Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C
January 31, 2016
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
Right now stores are chock full of red and pink tchotchkes, chocolate of every variety, fancy cards gushing love-themed rhymes, and a host of other Valentine’s Day paraphernalia. Somehow this commercial holiday has become the normative cultural expression of love. Likewise, this week’s love-themed epistle reading, which is often mis-rendered at weddings into an oversimplified, syrupy testament to romantic love. Both popular manifestations of “love” can prove problematic for the faithful preacher or teacher. How does one effectively proclaim Jesus’ vision for love and the church’s mandate to love prodigally and completely in a culture that reduces love to commercial industries and commodities? One thing’s for sure, you sure won’t find the answer on a greeting card!
Instead, why not look at Paul’s description of love as an expression of stewardship? According to Clarence Stoughton, former president of Wittenberg University, “Stewardship is everything we do after we say I believe.” That means that stewardship is about love and love is about stewardship. It’s about loving neighbor, loving enemy, loving God. Stewardship is about how we live our lives and make our choices. Seen in this light, Paul’s words make both a lot of sense and lasting sense. Love as an expression of stewardship means that we consider all of God’s abundant gifts and how we can make best use of these gifts so that we can love our neighbor, so that we can return our thanks and praise to God, and so that we can do every little thing with great love.
We may have the best theological education, the most magnificent programs and projects, the most majestic or modern facility, and even an incredibly strong faith, but Paul says that if we don’t express these things in, with, and through love, we are nothing. We can even be incredibly generous, but if our generosity is not covered in love it misses the mark. The love that God gives and asks us to share is so much bigger and more all-inclusive than our pitiable human commercialized and sanitized versions.
What if, for example, our congregations really took to heart verses 4-7 as “the more excellent way” of being the Body of Christ? Imagine the differences we might see and experience! What if our life together was marked by a spirit of patience and gentleness, a lack of self-interest and envy, and a climate of hope and endurance? Would committee work and congregational leadership look different? I suspect it might if all parties were looking diligently for the good in each other.
Imagine how our outreach would be shaped as we bear one another’s burdens, as we endure hardship and challenges together, and as we welcome newcomers with trust and kindness. Truly, others would know us as Christians by our love rather than by hypocrisy and judgment, or by our —isms and schisms.
We have, as the Body of Christ on this earth in the specific places we are planted, the incredible opportunity to see all of life as an opportunity to express love and live as faithful stewards of the amazing grace and love God has first given us. Together we can practice love and help usher in the kingdom of God right here and right now.
(Photos: Bryan Brenneman, Stewart Butterfield, and Schipulites, Creative Commons. Thanks!)