12 Jan 2014
“If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2)
In the name …
Last Sunday we spoke about the church beginning every new year by turning it over to the Holy Spirit. There are very few Sundays where the liturgical colour is red, the colour of the Holy Spirit. But the Sunday after the New Year, as we pointed out last week, is one of those special occasions. As the church looks toward the unknown of a brand new year, she invokes the presence of God. This is the idea of at-one-ment that is at the center of the Christmas mystery of God with us.
Now on the First Sunday after Epiphany, once again always located at the beginning of a new year, we hit upon another constant theme of the church, the idea of Christian love. We began the new year by first invoking the Holy Spirit to help us and be with us, and now we are inspired to do our part by First Corinthian 13’s hymn of Christian love. If you get to go to any church weddings this year, you may well hear 1 Corinthians 13 being read. It is a beautiful and inspiring Christian message about love and it sounds so natural as two people exchange their wedding vows. But 1 Corinthians 13 wasn’t written for the special occasion of weddings. It was written for the ordinary life of the church. All of the beautiful sounding words of 1 Corinthians 13 aren’t supposed to be limited to a couple just beginning their married life together. If you read the chapter before and after these words, you can see in an instant that love is supposed to be the motive in everything that the church and church people do.
And boy the world needs such a church and church people now more than ever. I heard radio interviews this past week with veterans of the battles of Falujah, Iraq. The Americans had pushed Al Qaeda out of that city years ago. Now Al Qaeda is back and the people of Falujah are terrified. Decades of war continue unabated because people have not learned that violence leads to more violence. In Syria and in South Sudan, again just from this past week’s news, allies who once fought beside each other are now fighting against each other because they only know how to deal with disagreements through violence. Travel advisories have been issued concerning the Winter Olympics in Russia. The Olympics were once a chance to put violence aside. Now when the world comes together it is an attention-getter for groups who can survive only through bloodshed.
Far less threatening, but still emerging from a similar motive, is the politics of revenge that has been front page news out of New Jersey all week. Some politicians down there didn’t care about the inconvenience and possible endangerment to tens of thousands of people as they created a traffic nightmare in order to punish political opponents. This probably happens all the time, but not in such a stupid fashion as this. But this still remains an example of how common retribution is in our world. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus’ enemies had come to capture and crucify Him, one of Jesus’ disciples took out a sword to defend Jesus. Immediately Jesus commanded, “‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.’” (Matt. 26:52) The Roman Empire that lived by the sword died by the sword 17 hundred years ago. Jesus’ message is still here.
But the church and church people need to remember that message now more than ever. There are increasing percentages of people who choose not to belong to church any more. The reasons run the gamut, but I think a lot of it has to do with the disconnect between church and Christian love. 2,000 years ago Christians were singing in their churches: “If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) Church wasn’t so much about knowledge of doctrine or surprisingly even faith, which I find absolutely remarkable. Church was about love.
From way in the back of the church someone has shared with me an article from the Christian magazine Sojourners. It was published on New Year’s Day and the article was titled “14 Things the Church Needs to Do in 2014.” The first bullet made chronological sense: Review what happened in 2013. See what worked and do more of it. See what failed and throw it out. But I think the priority of message was found in bullet number 2: “Honestly answer the question: ‘Why in world would anyone want to come to this church?’” That’s a scary question. If it can’t be answered, then the church is in deep dodo. And if the answer doesn’t have much to do with Christian love, then we’re still in deep dodo because without it the Bible says we are nothing. There’s a lot of intolerance and violence being taught in the world. Now more than ever the world needs church to be church. This involves a church’s theology and it also involves the church’s people. Hodur pushed this church of ours in the direction of Christian love, and there are a slew of examples, one of which is that we begin each new year with 1 Corinthians 13.
But the rubber hits the road in the way we live. “Why in the world would anyone want to come to this church?” is going to be answered more by the way we act in this parish and the way we act on the street than anything we teach. And if there is 1 Corinthian 13’s Christian love here, then we won’t need to be scared by the question. We can be surprised by it! And if we’re surprised by it, then this church has the duty to grow because the world needs this kind of a church more now than ever. That Christian love may define us ever better, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo