-Rev Paul Appleby-
"Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things."
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CEB
Most of us have encountered Paul's "Hymn to Love" before. It is one of the most quoted texts at weddings and funerals, and there is little wonder why. Patience, kindness, lack of ego, politeness, forgiveness, these are all virtues we would promote in a happy marriage, as well as those who look to celebrate in a life well lived. As a minister, I have read these words at both my sister's wedding and my grandmother's funeral. I can appreciate their attraction and their power during these seminal moments.
The thing is, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul isn't reflecting on weddings or funerals. He isn’t even reflecting on the prosaic qualities of love for love's sake.
Paul is telling the church how it ought to be, and how we as members of the church are supposed to act towards each other. Can you imagine?
Picture it. One day a week, you know that when you get up you are going to get to go somewhere special. During the week, you have felt the rush of deadlines and appointments. Hurry, hurry! Rush, rush! Today, however, you get to go somewhere where everyone you meet has made the decision that they are going to be patient with you. During the week you've been cut off in traffic, you've been taken advantage of, and you've had to deal with others who think their wants ought to come before your needs. Today, however, you get to go somewhere where all you encounter are folks who have made the decision to be kind to you. Today you get to go somewhere where no one is jealous of you, no one is looking to brag about how much newer their iPhone is than yours, or how much smarter their kids are. Today you get to go someplace where folks are polite, where they look to see what they can do for you instead of looking at what you can do for them, where people are thick-skinned, and quick to forgive. Today you get to step outside of the world of daily politics where folks look to loop "gotcha" quotes and unflattering sound-bites from "the other side's" candidates and instead you get to be a part of a people who mourn injustice (regardless of its victim), and rejoice in the truth. Today you get to be a part of a people who put up with you, who trust in you, who hope for the best for your life, and will be by your side through thick and thin.
To me that sounds like a little piece of heaven on earth.
As a Pastor, I am often asked about the decline in the membership of the church. I'm sure you've seen the reports in the news or on-line. I'm asked why Millennials aren't attending services. Do we need to make our services more contemporary? Do we need to be more progressive? Do we need to get back to that "old time religion"? Frankly, I don't know.
What I do know is that if our churches took Paul's advice and did the difficult work of choosing to be a community whose calling card is love, if we were renowned not for being judgmental or hypocritical, but instead for being a community intentionally committed to loving all who walked through our doors the way Paul tells us to in 1 Corinthians 13, I don't believe there would be an empty pew in a single church in America on a Sunday morning.
Make the decision, today, to be an agent of love. Make it today, and tomorrow, and the next day.
This stuff is contagious!
Maybe someday soon (we can hope, we can be patient, we can endure until that day) they will know that we are Christians, not because we support the "right" causes, or have a fun worship service- maybe they will know we are Christians by our love.
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Loving God, make us agents of love, not just for today, but forever.
Rev Paul Appleby: Raised in the Church, the teachings of Jesus came alive to Paul in a new and exciting way after studying the Sermon on the Mount, and rediscovering the brilliant, simple, and profound way Jesus encourages his followers to live and love. Along with his amazing wife Sage, he serves a loving Christ-centered congregation in Killeen, Texas.