“You’ll find First Corinthians Thirteen Says Otherwise.”
A sermon based on I Corinthians 13:1-13
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on January 31, 2016
by Rev. Scott Elliott
I have a wonderful office space here. I’m the first pastor to occupy it and you went “all out” in making it so nice. I thank you for that blessing. One of the pleasures of my office is there are lots of book shelves for my books. See, I have over the years gathered together a fine library related to God, Jesus, the Bible, pastoring and preaching.
One of the bigger sections in my library is on humor. My family will let me tell only so many of OUR funny stories. I suspect other pastors have such caps too. So when you preach 50 or so sermons a year you need to have resources beyond your own life for humor, it’s only fair to the family.
Today’s Lectionary reading is Paul’s great text on Love. So I grabbed one of my many books on humor and looked up the topic of love. The book, to my surprise, did not have any jokes on love. This concerned me. Love can have humor related to it. I . . . umm . . . will not provide personal evidence that this is true . . . but it is. So, I went back to my shelves and grabbed a trusty book every church goer needs called Worlds Greatest Collection of Church Jokes, and sure enough I was right! I found in there what I knew, that love can have humor related to it. Here’s the story I chose for today:
A little boy in his uncle’s wedding came down the aisle during the ceremony carefully taking two steps, then he stopped and turned to the crowd, he put his hands up like claws and “Grrrrr’d” loudly. So it went step, step, turn, Grrrr!, step, step, turn, Grrrr! all the way down the aisle to the bride and groom.
As you can imagine, the congregation was near tears from laughing. Later when the little boy was asked what he was doing, he said “I was being the Ring Bear.” 1
“Ring Bear” instead of “ring bearer” . . . easy for a young lad to make that sweet adorable mistake at a wedding – a time of uplifting, celebrating and deepening love. See that is the connection, the love connection. And misunderstanding and misinterpreting matters related to love is actually where I am going to connect the funny “ring bear’r” story to our scriptural lesson this morning.
I have mentioned a number of times from this pulpit and in the classroom and other discussions that Jesus’ Way was meant to be by Jesus – and ought to be meant to be by Christians– as all about love. That’s the positive spin. The negative spin is kind of obvious, if we are doing something unloving, then we are NOT following Jesus’ Way.
That sounds simple enough. Love equals Jesus’ Way. Unlove does not. Right? But– and I’ve pointed this kind of thing out before– a lot of Christianity has not done that simple metaphoric math.
Love is hard. It transforms our conduct and extinguishes our unloving ways. That can be difficult stuff. It can seem so much easier to not love. I suspect that is why many in Christianity take an easier road and redefine love to encompass their conduct, and redefine “unlove” to encompass other’s actually loving conduct.
I know I am not alone in having heard Christians boast that their unkind, arrogant, wrongdoings are somehow love. In the news and even in our local paper we can see people who claim their hate toward others, their bluster and insults, are Christian and their unloving meanness is love. Often they claim it is tough love, as if the word “love” can encompass bullying, slander, violence and discrimination.
I’ve also heard Christians tell me that kindness and opposition to their wrongdoing to others (usually LGBTQ or other faiths or people of color) is actually unloving behavior on my part or our church’s part. In these conversations there is great discordance because the word “love” is not being given it’s ordinary meaning. It does not even comport with my now ancient 1977 secular Colligate Webster’s Dictionary definition which show it’s long meant affection and “brotherly (sisterly) concern for others.”
Somehow, ironically, some in our faith tradition believe love compels them – and allows them– to growl and threaten and belittle and pummel others for the way God goodly created them.
Going back and borrowing from the wedding story, I want to ask, Are we metaphorically supposed to be purported love bears “Grrrring” at others; or are we supposed to be love bearers bringing God’s love into our lives and the lives of others? We all know the answer. And while I may have asked that question in a leading and arguing-my-point manner, we all know that the plain meaning of love does not include hate or being a bear or blustery or caustic in a decidedly unloving manner toward others.
In our ordinary lives no sane person thinks love is unlove, that’s absurd. We all know that love is not unlove. That is so logical that we wonder why I have to say it. But everyday, especially on Sundays, some Christian claims are made that love allows the oppression and bullying of people because that’s supposedly a loving thing to do. Congregations are terrorized as sinners, Gays are bashed, Muslims are demonized, people of color are marginalized . . . awful things like that.
A number of us here today are refugees from churches that preach and teach and practice those types of misuse of the term “love.” We left because the terrorizing and the bashing and the demonizing and the marginalizing and the awful things were huge disconnects from our innate call and Jesus’ teachings to love ourselves and to “love others,” grounded in the very Biblical idea that God is love. Sadly, love – frankly– sure doesn’t seem to mean love in some of our faith’s circles. You’ll hear otherwise I’m sure, but it’s true.
I’ve said this before too. I am convinced that most of what we argue about as modern Christians boils down to just that, the definition of the word “love.” The good news for us is there are Christian reference resources that objectively define love. If you do not trust the secular dictionary, you can go to a resource like I keep preaching from, my very mainstream Westminister Dictionary of Theological Terms. It is in my library and defines love as:
Strong feeling of personal affection, care, and desire for the well being of others. It is the primary characteristic of God’s nature and the supreme expression of Christian faith and action.
I am making us hear that definition again and again and again, because over and over and over we are told having compassion for and the desire for the well being of those whom others in our faith loath is not Christian. And over and over and over again hateful unloving and bullying acts that are detrimental to the well being of others are being justified as Godly and Christian love. But such arguments cannot get around the plain and ordinary secular or theological dictionary definitions. Since we are – all of us– aware that love is affection, concern for others – that is, the desire for well being of others– we know those arguments are wrong.
And it’s not like the folks who argue that unlove is love don’t know there is a disconnect. They will likely tell a different definition of love, explaining love means getting everyone saved from hell by making them repent from conduct in this or that Bible verse, verses that they isolate and emphasize– ones that interestingly rarely apply to their existence or conveniently do not oppose their agenda. In this way they ignore numerous verses that tell us God’s love is steadfast and everlasting. And they also ignore verses that say things like “call no one profane or unclean” (Acts 10: 28 or “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom 13:10) or ‘love your enemies, do good . . . expecting nothing in return” (Luke 6:35) . . . and, of course, our text today–which defines love.
See here’s the thing we want to walk-a-way knowing today: anytime anyone tries to tell us Christian love– Bible oriented love– allows impatience with someone; or unkindness to another; or arrogance about our faith; or rudeness towards others; or insisting on our own way; or wrongdoing in the name or Jesus; or even not bearing this or that thing that they oppose or loath or hate, all any of us has to say in response is, “You’ll find First Corinthians Thirteen says otherwise.” Because that beautiful chapter of the Bible defines love. It provides the slam dunk argument against hate-mongering in the guise of pseudo love and pseudo Christianity.
We heard that beautiful chapter read by Robia so well this morning. And I know most of us have heard it before. Paul wrote:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
If you think that you cannot go toe-to-toe with a Bible quoting person in a debate involving the justification of un-love by Christians, think again. All you have to do is say “You’ll find First Corinthians Thirteen says otherwise.” Honest. That’s the winning response.
So . . . ummm . . . Okay . . . let’s practice it. I’ll feed you the words. Say “You’ll” (You’ll). “Find” (Find) “First” (First). “Corinthians” (Corinthians) “Thirteen” (Thirteen). “Says” (Says). “Otherwise” (Otherwise). . . “You’ll find” (you’ll find) “First Corinthians Thirteen” (First Corinthians Thirteen) “Says otherwise,” (says otherwise).
Great! Say that. If they try to make you quote the chapter, say “It says love is love.” Then tell them to look it up and read for themselves.
About a fifteen or so years ago a pastor, Rev. Eugene Patterson, finished a paraphrase of the Bible, interpreting and imagining the words of the Bible in modern English. The result is a very readable book called The Message. I find it helpful to hear the gist of the Bible’s text in the context of our world so I often use The Message as a helpful paraphrase, a modern interpretation.
Rev. Paterson’s re-wording of 1 Corinthians 13 is refreshing. It not only gives a present day perspective to the text, but it supports exactly what I am preaching this morning. Actually it supports what I pretty much preach every Sunday morning. I
leave you with The Message rendition of Paul’s love chapter:
“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. 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, 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, 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.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” 2
1. I slightly modified this joke from World Greatest Collection of Church Jokes by Paul Miller, page 118-119.
2 Patterson, Eugene, The Message.
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