or of our own good works. We are welcome to ask the Lord for help and lead with God’s love.

This transformation is truly a gift – a gift of love! This gift comes from God, and is freely    offered to all believers! Let us thank God for this gift of love we all can display, and we all may give to others, just as freely. Alleluia, amen!


Thanks so much to Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries for www.umcdiscipleship.com and his excellent preaching notes for this week’s worship service and sermon. I used several ideas from these notes for the sermon today

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-preaching-notes

[2] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/worship-planning/love-never-ends-being-the-body-of-christ/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-lectionary-planning-notes/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-c-preaching-notes

Live at Peace with Everyone

“Live at Peace with Everyone”

Rom 12-18 if possible, peace - words

Romans 12:9-21 (12:18) – September 17, 2017

One of the most heartwarming books I have read in the past few decades is a book by Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. I would like to read a few sentences from this book.

“These are the things I learned (in Kindergarten): 1. Share everything. 2. Play fair. 3. Don’t hit people. 4. Put things back where you found them. 5. CLEAN UP YOUR OWN MESS. 6. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. 7. Say you’re SORRY when you HURT somebody. 8. Wash your hands before you eat. 9. Flush. 10. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. 11. Live a balanced life – learn some and drink some and draw some and paint some and sing and dance and play and work every day some. 12. Take a nap every afternoon. 13. When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.” [1]

As we listen to this list of things Robert Fulghum brings to our attention, what goes through our heads? Are we charmed by the memories of little ones that come to mind? Or, do we think of the significant truths that come from our kindergarten friends?

As I was considering our Scripture reading this week from Romans, I immediately thought of Robert Fulghum’s book, and specifically this quote. If we set these two lists side by side, each list sounds like it is full of important things. Full of important tasks to accomplish on a regular, if not daily basis.

One thing that people who are very interested in bible translation do when they are looking at specific sentences or paragraphs is the look at the kinds of words that are used, and whether the writer had something special he was trying to get across. In the case of Romans 12, the Apostle Paul is using a lot of verbs, and most of these are imperative verbs. These are all commands to his fellow believers in Rome! Not just suggestions, or recommendations.

“Rather, [Paul’s] exhortations speak to any community patterning its life after that of the crucified and risen Christ. The words are a window on what life in Christ looks like in community.” [2]

Yes, in this American culture, the rugged individual pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, living their life all alone, on the edge, is so important to so many. BUT, the Apostle Paul reminds us that life is to be lived in a community. There are no Lone Ranger Christians. “One is tempted to imagine Paul saying with his syntax, “Don’t try this alone.” His advice is addressed to a bunch of people, and much of it concerns their shared life.” [3]

This piece of advice holds true whether for a group of secular people as well as for a church congregation. A short negative summary of these commands is “Do not do any evil to anyone:” If we turn that around (as Robert Fulghum does) and speak positively, we find that it sounds suspiciously like his list from All I Really Wanted to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten.

There is a problem with these lists, no matter whether the Apostle Paul wrote about these commands or whether Robert Fulghum urges us to follow his positive suggestions  A big problem. No matter how much we may be trying to follow Jesus in our daily lives, hypocrisy and insincerity sneak up on all of us and clobber us over the head.

Sadly, we have many, many people with extreme black-and-white thinking, from all areas, from all cultures. These modern-day Pharisees talk about either totally sinning, or totally following God without reservation, and there is nothing at all in between. They bash others over the head with these commands in this list from Romans 12 (and from other lists that Paul writes in other places in the New Testament).

The preacher Kwasi Kena brings us an illustration. “Any bank teller knows that spotting counterfeit money first requires that one knows what is genuine. After repeated exposure to what is genuine, the bank teller can easily spot the counterfeit item. It is the same with genuine Christian love. Constant exposure to genuine Christian love builds a growing desire for more. That yearning for the genuine also produces repulsion toward the counterfeit.” [4]

Yes, we might be able to see blatant insincerity and hypocrisy and counter it, gently, in Christian love. What does Paul tell us, first thing? He says love above all is the way to go. When we are dissatisfied with our own lives or the lives of others, this can be an indication that something is not right. When some Pharisees start judging and self-righteously shaking their fingers at us, and get in our faces with extreme black-and-white thinking, and extreme shaming, what then? Sorrow for them might happen in our hearts. We can point them out immediately.

As Kwasi Kena tells us, the seasoned bank teller—or, the committed Christian who is loving, caring, generous and kind in his or her dealings with others can spot hypocrisy and insincerity from a mile away. The Apostle Paul’s message urges us to embrace genuine love through Jesus Christ, whether individually or in community. And, even embrace these self-righteous, judgmental ones.

“Mutual love and honour or respect is fundamental to good community (12:10). There is no room for exploitation of any kind. Nor is there room for shaming behaviour. We are to be free from having to win (by making others into losers). Paul urges a positive attitude in 12:11. For Paul this is less about rules of behaviour and more about choosing to believe in hope.” [5]

Over the past several decades Robert Fulghum wrote six books, all New York Times bestsellers, and still popular today. He has a master’s degree in theology and has also been a minister in the Unitarian Church for several decades. I consider his words about kindergarteners (and the rest of us human beings) to be so incredibly important for our search for genuine love, caring, kindness and reaching out to others, in the name of God.

From Rev.Fulghum again: “Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm. Think what a better world it would be if we all—the whole world—had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.” [6]

I think the Apostle Paul would approve of Rev. Fulghum’s words. What was one of the summary statements of Paul’s words of wisdom from Romans 12? “17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

It does not matter whether we look at Robert Fulghum’s wise words or at the words of wisdom from Romans 12: care about each other. Love one another. No matter what, no matter where, no matter who. Individually, and in a community.

Let us allow Rev. Fulghum to have the last word for today: “And it is still true, no matter how old you are—when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and to stick together.”[7]

Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] Fulghum, Robert, All I Really Wanted to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986),

[2] Commentary on Romans 12:9-21, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1060   Mary Hinkle Shore

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/book-of-romans-sermon-starters-week-14

Book of Romans, Sermon Starters—Week 14 , Evangelistic Preaching Helps for the Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Year A– September 3, 2017 by Kwasi Kena

[5] http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/AEpPentecost12.htm “First Thoughts on Year A Epistle Passages in the Lectionary,” Pentecost 12, William Loader, Murdoch University, Uniting Church in Australia

[6] Fulghum, Robert, All I Really Wanted to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, (New York: Ballantine Books, 1986),

[7] Ibid.