From the Preacherman….
I Corinthians 13 is a text often associated with weddings. Preachers will tell you that these words are the ones most couples request to be read at their marriage ceremonies. And why not? Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or arrogant or boastful or rude, says Paul in verses 4-5, and we are carried away to a time of sweet memories in halcyon days. If only life could be so good all the time….
We do well to remember what else is in that chapter, however. When I was a child I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult I put aside childish ways (13:11). Gulp. This ancient poem, usually read for its ephemeral beauty and charming sentimentality, actually has a hard edge. Put aside childish ways is not just a suggestion, but an order: Grow up.
Thus, we see that this is not merely sweet Scripture to be shared wistfully, but a text purposefully used by Paul to deal with deep and abiding conflict in the church in Corinth. They didn’t like each other very much in that church and Paul does not care. After all, Jesus didn’t command them to like one another. He did command them to love one another. And that is completely different.
Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing, compared to love in dreams, said the poet William Stafford. That’s just the truth, and it is good news that it is, because we need that harsh and dreadful thing right now. Life is harder than most of us have ever seen it, ever hope to see it. Pandemic, political strife, confronting racism, trillions of locusts in Africa and the Middle East, dust clouds from the Sahara Desert, Godzilla in the Gulf of Mexico. Ok, I made that last one up. But we wouldn’t be surprised, would we? Hard days, difficult days. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It better.
This I know from my life as a Christian and pastor: We will find God in the struggle. That is the truth of the story of ancient Israel and of Jesus. God is present in the illness, the pain, the struggle, the suffering and the loss. God is fully present in the worst places we can imagine. And we don’t even need to imagine. We are living in those days.
Why would Paul drop these sweet words into I Corinthians 13? Because they are words of iron, ringing loudly with honesty and hope. We need them now, more than ever. Peace….Chris.