St. Mary Magdalene Anglican Church

Vancouver, B.C.

Phone: 604-877-1789

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The Anglican Parish of St. Mary Magdalene

2950 Laurel Street at West 14th Avenue

Vancouver, BC, V5Z  3T3

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Diocese of New Westminster Anglican Church of Canada

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Sermon

February 3rd Epiphany 4, 2019     John Marsh


Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30



In days of yore, I was known to say that the description of love in I Corinthians 13 was impossible, a flight of fancy, as no expression of love measures up…


My defense, if it is one, ‘I was young, perhaps stupid’…


Years later, as I reflect upon my statement of impossibility, I recognize that it is both true and false, leaving the question of ‘what is truth’ for another time…


Love, as so described, in I Corinthians 13 is impossible, although not in the way intended by the original comment; it is anything but a flight of fancy as it is a serious, deeply reflective piece, and indeed, no love measures up but so what. That our loves do not measure up does not lessen its import nor its impact…


Considering each point but not in order, I Corinthians 13 is not a fight of fancy, not a pipe dream, a fantastic notion nor an unrealistic idea. It is to say that we hear, though imperfectly, a call, we respond to lures within, dreaming of something, something more, something less in our lives, hoping that our loves exceed whatever we can ask or imagine.


Love, as so described, is not ‘reality’, does not exist as something substantial; it is an insistence, a thought, a hope, a deep desire, which cannot be shaken, which informs as it lures, drawing us forward into more – perhaps - that we can ask or imagine.


This is to say that love so imagined is real though not existent, is real though insubstantial, lure, longing, calling forth the work of love, the work of forgiveness, the work of reconciliation, the work of becoming more than we can ask or imagine. Love so imagined is to laugh through our tears, to cry, to live with abandon - did I say that? - which is to do the work of listening, learning, risking, again and again.


- A confession: I am a rather sentimental old fool, moved, of late crying in the face of stories of reconciliation, courage, endurance, love, in a word, life – the result of my stroke yet, not simply my stroke. -


Love, as so described, does not measure up to life but, as I said, why should it.


That our expressions of love fall short says only that we fall short, that our best efforts are incomplete, that what we seek to grasp exceeds our reach. But, is it not in reaching that we grasp however incomplete, in stretching, risking, that we take a step, step by step moving along, perhaps doing more than we ask or imagine? At the risk of using one more moralism, if we knew how many steps it would take, we may not have begun – the longest journey begins with the first step, continuing with the next...


Love as so described, is an unconditional, an unfathomable mystery of life, that which lights up our life, the fire of our dreams, that which lures, calls, troubles, seduces, inspires us, that which makes fools of us…


- Truth to tell, is it accidental that the passage, ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’ comes to mind? (see I Corinthians 1:25) That foolishness is referred to so many times earlier in I Corinthians, 5 times in the first two chapters to be exact, perhaps suggests that foolishness resides within love, within the willingness to risk, perhaps within that which we name as god. -


Love, as so described, does not exist. It is an insistence drawing forth life, drawing forth justice, drawing forth generosity, hospitality, drawing forth that variously named as sacred, holy, god and all sorts of foolishness.


That love can be disordered, that dishonourable things can be done in name of love, of god, says only that ultimately, we do not know, knowing not ourselves, knowing not outcomes, knowing not what we do or why, that what we do may not draw on the best of who we are.


As such, love as so described is impossible yet, perhaps, the impossible making life possible. If you think about it, without the impossible, if all we had was the possible, life would be monotonous, flat, utterly unremarkable.


Love as so described is impossible, not in the sense of absurd, impractical, inconceivable but as absurdity birthing dreams, the impractical driving impossible possibilities, possibilities never before thought or enacted, the inconceivable driving thought, actions, perhaps the foolishness of god…


Admittedly, I’m making philosophical points but perhaps, just perhaps, being foolish enough to hope that such will not be held against me, I will be granted an allowance, space to pray…


But now, as I settle into silence, convention interrupts, raising an objection…


While philosophical points have been made, in the ‘real world’ – do you find that phrase as annoying as I do? - what does philosophy have to do with life?


Can we not reduce the verbiage and say, ‘All it takes is love’?


After all, at the risk of becoming religious, doesn’t Jesus say in his synagogue homily that the captives have been released, the blind see, the oppressed are freed? Are these not loving actions?


Yes…


Wasn’t this heard as ‘good news’?  Wasn’t this received as ‘good news’?


Well… No! Most emphatically, no!


Truth to tell, Jesus’ homily was going fine until it became pointed. At first, they approvingly heard the religious text, then they were confused, then enraged, threatening bodily harm…


When they try to throw you off a cliff, ‘All it takes is love’ is absurd…


Indeed, it would be absurd to reduce what I’ve said about love to ‘All it takes is love’. To be so reductionist is to misconstrue what has been said, to undercut the force of what was said, to divert, disable, dare I say, destroy, the dangerous opportunity within love as so described…


Paul’s exposition on love does not drop from the sky, does not appear out of nowhere. To remove I Corinthians 13 from its context is to distort, destroy the text. Such decontextualized understandings are what give sentiment such a bad name.


I Corinthians 13, when contextualized, is a response rooted in a narrative outlining, critiquing, division after division, harm after harm, manipulation after manipulation, arrogance after arrogance.


I Corinthians 13 is a call, a lure, to processes of respect, conversation, listening, hard work, done again and again, admittedly, never quite getting it right, yet trying to do so in a manner of honest self reflection unfolding within starts and misstarts…


To illustrate, addressing an issue close to home, it is the work not undertaken that is the fatal flaw in most responses to truth and reconciliation with First Nation’s. Many organizations, ecclesial, governmental, corporate, use the language of reconciliation without the commitment to do the hard work of reconciliation. It is easy to announce that we are on the unceded territory of such and such a nation, but it is riskier to change structures, assumptions, building bridges of understanding especially when ‘the ball has been dropped’ and mistakes and misunderstandings are occurring…


Does taking seriously I Corinthians 13 guarantee outcomes, failure being adverted?


No…


However, to take I Corinthians 13 seriously, is to have faith, a hope in the work of love, the work of justice, the work of hospitality, generosity, forgiveness, reconciliation, to take seriously listening, conversing, respecting, owning mistakes, missteps, misperception’s…


Is this not foolish?


Perhaps…


But my prayer remains, my commitment holds…


And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.                                    (I Corinthians 13:13)