October 21, 2018

Love Does

Passage: 1 Corinthians 13
Service Type:

Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 13 | I don’t think I’ll ever forget my second day in Maquoketa.  My first day was memorable.  But my second day was extraordinary.  What made it extraordinary was a moment that took place in Ronelle Clark’s van.  She and Jane Bentrott were giving me a tour of the town—showing me the high school, the library, the Y.  I looked around, getting confused.  Where was Highway 61?  And then suddenly, Jane piped up from the backseat.  “You know we want you to come here,” she said.  Matter-of-factly, as if she was pointing out a gas station.  I don’t remember what I said, but I remember what I thought.  I thought: these people mean business.  They don’t waste any time.
What I learned later was that the search committee had spent time, a lot of time, looking for the next right person to pastor this church.  So that, by the time I arrived, they had been on a lot of dates.  By the time I came around, the committee had a fairly good sense of what they were looking for.  Or at least, they knew what they wanted when they saw it.  So that Jane could say in that van, as Ronelle nodded her head: “We want you to come here.”  So that was my second day in Maquoketa.
Like Maquoketa, 1 Corinthians 13 is often misunderstood.  I like the way one scholar puts it: this text is in “romantic captivity.”[1]  It sure is.  I’ve read it myself more times than I count, at almost every wedding I’ve ever officiated, and it always strikes me as a bit out of place.  It is about love.  But it’s not about romantic love.  It’s about the love between people in a community, in a church.  When was the last time you heard Adele sing about that?  And then there’s something else that’s kind of off about it.  It’s beautiful.  It’s poetic.  It makes a good cross-stitch sampler.  But it’s kind of passive.  “Love is patient.  Love is kind.”  That sounds glorious, but also boring.  Why does it sound boring?
Well, there’s a reason for that.  It’s called lost in translation.  English flattened out Paul’s ancient Greek.  And turned those lovely verbs into boring adjectives.  “Love shows patience, Love acts with kindness,” is closer to what Paul said.[2]  “Love is not boiling,” is “Love does not envy.”  And my personal favorite: “Love is not being sharpened” is how the Greek goes for “Love is not easily provoked.”[3]  Love does have something to do with avoiding knives sometimes, doesn’t it?  Let the people say: “Amen.”  So.  Far from being passive, the original Greek conveyed the truth.  It isn’t a matter of “Love is…”  It’s more a matter of Love Does.
And here, at this church, I have found that Love Does.  Once you begin to look for it, you can see it.  It’s everywhere you look.  Early on in my ministry here, I witnessed someone give another church member a generous—and anonymous—gift.  I thought: Wow.  I’ve never seen that before.  But Maquoketa had more gifts up its sleeve.  I watched the congregation love on Rob Deegan as he faded away.  I’ll never forget the first time Zack McClintock gave me a hug.  I was surprised, but Karen nearly fainted.  I didn’t know what it meant then, but I know now.  This congregation has a history not only of Noble Prize winners and pioneer state legislators, but the busiest bees in the county.  Take away Maquoketa United Church of Christ, and you lose a good chunk of your Community Cupboard volunteers, your Hurstville board members, your MAE front desk, your historical society fish fryers, your community stalwarts and the strongest advocates for the poor and disenfranchised.  Take away this church, and there’s no rainbow flag waving in the wind.  Even our flag is active!  As we’ve blessed some of us to eternal life, we’ve been blessed to welcome new people who experience that Love Does here, and they want to join us for the journey.  Dan Anderson runs the Wednesday night Centering Prayer group, and he’ll probably take over qigong.  Shelley LaMar signed up for coffee fellowship, and then choir, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.  This church is proof that love is active.
And this church is proof that love requires stretching.  That love can even hold tension.  I’ve seen that here, too.  I think of a sweet man named Steve who worshipped with us for a while.  His mental health was sometimes better and sometimes worse, but people here stretched to love him, to welcome him.  It wasn’t always comfortable.  But that’s what Love Does.  And then, we decided to become an Open and Affirming congregation.  And it wasn’t a slam dunk.  It was a process.  And I’ll never forget another Steve walking up to the microphone at that meeting, telling a vulnerable story, and it was like the Day of Pentecost.  I could almost see the Holy Spirit’s flame dancing above his head.  These people, I thought.  These people mean business.
When I consider what I’ve brought to you—the prayer practices, the worship surprises, the gentle but persistent nudging—I think I’ve brought some being to your doing.  Some grounding to your action, some perspective for your agendas, some Spirit for your center.  So maybe it isn’t “Love is” OR “Love Does.”  Maybe they go together.  Or maybe Love Does because Love Is.
Today isn’t my first day in Maquoketa.  Or my second.  Or even my last.  That’s on Halloween.  But today is my last day here, as your pastor.  Today is our last day together, as pastor and people.  And I don’t know about you, but I feel love encourages us to act.  It asks us to bless one another, which we will do.  It asks us to forgive one another, and we may have forgiveness to do.  Because this has been a real relationship.  There’s been no faking, no pretending.  I have loved you.  You have loved me.  And maybe we’ve hurt or disappointed each other along the way.  In love, that happens.  But when I consider today, I find myself filled with gratitude.  For the past, for the present, and if I stretch, to the future.  Love never ends.  I believe that.  And I also believe that we love actively, noisily, and generously, because God already loves us first.  And I’ll tell you what, Maquoketa United Church of Christ, I know that, even though I see most things through a mirror dimly, I know that not least because of you.  Amen.
Agape is love without an agenda, almost without purpose.  It’s just love for the sake of love.
[1] Brian Peterson, in fact.  https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2734.  Retrieved on 10/17/18.
[2] Ibid.
[3] http://www.scripture4all.org/OnlineInterlinear/NTpdf/1co13.pdf.  Retrieved on 10/17/18.

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