Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The nature of love II

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 13.4-5
Love is patient; love is kind. Or better, since these are verbs in the Greek: Love waits patiently; love shows kindness. Patience and kindness are what God does, according to Paul in Romans 2.4. Whenever love meets broken people like us, it’s going to need patience and kindness. This is part of the beautiful realism of the Bible. There’s no pretence that we’ll all get along fine, that we’ll never hurt each other, that there won’t be misunderstandings. And so we need patience and kindness. Patient love puts up with disappointment and frustration. It knows when to keep its mouth shut and arms open, even after having been let down before. Love shows kindness - is friendly, generous, considerate. Love has the ability to look at someone else and see that they too are fundamentally human: made by God, scarred by mistakes and abuses, with similar fears, similar needs, similar vulnerabilities. If you are kind, you bring joy to people, alleviate pain. To be in your company makes others more alive, not more burdened.

Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. When humans live close together and see themselves in competition, these are what happen: envy, boasting, pride. We look at someone else and wish we had their opportunities, their gifts, their friends, their partner. He’s got my dreams and my hate him, especially if he’s good at the same areas I’d like to be good at. She succeeds and I resent it. Love does not envy. It is content with what it has received from God and rejoices at his generosity to others.

Love does not boast. Of course, I never do anything so crude as boast. I’m much more subtle. I just tell stories about myself, that happen to highlight my better sides, my more impressive achievements, even those achievements which strictly speaking, aren’t quite true yet. I want to be treated with respect, yet fear I won’t, and so make sure that people have every reason to know how much money I’m making, or how I don’t care that I’m not making much money because I’m not shallow.

Of course, there is a way of being honest about even our strengths with sober judgement that isn’t boasting. The solution is not to beat myself up and convince myself I'm no good, or put on a show of false humility. These too can become forms of self-obsession. Nor is the answer to cut myself off from other people, to only ever show a mask, put up walls around heart so no one can touch me.

The solution is the slow and painful process of learning just how deeply God loves us, how safe I am in his care, how even if the world crucifies me, he can raise the dead. Once we begin to get a handle on the God’s boundless love, we can gradually take down the protective walls and live lives of self-forgetfulness, pouring ourselves out for others the way Jesus poured himself out for us.

Love is not rude. I don’t get to be a jerk, to act inappropriately because I feel like it. And I don’t get to define what is rude. I need to find out what you think is rude. I can’t just say “that’s who I am, live with it”. If I hurt or anger someone, I need to find out why and possibly learn how to change. It’s not about me. But what if someone has been rude to me? Love is not touchy, hyper-sensitive, thin-skinned. It’s not about me. Of course, I may sensitively and gently discuss in private with the person who hurt me why their action caused me pain, but I do so with a heart that is quick to forgive, and that will keep no record of the wrong. I refuse to let myself be burdened by every wrong I’ve endured, every insult I’ve received, every grief I’ve suffered. We forgive as we have been forgiven by God: completely, repeatedly, freely.
Various thoughts and occasional phrases for elements in this section of the sermon were shamelessly stolen from a sermon by Ian Powell at Barneys in 2005. "Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." - T. S. Eliot.
Ten points for guessing the city in this image. Twenty for naming the building.


Drew said...

mature poets steal
I’m much more subtle


Excellent - Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Actually Ian also preached that sermon at an EU talk some years before the Barneys version. (in the new (but not new now) Eastern Ave theatre).

So since he is stealing from himself, I see no reason why you can't do the same!


Matthew Moffitt said...

I'd say London, but have no reason to back it up.

byron smith said...

Thanks Drew for pointing that out.

Stef - likewise, and you are indeed correct. I too heard both.

Moffitt - correct, you'd have no reason to back it up (i.e. not London). :-)

Andrew said...

Looks like the Pantheon to me (burial place of Rousseau and Voltaire), which would make the city Paris.


byron smith said...

Good try, but no. I actually missed the Parisian Pantheon - Jess went there while I was at a museum she didn't want to go. In retrospect, I think I chose the lesser option.

Anthony Douglas said...

I wonder if it could be Berlin?

byron smith said...

Yes - ten points.

Anthony Douglas said...

Then the building must be the Deutscher Dom, the German Cathedral. Which must be among the world's youngest cathedrals, turning twenty next year (alright, after the rebuild). Hey, twenty! That number sounds familiar...

byron smith said...

Mmm, twenty indeed. That's now 71 for you today. I forgot to forbid one guesser from getting both points on this post. :-(