Benediction Online

Sunday, January 31, 2010

1 Corinthians 13

Love is all you need.

It’s a wonderfully appealing and romantic message. Love is all you need. ‘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.’ Love is all you need.

Unfortunately we use the word love in so many different ways that we can’t be sure that 0John Lennon and the Apostle Paul were actually talking about the same thing. Even if they were totally in sync with one another across the centuries, what Love means to each one of us will be different depending on our experiences and understandings of love.

For example there’s a difference between love which is a sweet, exciting feeling that draws you towards another person and the love that leads a parent to tell a young addict that they’re not welcome at home until they get clean. Romantic love and tough love. Very different things.

We tend to bring together the message of love that we hear in the Gospel of Christ and assume that it’s talking about the same thing as popular culture. I don’t think it is, and the problem with assuming that romantic songs and the Scriptures are talking about the same thing is that we then don’t hear what’s really being said.

So let’s think about love in the culture around us for a few minutes. Most songs are about romantic love. They are about the attraction between two people that is a deep instinctual erotic force which can be the most creative human energy, but also the most destructive. Romantic love is very much about feelings. It’s about how I feel and how I hope you feel too. There’s no denying that it’s sweet and lovely when fully reciprocated between two people but it is often ultimately superficial. Marriages based only on romantic love without a firm basis in shared values and shared vision rarely last long. Because the feeling doesn’t last in the same way, and when it does linger it is because it is fanned and fueled by other aspects of the couple’s relationship.

Popular love is easy. It comes when you meet someone, perhaps when you just see them. It seems like an external force, something that sweeps us up and we have little choice but to follow our bliss.

When people tell me, ‘All we need is love’, I imagine that’s the kind of love that they’re thinking about – a nice warm feeling that makes everything better, eases relationships and helps everyone be happy. It’s a love based in feeling, and most feelings are transient.

Jesus told us to love one another as he loved us. The characteristics of Jesus’ love were that he gave of himself and he forgave. I imagine that knowing Jesus must have been an incredible experience of being known and seeing yourself in a different way through his eyes and as a result of his love. Living in a family or community calls out these qualities of love. To give and to forgive. To be loved and to be forgiven.

This is the kind of love that we need and long for. Mutual giving and forgiving.

Our society tends to hold grudges. The political world of partisanship depends upon stirring up resentment, reminding people of what they don’t like, of what hasn’t been done, of promises broken and generating fear about tomorrow. All in the service of making the world a better place. But in the process the seeds of hatred and distrust are sown, day in and day out.

Here are the headlines from the New York Times today:

· G.O.P. Hits Its Stride, but Faces Rifts Over Ideology

· U.S. Speeding Up Missile Defenses in Persian Gulf

· Site for Terror Trial Isn’t Its Only Obstacle

All of them refer to conflict and fear.

So we have a daily diet of conflict, fear and resentment, and the love which the popular culture has to counter that is romantic love combined with a degree of altruism. That’s not the kind of love we need.

Last week I talked about the importance of being able to disagree – of being able to tolerate different opinions. Today I want to add the importance of love in that picture. Not necessarily the feeling of love. When your feelings are running high and someone is stubbornly refusing to see things your way, feelings of love are usually quite distant. But love gives and forgives. ‘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.’

This is our challenge within the community of faith and within our families, that we love in the way that Jesus loved us – giving and forgiving even though we may clearly see the other person’s limitations. This is where healing happens.

It is this kind of healing love that will change the world. It is hard for us to withstand the pressure to see everything in oppositional terms of them versus us when that is the way our leaders operate, exacerbated by the media. Giving and forgiving rarely sell newspapers or draw people to websites. Yet giving and forgiving are more powerful than conflict and fear.

This is our calling as people of God. The first great commandment is to love God, the second is to love one’s neighbor as oneself. Even the neighbor you don’t like.

All you need is love.


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