Today's Lectionary Text
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
It’s one of the most powerful passages in the Bible and easily one of the most well-known; so much so I fear we read it with the casual dismissal of familiarity sometimes. But Paul was so overcome by his appeal to a divided Corinthian church that he, strategic thinker though he was, became a poet.
I grew up in the Church and have seen the redemption and the ugliness -- both as a congregant and as a minister. I’ve seen people divide whole congregations over where the coffee is served or the song selection. I once believed these were tied to some higher moral issue that was worth a struggle. Or at least a strongly worded letter. And I dutifully showed up for worship, armed with Bible memorization and prepared to carry the cross into battle. I really do believe that I was a Christian then. I wanted to be good at it and get it right.
But it wasn’t until God called me into ministry and I met a group of leaders who loved me well --with relationship, tender acts of care, accountability dripping with hope for my potential -- that I became a follower of Jesus. Jesus became real through the love I experienced from his followers and I really started to get why this love thing Paul waxes on about was so much more than a wedding reading or a “Yes, of course. But what about…” practice.
We don’t act loving because it’s a mission strategy or another neat way to grow the church. We love intentionally, honestly because it’s the bond that forms us as the Living Church across time. We rest in knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. Love really is that powerful.
As I grow less childishly innocent, the “right” choice is not always so clear. That’s when I choose love in word, deed, and truth. Even when it’s difficult. Even when I am unlovable or encounter the unloveableness of others -- especially then. We see sometimes only in hindsight that these things remain: faith, hope, and love. Read the text again. May we all know and experience that the greatest of these is love.
Discipleship and Spiritual Life Director
Trinity United Methodist Church, Lincoln
Prayer for Reflection
Holy and Loving God, you have found countless creative ways to show us you love us and to invite us into loving each other. Love is so much more powerful than we sometimes believe or practice. When we find ourselves lost for the right thing to do or the right way forward, may your Spirit always bring us back to the poetic words of Paul. As we go into the world today, may all we meet know we are Christians by our love.
Editor's note: This devotion previously appeared on Feb. 3, 2019.
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