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      All you need is love?

      A sermon for Epiphany 4 (1 Corinthians 13) January 30, 2022 by Sebastian Meadows-Helmer
      Filed Under:
      Pr. Sebastian

      It was sometime in the early 20th century,

      in a poor, crowded neighborhood of south Manhattan. 

      Ricardo really shouldn’t have been helping poor Jimmy, 

      the son of his landlord.

      After Ricardo successfully emigrated to America, 

      he needed to wait another 4 months to pass his state medical exams, 

      although he had already been a practicing pediatric doctor back home. 

      At first, Ricardo insisted that a doctor be called. 

      But after the third visit, that doctor didn’t come anymore, 

      as he hadn’t been paid.

      But Jimmy was too sick to be moved, 

      his fever was climbing and his breath was rattling.

      Everyone was staring at the deathly ill child.

      Suddenly the landlord turned to Ricardo and whispered loudly 

      “Now then, you are a doctor. For the love of God, don’t let this child die!”

      But Ricardo knew too well, that if he would help, 

      then he would break the law, 

      and then he would be faced with deportation and poverty again. 

      Yet, in front of him lay a child dripping with sweat, 

      wracked with pain and fever.

      Ten days long Ricardo struggled to keep Jimmy alive.

      Finally on the day that Jimmy was well enough to stand, 

      Ricardo was arrested. 

      The other doctor had notified the authorities.

      On that same day, people started to talk, 

      in the building and in the surrounding streets. 

      Their faces were angry. 

      The next morning none of them went to work. 

      Instead they marched to the New York County Courthouse. 

      Over 100 of them crowded into the courtroom. 

      The judge looked up, astonished at the strange, silent crowd.

      “Guilty or not guilty?” the judge asked.

      Even before Ricardo could open his mouth, 

      a hundred voices shouted “not guilty”!

      “Order in the court”, the judge thundered. 

      “Else I will get you all to leave.”

      But then he glanced again at the tired faces and the hunched backs 

      and asked: 

      “what do you want?”

      Then the landlord began to speak. 

      And at the end he said: “that’s why we’re here. And if you sentence our doctor to a fine, we have collected 86 dollars.”

      The judge stood up and smiled.

      He rapped his gavel on the bench, and announced: 

      ”You have broken the law, in order to obey a higher law. You are free to go.”

      In this story, Ricardo, a trained doctor, 

      yet not legally approved to practice medicine yet, 

      has a difficult decision to make:

      save the boy’s life, and risk arrest, 

      or follow the law, and have the boy die.

      In the end, Ricardo choses love, or rather love of neighbour

       over his love of wisdom or the state law. 

      He realized that all his competencies, without love, were worthless. 

      He had studied medicine  for the sake of love of those in need, 

      and he lived by this value. 

      His neighbours saw the self-sacrificing love he showed, 

      and they came to protest and to support him.

      All you need is love,

      The Beatles famously sang in 1967 in what became the anthem of the “Summer of Love.” 

      All you need is love, synonymous for “Flower power,” 

      has become a bit of a sappy cliché, but at its core, 

      it reflects stories like what we just heard, 

      and also our sermon text from first Corinthians, Chapter 13.

      Love is all you need.

      Is that all that can be gleaned from our first Reading?

      It is a very familiar text, for sure, most often heard at weddings.

      It wasn’t however originally written for use at weddings. 

      Paul wrote this passage as part of his letter to the Corinthian church, 

      who were having a lot of conflicts. 

      People were behaving poorly, 

      and some people with certain gifts and abilities were lording it over the others. 

      In other words, the Corinthian congregation was not living out Christ’s love in their interactions with one another, 

      and Paul was calling them out for it, 

      in a very provocative, but pastoral way.

      The text is in some ways, quite abstract and corny, 

      and it evokes a happy couple walking down the aisle together, holding hands after their wedding ceremony.

      It ascribes some lofty goals to love, 

      some that seem unrealistic on one hand, 

      but maybe on the other hand, they leave room to grow, 

      they are a high standard set by God and made real in Christ. 

      God’s love is so much more than human romantic love visible through marriage, although marriage might be one good example of where such true and deep love might be found.

      Through this description, 

      Paul tries to explain his ideal of love as both his understanding of God’s love as disclosed in Christ 

      as well as describing what proper behaviour for Christians should look like, or in other words, love embodied in community.

      “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, 

      I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal,” Paul begins.

      The ability to prophecy or have power, or knowledge or faith or generous philanthropy, all these without love are useless and just noise.

      All you need is love. 

      But what kind of love?

      Love that is patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

      Love that is not irritable nor resentful,

      Love that rejoices in the truth, not in wrongdoing.

      Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things…

      One way to break these down a bit is to reverse the order of the sentences.

      What does it mean if we say:

      Patience is love, kindness is love?

      Let’s start with “love is patient, love is kind.”

      But isn’t then love exemplified by patience, 

      and if you’re kind then you’re showing love?

      So to show true love, you have to possess all of these virtues, 

      and not do any of the bad things listed like: don’t be boastful or envious or arrogant or rude. 

      If you try not to be those things then you’re on the right path towards being a  mature, loving individual.

      To love with a mature love, you cannot do it in a selfish way. 

      You cannot be a radical individualist. 

      You have to think of your effects upon the community. 

      You must think of the greater good for the group.

      Perhaps you think this list is impossible, and you may be right.

      Maybe only Jesus could have lived his love as Paul envisions it.

      This love Paul is describing is “embodied most visibly in God’s love for humankind in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

      This love is not a romantic feeling, but an action.

      It “seeks not its own good but the good of the one being loved.”

      It is “active, tough, resilient, and long-suffering.”

      We are reminded that there are things more important than being right or powerful or honoured.

      Love is one of those things that is greater than principles or domination.

      Practicing mature love means God is present in our lives, Paul is telling us,

      And love needs to come first, and shine through in all our interactions.

      All well, said and done, 

      but putting this into practice is obviously where the rubber hits the road.

      And that’s the whole idea, is that love is not just a nebulous concept swirling around, but is lived out in concrete everyday interactions.

      These descriptions of love remain mere platitudes, 

      unless they’re tested in the messiness of real life!

      How do we deal with conflict and disagreements?

      How do we relate to people who annoy us?

      How do we act when people disrespect us?

      Best in all these situations is to let patience and kindness shine through,

      Whether we are setting boundaries or trying to remove them.

      And that’s hard.

      When your temper is boiling it’s difficult to take ten deep breaths and say something kind and be patient 

      when really you just want to tell the person off

      How do we interact with people for example who disagree on vaccines and vaccine mandates? 

      Is their room for patience and kindness, and understanding? 

      Or does arrogance, rudeness and other negative qualities overshadow the  discussions?

      These wise words from Paul are helpful for both our personal and our communal interactions.

      The major conflicts of personal life, such as separation and divorce, 

      or the shenanigans that often accompany the opening up of wills and bequests are places where kind and patient love is more needed. 

      But in these stressful situations especially, 

      one might think that Paul’s list of essential attributes of love is not humanly possible for individuals. 

      But perhaps, it’s more realistic to imagine these attributes occurring in community, which of course was the context of Paul’s words in the first place?

      Maybe when we hop each other accountable and mutually support each other in a group, then this ideal, active love is more attainable.

      What kind of love do we embody here at St. Matthews?

      And how is this love lived out in the various conflicts we’ve experienced, or will experience,

      On topics like liturgy, music genres, communion frequency, renters, vaccination mandates or pew removal?

      A community needs a lot of mature love to succeed, 

      and if we are to thrive for another 20-30-40 years as a community of faith,

      we’re gonna need a lot of patient and kind love.

      All you need is love, love is all you need.

      Now as my homework-conclusion for you today, 

      I have a little mindfulness exercise for you. 

      This time it won’t be a breathing mantra, but you can tie it to your breath if you want.

      For the first two phrases, I’ll invite you to squeeze the fingertips of your thumb and your middle finger together on both of your hands. 

      So try that out. 

      Squeeze the fingertips of your thumb and your middle finger together on both of your hands. 

      Now for the second two phrases I’ll provide you, 

      squeeze the fingertips of your thumb and your index finger together. 

      So try that out. 

      On both hands, if you can, squeeze the fingertips of your thumb and your index finger together. 

      OK. So here goes. Squeeze your middle fingertip to your thumb and repeat after me;

      Love is patient

      Love is kind

      Now squeeze the fingertips of your thumb and your index finger together

      And repeat after me.

      I am patient 

      I am kind.

      Now this exercise is something you can practice every day. 

      It’s really simple. 

      The idea is when you get into a situation that is challenging, 

      or you’re not sure how to respond, or your blood is boiling, 

      you can pull this exercise out, and try it once 

      or a few times.

      So let’s try it again. 

      Squeeze your middle fingertip to your thumb and repeat after me;

      Love is patient

      Love is kind

      Now squeeze the fingertips of your thumb and your index finger together

      And repeat after me.

      I am patient 

      I am kind.

      One last time

      Love is patient

      Love is kind

      I am patient 

      I am kind.

      May it be so. Amen.

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