Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a Luke 4:21-30
Many of us, when we hear this passage from 1 Corinthians “Love is patient, love is kind, love bears all things, believes all things…” we immediately think of a wedding. How many of you had these very lines read at your own wedding?
They cast love in beautiful light and I love when love looks beautiful—beautiful like a couple standing on an altar, standing on the edge of the next chapter proclaiming their love for one another. Love is also beautiful when we see a mother holding her swaddled newborn; or the vow renewal ceremony of a our grandparents; or the grandparents’ whose faces are beam- ing at the sight of their grandchildren singing in the choir or performing at the Christmas pag- eant; or parents as they watch their kids walk across the stage striding toward their diploma; or the face of one who has just come to accept the unconditional, unending love of God is for them, too.
I love when love looks like faithfulness—like the well warn pathway marking the 50 paces between your apartment and your beloved’s in her fulltime nursing care unit.
But love doesn’t always look lovely, and beautiful. Sometimes love looks like the ex- hausted parent, caring for a feverish, unsettled toddler at 3:00 AM. Sometimes love looks like the agonizing minutes between curfew and your out-past-curfew teenage daughter’s return— you are frightened: is she ok? Sometimes love looks like waiting, like patience.
Sometimes love looks like getting up early even though you still want to sleep but someone has to pack the lunches; someone has to let the dog out; someone has to make sure he gets his medicine; and so you do. Sometimes love looks like a pot of soup and fresh-cut flowers for a friend who just miscarried. Sometimes love looks like a congregation learning a new song in a new language (spoiler alert!). Sometimes love looks like starting over, or coming home, or being willing to forgive yet again.
Sometimes love looks like a regular, messy day for a parent, that makes a lasting im- pression. I was young .so the memory is incomplete and like a flash. I am sure there was preparation and lots of finagling of three kids—my two brothers and I, all under the age of six. I am sure it was a nuisance to drag us along literally every single place she went. My mom used to call my brothers and I her “little parade.” Even to get milk, she would lament, “I have to take the whole parade.”
It was during an outing with the full parade that this first memory takes place. We must have stopped by the church food pantry, picked up a few bags of groceries. We must have driven the few miles down the road and over the hill crossing out of our town and into
the next, past the town pool and the community center, past the bar and the bowling alley before we parked in the driveway. I remember that the outside of the house had slabs of wood nailed up in places to cover the holes; the yard was unkempt and was mostly dirt with a few sprigs of grass poking up here and there; there were dog chains that snaked across the yard.
I am sure Mom would have preferred to let us stay in the car but Brad, my older brother, jumped at any chance to talk to anyone, and I wouldn’t let Mom out of my sight. I mean, where would I hide if her leg wasn’t within reach? And Jason, well, he was too young to have a say about anything yet. We must have gotten out of the car, the whole parade of us, walked to the front door, and rang the doorbell. The door was opened by a little girl about my age. What sticks with me most is that she wasn’t wearing shoes and was filthy head-to-toe. Her clothes didn’t match. We must have handed over the grocery bags to an adult, jumped back in the car, and been on our way.
Mom always volunteered at our church food pantry, which made deliveries to shut- ins when needed but this was the first time I saw a kid, which is probably why it stuck.
I hadn’t thought much about that day until, in my Confirmation Class, our pastor gave us the following writing prompt: What does Love look like? And the memory of our little parade’s food delivery flashed across my mind. And I thought: sometimes love looks like a mother SHOWING her kids what it’s like to feed the hungry, leading her little parade into a food desert to make sure each of God’s children is fed.
Have you ever considered who taught you what love really looks like? Who is it, by their example, their authenticity, that showed you what Christ-like love really looks like? Paul, in this letter, is writing to a church who needs a reminder of what Christ-like love looks like. He isn’t writing all this about love because their actions have sparked beautiful images of love.
If we restrict Paul’s words to only classically beautiful images of love, we miss the point of Paul’s writing. We miss the most radical, challenging, and provocative pieces of Paul’s argument in this letter. Paul isn’t writing to a young couple perched on the edge of a promising tomorrow—he is writing to a young church embroiled in conflict: a church full of strife and division.
Earlier in the letter, we read about richer members hustling in and eating all the communion meal before the poorer members could arrive, there was a series of one-up- manship over who was baptized by whom, flaunting and boasting of whose spiritual gift are better than another’s. Matters in Corinth are so dire, the fighting so severe that Paul catches wind of all of the conflict and trouble and writes this portion of the letter to the church in Corinth, from Ephesus.
You may have noticed that throughout this sermon, I have imagined love not as a feeling, but as actions—this comes right out of Paul’s words in this chapter. In these words, we find verb after verb after verb. We cannot see it in English but in the Greek, verses 4-7 contain 16 different verbs about love. That tells us love is a busy, active thing that never ceases to work. (Brian Peterson, “commentary on 1 Cor. 13-1-13)
This call for action is concealed in our English translations that states “Love is patient; love is kind, etc.” A closer translation to Paul’s meaning might be “Love bears patiently. Love shows kindness.” Paul’s words about love are not meant to tell us what love is, but rather what love does.
With love like this, there is no such thing as loving in the abstract. Love is what love does. This love only exists when it is acted and embodied. One cannot simply feel this kind of love, one must practice it and that is our challenge, our call as individual disci- ples, and as a collective body of Christ.
In a minute, we will gather at the table, together, to participate in the act of love manifest in the holy meal for all people, remembering what love looks like in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Jesus the Christ is God’s living, breathing, flesh-and-blood definition of love. Jesus did his kind of love simply as an unconditional, free, utterly astounding gift from God. And that is what Love looks like.
Theologian NT Write writes, “Love is God’s river, flowing on into the future, across the border into the country where there is no pride, no jostling for position, no contention among God’s people. We are invited to step into that river here and now and let it take us where it’s going.”
Love looks like taking that step into that river. Have courage and take the leap. Amen.