Remember a few weeks ago when I was talking about the series of readings preachers use for their sermons. They’re called lectionaries and using a preset list of readings generally does a better job of covering the Bible stories than when a preacher picks and chooses whatever they want. Keeps us preachers honest and off our pet peeves.
It also forces preachers to preach on texts that we’d rather not preach on. Some are kind of difficult to preach on. That doesn’t mean they’re bad to preach on but just difficult, like last week’s sermon about conflict. I guess I could just tell everyone to knock off all the bad stuff they do and let it go at that but I’m not certain that’s particularly helpful, is it? I’ve also always kind of wanted to preach an old fashioned fire and brimstone sermon threatening everyone with the fires of hell but a) I don’t actually believe that’s how it works and b) it isn’t so much my style.
So anyways, last week’s sermon was on conflict and this week we get to hear about love. Not a bad combination and I really don’t make this stuff up. Maybe someone else does but it wasn’t me. Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians is on the list of readings for this Sunday in the lectionary so here we go.
It’s an interesting fit following the Corinthians text from last week where Paul is lighting up the church he started in Corinth for fighting about things.
Now Paul is talking about love. This reading is frequently used at weddings. VERY frequently. And it’s a good text to use for a wedding. Faith, hope and love are all good things to think about when people get married. What is interesting about that is Paul isn’t writing to a group of people who are madly in love with each other. He is writing to a group of people who are bitterly divided and fighting with each other. He is writing to groups of people who are in conflict with one another. Consider the impact from that perspective. It’s one thing to love someone you already love. Which is how we usually read this text. What about loving someone we don’t love. Or even like? Thanks for that, Paul.
It’s a challenge being a person of faith.
Think for a moment about where the people in today’s reading are situated. Location matters. Context matters. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth because they have some interesting things going on. They’re in a location that lends itself to a high volume of traffic because it’s a terrific shortcut that avoids some fairly treacherous seagoing navigation. Cutting across the isthmus saves all kinds of time and navigation.
Which brings all kinds of people together. People with different backgrounds. People with different outlooks. People with different histories. People that no doubt love each other from the outset, right? Because people with different backgrounds, outlooks, and histories always get along and love one another, right.
It is the perfect location for Paul to ask the church to live together in unity and to love one another. Not because they were all of a like mind but precisely in their differences they are called to love one another.
How then do we love others? That’s kind of the challenge and there are different schools of thought. Many faith traditions firmly believe that you love others by pointing out their sins. The is one of the deeply and long held articles of faith insofar as some faith traditions take a personal interest in saving other people from the fires of hell. And I’m not being facetious when I say that. I’ve seen some of my evangelical friends in tears because they were afraid they’d failed someone by not getting the other person’s sin corrected and because of that the other person was going to hell.
While I don’t agree with this approach I get where they’re coming from. The trouble with it is that it makes faith about our actions rather than the work of the Holy Spirit. The trouble with it is that it makes hope dependent on our actions. How have your actions in the past week or so worked out? Do all of them give you hope or are there a few that cause a little bit of despair. If your faith was judged on those actions how do things look? Hope comes from the Holy Spirit, not what we choose to do or not do. Thank God for that.
The other trouble is that it gives people the green light to do some kind of mean things in the name of faith. I know it is partly related to a media bias toward reporting the most outrageous stuff because it gets people’s attention but it seems like every week there is a report on someone doing something in the name of faith that doesn’t exactly line up with what Christ modeled for us, Paul recorded for us and Luther explained for us.
On a more local and personal level we have to ask ourselves, what have we done in the last week that was less than loving of other people? We have to ask ourselves what have we done in the last week that is less than Christ-like?
I’m looking for a little of that free space here. I’m looking for a little wiggle room. I don’t want to have to admit that I don’t want to love others as Paul calls us to do and at the same time I want to give you some space and wiggle room, too. But what Paul is describing here just doesn’t lend itself to making up excuses.
How do we know there is no wiggle room here? Mostly because we have just one word for love that describes all the ways we can love. We know by the context usage what kind of love we’re talking about. The Greek language has a couple of different words for love depending on what is going on. In Greek there are different words for the way you love your car, pets, and kids. Paul is using the word for love that has a specific meaning. Paul’s usage here means, ‘give up my life for this person’. It’s THAT kind of love that Paul is talking about.
The kind of love that took Christ to the cross. The kind of love that led Christ to give up his life. For you. For me. For the people we don’t like and the people we don’t love. Because Christ loved us that much anyway. Because Christ forgives us that much anyway.
And calls us to open ourselves to the Holy Spirit so that we are transformed into the loving people we are called to be. Stepping out in faith, with great hope, to love as Christ loved us.