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Note: There is always more to say on a text. I had a completely different sermon written earlier in the week and then I was unsatisfied with it. At some point, it became a personal challenge to see how many titles of love songs I could include. There are a couple of times it was a reach, I know. Still fun!

Whenever I think that I Want to Know What Love is, I have 1 Corinthians 13 to tell me. I imagine you have heard this text before, even if you’ve never heard a sermon about it. It is often, likely read at a wedding, or as a Love Story at every wedding. Because it’s lovely, it’s full of suggestions on how to live, on what it is to love.

Of course, when 1 Corinthians 13 is read at weddings it is just that: just those particular parts of one chapter. And when read out of context, without any other thoughts from Paul, without any explanation, without any recognition of the disagreements, divisions, and divides. See, all of 1 Corinthians is about those disagreements, all about whatever the reasons some people of the church in Corinth found to decide who was better than in the church.

Right before this in the letter, Paul is talking about the Spiritual Gifts, how each one is important to the whole, the flashy ones aren’t more important than the humble ones. It ends with Paul writing: Let me show you a better way. That is when he begins to talk about love. Without the context, this hymn of Paul’s is just another Silly Love Song.

In our time, maybe in all times, Love is hard, love is complicated, Love is Weird, Love Hurts. They say love is a concept, love is abstract, love is a feeling, a series of neurological synapses and dopamine. When asked to define it some might say Love is Love, as if that says it all. We either think about love how much we enjoy mint chocolate chip ice cream or what it feels like when A Man Loves a Woman, or a man. Regardless, love is absolutely impersonal or completely intimate.

I am going to remind you that while I like the idea of knowing Biblical languages, I don’t. I have to trust folks smarter than me. And the folks smarter than me, or at least in my position, have often talked about how in ancient Greek Language of Love has 3 words: eros philia of Lovers and Friends, respectively; and agape for love “giving itself away freely no less for the murderer than for the victim–Divine Love, love of the Incarnate Christ who would Die For You. And we’ve been told that those distinctions are made in the texts. Apparently, All My Life, I have been lied to. Philia of friendship and agape of divine were used interchangeably and the “distinction” came later, by God Only Knows who but not Paul.

Paul wasn’t worried about romantic love. In fact, he was so convinced that this generation that was living wouldn’t die before Jesus returned that he thought there should be no new marriages–unless of course their Emotions and lusts were too overwhelming, it’s not just about finding Somebody to Love, but that it is better for the community, for you, to remain Just the Way you Are.

So Paul wasn’t talking about romantic love, but  The Gift of Love that each member of the community has. You and Me might have different gifts of the Spirit: speaking in languages that aren’t known to humans or prophecies that say Something from God. But, when they are done in a way that doesn’t care for, that doesn’t love each member of the community, it is all Shallow at The Best.

This is about community, this is about collective, this is about life together, Here and Now, this is about a better, more Perfect way to live.

The late, great theologian Frederick Buechner wrote of love: “The first stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love. The middle stage is to believe that there are many kinds of love and that the Greeks had a different word for each of them. The last stage is to believe that there is only one kind of love. these are all varied manifestations of a single reality. To lose yourself in another’s arms, or in another’s company, or in suffering for all who suffer, including the ones who inflict suffering upon you-to lose yourself in such ways is to find yourself. Is what it’s all about. Is what love is.”

The first time I wrote this sermon it had a lot about John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, a whole lot about John Wesley’s terribly unsuccessful love life. You’d be Amazed by the stories that were told about him back in the day! Similar to Paul, John didn’t think that he, as clergy, should be married. And, like Paul, John wrote about The Power of Love a lot. Perhaps, while failed romantics, all love is Only Love, a love of God and all that is created.

For John Wesley, for Paul, love is More Than  Words, Love is a Verb, Love is Action, love is what we do. For Rev. Wesley we are made perfect in love, in our acts of love, in every act of love we are made more sanctified, more Christ-like, more perfect in love. We practice acts of love and grow in love and become more loving and then more acts of love. There are not about saving the world, not about being a Hero. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

Maybe if Mother Teresa had been speaking to the Corinthians in all their squabbles and disagreements, she would have told them that their small acts with great love could have been to look out for each other, to Say A Little Prayer for each other, to make sure each person has enough, to make the world here Just Like Heaven–just like the Kingdom of God, that Paul was certain would be imminent and we are co-creating with God from then to now, From This Moment onward.

It is talked about all the time: on the news, in community meetings, as we prepare for voting again in the fall, that we, the whole country, multiple countries, are more divided than ever. Everywhere folks are showing up living as if there are only two sides to every issue–and every issue is taken to its extremes. We might Remember When the lines were drawn so clearly, so deep. But reading Corinthians, (I Can’t Help) but thinking what we see today has happened before, and will happen again. And, it begins by practicing love, by practicing and living and sharing the Divine and Cosmic Love of God we have been given with each other, and living and sharing it in the world until, At Last, Love is All Around in the world around us–in the Kingdom of God.

Dr Buechner would go on to write: In the Christian sense, love is not primarily an emotion, but an act of the will. When Jesus tells us to love our neighbors, he is not telling us to love them in the sense of responding to them with a cozy emotional feeling. You can as easily produce a cozy emotional feeling on demand as you can a yawn or a sneeze. On the contrary, he is telling us to love our neighbors in the sense of being willing to work for their well-being even if it means sacrificing our own well-being to that end, even if it means sometimes just leaving them alone. Thus in Jesus’ terms, we can love our neighbors without necessarily liking them.

Our practicing Crazy Little Thing Called Love might look like offering each other grace when others aren’t living into this being church the way we expect. It might look like showing up in a time of need, to Stand By You-r community. Learning to love and care for the person we know and would rather not spend time with. The thing about church both then and now, is that you don’t get to choose your church family. We learn to love even in the midst of diversity and disagreements. We learn as a community that we can’t make it through this life on our own–I Need You and you need me and we all need each other, maybe even especially on the days that we disagree, when we challenge each other, to learn what it is to disagree and not be divided.

We return to John Wesley who wrote: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.

We Found Love in acts of kindness, having the hard conversations about illness, and becoming Open and Affirming, and mental health, and what it means to be part of the church while disagreeing and staying in it. Because Nothing Compares 2 a community devoted to each other, supporting and caring, acting in love. “Love shows patience. Love acts with kindness.” “Love is a busy active thing that never ceases to work. It is always finding ways to express itself for the good of others.

In the context of 1 Corinthians, it would be better to say that the measure of love is its capacity for tension and disagreement without division.

As Long as You Love Me, and I Will Always Love You, and we actively care and love each other, we can build the beloved community based on and root on Love and Only Love of God in Christ, revealed in each other. Let’s Stay Together in love with God and show that love in actions and patience and kindness and forgiveness and consideration for all that God has made and loves. Because in the end, All you Need is Love.

But in all seriousness. Love does not perish when the body dies. Love does not end when there has been miles and year. Love does not wither, or tarnish, or fade. Love is the choices we make, to move and live and breath and act in love, every day, to choose love the person we might share a home with, a row at church, a line at the grocery store, the annoying neighbor and the cruel one, we choose love. We live love. We grow in love to love more, and better, and a little more perfect every day.

May it be so. Forever and Ever, Amen.