Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love is...........

Love is Patient….
So begins the well known and so called Love chapter in I Corinthians, a chapter often used at weddings and maybe referred to at Valentines Day, a card company’s treasure trove. However the people to whom it is was written weren’t getting married, nor was there a Valentine’s day. Corinth, a city that was a crossroads for both land and sea trade, situated between two large bodies of water and two land areas, virtually surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea. Were it not for the isthmus on which Corinth was founded, the southern part of Greece would be an island in the Mediterranean Sea. Goods exchanged between the north and south would normally be shipped by land through Corinth. Much of the sea trade of the Mediterranean from east to west also passed through Corinth. Think more like NY Fleet week meets Los Vegas. Yet there was a group of people following The Way or, as we now call them and us, Christians. Paul wrote to them because he was informed of a case of gross immorality in the church, one with which the church had not dealt. Instead of feeling shame and sorrow over this sin, at least some of them were proud of their tolerance (chapter 5). He heard also the believers taking their fellow-believers to court, seeking to have pagans pass judgment on spiritual matters (chapter 6). Paul was also told of unbecoming conduct at the Lord’s Supper (chapter 11) and of doctrinal error concerning the resurrection (chapter 15). A three-man delegation also arrived from Corinth (16:17) bringing a letter which inquired of Paul about marriage (7:1), virgins (7:25), food sacrificed to idols (8:1), spiritual gifts (12:1), the collection for the saints (16:1), and Apollos (16:12) these reports were not the loving, caring acts of followers of Christ that should be exhibited. Nor did they set the followers apart from the surrounding culture, they were not revealing the love of Christ as they should be.
Paul is writing to a very troubled church, a church which exists in the midst of a very corrupt city and culture. In spite of this, Paul has a very confident mood, in spite of the weaknesses and willful sins of these believers, he affirms the present and future benefits of faith.

Love is Kind.
Paul wanted the Corinth church to stand apart from the culture of gluttony and excess that surrounded them and show the true meaning of Love.
We, in English, have one word for a myriad of feelings from hamburgers, sports teams, weather, and relationships to parents and spouses – Love
There are three in Greek (and none of them apply to non-human things like food, sports, or barometric events)
Eros – easy to remember, the flush of first attraction, the feel of your heart skipping a beat when someone you are deeply attracted to walks into a room.
Philia – a close brotherly love, related or not to you, the “bro-mance” idea of today, women who have very close girlfriends can relate to philia.
Agape – the deep, unselfish, nurturing, sacrificial love. This is what Corinth was missing and needed clarification on.

Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
We can and do look back on this and believe we have conquered it – we know what love is. Do we? We come across people daily that have such a distorted view of love that funhouse mirrors would be envious. Reading a blog on sexuality and the church which is currently examining the book Torn by Justine Lee (an excellent book on rescuing the gospel from the gay vs. Christian debate, and a young evangelical man’s struggle with his homosexuality and trying to reconcile it with his traditions’ teaching) and than reading the comments (the moderator is vigilant in ensuring the comments are not inflammatory, dismissive or rude) and seeing peoples stories of love they encountered and used to justify heinous behavior. Beatings, rape, ridicule, bullying and it goes on.
We understand love? Even when Christians do understand love – all three facets of it – the people we encounter….. often do not. They have been harmed with the word, in the name of Christianity or its secular use and are, understandably, gun shy or dare we say love shy. They are not able to understand eros in it’s beautiful form and design, or philios in it’s camaraderie, and have completely lost the concept of unselfishness. Agape’.

It (love) does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

So where do we go from here, what can we say to those who have heard phrases like; “If you love me you would _______,” (fill in the blank), “If you loved us you wouldn’t be gay”, “You don’t know how to love because you are ugly/stupid.” or “No one would love you, you are ugly/stupid” over and over and over again – even if not in those same words but in actions and silences. How do we tell them of the Agape’ love of Jesus?

It (love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
If the word love is a trigger of fear like rape is to a survivor/victim, one that causes an immediate- rock in the pit of your stomach- feeling and a racing of the heart – can we use another word – one that can be understood as something that will transcend our human experience and yet has touched it, felt it and lived it. One commenter who had been repeatedly raped and was told it was done “in love” had that problem, she couldn’t hear the passage from 1 Corinthians and not flash to those images and feelings of pain and helplessness that were imbedded in her memory. Not only did that word give her those images but it also reminded her of what she did not experience and what she had lacked in (at that time) her life. Still healing she needed another word – she used God.

God is patient,
God is kind,
God is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude
He (God) does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable or resentful;
He (God) does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
He (God) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
God never ends

And now faith, hope, and God abide, these three; and the greatest of these is God.

How different God's love is from ours.

Thomas Merton writes:
“He Who is infinitely great has given to His children a share in His own innocence. He alone is the gentlest of loves: whose pure flame respects all things. God, Who owns all things, leaves them all to themselves. He never takes them for His own, the way we take them for our own and destroy them. He leaves them to themselves. He keeps giving to them, giving them all that they are, asking no thanks of them save that they should receive from him and be loved and nurtured by him, and that they should increase and multiply, and so praise him. He saw that all things were good, and He did not enjoy them. He saw that all things were beautiful, and he did not want them. His love is not like ours. His love is non possessive. His love is pure because it needs nothing.”

1 Corinthians 13: 4-13 (NRSV)
“4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 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 an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. “