Love is Our Religion

On the one hand…

There’s a meme that’s been going around with the caption, “Day 15 of the quarantine. My wife took up gardening, but won’t tell me what she’s going to plant.” And the picture very clearly shows that she’s dug a grave. Because the guy’s wife is going to kill him. Because they have to spend so much time together. Because they’re staying home. Funny, right

And there’s a tradition of jokes about how terrible your spouse is. About how hard it is to live with them. About how miserable they make you. But my problem with those jokes is this:

I know that a lot of the people who are sharing that meme and telling those jokes had someone stand up at their wedding and read this morning’s passage from First Corinthians. I know that before they said their vows, someone reminded them that love is patient and kind, not arrogant or rude or irritable or resentful; that love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but in truth; that love bears and believes and hopes and endures all things.

Even in quarantine. Even in this time when we’re safer-at-home.

On the other hand…

There’s this movie where the plucky hero has something that the sinful villain wants. There’s a scene where they meet for the first time, and the villain says, “I want to resolve this like civilized men. I’m not threatening you. I’m unarmed.”

And the hero says, “Good.” And draws his gun, and shoots the villain, and the villain goes down.

But it’s early in the movie. So as the hero starts to walk away, the villain gets back up, and grabs the hero, and says, “I am, however, wearing full body armor. I am not a moron!”

Love bears all things. Love endures all things. But we cannot. Boundaries are a thing. And it’s important to learn how to say, “I love you… but I can’t stay with you.”

Even to a person you’re married to… or a person you’re in a  relationship with… or a parent.

Even to a job… or a home… or a hobby.

We are Christians. Our religion is love.

And, as I said the other week, we are not called to a nice, comfortable, respectable, from-a-distance, sentimental love. Our religion is a down-in-the-dirt love. Our religion is a wild love. Our religion is a dangerous love.

Our religion is the imitation of the creator and sovereign of the whole universe… who set glory aside and became one of us… who taught with patience and healed with kindness… who humbled himself to live among a dispossessed people in an occupied land… who blessed those who cursed him and rejoiced in truth… who bore the cross and endured the tomb and rose again to glory… who kept loving… who keeps loving.

We are Christians. We follow Christ. It’s right there in the name. We love a broken world. Even to the cross. Even to the tomb. Even to resurrection. That is our religion.

But…

We are called to love a broken world in a broken world, and that’s a balancing act. We are called to a love that is wild and dangerous and full of grace… and we need to protect our soft places. I know.

I might even know that better this week than I do most weeks.

Right now, we are loving from a distance, because being at a distance is a loving thing to do. And even when we can gather in person again, I imagine that we will still be keeping a distance. We will keep up healthy distancing and wear masks. We will avoid passing the peace and passing the plate. We will probably have to give up singing… and communion… and our snacks after church. Because right now, and for a while into the future, that is how we can love and protect our soft places at the same time.

Right now, we are loving by having worship through recording and fellowship through videoconferencing-that-you-have-to-register-for. Because right now, and for a while into the future, that is how we can love and protect our soft places at the same time.

We are called to love a broken world in a broken world. That is a balancing act. And we are doing our best to balance right now. And balancing is hard.

But while I know that the balance between loving and protecting our soft places is hard for us right now… I am under no illusion. Most of the time, it is not.

There are churches who meet in secret… because they live in fear of being found out. There are Christians who must go and love without revealing why they love. And we are not them. We can love publicly and protect our soft places at the same time.

There are churches who have armed security… because there are people who want to hurt them because of their race or their sexuality. There are Christians who must love while surrounded by guards. We are not them. We can love openly and protect our soft places at the same time.

Even now… when we might be a little bit hurt, a little bit frightened, a little bit confused and confounded.

But there’s a hard truth here. Sometimes, we can love… and we can protect our soft places… at the same time. And we have been privileged that we have been able to do that so easily, so often, for so long.

But, sometimes, we cannot. Sometimes, loving publicly… loving openly… loving boldly… means putting our soft places out there. Sometimes it means getting hurt.

Love is our religion. It is not a part of our religion. It is not an aspect of our religion. Love is our religion.

Our reading today is from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Last week, we learned why Paul wrote this letter. Paul had founded a church in Corinth. Paul had founded a little community of believers, who preached the impossible and worked to turn the world upside-down. And after Paul left, that community fractured.

Some people were following Paul. Some people were following Apollos. Some people were following Peter. And some people were following Christ. And so Paul wrote them a letter.

And he talks about a lot of things, but the heart of his letter—the heart of his message to this fractured community—is this:

Has the spirit fallen on you with a tongue of flame and given you the power to speak all human languages, and even the language of the angels?

Has the Lord spoken to you, giving you prophecies to deliver to the people and filling our mind with all knowledge?

Do you have the faith to move mountains? Like really move them? Do you have the faith to command a mountain to stand up and walk? To perform miracles the likes of which no living person has ever seen?

Are you magnificently generous? Have you given away everything that you own? Have you abandoned all care for yourself in service of the care for others?

If any of those things are true… if every. single. one. of those things are true; if you are the speaker of tongues, the knower and prophet, the believer and miracle-worker, the philanthropist… and you do not have love… then you are nothing. And all that you have is dust and shadows.

Everything serves love. Bold down-in-the-dirt love. Wild, dangerous, grace-filled love.

And sometimes we can serve that love and protect our soft places. And sometimes we can’t.

But the beauty of living this religion of love is that we are in it with each other… and with Christ.

There is a reason that we read this passage at weddings, and it’s not just because it uses the word love a lot. It is because we can love better when we support each other. And there’s a reason why the plucky hero wins, and it’s not just because he is brash and handsome and clever. It’s because he has a team.

Sometimes, by the grace of God, we can protect each other. And sometimes, we can’t.

And when we can’t protect each other, sometimes, by the grace of God, we can care for each other and heal each other. And sometimes, we can’t.

And when we cannot care for each other or heal each other, by the grace of God… God will care for us, and heal us, and restore us to life.

I know that these are hard times. And I know that this has been a hard week. And I know that we’re scrambling to hold things together… sometimes with both hands and a roll of duct tape.

But I also know that the mystery of our faith is that Christ came to us in love… and went to the cross and the tomb in love… and rose from the grave in love… and will return to usher in a kingdom defined by love.

And, in the meantime, I have faith that we can get through the hard times and the hard weeks by doubling down on love. I have faith that we can get through the hard times and the hard weeks by loving each other… and by loving God… and by loving neighbors… and by loving total strangers… and by loving our enemies… by loving publicly and openly and boldly.

Because love is our religion. Thanks be to the God who is love.

Right now, there is a movement in churches and nonprofits arguing that charity is toxic, that helping hurts, and that the entire nonprofit sector needs to be reformed to truly lift people out of poverty. These charity skeptics are telling Christians that traditional charity deepens dependency, fosters a sense of entitlement, and erodes the work ethic of people who receive it. Charity skepticism is increasingly popular; and it is almost certainly wrong.

Now available from Wipf and Stock’s Cascade Books imprint, Radical Charity: How Generosity Can Save the World (And the Church) weaves together research and scholarship on topics as diverse as biblical scholarship, Christian history, economics, and behavioral psychology to tell a different story. In this story, charity is the heart of Christianity and one of the most effective ways that we can help people who are living in poverty. Charity—giving to people experiencing poverty without any expectation of return or reformation—can save the world and help make God’s vision for the church a reality.

Pin It on Pinterest