Saturday, 30 January 2016

Not this again.

For Jan. 31, 2016 Jeremiah 1:4-10, Ps 71:1-6, 1 Cor. 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

The love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, causes pastors preparing for a wedding service to sigh and think (if not say out loud) "not this again!"

It's not that it isn't a beautiful poem, it is. It's not that it isn't thought provoking, it is. It's not that it isn't continually challenging, it is. It's not that it is inappropriate for a wedding, it is.

The problem is that it is often misused. Not co-opted in any grand sense, just subtly massaged into something shallower than it was meant to be. It gets used for a purpose other that for what is was originally intended. Paul did not preach the love poem to star-crossed individuals whose love felt immutable, it was not the beginning of a journey together, it was not celebrating something that was already happening.

Paul preached this to a troubled community. Instead of newly weds, Paul is preaching to a bunch of people who are like married couples with the "seven year itch". They've been together long enough that the idealism has worn off and the warts are showing. Take a look at the preceding chapters.Here's an excerpt from chapter 11:

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter!

The Corinthians were not treating each other well. They were fighting, hoarding, and playing power games. They were valuing some people and their talents above others (see ch. 12). All in all, there was a lot of "unlovely" going on in the church.

Paul preaches 1 Corinthians 13 as a challenge, a hopeful ideal to stand in place of the dysfunctional reality of the fractional church. Instead of chastising them, Paul encourages them to reach for something better. Instead of focusing on the negatives of their behaviour, he calls out what is positive. He calls out those behaviours that will strengthen the ties between people and bring out the strengths of individuals for the good of the whole.

I think this is a great passage to preach to couples and communities who are "itching" at the midpoint of their relationship journey. They have something good, but they've been together long enough that they haven't quite lived up to the idealism of vision statements and vows, their dreams haven't quite come true, and their differences are now in the forefront and irritations have pushed them into taking all the good things in their relationship for granted.

By focusing on what real love is, at the midpoint, Paul reminds the community that their greatest asset is real love, the kind of living with each other that continues to build for a long lasting common good, not just for ephemeral happy feelings and unrealistic (but addictive) dreams.

1 Corinthians 13 is an amazing message for those of us who are tired, or itching in the middle of frustrations. It is a real encouragement, a lifting up of each other, and a resetting of perspective that cannot help but strengthen whole communities.

It's not that I don't like preaching this at weddings, I do. And at those weddings, in the crowd, there are so many of us itching and needing this again and again.

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