June 29, 2003   Shirley Macemon
  It's About Love
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Mark 12:28-34


     At about the time I got out of college, I think that 1 Corinthians 13 was sung or read at almost every wedding I attended -- Brides who had never cracked a Bible in their entire adult (or late adolescent life) wanted that "love" scripture at their wedding, as though hearing it read on that day might bestow some special or magic blessing on the marriage that followed. I seems to me that at one time, I had 3 or 4 musical arrangements, and at least 2 poetic interpretations (for those who didnít think the Bible was good enough?). Donít take me wrong -- it is a powerful scripture. In this short passage, Paul lays it on the line -- no matter how you approach your spiritual life, no matter how you approach your walk with Christ and your life in the church, unless you do it from a foundation of Love, you might as well be blowing smoke. And, he goes on to say, we wonít "get it" until the fullness of time. In this life, " we see as though through a faulty mirror. But in the fullness of time, weíll see -- God? -- face to face. But no matter, If we arenít working through the auspices of Love, we arenít working for the Glory of God.

     We know this stuff. You've heard it preached. You've told the stories to your children. You've told the stories to each other. You've "preached" it. I've preached it --somehow, we can't seem to get enough of it.

     That love story -- the good old fashioned love story that Jesus told over and over again, with parables, with aphorisms, in riddle and question. God loves us. God loves us so much our only heartfelt response is to love. God loves us so much and humanity doesn't get it, that one of the ways God shows us how to love is through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, who we know as Christ.

     My good friend Dirk Damonte puts it this way in the theme song of Fish Tales, a musical about Christian Community, based on the parables of Jesus.

     It's not just about love, but love with a difference, It's not just about life, but the life you're living.
Its not just about peace, but peace with justice. It's not just about Joy, but the joy we're giving
Living love and giving peace. Finding hope in earthbound living, Watching wonders never cease.
Tell the Stories, Sing the Stories, Live the Stories of God's surprise
View the Stories, Hope-filled Glories, These are the stories of our lives.[1]

     Dirk's musical re-tells the parables of Jesus in modern paradigm and song. An array of modern travelers in the parables of the Good Samaritan, the publican and tax collector, The Cartwright boys stepping in for the vineyard owner hiring workers all day and paying them the same wages. These are the parables that we have heard since our childhood. Even retold, they are still powerful. Even in new locations, with a new cast of characters, we know where to locate ourselves -- obviously with the good guys.

     We would never pass by a wounded person on the road. We're the enlightened generation. We would never claim aloud how much more acceptable our prayer is than those around us -- we're welcoming and liberal, open to new thoughts, open to discussing other's opinions and ways of doing things. That's what love is all about -- right? Not that we necessarily "approve" of everything else someone does, but that we respect the individual, give credence to another's right to opinion and action; the world, after all, is big enough for diversity of opinion.

     As a United Methodist, I am open to a diversity of opinions in the church, open to range of theologies, range of interpretations, and find that approach is in tune with Jesus we discover in the Gospel stories, Jesus we know from this passage in Mark. Jesus did not set out a "right doctrine," or an affirmation of faith, or creed of belief. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus reinforced the monotheism of God -- the Lord is One, and immediately followed that with the necessity to love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself -- loving God, loving neighbor, loving self. Or, as the scribe says, it's better than burnt sacrifices.

     And, I see this through the Wesleyan mandate to "think and let think." In his sermon, "On the Catholic Spirit," John Wesley explains his understanding of what is important as we deal with diversity of theological opinion and tradition. In part, he says for instance, if your tradition baptizes infants, and my tradition holds with believerís baptism, then our traditions may be different, but if you hold Christ in your heart as I hold Christ in my heart, then "give me your hand". That is, the love of Christ is the most important tenet of faith.

     But, with all this Love fest, I am taken aback when Iím faced with situations in which "doing love" is the hardest thing I have ever done. How do I offer hospitality, for instance, to fellow United Methodists whose self-proclaimed goal is to re-define doctrinal purity in the UMC to be the equivalent of an oath of allegiance to the factual historicity of the Apostleís Creed. A group in the Church will bring petitions to the General Conference next May to do basically that -- to, among other things, require all ordained clergy adhere to a single set of beliefs of what that group calls "historic faith" of the church, to specifically do away with theological diversity.

     I have loved the United Methodist Church as a place where diversity of opinion and point of view could be shared and celebrated -- where it has been safe to really listen, to really share my own thoughts without fear of reprisal. How can I welcome those for whom this diversity is anathema, who would condemn my faith in Christ and make me unwelcome at the table?

     Doing love is hard. The love that Jesus calls us to is not always warm and cozy. Sometimes doing love means saying no, I wonít do this anymore. Sometimes doing love hurts more than the alternatives. Sometimes doing love means ending relationships -- relationships that you have poured your heart and soul into. Whether you are part of a church, a community a family, doing love is more than hearts and flowers of a wedding day -- itís about the work of a lifetime.

When we parent small children and set boundaries -- sometimes it does hurt us more than it hurts our children -- to put them in a time-out, to restrict their privileges. When they become teenagers or young adults living at home, if a situation merits, we set the rules for living in our home. And if there comes a time when the rules are shattered too often, that adult child must find another place to live. Thatís tough love, and itís hard. Sometimes, no matter how we try, relationships break apart, and one that we thought weíd live with forever ... well, the better part of love is ending that phase of relationship and moving on.

     Why are the radical messengers of this love, Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. killed? Their radical message of love threatens the powerful and the privileged. We all resist change. We resist radical change, radically. And such as these die.

     Sometimes love has to be hard. Sometimes its hard work.

     "Really loving" is choosing actions that follow one's convictions, and following through on those actions and convictions.

     "Really loving" isn't becoming a doormat for the abuse of others, even children or spouses.

     "Really loving" isn't pretending you have no limits on your time and energy, saying "yes" when you feel "no".

     "Really loving" isn't always fixing a problem. We can really care for another without being responsible to provide a solution.

     I love the story of the little girl who was late coming home. Her mother was scolding her when she said, "But, Mom, I was helping a friend who broke her doll." "Did you help her fix it?", the mother asked. "No", she replied, "I sat down and cried with her!"

     Lots of times, love is simply "being there" for another.

-------------------------comment out

     Sometimes it take a loving friend to hold up the mirror and say to another, "You've got a problem which is hurting you and others", even at the risk of making the friend mad.


     Sometimes it takes a spouse with the courage to say, "I want more than this, I want to change and grow with you, for love to return to our marriage".

     Love in practice can be a terrible and harsh thing compared to the love in dreams.

     Remember that next week when we take Holy Communion. In the sacrament we receive symbols of Christ's body and blood, broken and shed for us in his crucifixion. What a terrible and harsh price Jesus had to pay to finally convince the world of God's unconditional love for us.

     That love refuses to remain silent in the face of the sin in our lives. That love will challenge us to change and grow when we settle for anything less than what God wants us to be.

     Love is God's most precious gift to us in Jesus Christ, even when it doesn't feel like good news.


     * Thanks to Mark Bollwinkle's sermon of February 4, 2001 for some of the thoughts of this message

     [1] FishTales words and Music by Dirk Damonte, Copyright 1996, 1997 Excelsis Music, All Rights Reserved.