“Action Into Love”
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Posted by Elk Grove Presbyterian Church on Sunday, May 17, 2020
1Corinthians 13: 1-3
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
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I am quite sure that when I just read this passage from 1 Corinthians the 13th chapter most of you found these verses to be very familiar. Why yes of course…this passage in 1 Corinthians is one of the most popular scripture verses to be read at weddings. You’ll remember that if I just read a few more verses further down, we will hear more about love; how love is patient, how love is kind, how love does not envy, does not boast…it seems the right passage to be read at weddings doesn’t it? This love that we experience with another person, a love that compels us to commit our lives to another, a love that we hope and pray we will be this kind of lofty love that endures throughout our life together.
But here is the truth, Paul is writing this letter to the whole church of Corinth, a letter for the community, not for a few people or two people entering into marriage, no his letter is to be read to everyone, no exclusions and from last week we will remember that the Christians in Corinth are in conflict with one another, disagreeing, bickering, taking sides, divided among themselves. These words this morning about love are written to people who might not even like each other or those who consider themselves to be on opposite sides…how appropriate for today! We have to stop here a minute and think about this. Paul is asking them to love everyone regardless of their connection or affiliation, regardless if they are friends or foes, neighbors or strangers. That is HARD! It downright seems impossible! It is clear that Paul is talking about this different kind of love a love that is for all people for all relationships, for all our brothers and sisters. Paul certainly presents a challenge for us this morning, he lifts up to us a very high benchmark for how we are to live in community among one another with love as the driving force. This is a benchmark that is difficult to attain even in relationships that we are committed to. We know even with our dearest, closest family members and friends, it is hard to love one another sometimes And it’s important to point out that Paul is not ambivalent or indecisive about the intention he is making about love being our sole motive and consistent outcome; the goal we are to attain. It’s not like he is saying, “try to love others, I know it’s hard but give it a good try anyway,” or “love those who love you back or at least love those who are easy to love.” No, that would be far too easy, not requiring any effort on our part. it is clear that Paul is lifting up a love that is universal and all encompassing…what he is really saying is that love is everything and without love we are nothing.
Where do we go from here? What is the starting place for accomplishing this expansive love for all? We all know that one of our greatest barriers is learning to love ourselves. If we can’t love ourselves we can’t love others. Richard Rohr says this about the gift of really loving ourselves. “Love is who you are. When you don’t live according to love, you are outside of being. You’re not being real. When you love, you are acting according to your deepest being, your deepest truth. You are operating according to your dignity.” Do you believe this about yourself? Do you believe that love is truly who you are? Why is it that it is so hard to believe that you and me, all of us together are naturally lovable and dearly loved unconditionally by God? Again, Richard Rohr has something to say about this in his book Teachings on Love, he says we have difficulty believing God loves us because we were taught that God loves us if and when we change, but he says in fact, God loves us, God loves us so that we can change.” I like what he is saying here, God loves us so that we can change!
But it’s not so easy to believe that God really loves us, for the world has told us lies about ourselves, lies about how we’re not good enough, how we are always falling short, how we are so greatly flawed. We are held in the trap of constantly remembering the mistakes we have make, the regrets from years past, the heaviness of it all holds us down, blocks God’s love.
So, if love is who we are, how do we learn to live out of our real self, our loving self? How can we discover that deepest part of us where love lives? How can we embrace the truth that we are lovable and able to be lovable even to those who are outside of our small circle of family and friends?
First it begins by realizing that we need God to help us erase the past that burdens us. We must ask and trust that God can and will work in our hearts to break us free, to open our very selves to the love God has for us. The second part, the part Paul is requesting us to do, the part about loving all people takes some intentionality on our part. I discovered accidently how this love can be cultivated. The past few weeks I have been working at the food pantry. Now the dedicated volunteers who have been working at this pantry for years, don’t really need me, they have a perfected system for packing up the food and distributing it to our clients. But they tolerate me, they tolerate me standing there doing little things here and there, helping them lift bags of groceries, wiping down the carts, and I am thankful for they continue to teach me so much about loving others, loving whoever walks through the doors.
This is what I see, I watch how our volunteers greet our clients by their first names. They know them! This is critical! Even with masks covering all our faces, our volunteers know almost every single person who comes in, except of course the new clients coming to us now. Our volunteers ask about specific things going on in their lives; their children, their grandchildren, their health, their needs. You see the clients who come to our church aren’t strangers; they are not unknowns just coming in for food, they have become part of our community, they have become friends who our volunteers deeply care about. We try to give our clients the special foods they like, we have conversations with them like they are our neighbors and friends. Standing back watching these interactions I’ve come to realize that the food pantry clients know we love them. If fact just this last week one client told me this was her favorite food pantry because we really care about her. And the amazing thing about love is it’s contagious. Our clients show concerns and care for our volunteers. Asking how they can help, how they can contribute.
It’s the kind of love Paul if talking about to those in Corinth. He knows that it will be the very actions that will become a witness of the love. And that this love is possible because they are united in their faith, connected to the living God. So, it is true for us today, our actions become a witness of our love. And I even believe that when we struggle with our own sense of being loved…our actions in serving others can transform our hearts as well. It is a mutual experience; in serving our food pantry clients, they experience our love but we, the ones serving them, discover God’s love within us at our deepest place. There are many ways we can move into action, many ways to serve God’s people even during this COVID-19 time. Find a way to serve others and let your hearts be transformed by love. Action into love, God leads the way.
I’d like to finish with a poem by Jan Richardson in her book Circle of Grace.
May you remember that beloved is where you begin, and beloved is where you will end, and beloved is what you will always be. And may that give you courage for the journey ahead and courage to return to the God who loves you.