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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Love's Capacity for Tension - 01/31/2016

Paul's letter of love to the Corinthians today is familiar to many people. It is familiar because it is regarded as one the most popular texts for weddings. And so, even if you might not be someone who hears this text come up, as it does, on this wintery February weekend, at this point in our three-year lectionary cycle, it's highly likely you heard it at a wedding somewhere along the line.

It does work well in that context of the wedding – that event when two people have decided to join their lives together. An earthly covenant in which they promise to walk with each other and share all the ups and downs of this life together. Paul gives us a picture of love and it's capacity for tension and disagreement without division. 

God created us to give and receive this love. We are served well to be reminded of its strengths as we tend to our earthly covenants.

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. … It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. …Love never ends.” (13:4-5a, 7-8a) We are particularly open to hearing these truths when we are entering into or witnessing something like marriage.

There is more to this message that Paul brings us though, and the circumstance that we are blessed-enough to have this come up in our weekly readings gives us an opportunity to look at this text in a different way, which is quite fruitful because Paul did not write this letter of love for the occasion of a wedding. In fact, Paul was quite angry when he sent this message to the church at Corinth.

The city of Corinth is about 50 miles west of Athens in Greece. It is a coastal city near where the Aegean and Mediterranean seas meet. It was one of the very first places where the emerging Christian religion took hold after the resurrection and the spread of Jesus' teachings. The Church of Corinth probably included several large house churches, each with its own leaders, each trying to figure out what it meant to be followers of Jesus. And there was a lot of division in and among these churches over theology, and how the gifts of the Spirit should be used … in particular.

Paul began this letter to the people of this church like this “ Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you should be in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you should be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name.” (1:10-15)

He's not happy with the Christ-followers at Corinth at this point. They let their disagreements and tensions divide them …

Some of them were arguing that some gifts of the Spirit and skills were more valuable and important than others in the body of Christ.

Some held inflated opinions of intellect and knowledge in theology.

Some were sitting in judgment of the faith of others within the community.

Some people judged others based on their ability to give money and possessions to those in need.

They let these kinds of things divide them and it pulled them away from what it was that drew them together in the first place … to be lovers of Jesus Christ. To build each other up in the kind of life that is founded on a sometimes challenging but very satisfying relationship with God, the kind of life that is lived out in a radical love of neighbor.

Truth be told, we can probably see ourselves in the Corinthians. We still need to hear Paul's hard but true words in our own community of Christ-followers. We too fall into distractions like these …

Even if we don't say it outright, we may somehow imply that some gifts of the spirit are more important than others to the Body of Christ we make up today.

Without realizing it we may automatically give more credence to the theological musings of pastors and people with strings of letters after their names and sometimes people who simply have a good You Tube channel and a way with words – we tune our ears only to these voices and miss the pure and trusting take on God from a child, the cries of someone made invisible by oppression or illness or abuse, or the wise words of experience from someone down at Harborview or Tendercare.

We too may find ourselves in need of confessing that we have judged someone's faith. Maybe we think they are too boastful in their faith or not faithful enough … even though we know from our own experience that faith is an intensely personal thing that cannot be fully known to another. Our faith is a gift from God, fully known only by God and only God's to judge.

When we read this letter from Paul with all this in mind we understand more fully what Paul is addressing here. It does apply well to the circumstance of two people coming together in marriage. But you can also see how it is a communal call to love and it's capacity for tension and disagreement without division.

Listen again to part of Paul's letter of love with this wider perspective …

“If I (have the gift to) speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am (as obnoxious as) 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 (that I can move) mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and (even) hand over my body (so that I may know that I have done all I can), but do not have love, I gain nothing.

“(Love is not hinged on these things) 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 (someone's) wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ... Love never ends. (13:1-8a)

Through this message, Paul was trying to convict and encourage the people of Corinth – he was urging them to work from that love, not against it. Paul's words also speak into our own lives as the people of Eden on the shores of our great fresh water sea. Perhaps it brings to mind Jeremiah's testimony that God moves through our feet and our mouths “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” (1:10) In other words, to nuture that which is based in this love and leave behind that which is not.

Paul's letter of love speaks well into our time of worship this week with baptism in the air. (Tonight we baptize/Yesterday we baptized) Duray Alexandra Murk into this house of the Church of Christ. We pray and profess our faith together as we make a covenant with Duray to walk with her in her life as a follower of Jesus – to walk with her in love and its capacity for tension and disagreement without division. In this ancient ritual we boldly mark Duray with the cross of Christ and say we will teach her to live confidently and with grace and love in God's promise of eternal life in heaven someday. Just like the rest of us, Duray, during the course of her life, perhaps even the course of today, will make some poor decisions, she will endure difficult times and experiences, there will be times when it will be difficult to walk with her, just as there will be times of walking with her joyfully and in celebration.

But that is the point of this letter from Paul today. The love of neighbor we hold as the mark of our Christian identities can endure all of that and more. It makes room, it stretches itself, it gives us a safe place to live through those tensions and disagreements … to bear them, grow through them and sometimes heal from them. That is the spirit of this community that gathers around to welcome Duray and as a sibling in Christ.

Our gospel reading today challenges us to push this letter of love even farther.

There is anger in this story too. It comes as Jesus – the hometown kid turned celebrity preacher, teacher and miracle worker – pushes his home congregation to think about God's love beyond the walls of that synagogue in Nazareth. And that doesn’t sit too well with them. They've heard about what Jesus has been doing all over the region – they want to see and benefit from that miraculous work too. But Jesus had a different lesson plan that day.

They are overjoyed to hear that Isaiah's prophecy has come to be, right in the midst of their little town … that Jesus is the One God has sent to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind. That was them – they were sure of it. Rome had them firmly oppressed. Isaiah was talking about them and the deliverance they needed from God.

But Jesus was pushing them to understand that what God was doing through him was not just for them, but for everyone and everything – even their enemies. The evidence was already before them. He reminded them of the outsiders God saved from famine and disease in the times of Elijah and Elisha.

That is consistently where God leads us. Through these stories we broaden our perspectives of where God's love goes and where we are to follow. I think it's safe to say that God is finding ways to continually expand our vision and understanding of this …

… from the celebration of love between two people to life based in love among the whole Church.

...from the celebration of Duray's baptism (tonight/last night) to the celebration of her baptism through her whole life.

From the revelation that in Jesus, what has died with him on the cross and risen to life with him from the tomb is much bigger than just us Christians gathered here, but in fact all of creation.

And all of this takes place in love and its capacity for tension and disagreement without division.

Amen

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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