What Does Love Look Like?

You can listen to the sermon from worship on May 1st right here. Or you can read it below.

Toward the end of the sermon we watched a 2-minute video. Here is the link: http://egbertowillies.com/2016/04/16/an-forgives-crooked-cop/

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

How did you learn how to love? Did you take a class or go to counseling to learn how to love? Probably not, right? You learn how to love by both being loved and then loving. I’ve gotten to watch all these new born babies and their moms and dads stare into each other’s eyes and smile and coo and hold each other and show unrestrained love to one another. That baby can’t speak and isn’t developed enough to be able to say, “well of course this is how you love.” But it is the essence of love.

Now, love is also these same parents not getting enough sleep and walking around smelling of throw up and dirty diapers. Love is experiencing what my sister calls the “fun house mirror” stage of life and somehow getting through it. Reality is distorted. Decision making is a little off. Tempers can be short as life is tipped sideways or upside down. This too is the essence of love. Loving each other through this frazzled time, making sacrifices, learning how nimble and flexible and durable your love is.

This passage from 1st Corinthians is probably familiar to you today. Raise your hand if this was read at your wedding.  Or if you’ve heard this read at a wedding. It is beautiful poetry and it calls us to the task of living into all the characteristics of love: patience, kindness, humility to name just a few. The writer of this letter is Paul and he is writing to the people he loves who he helped to start a church with in the city of Corinth. And he has heard they are arguing. So he is not writing to a couple preparing for marriage. He is writing to a church community that is in conflict and are, it would seem from the contents of this letter, not acting out of love toward one another.

So doesn’t this change for you the tone of this passage? I think it could be a perfect tone, if maybe a bit of a buzz kill, for a wedding, seeing as we all fail when it comes to loving perfectly.  Can’t you just hear Paul, “If I speak beautiful relevant and holy words but don’t have love? I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol!”

Paul is speaking to the very heart of our lives as Christians: you can say you’re a Christian and you can act like a Christian, but without love – you are a noisy gong, you are a clanging symbol. Fingernails on chalkboard; a knife scraping across a plate. Without love, you write legislation for the most vulnerable to be punished and endangered for using the wrong bathroom. Without love, we figure out ways to keep people out instead of ways to let people in. As Jim Schaefer has been saying many times in our constitution team meetings, “Our job is to love.”

A life without love is loud and obnoxious and empty all at the same time. So now, to add love to your actions? That’s what gives your life shape and form and substance and meaning. It’s what makes life worth living. Here is The Message translation of the next few verses about what love is and Eugene Peterson, the translator, takes to defining what love does:

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.

 To read this at a wedding? The happy couple ought to take a seat during this part. Because this is the stuff of life. It’s staggering who we are to be to one another, not only in a marriage relationship but in life. It’s what we’re called to do with each other and with the stranger.

Now, let me say this: this isn’t a creed for you to stay in an abusive relationship. This isn’t justification for you to stay if you are in danger emotionally or physically. If you are, please ask for help because what you’re experiencing is not love.

This image is from a festival out in the desert called Burning Man. The sculpture’s title is “Love” and demonstrates that very thing that is born in us as wee ones reaching for the other in times of conflict, when our adult selves would rather turn and give up and be done. The author Brene Brown says this about how critical love and belonging are: “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”

And when we have fallen apart, when our hearts have gone stony cold, really the only thing powerful enough to revive us is love. After all, God sent Jesus and Jesus suffered at our hands. God’s love was broken on the cross. But if our story ended there, then it would all end there. We’d all just walk around with score cards about who has loved more and who hasn’t measured up. It is only through the miracle of forgiveness that love has a chance. And God is the miracle-maker there. We can’t figure that out alone. It’s why we go to the altar, week after week, holding out our hands for bread. It’s this pattern of being forgiven again and again so that this pattern will find purchase in our own hearts, our own lives.

The church that has been in steady decline in number and in societal importance since the 1970s, our church body included. We can point to trends and we can blame sports and talk about the impact of the Enlightenment and technology, but something tells me the church has forgotten how to love. Just as I preached last week, the reputation Christianity has is, generally speaking, not good. We are not known for our love. It is often through our open displays of division and disagreement, all the ways we do not show love, that’s what we are known for. And it’s what is at stake for the life of the church – if our gatherings are about showing love or if they are about establishing a club or enforcing rules or shaming.

I spoke to a person at Beer & Hymns just this past week who experienced simply being at Beer & Hymns as a tentative re-entry into being connected. Connected to God, connected to people. This person over-heard someone talk about the Bible on their way out and they looked at me ruefully, saying, “I don’t know about the Bible.” As we spoke further, their experience had been one of “Scripture as weapon” instead of love. That person’s experience that night was not because of a sermon or the quality of the band or even the quality of the beer – it was the experience of human bodies singing together. This person’s mind was not challenged to figure out love. Their heart was changed. That’s love. That’s how God works. Sometimes all at at once and all of a sudden. Sometimes in little cracks and bit by bit.

Yet how am I to show love to the people who holler at me because we do beer & hymns? How am I to show love to people who would pray that our church does not make it because we are an open and safe place for lesbians, gays, bi-sexual, transgendered and queer people? How will you show love to the student who gets on your last nerve? How will you show love to your patient who refuses to take good care of themselves and demand a miracle from you? How do you show love to the kids in school who are bullies who are mean? How do you show love to someone you are so angry with you could just spit?

Thanks be to God.