Most of the time when 1 Corinthians 13 is read aloud in church,
there are two very well-dressed young people
standing up front holding hands,
with stars in their eyes.
But when the apostle Paul wrote these words,
a starry-eyed couple in love was the last thing he had in mind.
He was writing to a church community—
a church in chaos and conflict.
I think it’s important to read it with that in mind.
This scripture describes what
loving, covenantal, and communal relationships look like.
And today, on this Membership Sunday,
11 persons are committing themselves
to walk with us in love and covenant.
This, despite the less than stellar reputation of the church in society.
Sometimes churches are accused of being a haven for hypocrisy,
judgement, bigotry, legalism, and the like . . .
But many churches are also known by their love.
Despite our own imperfections at Park View,
this congregation is often noted for its love.
That is owed to the grace of God, thanks be to God.
That was wasn’t the case for Corinth,
to whom Paul wrote this letter.
In Corinth, they were divided by partisan politics.
They had trouble accommodating both Jew and Gentile,
and respecting the cultural and theological integrity of both.
There was blatant sexual misconduct going on in the church,
and no one had the courage to address it.
Their worship services were a free-for-all,
where everyone said what they wanted when they wanted,
whether or not it contributed to worship or built up the body.
Communion services were feeding frenzies,
where gluttons ate up all the food, and left others hungry.
Those aren’t the issues in this church, or the broader church.
At least, not exactly.
But we are a church with relationship challenges.
And we are not always at peace.
We need to be reminded, as the Mother Teresa quote does,
on our bulletin cover,
that in this body we call the church,
we belong to each other.
We are not members in the way people are members
of a civic club, or Fitness Center, or Costco.
We belong to each other, as part of the same body.
And the body has one dominant, overarching rule,
that trumps all others: “Love rules!”
Love trumps everything else we value.
It trumps worship, v. 1—
“If I speak in tongues of humans and angels . . .
and don’t love, I’m a gong and clanging cymbal.”
It trumps theology, v. 2—
“If I could prophesy and understand
all secrets and all knowledge . . .”
It trumps faith, v. 2—
“If I had faith that moved mountains . . .”
It trumps radical discipleship, v. 3—
“If I gave away all that I owned
and let myself be burned alive . . .”
Without love, those things of great value become worthless.
And the obvious question is, “What is love?”
Love is known by how it is seen.
Love is visible, because it is concretely expressed in community.
Paul ticks off a list of 13 visible signs of love at work in the body.
In verses 4-7—
Love makes the body patient—
its members love each other now,
and let God work, in God’s way, in God’s time;
Love makes the body kind—
members don’t do random acts of kindness,
kindness is a way of life;
Love makes the body one that is not jealous—
where members rejoice when others are honored;
a body that is never boastful—
that is not arrogant—
but listens to all with interest, respect, humility;
nor is it rude.
Love makes the body one that does not insist on its own way—
it values differing gifts and viewpoints;
Love makes the body one that never keeps record of wrongs—
Love makes the body rejoice wherever it finds truth—
Love makes the body always protect—
surrounding the most vulnerable with a shield of love;
Love makes the body willing to trust each other—
where its members can be vulnerable,
because they know they won’t be taken advantage of.
Love makes the body stubborn in hope—
a body that always perseveres—
that doesn’t waste time with hand-wringing, worry,
and fearful reactivity.
A church where love rules is not without challenges.
But when challenges come,
love is the unstoppable urge to move toward others,
instead of protecting our own space,
our own interests,
our own needs.
Love is the instinct to turn toward others,
an instinct born in us by the Spirit of God.
Love empties the self, so as to be fully directed toward the other.
John 15:13—“Greater love has no one than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
That is the heart of what we are doing this morning,
in hearing the testimonies of our newer members,
and renewing our own faith in God
who calls us together, in love, into one body.
—Phil Kniss, February 15, 2015
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