Sermon 1- 31-16
(I read from both last week's and this week's Gospel reading, since we had a snow day last Sunday!)
Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
“Love is a patient driver. Love merges kindly in traffic. Love does not envy the best parking spots, or boast on getting them. Love does not drive arrogantly or rudely. It does not insist on its right of way; it is not easily irritated or resentful while driving in snow; it does not rejoice when it sees other rude drivers getting what they might deserve - like getting pulled over - but rejoices that everyone arrives safely. Love bears all traffic conditions, even snow and ice, believes in the best intentions of other drivers, hopes to get to its destination if not on time then at least safely, and endures all things, even if in the passenger seat.” (yes, I totally made that up myself.)
Now, I would bet that you have never heard the “love poem” from First Corinthians in quite that way before.
The last time you hear it, it was probably in a church, (but not this one.) And it was probably read by a nervous relative as the bride and groom gazed lovingly into each other eyes, nodding along. Thinking to themselves, yes, of course I will always be patient and kind, will never be rude or irritable or resentful AT ANY POINT in the entire course of our married life. And the rest of us think, “Gosh that is a really pretty poem about love.” And then wonder what will be in the buffet at the reception.
My brother, who got married last October, naturally wanted to include these verses from First Corinthians. And as his older sister, I naturally had to include at least one embarrassing story in my sermon at his wedding.
Remember that we’re from a dairy farm in rural WI? When we were all kids, we thought it would be a great idea for my brother to try to jump on and ride the calves we had startled as they jumped out of their calf huts. He almost always fell off, but he kept trying. At his wedding, I told him to use that stubbornness to hold on to their relationship in the midst of a world that often stacked against real love. I told him to stubbornly hang on to love as if it is a jumping calf.
But I also reminded them that God is even more stubborn in the love department, as described in Paul’s love poem.
After all, as Paul writes this letter, he is not thinking about married couples. No, Paul wrote a poem about love that isn’t about pretty words; love that does things. Love that gets put to work, time and time again.
Love is active - love acts patiently and kindly. Love does not behave rudely or selfishly, irritably, or resentfully. Love seeks justice and truth. Love bears, believes in, hopes in, and endures all things.
God IS love, and God loves you. That love never gets tired of going in search of you, and then grabbing hold of you in the most stubborn grip. And God loves us so much that God revealed that love to us as love with a body.
Just over a month ago at Christmas – wow time flies – we celebrated the coming of this love as a light in our darkness, love as the power of God in the form of a powerless infant. But of course that infant didn’t stay an adorable baby. He grew up, and he began to preach, and got started on God’s mission:
Jesus came to reveal exactly who God IS – love in the flesh.
Jesus came to reveal exactly who God LOVES - young, old, rich, poor, gay, straight, black, white, glad, depressed, immigrant, citizen, single, married, insiders and outsiders. Sinners and slightly less bad sinners. You and me.
Jesus came to reveal exactly what that love DOES – that “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… Jesus reveals that God’s love puts up with us, always looks for the best, never looks back, and keeps going to the end.” (The Message Translation)
That day, the people in Jesus’s hometown wanted to hear that they are God’s beloved favorites. But instead, in his very first sermon, Jesus had the audacity to remind them that God has the annoying habit of showing love to people who are on the outside. Like helping the widow of the “wrong” nationality and a general from a rival army, when there were plenty of people in need who were more “deserving” of God’s love.
And this is only Luke chapter 4, so Jesus is just getting started. Jesus heals, hangs out with, feeds, and blesses all those people who were considered to be disqualified from God’s love. For those on the outside, this is very good news indeed! But for those on the inside, this was a dangerous message, and must be hushed up.
This has not changed since Jesus time. In our human selfish brokenness, we live in a world where some of us are given preferential treatment because of gender, skin color, orientation, education, or economic standing. And too many people get left on the outside, while other people benefit.
So it’s perhaps no wonder that Jesus was nearly thrown off a cliff that day by the people of his own home town for this message of love he embodied.
It’s perhaps no wonder that Jesus was rejected, betrayed, abandoned, and then nailed to a cross for this message of love he embodied.
It’s perhaps no wonder that we don’t want to hear this message either, because that means that we too are called to share a message of love that could possibly cause us to be questioned, misunderstood, disliked, or even rejected or abandoned. At our baptisms, each of us were welcomed into the body of Christ, but we were also called to share his mission: to bear God’s redeeming word to all the world of God’s love and forgiveness. Which sounds super daunting. If it were all up to me, there is no way racism would be dismantled or wars be ended. But as Mother Teresa once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Fortunately it isn’t all up to me, but there is still plenty of ways to live out this mission of love in my everyday life, to do small things with great love. But it isn’t easy. I’ll share with you one example of something that I struggle with to do lovingly: Driving.
I am not a patient driver. I easily get irritable with OTHER PEOPLE driving poorly. I secretly rejoice in the superiority in my own driving. I have a feeling that others might have this struggle too. Had Paul been writing now, probably should include “If I have the best driving skills in the world, and can parallel park on a dime, but have not love, I am just a honking car horn.”
And that’s just driving. Think about all the other interactions with have with people throughout our day – with our spouses. With our children. With our coworkers. With the people in the grocery store and at the bank and at church.
But how can we do these small things with great love? Well, for once the consumer culture might be able to help us.
In the church, we’re still in the season of Epiphany. But elsewhere, the decorations for Valentine’s Day have been up and everywhere since just after Christmas, ushering in the “season of love,” so to speak. Hearts and the color red are everywhere. In a sense, this makes our jobs of remembering to love a little easier, at least, for the time being.
So in the next few weeks, very time you see a heart, I want you to do 3 things:
- Remember that you are loved by God.
- Remember that God loves all the other people out there, too.
- Remember that you are the agents of God’s love in the world.
That means that each of you, with the help of God and Jesus leading the way, can be the love of God in a body. And the world certainly needs us to show it a lot of love right now. Be love, show love, do love. And don’t forget to DRIVE love, too. And the God of Love accompany us on our way. Amen.