Sunday, January 31, 2010

Love Never Ends

1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

I hear this scripture differently than I used to. In my mind, as well as the mind of many others, this is the “wedding” scripture, because it very handily talks about love. And even though hearing it just at weddings is a little disappointing, sometimes for many people this is the only scripture they hear for months and months. It’s not too bad a one to hear, if that is the case.

But in the context of the letters Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, love is more than romantic, more than starlight and roses. Love is to be our way of operating in the world. To all whom we meet, we are to love. Not get all starry-eyed for everyone, not to leave love notes or buy them those little Sweetheart candy hearts with the little sayings, but love in the tough-to-do, lunch-pail and hard-hat, hard-to-do-but-we-do-it-anyway sort of way.

Loving everyone you meet is hard work. We have to overcome prejudices, first impressions, and sometimes just pure fatigue.

In First Corinthians, this passage is placed very strategically, addressing issues that the Corinthian church is struggling with. Before it comes the “One Body with Many Members” section, the reminder that, in all their individuality, each member of the church in Corinth is valued and a child of God with no classification above or below anyone else. After the love section, Paul talks about Spiritual gifts, and specifically the gift of tongues, which is a gift not practiced in this church to the best of my knowledge.

That a discussion of love is connected between these two tells me that love, to Paul in these letters, is something not fallen into, but bonded with and worked at, like any other relationship with people, be it a union, a club, a place of employment or a family. Or, as in Paul’s original meaning, a church. We are all bonded together here, we come together to worship God in this place and these people, and those who grew up here and have known no other church are of the same importance as those who are recent move-ins to the area. Indeed, those who may visit us are of the same importance as the life time members. To all, patience and kindness should be the rule, not the exception. There should be no boastfulness, and we definitely should not be rude to each other. Disagree, sure, but do you know what you call a group where everyone agrees with each other? A cult.

Of course we’re doing to disagree with each other. But this is a church, a part of the Body of Christ. And everyone here has value in the eyes of God. Everyone from the oldest and most infirm member all the way down to the newest baby. Everyone from the longest standing member, someone who knew someone who knew the founders of the church, all the way to the person who just stepped in here today.

Now, that is the Bible study portion of this sermon. I said at the beginning that I hear this scripture differently than I used to. Especially verses 4 to the first part of 8.

I have not referred to my family’s current struggle in my recent sermons in any particular way, because I am not willing to make that struggle constant fodder for sermons. My sister quotes the Greek philosopher Plato as saying we are to be gentle with each other, because everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle. The seriousness and horribleness (if that is a word) of what my family faces together, as singular and exceptional as it is, does not demand that I speak about it constantly. Others in this church have had this experience, some very recently, and some are in it now.

But these verses ring a different note for me then they always have before, a much more minor chord.

Love is patient; when you’re tired, and the one you take care of is tired and gets confused and walks into corners without reason, and can’t get out of them, love has to be patient.

Love is kind; gently redirecting her with words and hands, sometimes, saying the same thing a lot of times, love has to be kind.

Love isn’t rude. Love does not insist on its own way. Of course my way would be that this all not have happened, but a tantrum isn’t going to solve it. Stamping my foot and holding my breath in the face of a terminal illness is futile, anyway.

Love is not irritable or resentful; Hogwash. In this case, sometimes it is. You just can’t avoid it. You are tired all the time and things just don’t go the way you want. Children are going through their own sadness and fear processes; they sometimes just don’t have the energy for homework, even when it is the only thing they have to do. Thank goodness the teachers get this better than I do, some days.

Love rejoices in the truth. The truth, told judiciously and with clarity, truly is freeing for us all, and takes much less energy to pay attention to than secrets. Never mind lies told to “save someone’s feelings”.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never ends. True enough. But love marks you, scars you, changes you, and it is something you need to recover from. Loving and care-giving in these situations takes a toll, and sometimes people don’t recover from the price they pay.

I’ve spoken once or twice before about miracles with regard to Donna. I’ve said that I will play my part, and not expect the miracle of healing; so that if it would happen, it would indeed be the unexpected event miracles are. All too often, people pray for miracles, and our limited imaginations demand one kind only-full restoration of health of our loved one, and a return to the life we knew beforehand. Didn’t happen that way for Job, and it won’t here, either. When that doesn’t happen, our faith is crushed, and we are mad at God.

I never wanted to be in that position, so I did not pray for that; it didn’t seem wise to test God. Rather, I wanted to watch and wait and see what God would do, because God has never forgotten Donna.

Last night, Donna and I talked about this, and we agreed; though we know the tumor is spreading and growing now, she is able to be more closely herself than at any point in this whole journey since last July. This is God’s work. This is our miracle.

Love indeed never ends.

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