Saturday, January 30, 2010

C, Epiphany 4 - 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 "What is Love?"

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

At a demonstration in the streets of Byron Bay came a commotion from a rag-tag band of misfits making monotonous music. The din could be heard some distance away drawing a crowd to watch the spectacle.

Each person played their instrument. They were quite accomplished in their musical ability. However, this group of musicians, allowed to freely express their musical prowess, failed to time themselves with each other and in the process produced sound pollution that one could only say was violent and vile to the ear. They were noisy gongs and clanging cymbals!

The church in Corinth was making a similar sound. But the church was not protesting against something like the motley mob of musos in Byron Bay. No! This church was meant to be representing Christ to their community, but rather they, like the hippie band, were making much noise and disturbing the peace.

However, the peace they disturbed was cause for greater concern than that of the music mob in Byron. The Corinthian church was making a mockery of the peace of God before all who were drawn to view the spectacle.

Saint Paul doesn't go on the attack directly though. He uses a tactic that hypothetically accuses him. But in fact, Paul uses the very same individualistic language which the factions in the church would have been using to justify their Godless noise.

Uninformed, the Corinthians, were touting their gifts from God as being more superior than that of their Christian brothers and sisters. Paul, guiding them with the Word of God, appeals for them to be one under Christ and points them to "a more excellent way" of desiring and using their God-given gifts.

Using their ego language he says, "I could be the most gifted tongue speaker, the greatest prophet, have the greatest faith, or be the most socially aware and generous person, but if love is not present, I am nothing." In short, if one uses the gifts of God to bolster their ego, they are nothing! And therefore, show their gifts to be nothing more than noise; desecrating God to others and undoing the unifying work of Christ on the cross.

So Paul encourages the church to pursue love. But how does one get love? Can we produce love? In fact, what is love, anyway?

Teaching confirmation classes of fourteen year olds always gets their attention focused quickly when one teaches about love and sex.

The question "What is love?" is dealt with when the confirmees are taught about the Sixth Commandment "You shall not commit adultery".

One might think talking about sex to egocentric hormone-filled teenagers is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. But in fact, the subject commands attention, and if handled correctly is the perfect lure to entice the individual to take hold of a deeper understanding of love, together with responsibility and community.

So what is love? For teenagers, and I suspect for most in our society today, love leads the individual into an obsession of self-fulfilment. And this fulfilment comes about with the appeasement of feelings. For most, love is a feeling, born out of the need to pacify sexual desire. However, love sought in feelings, especially sexual, leaves true love lost in a noisy din of confusion, guilt, and greed. Love sought in feelings leaves one unsatisfied chasing a mirage of deception.

Pursuing love must then lead us to see that love is, in fact, a verb. To love or to be loved is something that is done. Love can be felt but not necessarily, rather it needs to be done.

It's at this point I ask the confirmation class how one loves, when one is physically debilitated, or sick, or an infant. This usually throws a spanner into their sex orientated view of love. And finally I can begin to move them away from themselves and sex to begin thinking of love as something that builds a community, and requires responsibility.

Like the Byron Band of individuals playing their own songs, our society today is belting out a monotonous loveless din that actually destroys community, and disbands responsibility. This rampant individualism demands one's rights be met at the cost of care and welfare! Servanthood is seen as slavery, as trust in God becomes rare!

Like the church in Corinth many in society are marching to the beat of their own desires. In the church today the same social phenomena threatens! Our opinions, to many outside and inside the church, seem to be just as confusing as the babble of Babel.

Our visionary powers with their understanding and knowledge become a poly-chaotic plethora of pollywaffle! Like a bunch of headless chooks, we dash around and crash in to each other, turned in on our own confusion, gratifying our self-fulfilling prophecies of disintegration and degeneration. "Woe is me the sky is caving in!"

The loyalty, devotion, and assurance of each individual trusts in no one except the self; turning people further away from responsibility and community to individualism where one has faith only in themselves and their ideas.

And if there is cause to give away what one has, even one's own life, then, at best, it's given with conditions. It's given with a motive for individual gain some time further down the track.

But knowing what love isn't, still doesn't define what love is! In fact as humans knowing just what love is will prove to be eternally deadly if we pursue an answer through our own efforts and reason.

Like classes of confirmation kids seeking to know what love is, we all need to be drawn from ourselves into seeing from the perspective of community and responsibility. Yes love can be found in sex, but not always! It depends on the situation and the motive. In fact, love can be found in a mother wiping a baby's bottom. Love can be found in a husband caring for a debilitated wife. Love can be looking out for a neighbour and helping them to improve and protect their property and means of making a living.

Even so, while we are here on earth we will never fully know or understand what love is. At best we only have a dim view of love in this life, yet while we will never fully understand it, we fully receive love and benefit from it. As Paul says, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

The answer to the riddle of love is Christ. When we see Christ face to face we will then fully know what love is. But for now we all must trust and believe we are fully loved by Christ. This will be revealed when our mirrors of faith and hope are taken away when we are taken into the reality of eternal love with God in heaven.

But for now it's enough for us to know love has it's being in God. Our being is human whereas God's being is love. So we are led out of ourselves to see Jesus Christ is love, personified. For now true love is hidden in his word; faith and hope move us toward the reality of seeing it face to face. But one day when the dimness of our humanity is removed we will see the full extent of love. And because God's being is love, love will never end.

We do well to remain focused on Christ, and in doing this, we know we will continue to be recipients and reflectors of love.

Because God is love, we can hear again the verses of 1 Corinthians 13 with Jesus used as a synonym for love.

Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; Jesus is not irritable or resentful; Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Because Jesus lives, love will never end.

When we see God face to face, we will have no need for faith and hope. But of these three, the greatest will remain—love—for ever and ever. Amen.

The love of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in love—in our risen Lord Jesus Christ—who loves you so much he gave up his life on the cross for you. Amen.