(This sermon is a response to the landmark decision of the Supreme Court to uphold the right of marriage for all citizens. This is not the full response I would like to make on the topic, but a pastoral response in a congregation divided on the issue and not ready to have a conversation about being a congregation that affirms marriage for all regardless of sexual orientation.)
There is a Tylenol commercial out now about family. There are various couples featured in the commercial. The spokesperson asks:
“When were you first considered a family?
When you fell in love?
When you got married?
When you had kids?
When did you first fight to be considered a family?
When were you first considered a family?
When you fell in love?
When you got married?
When you had kids?”
The first time the spokesperson asks the questions traditional families are featured, white heterosexual couples with white children. The second time the spokesperson asks the audience to consider those questions non-traditional families are featured including a bi-racial couple, a transracial family, and a lesbian couple. Through the remainder of the commercial there are different families featured, traditional and non-traditional. Tylenol makes the claim that “family is defined not by who you love, but how” you love.
I would say that most people consider a family is formed when a couple marries. There is something sacred in the marriage covenant when a couple honestly and purely commits themselves to one another before God. On Friday, there was an historic decision by the Supreme Court allowing more couples to be legally recognized as a family who have not previously been able to marry legally. Whether you are for, against, don’t know or don’t care about the issue of marriage, supporters of the issue believe the decision is a sign that love wins.
I know many of you recognize this text from 1 Corinthians, known as the love chapter; you recognize it from weddings. You may have had it read at your wedding. You may think about your spouse when you read this message. Many are looking forward to having this read at their wedding. But, this is not wedding material. Yes, we hope that the person we marry is patient, kind, not envious, not arrogant, not rude, not boastful, not irritable, not pursuing his or her own way, and not resentful. But, there are so many other characteristics that you experience in your spouse that are a sign that he is a good person and she loves you.
But, these words about love from the Apostle Paul are to be read about Christian love in a community, not necessarily romantic love between a couple. The Apostle Paul’s letters have a lot to say about how a community should live and worship together. He wanted non-Christians to recognize that the Christian community was different…because of the love they shared. Christians should be recognized as different from the rest of our neighbors because we are patient, kind and humble. We should be recognized for not pursuing our own agenda, but thinking about the welfare of others.
When this chapter 13 of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is read in context of chapter 12 and 14, we can be sure that Paul’s thoughts on love are about the love of a community. In chapter 12, Paul teaches about the unity of the body of Christ. There are words familiar to us, verse 13: “For in the one Spirit, we were all baptized into one body…” Paul writes that spiritual gifts were given for “the common good (v. 7).” On the other side of chapter 13, Paul writes in chapter 14 again about spiritual gifts being for “up-building and encouragement and consolation (v. 3).”
Remember that Paul is writing to a troubled, divided church who is not exhibiting this love. They are demonstrating that living in community is hard. They know that loving your neighbor is sometimes difficult. They know that people are sometimes impatient, unkind, arrogant, rude, jealous and selfish. There is no unity. They are not up-building, encouraging or consoling each other. They are not thinking of the common good.
Many churches have had a time in their history when they were much like the Corinthian church. The Disciples of Christ is a movement severed from a once much larger movement which had included independent churches and other others. Known as the Stone-Campbell movement, the Christian Church split a few times over music and mission funds. Many denominations split over slavery. Many have split over numerous important issues. There are many things Christians can’t agree on.
Lots of local churches find themselves in unhealthy periods of fighting. Churches fight over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, who their pastor should be, how to spend their budget, what the banner of their newsletter should look like, where the communion table should go, who can pray at the table, who can be an elder, how to serve the Lord’s Supper.
I added verse 1 of chapter 14 to the reading because it is an imperative from Paul to pursue the Christian love that will set us apart. This love is not easy. It is not passive. Love requires us to work to recognize the image of God we were all created in. Love requires us to listen and try to understand the people we disagree with. Love requires us to be generous with those who have less than we do. Love requires us to be gracious with those who offend or hurt us. Love requires us to accept those who are different from us. Love requires a lot of us, because we are attempting to share the steadfast, unmerited, unconditional love of God which we know in Christ Jesus.
Paul says there is no end to love. Love will conquer and endure. Love will complete the work Christ started. Christ is the incarnation of God’s love poured out for the grace of a people bound to one another in a common faith. Though there are differences among us, love will overcome the boundaries will build between us and them. Love will unite us in our diversity; not despite our diversity, love will unite us when we grow in the fullness of God’s love.
Using his physical, mental and emotional maturing as an illustration of spiritual maturing, growing in fullness, Paul said that when he was young his speech and actions were immature and childish. But, when he became an adult, he started to think differently. He started to think and act differently as he grew in the fullness of God’s love.
We grow in God’s love as we see and try to understand each other. Paul says we cannot see fully if we do not see one another face-to-face. We are respected as children of the Divine when we try to see one another as who we are, not as we think someone should be. We see each other face-to-face when we appreciate how they are different from us and recognize how we are the same. Grace will show us where we have been blind and allow us to see truly.
We live in a polarized time. There is a sharp divide between political parties over issues we believe are rooted in who we are as a country and the values we were founded upon. People are being oppressed by our ignorance while people say, “see how far we’ve come.” Some churches are seen are harbingers of hatred and shaming while others are seen as havens of love and grace.
We will never heal from this divide until we mature in love by seeing each other for who we are, respecting each other’s opinion, and trying to understand each other’s experience and conviction. If we are a Christian nation, we are much more like the Corinthian church than the community of love Paul hopes will be recognized for and set apart by their love. I’m afraid that divide will become greater as we enter into an election season when 15 candidates are grandstanding, defaming one another, and talking at length about taking firm stands on divisive issues.
All these candidates will talk about their values, Christian values and how their faith informs their decisions. They will talk about their hope for a united states. I am speaking about politics because I want us to reflect on how our opinions and decisions are rooted in our faith. We all hope that we can be unified and once again become a great nation, a notion tied closely to our hope in the coming Kingdom of God. Paul says faith, hope and love are all important. There will be a lot of talk about faith and hope, but greater than all that divides us is the love of God that seeks to unite us. Amen.