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The Rt. Rev. Robert C. Wright The Rt. Rev. Robert Wright

The Right Rev. Robert C. Wright is the tenth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA.

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Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, GA


Love Is for Grownups

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

4th Sunday after Epiphany - Year C

January 31, 2010

The Apostle Paul authored one of the most beautiful chapters of literature the world has ever known.  You know it; they read it at nearly every wedding.  Paul goes on about that crazy thing called love: "Though I speak in the tongues of men and of angels and have not love, I am as a sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal."  Paul continues, "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love," he says, "never fails."  But he includes some other words in this beautiful chapter of poetry, words not as beautiful as the rest, but words all the beauty rests on. 

It's the eleventh verse of 1 Corinthians 13 I'm talking about.  "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man (when I became a woman), I put away childish things." Based on that verse, I want to say to you, that love is for grownups!  

Now you're probably saying, "Hey wait a minute, didn't Jesus say that we are to be like children?"  Sure, he said that--we are to believe like children; but he didn't say we are to behave like children. There is a difference.  And there is a difference between being infatuated with the idea of Jesus and living the love He teaches in the Gospel. No, that is a grownup matter. 

As best as I can tell, we live in a society which says you're only young once, but you can be immature for a lifetime.  He who finishes with all the toys, they tell us, wins the game.  Living for Jesus is supposed to be different.

Have you ever spent any time around small children?  They repeat one word: mine!  Only they never say it once.  They say, "Mine, mine, mine!"  For the grownup Christian there is no such thing as mine!  There's only what God has shared with me.  "All things come of thee O Lord and of thine own have we given thee...." is what they taught us back in church. 

But this is not a popular idea in America and not even in church, really. Some folks will call you a socialist if you try it.  In our world, we look out for number one.  We say, "I got mine you get yours."  But the Christian life is supposed to be different.

The grownup Christian knows every heart beat is gift; every connecting synapse gift.  The portion of faith we enjoy, a gift; every nickel, a gift.  What do we have that is not gift?  That's the question that always gets me.  Thanks be to God, not even my sins are mine any more. 

Because everything is gift, we blaspheme when we cry out mine.  Or at least we sound childish.  Just think about the church in the book of Acts. They shared what they had and by sharing they distinguished themselves as a different kind of community.

Though the word love is repeated countless times by Paul, the word "our" captures the practical side of what it means to be a grownup Christian.

Paul goes on to say, "When I was a child, I understood as a child...."  Now understanding is a difficult subject to understand--how 'bout that.   But the beginning of understanding comes with listening. A grownup love listens.  It listens to God and it listens to the world.  It hears what is said and what is not said.  It hears with the heart.  It hears the Spirit's groaning, too deep for words. 

Sometimes just listening is the best expression of love.  In my worn out old King James Bible, I notice that in the gospels, all of Jesus' words are in red ink.  And compared to the words in black ink, Jesus says quite a bit less than everybody else. 

I used to think that Jesus was so deep he only needed to say a little to teach his listeners. Just drop some pithy, paradigm shift and then it's on to the next preaching gig. But, now, I think his few words in comparison to others might mean that he was just really good at listening. 

Real understanding comes from real listening. And real listening, grownup listening, isn't simply waiting for a chance to speak; grownup listening takes courage, because we might hear that we are presently living wrong.

Listen to this. If we apply defensiveness in our listening when we should apply courage, well, we've just missed what the spirit was trying to reveal to us. "God is love," the Bible tells us; and yet God's first language is silence.  And God only sees fit to break that silence with a "still small voice."  That means we've got to listen for God and to each other.  That's the only way we'll grow in God. 

I know this is difficult stuff because we are such a chatty bunch--all of us--with our breathless busy lives.  Despite the Bible's warnings, we still measure success by verbosity and amounts of information.  But if a business can be measured by its profit margin, then a grownup Christian life should be measured by how much time is devoted to quiet, focused on hearing from God and from God's people.  Sure, we're getting older, but are we growing up?

Paul finishes all this talk of growing up by saying, "I used to think as a child."   Well, what are childish thoughts?  I have noticed that children are always sure of one thing, that they are right.  They will say to you with those beautiful childish faces, "You know I'm right.  I'm right about everything." 

We have beautiful faces too, but we are not always right.  What a childish thought!  Preachers are not always right.  Presidents are not always right.  Economic policies are not always right.  Husbands are not always right, and contrary to popular belief, wives are not always right either! 

Yes, it takes a real grownup to admit that he or she was wrong.  And it takes a real grownup to hear an apology and move on.  It takes some real growing up to apply the words of our faith, "If someone offends you, go to that person directly."  Notice, it doesn't say send a terse email and then write the person off. 

It is childish not to use your voice and speak words of reconciliation to a brother or sister after prayer when something is on your heart.  And it's childish to brood and pout, waiting around for people to notice what you are not grown up enough to say! 

In another love letter to a church Paul says that "...unity, faith and knowledge of the Son of God are maturity...."  There it is, as we live and learn from Jesus our childishness is being replaced through the Holy Spirit. 

The point, of course, is as we "grow up in the full stature of Christ," Christ's ministry in the world is multiplied.  And as the world sees "that we are no longer like children tossed to and fro," by this world, the world might be inclined to hear about how we've achieved this growth. 

Maybe just to add some urgency, Paul should have said our marriages, our work, our church, our world cannot afford for us to be anything less than gospel grownups for one day more.  Folks say that the church is in a season of upheaval as a result of doctrinal turmoil.  With the ultimate question being; "What do we believe, in the face of a changing world?"

Maybe the apostle's paradigm applies here also.  Maybe the whole problem is about growing up. 

I want to believe that the church, that's you and I, are just in one of those awkward growth phases, like when we were teenagers.  You remember that gangly, acned, out of sort's phase that ushered in our becoming new and sleek and graceful.  In a word, mature.  God hasten the day when we put away childish things.

Won't you pray with me?

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth.  Mercifully hear the supplications of your people and in our time, grant us your peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever.  Amen.

 


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