Happy Memorial Day weekend.
I the BC world, Before COVID-19, this weekend would be one full of all kinds of celebrations and ceremonies. It is the weekend when we remember the soldiers that have died in battle. It is the weekend that unofficially marks the beginning of the summer season. Our numbers goes way down in worship attendance because everyone runs for the cabins. We have parties and barbecues, and soak in the warm summer sun.
This is a new world.
This is the DP world—During Pandemic.
We’ve been in lock down for two months. The governor just cranked the dials a little bit to begin opening up the state.
There is a lot of tension brewing. As with every topic, people have very different opinions about how we should open things up. People have different ideas about the highest value. Are we more afraid of the vulnerable population being infected and dying, or are we afraid of economic collapse and how many more lives that might destroy.
Everyone has valid points. Everyone is frustrated, tired, and the fear and awkwardness of uncertainty is a very real stressor.
Here’s the truth. This is not a new thing. Before COVID, we had all kinds of political and idealogical differences that drew lines between groups. I think it fascinating how those simmered down during the lock down, but now the lines are forming in new ways around different issues.
It’s part of being human.
So, here’s my big question for today. How do we navigate the tension of differences and this uncertain future?
Our text for today speaks to this so beautifully.
Our text is 1 Corinthians chapter 13. I’m sure you are familiar with at least part of this passage because it is read at 90% of weddings. We often call this the love chapter.
I want to take a moment to dive into this text and show you how this text in not just a sweet poem to read at a wedding. It is actually the very key to navigating the tensions and the uncertainty of this DP world.
Let’s dive in.
We chose this text because we are in this series during the Easter season called “Practicing Resurrection.” We’ve been looking at the first few chapters of the book of Acts and observing how the first disciples of Jesus became a community that was soaked and ignited by the Holy Spirit. We’ve also seen how, even in these early days, the honeymoon didn’t last long. Factions and controversy broke out amongst different groups in the church.
Last week Pastor Brandon taught us how Peter was even told to break the Laws of Moses and connect with a Roman Centurion and eat with him.
All Heaven is breaking loose and IT’S A MESS!
So, we chose this text because it is part of a letter that the Apostles Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, Greece. The church there was divided into factions and they were arguing over who was more spiritual. Some had received the spiritual gift of tongues, and others didn’t. Some received the spiritual gift of prophecy and others didn’t. Some people felt that their wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and they looked down on the poor.
It was a hot mess.
It sounds a lot like us, doesn’t it?
In light of this, let me read this passage again. This time, however, I want to read it by following the structure of the original language, because it is actually incredibly poetic, and very cool.
I preached on this a couple summers ago, so forgive me if you find this redundant, but I think it is so important that it bears repeating.
Our English translations usually render verse 31 “I will show you a still more excellent way.” The literal translation, however, reads “and still by hyperbolic way to you I show.” The alternative path that Paul is about to show the Corinthians is one that goes above and beyond imagination. It is excessive. It overflows. It is the most excellent way.
Notice the first word: The Love. It never falls apart, fails, ends, collapses, ceases…
However, the stuff that we get so worked up about–our gifts of prophesy, tongues, and knowledge–they will end. They will be abolished, crushed, fade away, disintegrate. Nill.
Notice the structure. “from part” we know. “from part” we prophesy. Our knowledge, our ability to speak the truth, is small and limited by our own perspective. We only have part of the picture.
Here is a key place where our English language has really led us down the wrong path for interpreting this text. Look closely at the structure. “When might come to teleion.” The Greek word telos is highly debated amongst Bible and Theology nerds. It means more than the end, as if it the final stop of a railroad track. It means the fulfillment of purpose.
The New Living Translation says, “But when the time of perfection comes.” The word perfect is so dangerous. Our Greek, Western heritage brings so much Platonic baggage with that word that it makes it seem like it is a hard stop. You can’t go beyond perfect, can you?
The New Revised Standard version says, “but when the complete comes.” That is a little better, but still has a finality to it.
I think the word maturity communicates it more closely to the meaning Paul may have intended. My reason for that will become clear in a moment. first…
Look what maturity does to our “from part” way of being. It abolishes it. It opens it up and allows us to see more fully. Keep going…
Paul uses a metaphor to explain it. Infants grow to maturity. When I was an infant, I acted like one. When I become a mature adult, my infant ways are abolished. Or, at least they should be. Can you hear the finger wagging here?
For now, as infants, life is an enigma. That is literally what it says. The Greek word is einigmata, from which we get the English word enigma. It represents something that simply does not make sense. The grown-up world doesn’t make sense to the infant.
Here is where it blossoms into something incredibly beautiful. Notice how the infant looks at the world. She looks into a mirror. Who is she looking at? herself.
Where does the gaze fall when maturity arrives? We look face to face. In maturity, I will perceive (not know) just as also I was perceived.
I have always been taught that this passage was all about how glorious Heaven will be after we die. Right now we are stupid humans, but someday, after this life is over, we’ll get to understand all the mysteries of the universe.
I don’t think that is what Paul is saying at all. Paul is telling the Corinthians to grow up. He’s telling them to stop gazing in the mirror and wondering how important they are in their own eyes. The bickering and one-upsmanship is childishness and not part of the body of Christ that God is trying to mature in this world.
God’s love causes us to look at each other AND ACTUALLY SEE EACH OTHER!
We are called to love each other in the same way that God loves us. Each of us is a beloved child of God and we are called to look out for everybody.
Notice the last word of this majestic poem: The Love. Mic drop.
I love the way one of my professors at Luther Seminary described God’s love. Dr. Gary Simpson said that love is like a stem cell. Love becomes whatever the recipient needs it to become. Love does what needs to be done for the good of the other and good of the community.
Love does not exist for itself.
So, what does love look like right now, this memorial day weekend?
Jesus said, “no greater love is there then this, that one lay down ones life for a friend.”
Tomorrow we will remember the soldiers who laid down their lives for their country.
Each day, we see love as essential workers and health care providers enter into infected and dangerous spaces to care for the sick and the dying.
Love does not ask, “What is my individual right and how can I get my way?”
Love sees the need of the least and the most vulnerable and asks, “What can I do to make sure that you get what you need and that we are ALL healthy, safe, and thriving?”
Folks may be wondering what we are going to do and if we have a plan. Bottom line for Easter is:
- We have assembled a Safe Reopening Team composed of healthcare providers who are members of Easter, an HR person from ISD 196, Eagan’s Emergency Response Coordinator, and core staff members. This team will consider and advise us on a plan for when and how to move forward.
- Our plans and future actions are predicated on two things.
- The health and safety of our members and the communities in which we live and work.
- The guidelines of CDC and MDH.
- We will not be guided simply by what is “legal.” (I Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial (expedient).”
- Watch for updated on our website and Facebook. We will also place a brief recording on the church’s phone system.
Sometimes love just looks like putting on a mask when you go into a public space.
Remember that God’s love is with us, is for us, and will guide us through this together.
Happy Memorial Day.