1 Corinthians 13: 1-13
Glebe Road United Church
Imagine you are outdoors, perhaps on a well traversed trail through the woods, or on a river moving through the streaming waters. Surrounded by the beauty and wonder that is creation you come upon an open field, sunlight streams upon the grass that bends from the gentle breeze. As you feel the caress of the wind upon your face you see a tall tent with its entrance open wide and tall enough for anyone to enter.
Above the entrance you see a sign that says “the tent that keeps no record of wrongs, all welcome.” It is a tent that is almost magical, for anyone who enters it every wrong they have ever done, every regretted word spoken in anger, every failure, does not exist in that tent. It is a tent that keeps no record of wrong. It is a tent of perfect love.
As you approach the entrance about to cross the threshold you look down and see the journal that you carry. It the journal it lists every wrong someone has committed against you, every broken relationship, betrayal and words of hurt. As you look up at the sign above the entrance again and look at the journal, it becomes clear; if you enter the tent, you have to drop and let go of the journal, because this is the tent that keeps no record of wrong. It is a tent of perfect love. The dilemma is, “Do you enter the tent?”
I ask this question tentatively. It is a difficult one. In full disclosure this exercise is not of my own making but one I experienced as part of a course I took some years ago. It is an image that has stayed with me, and one where my answer changes depending where I am in my life. This image is of course inspired by the reading from 1 Corinthians, a letter written to the church in Corinth by Paul, known as the Hymn of Love. It is a piece of scripture that you have likely heard before, probably at a wedding. And while it is a beautiful piece of scripture when heard at weddings, it really, I mean really, is not about romantic love. As much as we might wish this described what a marriage is or even could be, it is just not based in reality, and can set up unrealistic notions of love between partners
Paul is writing a letter as mentioned to the church in Corinth, and this is from chapter 13 as part of a longer section in dealing with disputes within the Corinth church. In reality there was a stark divide in the Corinth church over spiritual gifts and the over emphasis of some gifts over others. There are other well known readings from the 1 Corinthians, about the variety of gifts that are given by Holy Spirit and that unity of the body of Christ which has many members but are interdependent on one another. After writing about these topics Paul comes up with hymn to love, that presents both the challenge and rewards of self-giving love; that all the spiritual gifts, programs, live streams, committees mean nothing if they are not grounded in love. That we ought to pursue love even amid differences and dissent.
The challenge of this love, is that it is not passive, we just don’t get to receive the love that is patient and kind but are called to give it. Love is a verb. As one commentary notes “love is a collection of intentional actions.” This is lost somewhat in translation from Paul’s original text. all the words he uses to describe love are verbs, these descriptions might be better translated along the lines of, “Love waits patiently; love acts kindly.”
Love that keeps no record of wrong can mean both the wrong we do and others do to us, are not recorded. But does it also mean to simply forgive and forget? Too often the church and we as followers of Christ respond to evil and injustice with well, “the bible says we should forgive people,” and if love keeps no record of wrong then people “just need to get over it.” I want to suggest that love without accountability, or to use another theological churchy word, repentance, is not Christian love. Notice that immediately after the line of record of no wrong Paul follows this with “Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in truth.” Other translations say “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Love is a verb, it is active, it rejects evil, and speaks the truth no matter how difficult it may be.
Paul’s most quoted words and some of the most known biblical words are all in a letter he writes to a church almost 200 years ago. Have you ever wondered why so much of the New Testament, what Christians consider sacred and holy scripture, is in the form of personal letters of correspondence? If we were to compare with other sacred scriptures this is quite unique. Theologian Rachel Held Evans points out the weirdness of this about our scriptures. They are letters that contain elements of poetry, theological refection, philosophical debate, cultural customs and norms. They also contain mundane and personal things like in the letter of 2nd Timothy where the writer says “when you come to see me again can you bring the cloak I left behind.” It is just like when you text a friend “hey when you come over next bring that dish I left at you place.” These personal ordinary things about a life of someone lived centuries ago are part of our holy scripture.
And there is something incredible about that. It has been pointed out by theologians that the Christian faith is about God coming incarnate in a particular person in a particular time, Jesus of Nazareth. Our scriptures are not about generalities but about the particular, about specific people and the even the mundane correspondence, because our lives are not lived in general but in actual communities, actual relationships, actual marriages, and actual budget meetings.
Love is not some general romantic concept, but something that is lived out and experienced in all the areas of our life. It is lived out in the messiness of our particular lives and in our time and place. Love is lived out in the messiness of our particular lives and in our time and place.
I asked if you would enter the tent the keeps no record of wrong. I do not ask because I want you to stew in in all the wrong you have ever done or has done to you or because I think you should forgive and forget. I ask us because because God cares about us as individuals and about all the particularities of our individual lives. God cares about our inner struggle and turmoil, about relationships and even budget meetings.
God loves us and does not keep record of our wrongs, and so I am compelled to ask how does this change or influence how we see others and even ourselves. How does the knowledge of this kind of love moves us to act? What might it look like to have a love for ourselves and others that keeps no record of wrong that spurns evil and rejoices in the truth?
If I might suggest, as Paul does, it looks like a community that has differences and debates but still loves. It is a community that will rejoice with you and mourn with you even though we totally disagree on numerous topics. And it will not keep a detailed record of every wrong you have done in order to hold it against you. A community that rejoices in the truth in the face of evil. A community that is built on love so that when the walls shake the foundation remains, and supports all who dwell within it.
So, love boldly, love particularly, love patiently, love kindly, love actively. Love is a verb; may you experience that love here and now. Amen.