Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite said in the sixth century that in every creature, from dragonfly to behemoth, something of God’s inexhaustible nature is revealed, something that would not be revealed if that creature did not exist. At creation, God’s overflowing nature spills out of its bounds and out into every creature. Every living creature tells us something unique about God, so that in man and woman, for example, we see God’s very face and God’s vast intelligence; in the smiling chimpanzee we see something of God’s smirking sense of humor; in the wolverine we see something of God’s startling ferocity...; As you’ve heard from Katie and our fearless Advent candle lighters, Advent is going to be six weeks long starting today. Now you should know that most of Christendom…
It is our greatest joy and our greatest regret, our greatest meaning, our greatest purpose, our greatest goal. It is what we crave more than anything else in life. Paul knows this, so in I Corinthians 13, he dissects the common concept of love into its constituent parts to tell us why it is life’s greatest gift. Love is patient, he says. Love is kind, he says. Love is never envious or arrogant or boastful or rude, he says. But he saves the best for last. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things endures all things. Love never ends. Most of all, love is so precious because it is immortal.
On this All Saints’ Sunday, I feel that tension. Without love, there is no grief, says Amy Hollywood, or maybe she says, without grief, there is no love. Amy Hollywood’s great-grandmother died of what they called at the time “acute melancholia”—she died of a broken heart after her husband, brother, and more than one of her children died in quick succession. And so Amy Hollywood wonders what would have made it otherwise? She says that for her, the ones we refuse to lose enable us to live. In other words as we hold dear those we have lost, they help us live again. Is that true for you? The ones we have lost enable us, in their own way, to live? Weeks, months, years, decades later, the grief is somehow raw and whole again, and yet they are the ones who carry us through. Maybe grief is so meandering and serpentine because love is so deeply embedded within us.
All those translations get the point across, but they’re all negatives. They only tell us what Love is NOT. Let’s turn that negative into a positive: “Love is selfless,” or “Love is generous.” Paul doesn’t quite say this, but almost: it is impossible to be self-centered and loving at the same time. A loving person never celebrates a pinched and mean sufficiency, but always a lavish, overflowing extravagance.
Sometimes I tell my brides and grooms that “Love is not an emotion; it’s a policy.” You see what I mean, right? Emotions come and go, flash and fade, ebb and flow. Emotions are not reliable. But a policy is forever. A policy is an incorruptible promise. A policy is an infrangible covenant.
Love is joy. Love is a finding seeking kind of joy. Love does not find joy in iniquity. Love does not find joy in injustice. Love does not find joy in wrongdoing. When someone trips up, makes a mistake, love cannot rejoice. Love only rejoices in the truth. Jesus recognizes this kind of love in Nathaniel. He calls Nathaniel “the one in whom there is no guile.” Maybe it’s more like this: If the gospel of John were a movie, it would begin like a Star Wars film, Christmas Eve’s familiar words scrolling to set the scene…in the beginning was the word…. The theme music would follow cascading camera angles and you’d see a man out by a river inviting others into the river with him for some kind of sacred ritual. Maybe you’d be led to believe this was the main character. This fall we're preaching a sermon series called The Greatest of These about Paul's multi-faceted description of love in 1 Corinthians 13: If I speak in the tongues of…
I wanted to repeat what Oliver Cromwell wrote to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1650: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you might be mistaken.” Your wife might ask you a perfectly reasonable question, and you might answer with an attitude that suggests she really ought to know the answer without asking. “Who is Travis Kelce?” she might ask. “Only the most famous football player in America,” you might answer. In a million years, you would never condescend like that with anyone else in your life, but you are so secure in that relationship that you forget your manners.
Paul doesn’t quite say this, but almost: it is impossible to be loving and envious at the same time. If you love someone, you will never resent—or even want—their success or happiness. It’s often pointed out that Envy is the only deadly sin that’s no fun. The other deadly sins have some kind of reward. With Glut-tony and Lust, there’s a pleasant dopamine kick. If you have Pride, you feel good about yourself. With Greed, you get lots of stuff. If you’re slothful, you get to sleep till noon. Even Anger can be satisfying, but Envy is never any fun.
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