stopping for directions: love is the way

Last week,
we considered Paul’s metaphor of the body,
as applied to our own bodies, our church body,
the body politic and even unto God’s creation.
We thought about the need to be proactive in caring for these bodies.
We thought about interdependence
and about valuing the least of these in an interdependent whole.

Paul closed, though, we noted, identifying a more excellent way,
and we wondered about that.
If you’ve been stressing the importance of all gifts,
what’s up with singling out one?

But it’s a way that Paul singles out, not a gift.

And with that, Paul is into what we call chapter 13.
Some call it the love chapter,
and that’s fine; that’s true.
But, as we all remember having heard it read at weddings,
let’s not forget that the love of which he writes
is the love of God in Christ Jesus—
that’s how Paul defines love.
So if read at a wedding, our text must be read as a caution
not to cheapen such love—not to accept substitutes for it—
to live up to it in all our loves—
which is to say it can appropriately
be read and heard at a wedding—
which is to say it can appropriately
be read and heard anywhere, anytime.

And while it’s about the way of love,
our text starts off less about the way per se,
than the edges of the way—the borders of that way.
Paul starts off his exploration of the more excellent way
by brushing away the debris that obscures the edges—
to help readers stay on the path by knowing
where the boundaries fall.
It’s along those edges, after all, especially when they’re obscured,
that it’s so easy to go astray.

And here’s the thing,
it’s so easy to go astray
because the boundaries of the most excellent way
all fall in a pretty good territory.
If we’re near this path, we can fairly safely assume
we’re in the midst of good options.
But there’s a terribly significant difference, Paul suggests,
between good and most excellent—
a terribly significant difference our culture downplays—ignores.

Now it’s also probably worth noting
that Paul was writing a church.
And so he was clearing up the misconceptions—the misperceptions,
generated within the life of the church
that obscured the priority of love
in the name of church
and even in the name of God.

I’m going to suggest Paul’s idea is worth expanding—
beyond church—into our culture—
particularly mindful that the body metaphor he just used
extended to all creation.

But I’m not going to talk so much about Paul today—
or about what Paul wrote.
Instead, let’s try and hear Paul.

So let me try and show you the more excellent way,

because you can be on every committee at church—
or every important committee,
but if you don’t have love, well, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

You can be present every time the doors open,
but without love, you’re not ever going to be present.

You can be the most generous giver,
the most gifted vocalist,
the best public prayer,
the most articulate Scripture reader,
the most popular Sunday School teacher or youth chaperone,
the most faithful Vacation Bible School Extended session volunteer,
the most eloquent preacher,
but without love, well, good show! good show!

There’s nothing you can do in church without love
that justifies your being a part.
Apart from love there is no part for you.
And yet, on the flip side,
everything you do with love participates in church.

So that’s starting in church—
and with what’s valued in church.
But we don’t stop there.
We move on to what’s valued in our culture.
Because, as we’ve seen, Paul suggests
the truth of those who walk in the way of God
is the truth of creation as God intends it.

So you can have money—
you can have enough money
that you never worry about paying a bill—
never have to worry about which bill to pay on time—
enough money that you never ever worry
about an unexpected expense,
but without love, you’ll always feel like you’re owed.

You can have money
and everything money can buy—
you can have the nice house,
but without love, it will never be a home.

You can have the exclusive address,
but without love, you’ll find yourself excluded
from your best dreams of coming home.

You can have the fancy car—or cars,
but without love, you’ll never feel like you’re getting anywhere.

You can have the latest technological marvel.
You can have the flattest widest screen
tuned into the surroundingest sound
with lots of speakers and woofers and such,
but without love, it won’t add to your life,
just take you away from it.

You can have the smartest phone
but without love, well,
let’s just say you’ll have a smart phone!

You can have the most powerful computer,
but without love, your life won’t compute.

You can have the vacations everyone dreams of,
but without love, you’ll go nowhere.

You can have friends,
but without love, they’ll fall aside.

You can have a marriage,
but without love, not a help-mate.

You can have a family—
cute children with great personalities
who are talented—gifted,
whom you can and do show off,
but without love you won’t want to go home.

You can have sex,
but without love
never find intimacy—
never know that God never meant for biology to define sex.

You can be admired,
but without love,
there’s a hollowness—an emptiness to admiration
that leaves it ultimately and always frustrating.

You can be feared, but then never loved.

You can look out for number one,
but then you’re without love by definition.

You can have success
professionally, athletically, socially—
write the papers, speak at the conferences—
you can be a stand-out on your team,
but without love, you’re not making a difference,
and nothing you do will stand the test of time.

You can have the job,
but without love
you’re just punching the clock.

You can have the wit that keeps people laughing,
but without love, it’s only funny and not joyful.

You can have the intelligence
but without love, what good does it do you?

You can have the education, the degree—
you can have the social status,
but without love, who cares.

You can dress to the nines
and have impeccable fashion sense,
but without love, you’ll never be appropriately attired.

You can ace all your tests in math and reading,
science and social studies,
but without love, you’re not even the subject of your own living.

You can play guitar or piano like nobody’s business,
but without love, you’re the one played.

You can write like your favorite writer—
sing like your favorite singer,
but without love, why bother?

You can reach the top level and register the top score
on all your favorite video games,
but without love, you’re stuck at the lowest level of being.

You can have charisma,
but without love, your appeal is just a begging.

You can have “it”—whatever “it” is,
but without love, it’s nothing.

You can have the inside scoop;
you can be the one always in the know,
but without love, none of what you know will be worth knowing.

You can have power in the system
at work/in the community/at church—
you can have the power to impose your will,
but without love, you impose on your truest self.

You can talk all the politically correct talk;
you can talk about how everyone matters,
but without love, it’s just all talk.

You can have the skill,
the artistic expertise,
the know-how,
but without love, ho hum.

You can have thousands of friends on facebook,
millions of followers on twitter,
but without love, you’re as a faceless twit.

You can have the busy schedules,
the meetings back to back
to make you feel important,
but without love, you’re not.

You can have all the free time you can imagine,
but without love,
well, “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”
(Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster,
“Me and Bobby McGee,” 1969).

You can have the most excellent hobbies
to fill your leisure time,
but without love, boredom awaits.
And you can have all the fun, exciting, wonderful toys
that go along with all the most excellent hobbies,
but without love, you have nothing.

You can have your name in the paper—
the name that everyone knows,
but without love, it doesn’t name anything.

You can be popular,
but without love,
that’s just numbers.

You can be the one with the newest aps,
the newest music, the latest toys,
the most up-to-date news,
but without love, you’ll just always be looking for what’s next.

You can have all the right moves,
but without love, you won’t … move—
or be moved.

You can look like whoever you sometimes wish you looked like
and have friends who all look like they belong
with whoever you sometimes wish you looked like
like you all could make Ocean’s Fourteen
with the cool factor so going on,
but without love, you’ll be missing the warmth that makes cool good.

You can be ripped, or cut, buff—
fit as a fiddle,
but without love, you’re played for a fool.

You can be healthy as a horse,
but without love, you cannot be whole.

You can be the most creative, innovative,
cutting edge think-er, do-er, be-er,
but if you don’t have love, it doesn’t matter.
It just doesn’t matter.

You can be voted most popular,
but without love, it’s an empty accolade.

You can be voted most likely to succeed,
but without love,
you have nothing to anticipate.

You can be the most organized,
the neatest, the cleanest,
but without love you’ve simply shuffled around
and cleaned up meaninglessness.

You can be famous,
but without love, you’re known for nothing.

You can seek security,
but without love, you’re not keeping anything important safe.

You can have your way,
but without love, you’re lost.

Love is patient; love is kind.
That probably bears repeating
these days when so much is and so many are—not.
Love is patient; love is kind.

Love is not short-sighted, nor blind, nor small-minded.
Love is not naive, not gullible.
Love is not un-realistic.
Love is not violent.
Love is not rude, caustic, dismissive, mean.

Love endures all things without condoning all things.
Love believes in spite of everything.
Love transforms all things.
Love redeems creation.

Love never ends.
Everything else ends.
Absolutely. Everything. Else. Ends.
Love never ends.

So, in the end, love.

Faith, hope, and love endure to the end.
Love is the greatest.

In the end, love.

Apart from love there is no part for you.
And yet, on the flip side,
everything you do with love participates in God.

Choose love.


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