1 Corinthians 13:1-3
(watch here: https://youtu.be/LzvZ2__Zg8k)
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am 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 as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a husband and wife who had been married for 60 years and had no secrets except for one. The woman kept in her closet a shoe box that she forbade her husband from ever opening. But when she was on her deathbed—and with her blessing—he opened the box and found a crocheted doll and $95,000 in cash. “My mother told me that the secret to a happy marriage was to never argue,” she explained. “Instead, I should keep quiet and crochet a doll.” Her husband was touched. Only one doll was in the box—that meant she’d been angry with him only once in 60 years. “But what about all this money?” he asked. “Oh,” she said, “that’s the money I made from selling the dolls.”
I love jokes like that because they make light of how two people can stay committed to each other and love each other for so many years. Maybe that wife had been angry with her husband so many times that she was able to accrue a nice little stash of money, maybe not. But the implication is that to make something last for 60 years involves a whole lot of patience and forgiveness and channeling frustration. Nothing lasts forever. Few things last very long anymore. The reality of a 60-year marriage is less and less common these days. We can’t help but be intrigued by them and wonder at how they’re even possible. We chuckle at that wife’s little secret and how she was able to endure so much silent suffering yet at the same time we acknowledge the truth of her reality. Of course that’s the way two people can stay committed to each other for so long! Patience, forgiveness, steadiness, and a little bit of clever channeling. It’s the only way. Well, that and a pretty strong dose of love. You don’t tolerate the incongruities of a long-term relationship without love. Two people, each with their own rhythms and lifestyles and hopes and dreams, can only share their lives with love and lots of it. Ask anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship and what their secret to it was: love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and empathy…over and over and over and over. It’s constantly finding ways to channel frustration and dissatisfaction and choosing to love and forgive. Of course that’s the secret to a long relationship!
Whoever came up with this reading for today was pretty devious because they stopped it just short of Paul’s famous verses on love, the ones that begin, “love is patient; love is king; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant.” And yet these first three verses of the 13th chapter have a unique wisdom to reflect on. Paul suggests that no matter what he does, if he doesn’t do it with love then he is distracting, is nothing, and gains nothing. If we don’t act with love in all that we do, then we are a distraction to those around us who are seeking nothing more than love and purpose and validation. We all want to be loved and validated in this life. We’re all seeking it out from ourselves, those around us, and God himself. We want to be loved…we need to be loved. It’s just a part of being human. We’re all seeking some type of love from the moment we’re born until the moment we die. I can never forget the studies performed on babies that are removed from their mother or father or any source of love right out of the womb. They’re kept alive with food and water and shelter but are utterly deprived of any type of love and affection and tenderness in the days and weeks after birth. Do you know what happens to them? They die. Even when our basic needs are met, we still need some type of love to survive. An infant is incapable of loving themselves or being aware of God’s love so they must rely solely on those around them to provide that love. Even so, the love of others can be so fickle and unreliable. Heck, the love we have for ourselves is fickle and unreliable! None of us love ourselves unconditionally. None of us love others unconditionally. The only one that can love unconditionally is God. God has been loving us for a long time and will continue loving us for a long time. God loves a lot longer than 60-year marriages! God’s been in a marriage with us for a long time and it doesn’t look like He wants to divorce us any time soon. Sure, He might get angry with us, frustrated with us. Who knows how many dolls He’s crocheted over the years! What size of stash does He have nestled away some way?!
Well, that’s how we are to love each other and ourselves–by his standard. We are to continually reflect on how He loves us unconditionally and unceasingly and then seek to mimic it in loving ourselves and those around us. I am thankful for people with long, committed relationships not because I am in awe of their love and patience and forgiveness but because they reveal God’s love and patience and forgiveness. They’ve tapped into something God’s been doing for a long time now. God’s been loving us a long time! We can either tap into that love or simply shut up. Paul understood this as we heard in our reading. We are nothing and have nothing without love. We’re just a distraction like a loud, clanging cymbal. Who wants to be nothing, have nothing?! Worse yet, who wants to be a distraction?! I don’t want any of that! I want to tap into his love and share his love. I want to live in his unconditional, unending love.
God wants each of us to know his love and live in it. John wrote in his first letter, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (4:7-8) Friends, God is love and wants us to share in his love. God is steadfast in love. As we hear from the prophet, Jeremiah, “The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” (31:3) God is faithful and true in love. Why? Because He keeps his covenant with us. God will not abandon us or forsake us. God didn’t abandon us on the cross. He simply went away for a while to conquer sin and death. But He came back to us and remains with us. We can’t hold it against him–look at how much we’ve gained from his sacrifice! We live because He died!
And so we come back to the Easter message. Love…God’s love…God’s unconditional, unending love…a love that creates and sustains new life. A love that is true and selfless and forgiving and compassionate. We hear in Deuteronomy, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (7:9) Let us love him, love each other, with the same degree of commitment and resolution. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.