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1 Corinthians 13:1-13
You go to church. You drag the kids. You sing the songs and pray the prayers. The kids groan. If you’re lucky, the other parents bring their kids and all the children together become a tribe of wee wild ones.
You try to explain why gathering with other people in uncomfortable pews every Sunday is an important part of your life. You try to love each other. Sometimes you get so busy doing all the love things at church—making food, going to meetings, hosting coffee hour, giving rides, visiting in the hospital, sitting in silence beside the death bed, weeping over the grave—that you all but forget about the kids. And then you remember—and you hug them all the tighter and pray that, somehow, they’re seeing and feeling the love. You go on like this day after day, year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation.
And then one day, at the memorial service of one of those church folks who has died way too young, one of those former church kids—now a 29-year-old woman—approaches you as you stand in a semi-circle of other now-motley, middle-aged folks who can’t bear to say goodbye to one another.
“You all were such an important part of my growing up,” she says with a combination of deep joy and hard-earned maturity. “And so I want you to be the first ones after my parents to hear the news: I’m going to have a baby.”
Love is patient. It shows up unexpectedly and surprises you when you had all but given up on it. You may think all you did was for naught, that all your efforts were wasted, that the seeds you planted had died, and then suddenly you are eating the sweet fruit of a harvest you thought would never come.
While driving to work, you hear on the radio that the overnight temperature will drop to life-threatening lows. Before getting to the office, you pass an encampment of homeless folks. You can’t stop thinking about what might happen to them in the cold. You wonder what one person can do. And then you pull out your credit card, call a hotel, and begin reserving rooms. You post something on social media, and before you know it, there’s a whole group of people coming forward with their own credit cards and offers of food and transportation. Before you know it, 70 people have found warmth and refuge from the polar vortex. Seventy lives have been saved.
Because love is kind.
Life hasn’t always been easy for you—God knows you’ve had a lot to overcome. But you are white, heterosexual, educated and documented, and, if we’re being honest, just a little overweight. You see the Not Bread Alone guests huddled in the hallway on Sunday mornings, and you wonder about their lives. You remember that Jesus said something like “when I was hungry,” and “when I was a stranger,” and how whatever we do or don’t do for the least of these we do to him. So when Souper Bowl Sunday rolls around, you bring some non-expired food items to donate—and you write a check. And you think about volunteering in the kitchen some Saturday or Sunday or Wednesday.
Because love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
You know it’s not good for your blood pressure, but you just can’t turn off MSNBC and your best girl, Rachel Maddow. You get so fed up with what’s happening in this country, so angry at that man in the White House, that it takes all the love and discipline and intention you aren’t sure you have to not react to every outrage, to not adopt an us-versus-them worldview, to not post every petty thought and name-calling meme on Facebook.
Because love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.
Maybe you’re not so sure about churches providing sanctuary, but you witness the faith of Lucio Perez and see the love he has for his family, and you hate that they have to live apart from one another. Maybe you believe laws are meant to be followed, always, but then you hear about Eduardo Samaniego, and how this young undocumented immigrant and activist who landed in ICE detention because he got lost and took a cab but forgot his wallet. And, how, after being imprisoned for some 90 days, he has now been sent back to Mexico. You remember all those Old Testament scriptures—at least 34 of them—about taking care of foreigners. And you don’t know what to think any more.
Because love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
You think you could put up with the indignities of your own aging, but it is so hard to watch your partner suffer, so much worse than any “for better or worse” you could have imagined. You go to the endless appointments, you overlook the loss of memory or personality or capacity, you watch the decline, you sit by the bedside, you gladly give of yourself. But oh how you miss the better days.
You never knew your heart could hold as much love as it had for your child, and you never knew your heart could be as broken as your adult child has left it. It seems no amount of therapy, no new medication, no prayer without ceasing can heal your offspring’s pain, ease their struggles, or bridge the distance that separates you from them. And yet you cannot help but long for the day when you glimpse a familiar figure limping down the road toward you.
You hate Valentine’s Day. Maybe you struggle to accept your singleness, have a hard time believing you are lovable, aren’t comfortable with your sexuality or gender identity, or long ago stopped praying and hoping that the love of your life would come along.
But love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
You were created in love, by love, for love. And so it is that, despite your feigned nonchalance, your practiced cynicism, your constant eye-rolling, your sighing “whatevers,” you cannot help but love. There’s that certain piece of music that makes you weep. The sunset that takes your breath away. The dog or cat you cherish. The Red Sox and the Pats. The reverence you have for the very earth you stand on. Your worry for the future of the planet and the people who will suffer the consequences of how you live. Your longing for the beloved one who breathed their last many years ago.
Because love never ends.
You know by now that this over-used, wedding-cliche of a scripture passage has nothing to do with weddings or romantic love. By now you know that Paul was talking to members of a church who were struggling with roles and power and spiritual gifts. You understand that when Jesus spoke of love for God, love for neighbor, love even for our enemies, he wasn’t speaking of a feeling. He was talking about love in action, the kind that washes feet and hosts coffee hour and sleeps on a cot in a church basement so Lucio will not be alone, and works the bureaucracy to get help for a very disturbed person.
You know now, and you learn more all the time, that church is not just a community of people you love who love you, but also a collection of people who will rub you the wrong way, and annoy you to kingdom come, and teach you, in a thousand different ways, what love is all about. You now know, or you long to discover, that this is where you will find and feel and receive and give more love than you ever thought possible. You long to know the breadth and length and height and depth of this love, the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge, to be filled with all the fullness of God.
And now faith, hope, and love abide; and the greatest of these is love.