8 Jan 2012
“If I … do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (1 Cor. 13:1) (+)
You know, we’ve made Christian love cute. It’s become a poster of a fluffy kitten or a cuddly puppy. We’ve tried to lock 1 Corinthians 13 and today’s inspiring hymn of Christian love in the wedding ceremony of the church. How hard is it to talk about love when you have a couple at the altar so much in love with each other that they’re ready to spend the rest of their lives together? We’ve neutered it. We’ve made it tame. We’ve taken the fire out of it. We’ve taken the fight out of it. We’ve made it easy. This is why Bp. Hodur inserted this reading in the first ordinary Sunday of the new year, to correct this timid kind of Christian love. Christian love is where the church begins. It’s where our own spiritual identity starts. It’s the first step of everything we do as church and as Christian. Without it we’re nothing but a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Last week we were driving out to Webster for our winter youth outing. Went candlepin bowling. It’s a stupid sport. Katie Nault, an eight year old, she beat me. See that’s Christian love. I should have let her hitch-hike home, but Christian love made me be nice and drive her back to SD. And as we were driving past Ludlow on the Mass Pike, on our way out to Webster, one of the kids in the van commented on the fact that Burger King and McDonald’s were located right next to each other. But that happens a lot. If one fast-food restaurant does the research and finds a good place to build, you can bet others will follow. In real estate it’s all about “location, location, location.”
And the same is also true in the Bible. To read any passage out of context is dangerous. It can let you have the Bible say what you want it to say rather than what God wants it to say. “Location, location, location.” If we look at the location of 1 Corinthians 13 and the hymn to Christian love, we find it smack dab in the middle of Paul’s advice about the Body of Christ, the church, the community of believers. He begins by talking about the Eucharist and then moves on to other Body of Christ, the church, that all of us in the Spirit come together with different graces and gifts for the good of the whole. The gifts are always shared for the good of the whole, but even 2,000 years ago the gifted sometimes thought of themselves as better than the whole. So as Paul listed all of the gifts that make the church possible – apostles, prophets, teachers, healers and leaders, he then said in the last verse of chapter 12: “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” And then comes the hymn to Christian love that we read earlier.
The Body of Christ as the Eucharist and the Body of Christ as the church all crumble and fall apart if the “more excellent way” of Christian love is lacking. It is the first step we must take as church and Christian, and it must be a part of all that we do as church and Christian. This is why 1 Corinthians 13 can’t be locked away in a wedding ceremony. This is why Bp. Hodur insisted that it be read at the first opportunity of each new year.
But how is even this kind of Christian love not just cute and cuddly? Let me try and give an example through the words of a foul-mouthed comedian by the name of Lenny Bruce because sometimes it takes the judgment of someone with distance to get perspective. Lenny Bruce, foul-mouthed Lenny Bruce, did a particular stand-up act about Christ and Moses coming to New York City. I have the link included on the web-sermon (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-J4O-6hANU). They’re standing at the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. A magnificent, glorious building. The Cardinal is delivering a poetic sermon about love, giving and forgiveness, and says Lenny Bruce from the stage, “And Christ was confused because their route took them through Spanish Harlem. Christ was wondering why 40 Puerto Ricans were living in one room while the Cardinal had on a ring that cost $8,000.” We can change the titles and the churches all we want. This isn’t against anyone or any church in particular. This is against the cute and cuddly idea of Christian love. Lenny Bruce was talking about Christ and Moses as humble and wise, as concerned and loving, and as also confused by the fact that churches were beautiful, clean and warm while outside of the churches were the sick, lonely and cold. It’s one thing to talk about Christian love. It’s a lot harder to live Christian love.
If we only pull out 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings, we do it and us a great disservice. This is why Bp. Hodur put it here. A hundred years ago Bp. Hodur considered the work of this church to be as vital at worship as it was when she cared for, encouraged and educated the poor and the immigrant. The kingdom of God isn’t only in heaven. It’s what we’re supposed to be building here on earth. Last Sunday the Boston Globe named US Attorney Carmen Ortiz as Bostonian of the Year. She brought former Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to justice, who happened to be just one of many state politicians who were caught using their public office for their own enrichment. “Power itself was on trial,” said the Globe. About her work a colleague said: “It was God’s work.” It was about ideals, fairness and honesty in the face of pride, injustice and lies. And maybe it is “God’s work.” Maybe whatever we are called to do in life, we are called to do as “God’s work.” Whatever our occupation, maybe we can do it with Christian love. Mother Theresa once turned down a woman who was an artistic director of a small theater company here in the US. The woman wanted to go to Calcutta and help there. Mother Theresa told her to love people by loving her job. There are tens of thousands of ways to love, to make our lives and our world a better, more fulfilling place. May we find how Christ wants us to love in His name, and may our worship and our faith help us to love in His name. Christian love begins with Christ and can never be fulfilled without Him. So from this place may God’s work of love and kingdom of love spread forth. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo