In All Things Love
by the Rt. Rev. Chris Giesler
- Jeremiah 1:4-10
- I Corinthians 13:1-13
- Luke 4:21-30
Take a moment and think of who you would like to throw off a cliff right now. If we are honest with ourselves and God, we all have somebody in mind here. So, Jesus shows up for Sabbath services at his hometown Synagogue. The preacher comes home! And folks are hanging on every word. At first, all seems well. Our Gospel lesson from last week (Luke 4:14-21) tells of Jesus reading from the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, 19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus then tells them this passage finds its fulfillment in him. Luke tells us that everyone was amazed.
But then things begin to fall apart. Someone questions Jesus’ lineage, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” Judging by how Jesus responds, we are left to assume that this is a backhanded compliment. In other words, how dare the carpenter’s son come in here and claim to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. Jesus then cites references to Elijah and Elisha, other well-known prophets, who did not do miracles in their hometown. Perhaps Jesus is telling them that he won’t be giving them preference over those outside this community. Regardless, the hometown folks are furious, and there is a mad rush to the cliff on the outskirts of town, and they appear ready to toss Jesus from it. But somehow, Jesus manages to escape his doom, at least for now. Is this a foreshadowing of the cross? Like many of the prophets, Biblical and otherwise, their words comfort some, but at the same time anger others. Think of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who I think of as a modern-day prophet. His words, while Biblically grounded, angered the white majority who could not see beyond their racial prejudices.
This brings me to the passage before us today from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. It is the famous “Love Chapter” which is often read at weddings. While certainly fitting for such an occasion, Paul was most certainly not writing his words to a couple about to get married. He was addressing a church community during a classic church fight. Their conflict seems to surround the expression of spiritual gifts in their church. Paul had no doubt been the one who helped them discover their gifts, but now some in the community thought that their gift was the most important to the exclusion of others. In chapter 12, Paul uses the analogy of the different parts of the human body working together to see that their gift needs to work together with others. In chapter 13, Paul indicates there is a spiritual gift to be held above all others, the gift of love. All of our gifts need to be expressed through the gift of love for God, for ourselves, and others. If not, discord will eventually come.
What might have happened in Nazareth if the folks who heard Jesus’ words would have listened with a heart of love? What might have happened had a white and privileged majority heard Dr. King’s words with love rather than hatred?
I have seen church fights over coffee cups, the color of carpet in the sanctuary, allowing card playing in the church, and now the wearing of masks. And yes, folks have figuratively been thrown off the cliff.
When we accept Jesus as our Savior and Chief Elder (as we say in Moravian circles), we take on Jesus’ priorities of loving all those around us regardless of their color, status, economic status, sexual/gender orientation, or preference for worship style. We love each other so that together we can serve a world that needs the reconciling grace that Jesus so clearly lived and died for. The first thing that suffers when love takes a backseat is mission. As Abraham Lincoln so famously said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The same is true for families, congregations, and communities. When we hold love as the greatest gift, we put aside the notion is that the cliff is the best solution. Instead, we seek to pursue love, even where differences and dissent are present.
The phrase “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love” is often said to be the motto of the Moravian Church. Paul might argue that we simply say, “In all things love.”