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1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 6:20-31


I avoided using my wedding picture as a show and tell with the kids, because we don’t need to expose them to that dominant reading of 1Corinthians 13. With the adults, the damage is done. Who had this passage read at your wedding? Who can’t remember your wedding but probably did have this reading? Well, Paul is not talking about a wedding here. There’s no string quartet or tulle. Careful readers will know that Paul was not especially romantic; he doesn’t seem to have been a fan of rainbows and cake. Here he has been arguing about who gets status in the church, whose gifts matter. The answer is that whatever your gifts, using them in love is more important than the particulars.

That is to say, perhaps Paul may be talking about marriage here after all. Not the wedding, but the marriage that comes after it. Our wedding photos show people with much left to learn as their love grows over time. Their affection typically grows over time too, and that’s great, but love is more than just affection. The real self-giving and sharing of life happens over years, not once for all. The family is a practice field for love. Life together slowly pulls us off center, and it’s a good thing we don’t know how much, or there would be no wedding pictures to talk about. Love is not about feeling nice, it’s about making us into new people.

I’m not sure Jesus would preach at a wedding, either (besides, he’d be too busy setting up the bar for the reception). His teaching today us not romantic, let alone practical. He rejoices with the poor and hungry, warns the joyful, and calls us to love our enemies. In all that, what about our families? This is not to mention the all-too-many marriages where one partner is told to “turn the other cheek” when it comes to literal violence – may that never be.

Instead, Jesus talks about the world’s structure, where power determines how we relate to each other. In the Roman world, wealth, citizenship, and class status gave certain people license to treat others unbelievably poorly. The structure is not so different in our own world: while it’s generally less violent, it’s often just as divided. Jesus upsets how our world deals with relationships. He undercuts nuggets of cultural wisdom like, “fool me twice, shame on me,” and the self-help language of “boundaries.” We relate in those ways because we know people violate each other, so we live as if we’re the ones who must protect ourselves from others. I’m not sure we should call it self-help so much as self-defense. Jesus upsets this world of self-defense by calling us into a world where we don’t have to defend ourselves, because love and faithfulness reign.

The crazy thing is that we can enter this new world without leaving the old. We can choose to stop defending ourselves, even though the world is still a dangerous place. The trick is to know why it’s dangerous. It’s because we’re all on our guard. We’re all defending ourselves from other people’s defenses, and that’s a recipe for greater mistrust. So in national security, we stand ready to use deadly force just in case someone else tries to hurt us because they’re scared we’ll kill them. Or in the economy, we try hard to grow consumer spending so there’s money next year so we can spend even more. Or while we’re out there spending, we have to race into the checkout line so no one else can take it.

We know this is world broken. It’s not making us happier, better, or more whole. So Jesus offers us a way out. We can quit fighting and defending ourselves, not because we trust people unrealistically, but because instead we trust the One whose love ultimately defends us. Jesus chose that exit. He trusted God better than anyone, and it went just as you’d expect: his love for his enemies took Jesus through death and into life. Jesus’ new life is among us when we build our world on love and trust.

You may have noticed that I’m not talking about marriage anymore. I never was talking about just one kind of relationship. This choice applies in all spheres of life: will we base our lives on suspicion and defensiveness or courage and trust? Forms of relationship will vary by context, but in general, Jesus describes relationships where we share with each other’s needs and understand each other’s fears. That’s compassion. It’s not a wishy-washy submissiveness; rather, it’s a clear-eyed understanding of the other and the willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt. Ultimately, we’re not talking about any limited relationship here. We’re talking about the entryway into God’s perfect realm. So may we claim Christ’s Spirit of love, in these words:

Affirmation of Faith (from A Brief Statement of Faith)

In a broken and fearful world
the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.

In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit,
we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks
and to live holy and joyful lives,
even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth,
praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”

Invitation to Sharing

Now we invite you to practice this love, knowing that our attempts at love are indeed love, a real part of God’s eternal and ongoing work. We welcome your financial giving – in the offering plate to support the overall life of the church, in the green envelopes to support the ministry of the Deacons, or in the soup pots after worship to support the Souper Bowl of Caring.

More important, we welcome the commitment of yourself to move toward new relationships in your own life. You might identify a relationship that gets your defenses up, then resolve to trust God more than your own fears and make a move toward greater love in that relationship. The goal is not to make the other party love you, but to become more loving yourself. As the offering plate comes by, take a moment to entrust that act to God even before you do it.

The rest of what we do this morning warms up for that work. We give something away, without a return in mind, so we can love people who can’t love us back. We share at the table of Communion so we can feel the connection between sharing and receiving, welcoming and being welcomed. May we see, and may we become, love in form and action.