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. 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. 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.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 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. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 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. 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. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. - 1 Corinthians 13
Click the picture to listen to the sermon
There was a video going around Facebook earlier this week – apropos of that massive storm. It showed a boy about 5 years old – bundled from head to toe in his snow gear – outside trying to assist in the never-ending shoveling that many of us experienced. He makes a couple of valiant attempts with his little blue shovel – but then stops – looks around – sighs. So much snow….You know that feeling? And finally in pure desperation looks heavenward and shouts – Jesus, make it warm!
Yes – that’s exactly what I shouted looking at all that snow. And generally speaking know full well that kind of prayer. Jesus fix this situation! God make this better! You, up there in your comfy cozy heaven – get down here and help me – help us – figure “this” out. (“This” covers a whole lot of territory)
As children that’s natural. A child is dependent. Parents – or the adults that take care of us – create the world we know. Gaining our autonomy, as psychologists tell us, is actually a slow and challenging process. Because we want it – we want to be in control, doing everything on our own – but it’s also great to be cared for – especially when things go wrong - and it’s great to look to someone else we believe more capable to solve our problems.
We had a funeral here yesterday and the son remarked – you know, it’s hard when you lose a parent, because no matter what age you are – you are always the child.
Freud – who believed that the Judeo-Christian God was simply humanity’s wish for the ideal parent – said that one sign of a mature person is someone who can see their parents objectively. Knowing that they too are fallible– not perfect– people - who are struggling just like everyone else.
In his book – Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life – Richard Rohr makes the parallel that we are also called to maturation process in our faith. He makes the case that if we want a fuller, a deeper engagement with our religious life – then we must grow our understanding of God. The childlike notions of God we hold on to (which culture encourages) – the seated on the throne up there, man with a beard who doles out rewards and punishments – just aren’t connected with the good news of redemption and freedom that Jesus reveals.. He opens the book with this quote:
The greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable. They can never be solved, but only outgrown. – Carl Jung
This idea resonates with a theme I hear this morning. God through the voice of the prophet Jeremiah – God through the disciple Paul – God in the person of Jesus Christ – God encouraging us to push beyond our early conceptions – conceptions that cause us to look up and say “fix it!” – and instead turn our gaze - here – inward – towards our God-given capacities to practice and imitate God’s way of relating to us.
Before you I formed you in the womb I knew you – God says to Jeremiah. Before we were even a sparkle in our parent’s eye - That’s incredible, isn’t it? The knowledge that every part of you was formed by God. And not just formed – but known, inside and out. That’s what Paul reiterates when he say – now I know only in part. But then – when I meet God face to face – I will know just as I have been fully known.
What would it mean to live each day always aware that you were that intimately connected with God all the time? Jeremiah says – I can’t do it. We can relate to that, can’t we? But God says – yes you can, because you’re mine. You can go where I send you – you can speak words I give you – have no fear!
Fear – like pain or suffering – is one of those great problems that cannot be solved – only outgrown.
You know the scripture verse - There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)
In short Jesus is asking the people in his synagogue – or church – to choose love over fear. At first they are all filled with amazement when one of their very own stands up to proclaim – that God is here to proclaim – release, redemption and freedom. But then, Jesus keeps talking – going on to say – oh, but not just for you – release, redemption, freedom for everyone! Including the people you don’t like! The ones you try and keep out! And he reminds them of all the times in the past where God’s released and restored the enemies of God’s chosen. Jesus says the love I’m talking about is for everyone – even the people you’re afraid of.
In our world we struggle with the same. There are many voices telling us to choose fear over love when it comes to whether or not we are to welcome the stranger.
In Falling Upward – Rohr says – in the first half of our lives – we must create the boundaries – we must build the fences there is a time when – as Frost wrote – Good fences make good neighbors – but you don’t stop there, you don’t just build fences. You eventually need to cross beyond them to actually meet your neighbors. (Love your neighbor – as you love yourself.)
If Jesus’ words – so linked to a time and place – are hard to follow (I think they are). Paul says it in a way that is timeless.
The perfect love of God, the love that casts out our fear – isn’t about doing things perfectly (in fact quite the opposite). It’s about wholeness of being. Living our lives paying attention - aware of how we are – within ourselves and with our neighbors. This passage so often heard at weddings gets linked to the romantic idea of love – and it has nothing to do with that. It’s describing God’s love for us which those of us in Christian community are called to imitate. You could read the whole thing and replace Love with God.
God is patient – God is kind. God is never boastful or arrogant or rude. God doesn’t insist on God’s own way. God is not envious or irritable or resentful. God does not rejoice in wrongdoing – but rejoices in truth – which always sets us free.
And God who has known us since before we are born has given each of us this ability. That is how God formed us – created us – to be – all the time. Knowing we won’t always get it right – but just as God always gives us a second and third and fiftieth chance to try again – we have the same capacity. For ourselves – and for all those we are in relationship with.
Paul’s words could be a daily meditation that every day, all day long we have the opportunity to live what we believe.
Because - the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally unsolvable. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.
So often we want things to be different – we want snow to melt – we want people to change – we want the circumstances of our lives not to be what they are. There is always – something. But as we grow in the knowledge that we are the ones God has equipped to practice the love of God – we open our hearts to the blessings available now – just as the heart of God is open to who we are right now – in the midst of the problems we face – the ones we overcome – and the ones we don’t.
How we spend our lives is how we spend our days. (Annie Dillard) Moment by moment – day by day – the release and redemption and freedom of God’s love is always around us – if and when we choose to see it – if and when we choose to be it. Amen.