This is a transcript from the May 17, 2020 sermon, so it contains the character of live, spoken communication.
Speaker 1: If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy, but don't love, I'm nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
Speaker 2: If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all his mysteries, and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't love, I'm nothing.
Speaker 1: If I give everything I own to the poor, and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don't love, I've gotten nowhere. No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
Speaker 2: For right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly, and the best of the three is love.
Speaker 3: No matter what I say, what I believe, or what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
Pastor Russ: I wanted to use that passage and I want to use this translation. It's a paraphrase by Eugene Peterson called The Message. I wanted to use that this morning because the power of this passage is not in the precision of the words, it has to do with the impact that it makes. It was meant to make then and I think it's meant to make today. I picked one that had some of that same impact, "Without it, without love, I'm bankrupt. It doesn't matter what else I have. Without it, I've got nothing."
It also is what drove me to this next interview with Brené Brown. Brené Brown is one of those great voices of our time and she speaks with authority, about worthiness, about shame, about courage, and about some of the deep things in life. Underneath all of that is very deep faith. While she doesn't always talk about it, she doesn't deny it either. In this short three minute interview, there is a conversation about faith, and what does love look like? It begins with a question of, what do you do with Jesus? How does Jesus make sense? Whether you agree with her answer or not, the question is still the same. What does love look like? What is this thing of which if I don't have it, I am bankrupt? What does it look like, and what do I do with it? Take a listen.
Brené Brown: Jesus makes complete sense to me.
Brené: [chuckles] Because this is my whole thing. I believe God is love. It's that simple and that complicated. If you try to express love to human beings, and Jesus came down and said, "I am love. Love each other," we automatically, because we're so afraid of hard things, we would automatically go to like unicorns and rainbows. You would have to send someone to show what love in the flesh looks like. You'd have to send, "What does love look like?" Otherwise, we would romanticize it. We would make it easy because that's who we are as people. We're going to make it easy.
Jesus comes and says, "Okay, I am love. I sit with the people you're not allowed to talk to. I do all the hard things. I make all the hard choices. I love the people that are unlovable. I feed the people who are not supposed to be taken care of. I don't tolerate shame. I don't tolerate attack. I'm love and it's hard and messy and dirty." If you really love, fierce, big love, you'll become dangerous to people.
There's no way that most of us could have understood what love was without seeing what love looked like. To me, it makes perfect sense. God is love and Jesus is what love looks like, made flesh. It's hard, and it's not the default, and it has nothing to do with rainbows and unicorns. Love is like animals. It's about choosing what's right over what's easy. I want love to be that.
Pastor Russ: "You had one job." Have you ever had someone tell you that? Because if they did, you knew that whatever was going to happen next wasn't going to be good. When someone says, "You had one job," there is nothing good that's going to follow. In fact, the results are going to be so bad that they often are funny. There are whole websites that are dedicated to this one thing, "You had one job," and the pictures that followed. Things like this or like this.
There's countless pictures and countless examples, but it always gets back to the same thing. It wasn't because the job was particularly complex, it wasn't, or that it was even difficult, oftentimes, that wasn't the issue. The issue is that somehow someone got distracted, dissuaded or discouraged. What the result was was an epic fail. Somehow, that whatever they thought the guidelines were for their job, whatever they thought was going to be the standard by which a good job was going to be measured, somehow got mixed up, and the results were disastrously funny.
Usually, it is humorous but sometimes it makes me think of the passage from Paul. Paul as he's writing to the church in Corinth. It was a church that had gotten itself all twisted up. It was in a hot mess, in part because they had forgotten what their job was. They were getting into arguments about who was more spiritual, who was more right, who was in, who was out, who was worthy.
Paul has to write this letter, and in the heart of this letter, in the church of Corinth is 1 Corinthians 13 when he reminds them in so many words, "Listen, if you don't get this part right, it doesn't matter what else you think you've got. If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy, but don't have love, I'm nothing but a creaky rusty gate. If I speak God's Word with power, revealing all the mysteries, and making everything plain as day, if I have faith that says to a mountain, "Jump," and it jumps, but I don't have love, I'm nothing."
Can you hear him in this? He says, "Listen, you had one job, and it's an epic fail. Somehow you got distracted. Somehow you got dissuaded. Somehow you got discouraged. But by whatever bar that you thought you were trying to meet, you missed it." The results, no matter what I say, what I believe, what I do, I'm bankrupt without love.
You have one job. Job, one, is to be able to embrace, embody, and extend the love of Christ. It's part of a series that we are doing, and it's looking at 1 Corinthians 13. It's a familiar passage. In fact, I'm calling it A Fresh Look at an Old Favorite in a New Era, because it seems to me that in this new age, this new season that we're in, this question is still rising. What is the most important thing? What should we be focusing on?
Too often what we're finding is people who should know better are saying, "This love thing, we're going to push to the side until we have more time, until we feel more comfortable, until we're on top of things. When we have the time and the energy, then we'll tend to love." Then there's Paul, he's saying, "If you get this wrong, it doesn't matter what you've got right."
If it was just Paul, we maybe even could ignore it or push it off, but this was pretty core to what Jesus was saying, wasn't it? "You want to know what the Law and the Prophets, you know what all that's about? It's about love," Jesus says. "Love God. Love your neighbor." Everything that the Law and the Prophets is about is consumed in that. If you're not doing that, it doesn't matter what else you get right.
One of the apostles of Jesus, John, later, as he is reflecting at the end of his life was saying, "Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God because God is love. A person who doesn't love, doesn't know God. It's as simple as that. Beloved, let us love one another. Job one is to love.
One of my favorite people of the 20th century is Albert Schweitzer. One of my favorite stories of his is, and that I share often, it has to do with this amazing person and one of the many hats, one of the many vocations, one of the many occupations that he did in his life was to be a minister. He got in trouble for his preaching specifically, because of the length of his sermons and more specifically because too many times, his sermons were too short. I know, but evidently, he would come in time and again, repeatedly, and he would preach to his congregation simply by saying, "Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God." He would quote from John, from 1 John 4:7 and 8, and people would nod their heads and then they would say, "Okay, and what else?" He would say, "There is nothing else. Beloved, let us love one another."
The reason he kept repeating that sermon, the reason I keep repeating that story, I think, is, there is a similar reason, there's a similar temptation to somehow think that in certain times, that this love thing is interesting and it's good, but let's get to the real stuff and to say that there is something else, something else that becomes more important, more compelling, and when we do, we run the risk of missing the one job that we had, the one job that we have in this life; to embrace, embody, and extend the love of Christ. It is a temptation that we find in the church. The church at its best and at its worst is usually defined and determined by how well they did or did not tend to the business of love. There's powerful stories on both sides.
The era that we live in, and the examples of today are people who either tend to well or ignore job one and the results are powerful. There is a time in our life when we have to take a look and say, "Am I tending to what my life is about? Am I attending to the right thing?"
Today, I want to talk a little bit about how love is essential. It's part of this series. We're talking 1 Corinthians 13 and what it has to offer. Last week, I talked about how love is beyond the emotional or the unicorns in the hearts that Brené Brown talks about and gets to something that is real, that is tangible, that is practical. I introduced Erich Fromm, Erich Fromm in his wonderful book of the middle of the 20th century called The Art of Loving. When he says, "We get love wrong so many times in so many ways, in part because we think the hard part of love is to find the right person or right thing to love or that will love us." "He says, "Hardly anyone thinks that the real issue of love is that there is something that we need to learn and so it is easy to get off base."
The thing I want us to learn and no less than I want to make sure that we relearn today is how essential love is to who we are. It is essential because it's the essence of God. God is love, that the most important thing that we say, the place that we start when we talk about God is that God is love and all those other attributes of God are important, that God is Holy and God is righteous and God is wise and the power of God and all those things are true, but if they somehow become preeminent, if those are the places we start, then we make a mess of it. Those things exist only as they flow from and serve the most central part of who God is and God is love. That's the essence of who God is.
It's also the essence of who we are, that Jesus came to show us not only who God is, but who we are, what it means to be truly human and at the essence of humanity, the vocation, the primary vocation we have, no matter what occupations, what roles, what hats, what job descriptions that we occupy in our life, that the central one has to do with love. How could it be otherwise if the essence of the creator is love? How could the creation which is meant to bear the image of the creator be anything but love? How could the vocation of our life be anything else that we have one job?
There are other parts of us, and particularly, in this season, in this time where it's so easy when things get tense, when we get anxious and people are trying to find their bearings, it is easy, and we see examples of it that other things like we want to protect ourselves or we want to guard our rights or we have a political system that we want to propel, a party that we want to champion, an economic theory that we want to make sure is out there, or we just don't want to lose, we want to win. There's reasons and there's parts that have all of that and as good and as part of that conversation and anything that takes preeminence, that those become the thing that are most important. Boy, when we become distracted, dissuaded, discouraged, the results are pretty disastrous, they have value in that and only in as they flow from and serve the purpose of love.
Now, we already know that. We know that not only from the negative examples that repel us. We know that from all the great examples. We know that at eight o'clock every evening as people go out on their porch, and you've heard him, I've heard him, I know where some of you live as we howl and yell, and it's a way of appreciating because there is something that we recognize in key people, the first responders that we want to recognize. There is something that makes us want to cheer. It's our way of saying, "We see this, and we know this."
Can we understand that, that right there is something of a nudging of the Holy Spirit, that anytime, and we see it in our own congregation and there are people who inspire us and when they do, it as the Holy Spirit. When we see someone who is seeking the good, even though there's no reward for them, when they are forgetting themselves and caring for others, when they have a desire to help, even if no one's watching it, that is the nudging of the Holy Spirit. That there is something that is drawing us, pulling us and calling us saying, "Yes, yes, that's what you're for. That's what you were made of. That's what you should be paying attention to. That's the breadcrumbs by which your cart can find its way home." It's those times when we don't care for any reward, and we give ourselves so we see somebody else and we're drawn.
This week, this week, notice, notice, pay attention, pay attention to those voices that are calling you to something else and say, "Make this most important." But more than that, pay attention to those lives, the examples around you, that are calling you to the core of who you are, the real vocation of what it means to be human, to love. Watch those. Pay attention to those things. We'll talk about the practices later, but this week, this week, pay attention and what that does and where those breadcrumbs might be leading this week.
May this be one of those weeks that you begin to hear and sense the voice of God, the nudging of God, the leading of the Spirit. May you perceive that clearly. May you act decisively again and again. May you do that in such a way that as we look back on this time in history, as we look back, we will be able to see our lives and together say, "We had one job and we did it. We embraced, we embodied, we extended the love of Christ."
This week, the charge before us as always, go, go, love God with everything you've got. Heart, soul, mind, and strength. Go and love your neighbor as yourself. As you go, may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace and believing. May you abound with hope through the power of the Holy spirit now and forever. Amen.