Monday, January 28, 2019

Love, Love, Love

Although I have not done the data analysis, it feels like half or more of the couples whose wedding I have officiated have chosen 1 Corinthians 13 as one of the readings at the service. Before a rehearsal, if that's the case, I encourage the couple to choose their most talented reader to read Paul's treatise on love. (The romantic poem from Song of Solomon is another choice that deserves a gifted reader.) Perhaps I should tell all couples that they don't get to choose a reader--that it's my choice to make from among the readers in our parish who have been trained and set apart for that ministry--but I don't. Instead, at the rehearsal, I gently place my hand on the shoulder of the couple-chosen reader and say, "Your reading is the one couples choose the most often and the one that is hardest to do well. Read it slowly and deliberately. Proclaim it with the conviction of the apostle. And, before tomorrow's service, practice reading it out loud at least twenty times, and you'll do fine."

Once or twice, a reader has really astounded me with a gifted recitation of Paul's words. When they get it right, it's truly amazing. In that moment, it doesn't matter that Paul wasn't writing these words about romantic love or marital love but love within the Body of Christ. That larger-than-this-moment truth resonates in the words and fills the hearts and minds of the congregation. That's special. And, this Sunday, removed from any wedding, gathered as Christ's body, we hear these words as Paul may have written them--to a community of faith that is trying its best to stick together as a reflection of their true identity.

"Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude." I wonder what it is like to be a member of a translation committee that is responsible for rendering into English what the Holy Spirit is saying through Paul's words. I wonder what it was like to be a member of the Corinthian church who first heard one of its leaders read those words from Paul. I wonder if the community paid more careful attention to them than we do when we are at a wedding. I wonder if they pierced their hearts and filled them with joy.

In this chapter of Paul's letter, he moves from a description of his ministry and love's role in filling his words to the nature of love itself before returning to his own first-person description of love's transformative power. Love is essential to the life of the Christian, Paul writes, because love itself is permanent good. And those who are filled with its power become the full children of God that they have been created and called to be.

There are several ways a preacher and congregation can hear these words this Sunday. First, we can leave them aside, allowing them to be read and heard but no more. Or we can use a few drops of this reading's power in a sermon about the controversial proclamation Jesus offers in the synagogue, making the theological connection that the love Paul has in mind is what directs Jesus' words about the good news coming to the poor in his ministry. Or we can let last Sunday's sermon on Jesus' reading from the Isaiah scroll stay in our memories while the preacher delves into this text on love, trusting that the remembrance of Jesus' sermon and this week's gospel reading will make whatever connection is needed. It's a hard choice. These are good readings. I hope we are ready to hear them.

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