"Unapologetic Theology: A Christian Voice in a Pluralistic Conversation" is the title of a book by my beloved theology professor and friend, the late William C. Placher. It is also now the title of this blog, a place where I hope to add a Christian voice -- God knows, not "the" Christian voice, but "a" Christian voice and not just any old voice, but a distinctly Christian voice -- to the pluralistic conversation going on about just about everything.
Search This Blog
Without Love, Your Influence is Zero (e + w + f + g) x l = i
sermon preached the third Sunday in Epiphany (February 3, 2013)
Rev. John Ohmer, Rector
Falls Church Episcopal
to the reading from 1st Corinthians 13, you may have wondered, for a
second, if you’d stumbled into a wedding service this morning: We often hear
this passage read at weddings, and for good reason: it has a lot to say about
context of 1 Corinthians, and at root, it’s not so much about love as it is about
the influence we have.
little context: The city of Corinth was, at that time, one of, if not THE
largest towns in Greece.
It was a very important seaport, a
it lay at a Strategic road-juncture
it was the Capital of
the roman province
was filled with a cosmopolitan crowd
“Corinth” back then was a kind of symbol…
taking the power struggles of Washington D.C.,
opulence of Hollywood,
the wealth of Manhattan,
and combining them in one city…and you’ve got an
idea of Corinth.
this faith community Paul had founded, and cared deeply about, but that had
is no conflict within your family or
controversy within this community or country
nothing that happens today in Hollywood, or New York or Los Vegas or Washington
DC that was not happening then, amongst the Corinthians.
many churches, then and now, they’d abandoned their principles and were
actually doing more harm than good.
fortunately, no churches are like this anymore, but apparently the church in
Corinth was suffering from things like people comparing themselves to one
another, arrogance, litigious-ness, complacency, a lack of morals, pride, and a
self-centered, “what’s in for me?” lifestyle…
Paul writes to these people, and much of the letter is a wake-up call.
wrote this letter to bring them back into line. To straighten them out.
remembering, again, the context, there is nothing sentimental about the kind of
love Paul is going to speak of. The love of which Paul speaks is “active,
tough, resilient, and long-suffering.”
helps us make sense of the scene in today’s gospel, where he hear about Jesus’ teaching
in the synagogue and turning an adoring congregation into a murderous mob…he
does it by reminding them of the nature of God…they thought, like many
religious people think, that they had a monopoly on God’s favor…and in telling
them that God sent drought relief not to them but outsiders and God cured not
the lepers in their midst but a leper outside of them, Jesus was reminding them
that God colors outside the lines they had drawn…that God was bigger than they
thought or wanted God to be…and they became furious.)
spoke, and Paul wrote this letter not just to make a point, but to make a
difference: in order to change people’s behavior – in other words, to influence
So Paul in the first 12 chapters doesn’t mince words.
then he says this, in the famous thirteenth chapter:
know, if I say all these things in the most convincing way possible --“If I
speak with the tongue of angels” -- if I am the most eloquent person in the
have no love,
am a noisy gong, or a clanging symbol” –
might say I’m the same sound as fingernails going down a blackboard…awful
other words, if I am the most eloquent person in the world, make the best
arguments ever, but don’t do that with love, I have zero influence. Worse, Paul
says! I’m a turn off, an annoying noise.
says, “if I have all prophetic powers, and understand all wisdom and knowledge”
would say, if I have the wisdom of Solomon and the intellect of Einstein,
do not have not love, I am nothing.
goes on to say, “if I have all faith, so to remove mountains” –
“if I give
away everything I possess to the poor,”
if I suffer for my faith even to the point of
(we might say, if I have all the faith of Mother
but do not do it with love, I gain nothing.
a strange thing to do in a sermon, but I want you to picture an algebraic equation:
(e + w + f + g) x l = i
Add up the sum total of four
Eloquence plus wisdom plus faith
And multiply that times love,
and that equals your influence.
That's what Paul is saying: take all your eloquence, all your intellect, all your religious faith, all your acts
of generosity, and add it all up, and
multiply that by the amount of love you have – there’s your influence.
If the multiplier of “love” is
zero, the result is zero.
spend so much time and thought on the things inside the parentheses, but it
doesn’t make any difference how well we speak, smart we are, how correct or
incorrect our faith is, how much good we do…if we don’t speak, think, and act
with love: none of it makes a positive difference.
the good news is, if the multiplier of love is a large…the things inside the
parentheses – our eloquence, intellect, faith, and generosity, don’t really
have to be all that large, because if the multiplier of love is large, our influence
will be large.
to influence your children, your colleagues?—do we want, as a faith community,
to influence the larger community and society?
in this equation does it make the most amount of sense to be spending our energy?
That's right: on the multipier.
Paul describes in detail what this love is like:
of which Paul speaks is slow to lose patience.
looks for ways of being constructive.
does not try to impress. Does not gloat.
love is not irritable, or touchy.
does not keep score.
love “knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its
hope;” -- it can outlast everything….it lasts forever. [from Eugene Peterson’s The Message]
lasts forever: As the
pastor Lewis Galloway says, “Every spiritual gift will end…all monuments human
beings will crumble away, every human life will come to an end. … There’s a
beautiful irony in the fact that the one thing that will last forever is the
love that is given away.”
Okay,so at this point in sermons I like to picture someone sitting about halfway in
the congregation holding up a sign that says “okay, but HOW?”
How do we love like that?
answering that, I have bad news and good news.
bad news is for most of us, we can’t; it’s not humanly possible.
are some people who seem to be able to love naturally like this. But for most
of us – for me anyway -- we can't; it's just not humanly possible.
good news is WE can’t; it’s not HUMANLY possible.
God can; it is divinely possible.
The good news is, this
kind of love doesn't come from "in here," but rather comes from “out there,” or “up there,” -- it comes from the
wellspring of love, the God of love.
so here are three ways I would answer the “how?” question:
One, it’s important to spend time in prayer – a minimum of fifteen to twenty
minutes a day in prayer marinating ourselves in God’s love. Not just glazing
ourselves (that’ll rub off in the first five minutes of traffic), but marinating ourselves in God’s love, to receive
love until we are overflowing with it (because it’s difficult if not impossible
to give away what you don’t have).
pausing for 10 seconds throughout the day to say “thank you God” “wow God,” and
“help me God” – recognizing the times God has helped us throughout the day and giving God credit; appreciating the good things in life as gifts from God; and asking for help from God from our heart: “God, I’m about to go into a difficult conversation, I sure could
use some help here…help me love like you love, help me see this person the way
you see them…”
addition, it’s important to consciously become disciples, or apprentices, of
Jesus. To unlearn complacency, comparison and self-centerdness and learn love. Loving
the way Jesus loved is in fact learn-able; we can be trained in it. Adult Forum
classes, Bible study classes, conciosly deciding we are going to apprentice ourselves to Jesus...
that our eloquence, and wisdom, and faith, and generosity are multiplied many times
over by our love…
For Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that this year. What I'm fasting from this Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
(Let me be clear: that does not mean giving up news or otherwise burying my head in the sand: it means staying informed while finding ways not to get pulled into a downward spiral of feelings of numbness and helplessness; it means giving up unproductive feelings like hopelessness and resignation and taking on visible behaviors like giving encouragement and taking action.)
It means making visible -- here, on my blog, and even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories…
So for Lent, I was thinking of doing the typical fasts: fast from Facebook and take up reading, fast from petty vices like overindulging in sweets and alcohol and take on moderation, yada yada yada.
But I'm re-thinking that.
Now one of the things I'm thinking about fasting from during Lent is discouragement. That means cutting back on what is so often the source of discouragement, which is a tendency to gorge on, or dwell on, bad news.
That would mean taking on encouragement: to make visible -- even on Facebook -- the good.
Because the problem is -- to paraphrase the community organizer Rich Harwood -- a lot of times we see "good news stories" as being quaint -- they are tossed in at the end of the news as an inspiring story, or put in the style section. But stories of good things happening -- people coming together to do things, is not a touchy-feely, feel-good story, but something affecting real change.
So for starters: I'm inspired by the leadership example of…