Without Love - Reflections 1-29-2022

Texts for Sunday, January 30, 2022
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4: 21-30

I have been seen wearing a tee shirt that says Love > Hate. My bumper sticker goes on to proclaim that Love > fear, hunger, status, anger, despair and a whole bunch of other things. I agree that the summary that God’s kingdom, and perhaps of the end of time, is Love Wins. And I love my husband, my daughter, my cats, my BFF, pumpkin pie, reading police procedural novels, my job, the view of the Smokies from up high, the ocean from my beach chair, and the moon reflected on the Mississippi. I love being a Deacon. I love to sing songs around the house. I love a lazy summer day doing nothing.

OK, I know I made my point early in that paragraph but went on and on because, well, I love in so many ways I want to mention them all (which I didn’t) (you’re welcome). And wanted to show that love means lots of different things. English uses that one word with a remarkable number of connotations. 

I’m guessing you have at least heard this week’s text from 1 Corinthians 13 sometime in your life. It is popular at weddings. Most New Testament commentators dismiss that use as frivolous and shallow. But as someone who used it (and – she says defensively - a reading from Letters and Papers from Prison by Bonhoeffer), I think it is sometimes chosen to remind us of the hard work involved with loving and to remind us that it is totally a gift from God so that when you start to wonder about those promises you made 7, 28, 46 years ago, you turn to the One from whom all love flows.

Just before the pandemic closed us down, the Sunday School was working on memorizing “Love God and love your neighbor as yourself”. Paul’s text is a reminder that while this is easy to say and memorize, it is hard, hard to do. And don’t start me on Love your enemies. (Lk. 6:27)

Let’s be clear, Paul didn’t just become poetic about love out of the blue. The whole book of 1 Corinthians is his response to the congregation in Corinth who were putting a whole lot of things before love in their relationships. It was an interestingly complex congregation which reflected the culture of the city (which many sound familiar).

Ancient society was marked by considerable differences in wealth. The top 1.5 percent in some cities monopolized at least 20 percent of all the resources. The rest of the top 10 percent owned the next 20 percent of income. The bottom echelon of society lived in constant hunger, literally "from hand to mouth,"…… The elite were very wealthy and well connected compared to everyone else, and vastly superior to them in terms of power and status1

Members were pagan converts, mostly from the lowest economic sector, as well as  wealthy members of the synagogue, non-Jewish God worshipers and Jewish members. These days we would celebrate the congregation’s diversity… but they would probably still have to deal with some of the same problems. It is so much easier to love in the abstract.

Chapter 12 Paul says that God has given everyone gifts of the Spirit to use in community and that each gift is equally as important as the next. And he offers this image of the people of God being Christ’s body and every part being important. (I’ve used this in confirmation classes to attempt a sense of community and often one kid brings up the appendix. sigh). We all are equal members, we all have equal gifts … except he ends the chapter... let me show you the Gift of gifts. And he breaks into Chapter 13…If I have the gift of speaking like an angel, but do not share it in love, I am just harsh, jarring noise. Today we might say “blah, blah, blah”.

Everyone of those gifts of God in chapter 12 blossom from love. All of them are misused without. Love is living in God. One article I read about this chapter suggested replacing “love” with “Jesus” – seems especially effective in v. 1-8. I could just sit for a while to ponder how faith and hope are still beholden to love.

In any case, Paul’s poem of love is beautiful as a stand-alone and masterful in the context of the Corinthian conflicts. It is profound in our daily life and relationships. There is so much to be gained through love - in our hearts, in our homes, in our national bitterness, and in our world on the brink of armed conflict. May the love of God rest in your hearts.

1  Essay by Douglas Campbell from Christian Century web-version, December 22, 2017. A version of this article appears in the January 3 print edition under the title “Culture wars at Corinth.” It was adapted from Douglas A. Campbell’s book Paul: An Apostle’s Journey, forthcoming from Eerdmans. The article was edited on January 4 (2017) to reflect the most current scholarship on wealth and poverty in the ancient world.

NOTE: Our discussions in Lent this year will focus on love as discussed by Bishop Michael Curry in his book Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times. Starts March 6, 2022 at 9:15 am.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245