Love and the cost of a future (sermon)
Texts: Jeremiah 1: 4-10, Luke 4: 21-30, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Speaking of Words that overturn the world (Jeremiah, the boy given a word to create a revolution) words that nearly get you killed (Jesus’ near death experience at Nazareth)… I want to speak today about one of those words. As you’ve probably guessed (from 1 Corinthians 13) the word is ‘love’.
But by way of introduction… I don’t know if anyone else here attended the Public Conversation with Bishop Justin Duckworth this week. Justin Duckworth, prior to becoming bishop, was one of the people who started Urban Vision (Tom and Cat’s community South Dunedin is now a subbranch). UV is a group of young people, mainly young families who have shifted into the poorest and roughest parts of NZ cities in order to live with the people there and practice hospitality. It’s a missional church basically. So Justin talked about raising kids in the rough streets of Wellington, in community, and how eventually he came to link with the Anglican church and has now been chosen as a bishop.
The media have picked it up mainly because they like the image of a bishop with dreadlocks and barefeet.
But there was one thought that really stood out in that public conversation, and I’m not sure I can remember exactly the context. Justin was being asked about his move into the big structures of the Anglican church and whether as a bishop he had any power to make a difference. And he was talking about the fact that the church really no longer has any power and can’t rely on a kind of status in society and political authority or the right to be heard… and yes (he said) we do need to be concerned at the structure of our society and the reasons things are going wrong and not just be involved as ambulances at the bottom of the cliff. But… and this is the phrase that stuck with me, those who pay the cost will be listened to, those who pay the cost will earn the right to speak and will end up making a difference. The talkers and the politicians think they are in power… and we sometimes start to believe them. But it is those who pay the cost who will overturn the world.
As followers of Jesus, we signed up to pay the cost… that’s what Jesus did – pay the cost… the cost of a different world.
Jeremiah was given words. Jesus spoke words odd unrealistic words about grace that almost got him killed at his first sermon… but ultimately the Word became flesh and lived among us paying the cost.
And the character of that cost-paying, the way of life that pays the cost, we call ‘love’.
Part of me hates the word ‘love’. I’m going back to being a seven year old boy who doesn’t want kiss aunty goodbye. Love has become a fetish word, it turns to mush in our songs and our culture and nothing is left but a kind of sentimental optimism – we are swooning to sleep in our own emotions.
So lets draw back from this word ‘love’ for a moment and remind ourselves that it’s not our love that will overturn the world but God’s love… not that we can’t be part of God’s love, and love too… but as God’s love it is (in a sense) unnatural to us… (we are born into a world alienated from that love). God’s love got crucified. And that was not just an accident of history. In that world love is a gift from outside. It is god’s gift, it is different.
Second, not only is God’s love, in one sense, unnatural to us… what we mean by this word ‘love’ in our post-christian culture doesn’t always bear much resemblance to the love of God. The word is such a central part of our vocabulary, our inherited spiritual vocabulary from our Christian past (and its important to remember that this was not always so, its not as if love was the sum of the virtues in the Greco-roman world) … that we can’t avoid making much of it… but in fact we end up filling that word with a whole range of manageable meanings associated with our emotions and desire. All of which are wonderful things and not to be despised. But I fear we have cut the love of God down to our size. It has become a consumer commodity
Love is all I need… all I need is to fall in love with another person… and once I have that ecstatic delight, that heavenly feeling then my life is complete … and each of us finds heaven on earth in our own little bubble of love.
It’s a quick fix, it’s individual, and its so easily a form of selfishness. If the beloved is there at all it is only as a kind of idea or idol to be worshipped. It’s all about the wonderful person who satisfies my desires, fulfils my dreams and sparks my imagination. In other words I focus on the other person, but in the end it’s all about me.
What has this to do with God’s love… the love that might overturn the world?
Let me reread the middle section of 1 Corinthians 13
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant, or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love is that slow burning commitment to pay the cost for another person and for all of us. The description is framed at beginning and end with patience and endurance. Love can wait… and will not force anything on anyone. Love can wait because the love of God will come through in the end… so there can be no need to panic.
Love is outside of competitiveness… when we hear those words ‘envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, insist on my own way (controlling) irritable, resentful’ we are reminded of the struggles of living with others. Am I ok? Is someone else better? Do I need to assert myself over those around me? The source of love is a lack of fear about myself and my place in the world. If I know I have a place then I can love. If I am loved then I can love. … That simple, gentle word ‘kind’ (love is kind) stands over against all the struggles of competitiveness that make it so hard to live with others. And we think kindness is easy!!
Because the love of God is not worried about itself it looks outward. It is eccentric (going out from itself)
But let’s go back to the frame of it… love bears all things… love is that slow-burning commitment to pay the cost for another and for all. That is the Jesus life?
When Bishop Justin talked about paying the cost he was talking about all levels of our life. When our society does violence against some member and the gap between rich and poor increases, who will pay the cost of sharing community with the poorest and weakest? When our society does violence against the natural world, who will may the cost of limiting our consumer desires for the sake of a sustainable future. And on an individual level when your neighbour is ill or suffers mental illness and can’t manage on their own… who pays the cost? The examples could go on.
Jesus pays the cost… and as a result so can we… Let me finish with a quote from a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer on 1 Corinthians 13:
“Faith and hope enter into eternity transformed into the shape of love. In the end everything must become love. Perfection’s name is love. But the sign of perfect love in this world bears the name cross. That is the way that perfect love must go in this world, must go over and over again. That shows us first of all that this world is ripe, even overripe, for its destruction; only God’s indescribable patience can wait for the end time. Second, it shows us that the church in this world remains the church under the sign of the cross. In particular, the church that wants to become the church of God’s visible glory, here and now, has denied its Lord on the cross. Faith, hope, and love together lead us through the cross to perfection.”
“Sermon on 1 Corinthians 13:1-3: London, Twentieth Sunday after Trinity, October 14, 1934,” in *London* DBWE 13, 395-396