LOVE is what we are made for! – 1 Cor. 13 and Romans 8:37-39

When I was a kid, my family moved around quite a bit. All that moving about, and always being the new kid at school, it really messed me up. It’s not surprising that I started hanging out with a gang. If I’d known what this gang was all about, I would never have gotten involved with them. What I didn’t know when I started hanging out with this gang was that the members of this gang all had one thing in common, they were all part of a Lutheran Youth Group. This gang managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’d never heard of before; a retreat, a weekend at a place called Camp Luther. So, at the tender age of fifteen, I found myself with a gang of young, socially aware, politically astute kids who wanted to change the world. As I figured out who and what this gang was, I worried that they might be a cult. But it was kind of exciting to flirt with the idea of a cult.

The very first exercise that we were assigned was to team up with someone we didn’t know and share our favorite bible passage. Well, this gang was about to discover that I didn’t belong there. You see, I didn’t have a favorite bible passage. I’d only been to church a handful of times in my life, and I hadn’t read very much of the bible. Well, I hadn’t read the bible at all. So, I decided to break the rules of the exercise and I teamed up with someone I knew slightly and suggested that she go first. Danna recited her favorite Bible passage from memory. I was astounded at her ability to quote such a long passage from memory. Later I would find out that she was a “PK”; that’s code for pastor’s kid. I can still remember the passion with which Danna described her love for this particular passage. Danna’s favorite bible passage quickly became my favorite passage as well. I told Danna so, right then and there; conveniently getting myself off the hook of trying to come up with a favorite passage of my own.  

1st  Corinthians chapter 13. Danna recited it from a brand-spanking new translation of the Bible; you may remember, if you are of a certain age, it was called “Good News for Modern Man:”

“I may be able to speak the languages of man and even of angels but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching, I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burnt—but if I have no love this does me no good. Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable, love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear. When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I have grown up, I have no more use for childish ways. What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face.  What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me. Meanwhile these three remain; faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” As Danna spoke of her love for this passage, I began to glimpse my own deepest longings. With all of who I was at the age of 15, I knew that I wanted to know this kind of love. I was so overcome with longing, that right there in front of everyone, I began to weep. I was so overwhelmed. The Pastor leading the retreat, noticed my pain and gently encouraged me to simply weep. No one said a word. But I was keenly aware of their presence.

Later that evening, in the glow of the firelight, I mustered up the courage to ask the Pastor what his favorite passage from scripture was. The words he spoke continue to resonate deeply in me: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Calamity? Persecution? Hunger? Nakedness? Danger? Violence? As scripture says, “For your sake, we’re being killed all day long; we we’re looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because God has loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither angels nor demons, neither anything else in all creation—will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, Our Saviour.”

Again, I wept. The realization that the LOVE which longed for was already mine and that nothing could separate me from that LOVE, overwhelmed me. The community which I encountered back then, was not perfect. But I was a child, and I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Over time, I began to see that gang of young people. I began to see them for the imperfect tribe that we were. As I grew in knowledge and experience, I also saw the church which introduced me to the MYSTERY which is LOVE is far from perfect. I’m guessing that most of us have had our illusions about communities, especially church communities shattered at one time or another. Continue reading

The MYSTERY Is LOVE

When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. All that moving around, and always being the new kid at school, really messed me up. When I was about fifteen years old, I started hanging out with a gang. I haven’t got time to go into the details of my involvement with this gang;

suffice it to say, if I knew what this gang was all about, I would never have gotten involved with them. What I didn’t know when I started hanging out with this gang was that the members of this gang all had one thing in common.  These members of this gang were part of a Lutheran Youth Group. These gang members managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’ve never heard of before; a retreat, a weekend at a place called Camp Luther. Somehow, I found myself with a gang of young, socially aware, politically astute kids who wanted to change the world. As I figured out who and what this gang was, I thought they might be a cult. It was kind of exciting to flirt with a cult. So, there I was at Camp Luther on the shores of Lake Hatsick.

Pastor Don Johnson was one of the retreat leaders. Don was the father of our National Bishop Susan Johnson, he died just a few months ago. That retreat was where I first met the young woman who would become our National Bishop. The very first exercise that we were assigned was to team up with someone we didn’t know and share our favorite bible passage. This gang was about to discover that I didn’t belong. I didn’t have a favorite bible passage.  I’d only been to church a handful of times in my life, and I hadn’t read very much of the bible. So, I decided to break the rules of the exercise and teamed up with someone I knew slightly and suggested that she go first. Continue reading

LOVE that IS God: a sermon on 1 Corinthians 13

LOVE in the World?A sermon for Epiphany 4C – listen to the sermon here

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. In the words of Joanie Mitchell, “I’ve looked at love from both sides now. From win and lose and still somehow, it’s love’s illusions I recall I really don’t know love at all.” The Apostle Paul, who by most accounts, knew precious little about love, is responsible for passing on to generation after generation, one of the greatest love poems ever written. 1stCorinthians 13 is without a doubt the most popular reading at Western Weddings, as brides and grooms whether they are Christians, pseudo-Christians, non-Christians, or simply influenced by Hallmark sentimentality, confidently select this passage to celebrate their love for one another.  Most preachers have to stop ourselves from rolling our eyes when prospective brides and grooms suggest this passage. We’ve been taught to understand that this text has nothing at all to do with the kind of love that lovers need to sustain a lasting marriage. Even if you know nothing at all about the rest of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, if you know anything at all about the love married couples share, you know that it is not anything like the love that is described in this text.

I’m as much of a romantic as the next person, but I ask you, patience, kindness, are one thing, and maybe you’ll get lucking and be able to avoid being envious or boastful, arrogant, or rude, and good luck to you if you do.  But never insisting on your own way, never being irritable or resentful, bearing all things, believing all things; please give me a break. Show me a couple who don’t ever engage in a battle of wills, or build up resentments, or succeed in bearing and believing everything about one another, well, that couple is in all likelihood headed for some serious trouble. My darling Carol is perfect in every way, and I of course am perfect in every way and we are sublimely happy, so happy that birds sing when we walk by and flowers stand tall in our saintly presence…Of course not! Carol is the love of my life and being married to her is the best thing that ever happened to me. But I am annoying to live with. I have a job that interferes with our life together on a regular basis. When I’m on a role, I can be arrogant and rude. Even though I’d never say a bad word about Carol, especially from the pulpit, I will tell you this, if Carol was never, boastful, arrogant, or rude, if she was always patient and kind, never insisting on her own way, never irritable or resentful, well I don’t think I would be able to live with her. That’s not the kind of love that any of us could live with, let alone be in love with. I want a real-life partner, someone who will engage me in all of who they are, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the not so beautiful, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Continue reading