(Watch the service with this video.) A lot has been said about love. There are many love songs, poems, so many movies about falling in love. Some people say I love you easily, for others they are words seldom expressed, and the love is shown in other ways. I think the apostle Paul’s treatise on love tops all the other things said about love. Because he defines how true love behaves. And even though this is a chapter we often hear at weddings, he isn’t only, or even mostly, talking about romantic love of a couple, but all the love we humans have for one another and for God. The model really is the love God has for us, the love we have known because of Jesus Christ.
Paul says, love is patient it is kind. It is not easily angered, vindictive, or siding with evil, it isn’t selfish. But it does delight in truth. It always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. This is a grandiose portrait of how people could be with one another. Too often, we fall short. Too often, we fail.
But Paul lets us know that that is okay. It’s all about growing up in the way we love. He says, I used to be childish. I think he’s talking about all the ways we get love wrong, when we are selfish, like children sometimes are, when we hold grudges, when we say things to hurt, like children do- you’re not my best friend anymore. When we let things get to us and explode all over others- that is not the way of true love.
So Paul is talking about growing up in how we love, about becoming mature in our behavior toward others, he’s talking about growing up as learning to manage our own emotions so that we can do our best for others.
Maybe I lost you just there. That kind of phrase isn’t something we talk about in church, manage our emotions. This is coming to you from my continuing education, yes taught by a Reverend, yes explicitly for pastors. I am coming to understand some pieces of Scripture in a deeper way as I reflect on these things. And even though the vocabulary is pretty different from how the Bible might put it, these themes are there. Especially in this passage.
Paul is inviting us to take on the work of maturing. Not just letting time pass. But to work on inner growth. To leave childish ways behind. We all- or at least many of us- have things we learned to do, as children, in certain situations that just aren’t healthy ways of interacting.
He starts out this chapter by saying- you might be able to put on a great performance and have everyone think you’re doing great things- but is your love real? You might have great faith in God but do you know yourself? You might be really good at sacrificing yourself for others but is it genuine?
Are you acting in ways that are patient and kind? Or are you on the inside, proud and rude self seeking and easily angered?
And even though he doesn’t say it this way, I think he is saying, it’s ok. We are all still in the process. We can grow up in love just as we grow out of childhood. All of us see how it could be, in a dim, incomplete way, but we’re on our way to the fullness of it, how God knows us fully already, loves us in spite of all of our faults and failings. That self-giving, forgiving, relentless love of how God loves us, that’s making it possible for all of us to live out this way of love.
Now I read two other Scriptures today, one is the beginning of Jeremiah’s ministry as a prophet, when God first calls him; the other is towards the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when his hometown peeps get offended and try to kill him. What do these stories have to do with the great love of God so poetically described by Paul?
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Jeremiah is called at a very young age to be a servant of the Lord, and God says he will dig up and pull down, destroy and demolish, build and plant. That’s 4 negative, destroying verbs and 2 positive, new start verbs.
How to reconcile this message of God, with, you need love to be at the center? Of 1 Cor 13
Love must be based on truth and not an illusion. If you see someone you love doing something to hurt themselves, you don’t encourage them, you try to stop them.
There were some evil things going on in Jeremiah’s time. He was called to speak truth. To point those things out, to bring people back to God’s ways.
Love rejoices in the truth.
Love can be really hard. It can really hurt. Jeremiah would tear down, with his message, before the new start could take root. When you see someone you love doing things that hurt themselves or others, you need to be truthful, and it probably does not have a warm fuzzy feeling. That is part of true love. It always hopes that the new growth will come, it perseveres for the well being of the beloved one. It takes on that pain.
Jesus in Luke chapter 4, at the beginning, he spoke an amazing word about what God would do through him. Heal, liberate, release, proclaim good news! and people start to get really ecstatic. Yes we want that, aren’t you that neighbor kid, we know you! And the intended message, that Jesus then disrupts is, do those things for us first, most, only.
Jesus starts talking about when God acted on behalf of the foreigners, the enemies, not on behalf of the supposed chosen people, and that made everyone really mad.
But Jesus had to speak the whole truth of the situation. God’s blessings aren’t just for us, whichever “us” we define ourselves by.
Living into the whole truth of the situation would be to acknowledge not just how great you and your ancestors have been, but to see the bad parts, the times God had to correct. Growing up in love doesn’t include erasing parts of the story, but acknowledging, processing, accepting- and trying to do better. Just like growing up in love includes acknowledging, processing, accepting your own emotions and reactions, to not do the same back, but to do better. To grow.
The ways that Jesus showed love, lived in truth in all the stories we have about him are our example to imitate. They are also the reason he got killed. Because “love is comfortable and cuddly and nice” is not part of 1 Cor 13.
I have been wanting to offer a workshop about some things I have learned about how to have healthy conflict since around the time Covid started, but we had to postpone it.. before I left, With the council we scheduled it for Saturdayy Feb 26. Right now as I’ve said I have one family member currently with Covid, and while we are doing all we can to stay separate and safe in our house, I just can’t promise today that that in-person event will happen that day. So God inspired me to start talking about some of these topics in sermons. Which talking about things more than just one day is probably better anyway, even if it’s just me talking and not really participatory which is how a workshop would or will be.
But I have seen, and of course this is not unique to our congregation, that we prefer to not say anything at all, if it will even vaguely smell of conflict. However, growing up in love means that we find the way to lovingly speak the truth. To address conflict and not just avoid it. to be authentic with each other. As Christians we have this knowledge, even if dimly, of the great love of God that is perfect and whole and complete for each one of us. That God accepts us as we are but also calls us to be transformed, to grow and mature. And that is our calling as disciples of Jesus, to accept the self-giving, forgiving, relentless love of how God loves, to relish it, to copy it in our interactions with others. Love rejoices with the truth, God’s love in us helps us grow up in love. May it be so beloved.