With all your heart, mind, soul and strength

(A sermon on 1st Corinthians 13:1-13)

“God is the force and the love that created, sustains and that transforms the universe, including you and me.”

Those are the words of Rev. Stephanie Spellers, an episcopal priest in New York.  That was her answer to being asked “Who is God to you?”

To Stephanie (and to me) I see God’s very nature as love.   God created the world through love. God sustains the world in love.  God does what God does BECAUSE of love.  Love is the essence. The main ingredient in Creation’s stew.  Love is the motivation for everything God is, does and hopes.

This God of love is the God that the apostle Paul tattoomet on the Emmaus road.  When Paul encountered God in Christ—he found himself turned upside down. When God’s love touched him, he could do no other than respond IN LOVE, serving the living, and loving the God he had encountered.  And thank God, he couldn’t stop. He had to tell everyone, be they Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male or female, gay, straight, black or white.

Which brings us to the familiar Corinthians 13 known as “the love chapter.” We read it at weddings and at funerals.  And I wonder if we’ve heard it so often that we barely pay attention.  Is it a simplistic affirmation of Christian love and unity?

Is it a Duh. A “so what.”  NO. It’s not.

That’s not what was happening when Paul spoke those words to the church at Corinth. He wasn’t affirming that they had love. He was calling them out because they lacked it. Today we have the opportunity to place Paul’s words back into their context, wrestling them away from their warm and fuzzy misunderstanding.

It’s likely that he spoke the words with love and exasperation in his tone.

Things were not going well in Corinth.

The Corinthian Church was not a happy and homogenous body. They were not a comfortable gathering where people fell into step with each other because they shared a belief in Jesus, OR fundamentally similar lives, or values, or experiences. Quite the contrary.

The Corinthian fellowship was a melting pot of backgrounds, gender, age, rank, status, and life situation. Most of its members were from the lower classes but some sat on the opposite side in rank and resources. There were slaves and free people in the community, as well as people with different skill sets and gifts.   The problem was, the diversity among the Corinthians had dissolved into discord and rivalry.

This was a community fragmented, rather than enriched, by difference. So Paul is introducing them to an ethic-a way of living, being and thinking, that is necessary if they are to survive the muddy waters of difference and disagreement.  Without love they would be doomed.  Without diversity they would be less than.

This topic of diversity and how communities can get sideways when they become divided has always fascinated me, especially within the church.

In fact the title of my doctoral dissertation was “Divine Diversity: The church’s challenge or God’s greatest imagination?”  God has built diversity into all of creation, human, animal, biological.  In biology diversity is a mark of health. When absent, that biological system is diseased.  Logic tells us that it’s the same in humanity even if we humans haven’t always caught up with God’s brilliant design for OUR optimum health.

I grew up in a culturally diverse neighborhood and an interreligious home. My home was half Methodist and half Serbian Orthodox.  We had a Jewish family across the street, Italian Catholics on both sides, a Lutheran family next to the Jewish family and another Catholic family next to them.  The Jewish family invited us to Seder dinners and Hanukkah celebrations.    Everyone invited everyone to church or synagogue.  My neighborhood was a successful experiment in Love. We were close—like Salem. We tried always to show love and live from love. Knowing ourselves loved by God was our universal unifier.

Knowing ourselves loved, we cannot help but live in love. It’s in our divine DNA. It’s how we’re wired.  Only from that place can we call each other beloved and only from that place can we serve one another other in love.

And while faith and hope are essential elements of faith, LOVE is the empowering gift of the three. It is the glue, the fuel, and the reason.

The God of Christ and of Paul keeps calling us back into that love.

WE never “have” love — Love has us! Grasped by a love that never ends, we are privileged to be channels for that same love.

And today I am not calling you out because you don’t get it. I am affirming you because you do. With all your heart, mind, soul and strength, thank you Salem for being who and whose you are, claimed by love and compelled to respond in that same love.  It’s what people feel when they encounter us.

I love you for that.

AMEN.

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