In the depths of the winter cold, a short trip to Savannah, Georgia, was just what I needed as a jump start for spring and the assurance that it will one day be warm in Ankeny again. We stayed in the historical district of Savannah with its many parks and lavish greenery. The people of Savannah are also experiencing the Covid surge so with a high incidence of Covid and the warm weather, my husband and I opted to have dinner served outside. It was common to have tour groups pass as they heard descriptions of the history of the area and its hauntings. But this Friday night there was another group that first walked past us on the sidewalk where our table was located, but then about a half hour later returned. They were laughing and chatting with each other. It was a group of about seven young women. One had a wedding veil on her head. They were scanning the array of people dining and chose to approach our table. One of the young women announced to us that their friend Anna was getting married in one month and tonight they were seeking wisdom from married couples that could help Anna and her husband as they enter married life.
My husband Brad offered the importance of grounding their relationship in faith. I added the importance of love, not as a feeling but as an action in their lives each day.
One of our readings for worship this weekend is from 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. It is Paul’s hymn of love. We hear it read frequently at weddings, and it has much to inform those entering marriage, but it was not written for that reason. In fact, Paul was writing to the church in Corinth. The church members were dealing with tensions and conflict among themselves. The issue was related to the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues. The people who possessed this spiritual gift were overemphasizing it as being more important than other spiritual gifts. But Paul tells them that all spiritual gifts are important.
Paul begins the chapter by identifying that if a person can speak in tongues but does not have love, then this person is like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. Without love, their spiritual gift is nothing. So, Paul’s message on love is related to the discussion of spiritual gifts in the previous chapter where Paul identifies an abundance of spiritual gifts that people in the congregation possess. All are important gifts and necessary to build up the body of Christ, but not everyone possesses all the gifts. Paul ends the chapter by pointing out that even though the spiritual gifts possessed within the community are important, each person should strive for the greater gift which will show them the best way forward. Here Paul is showing them that mutuality and equality of love is of utmost importance. Then Paul continues in Chapter 13 by talking about love. In Chapter 14, he returns to the discussion of the spiritual gift of speaking in tongues.
We could think of these chapters like an Oreo cookie, where the two cookies of chapter 12 and 14 are held together by the rich cream center that keeps everything together. That rich cream center is chapter 13, the chapter on love. Paul ends chapter 13 by reminding the church that faith, hope, and love are where we all abide. They are gifts we each have. All are important, but the greatest is love. Love is our rich creamy center. Love is Jesus, in and with us.
Paul makes a case for living in a faith community of love. He encourages the church to pursue love even amid differences and dissent within their community. In a world of divisions and expressions of those divisions, Paul’s encouragement is love. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love looks like someone reaching out and finding commonalities in values first and then moving forward in a relationship, with the intention of love. For example, let us say that one person of faith has attached themselves to the label of being part of the “prolife movement” and against abortion at all costs. While another person takes a stand on refugee resettlement because quality of life is important at all costs. There is a value of life that both people hold very strongly, although how this value is played out is different for each. Paul tells us that love waits patiently, love acts kindly. Love is not boastful. Love does not insist in its own way. This can be hard for us to remember, when we convince ourselves that our way of thinking is the only right way of thinking. Paul has the audacity to preach on the importance of love across lines of difference. Love is more important than the difference.
Love is a collection of intentional actions. Love teaches us to be the giver. Love is always busy, it is an active thing, always finding ways to express itself for the good of others. The measure of love has been described as its capacity for tension and disagreement without division. Paul believes that the church community has this ability to love. Not perfectly, but with a respectful understanding of love’s grounding the whole Christian church.
We follow a Savior whose ministry can be summed up in one word. Love. Jesus lived love and died for love. Thankfully, our brokenness is not the last word. God will not allow it. Jesus came to save, to love the world. Jesus loved and loves. God the Father loves, and the Holy Spirit stirs the flames of love in each of us and in the world. Love is all over the place! We are equipped to love, and love well, when we get ourselves out of the way.
Paul reminds us that we only see dimly in the mirror, but someday things will be clearer. Until that day, may our love be intentional and central to our daily joys and challenges. God’s love is showered abundantly on you to share with others.