(what is) love

Love makes us practitioners of life.Dunbar
Presbyterian Church &
Southern Heights Presbyterian Church

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Luke 4:21-30

A recording is available here.


The Revised Common Lectionary readings for today offers us an additionally New Testament text; a familiar passage from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. Hear now the words from Paul’s letter, commonly entitled “The Gift of Love”:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Most often we hear this passage read at weddings; it’s occasionally read at funerals; and it probably graces the cover of entirely too many Hallmark Valentine’s cards. These words about love are profound, and they become more so when we remember that they were not about a couple pledging their lives to one another in front of family and friends. Rather, these words are profound because they “arose out of a pastoral crisis in the Corinthian church.” Rev. Dr. Lewis Galloway reminds us that, “The Corinthian Christians are abusing their freedom, refusing to share, scorning their neighbors’ spiritual gifts, boasting in their own gifts, seeking recognition for themselves, and jockeying for position in the church.”[1] Our familiarity with the Corinthians text poses a challenge for us as we examine these words in the varied contexts presented by the lectionary today: a call story, a pastoral crisis, and a rebellious sermon.

Alas, the day of looooooooovvvvveee is quickly arriving.

No sooner had the big-box stores removed Halloween and discounted Christmas merchandise than the pink, red, and silver heart merchandise began to appear en masse. In 2013, Hallmark customers sent 144 million Valentine’s Day Cards. In comparison, Mother’s Day was 133 million, Father’s Day came in at 94 million, and Easter scored 57 million cards purchased. Jewelry companies tell men they are bad partners if they don’t buy diamonds for their ladies. Chocolate sales peak, and poor red rose bushes all across the globe are suddenly naked. Somehow as a society we’ve deemed it alright or acceptable to materialistically recognize our affections for others one or two days out of the year, instead of living and breathing them every day of the year.

I did a little research of a few internet definitions of love to share:

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep
because reality is finally better than your dreams.”[2]

“I love you like a fat kid loves cake.”[3]

“Love thy neighbor —
and if he happens to be tall, debonair and devastating, it will be that much easier.”[4]

“Happiness is the china shop; love is the bull.”

“The sincerest love is the love of food.”

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”[5]

Or, how about this one?:

“Love is not another spiritual gift,
but the way in which God intends us to practice all of our gifts.”[6]

But what about, this one?:

“Love, I’ve come to understand is more than three words mumbled before bedtime.”[7]

“Love, I’ve come to understand is more than three words mumbled before bedtime.”[8] Love is so much more than three words uttered before we place our heads on the pillow for the night, or peck our kids and spouse goodbye in the morning. Love is in not just an emotion. Love is a way of life. Love is primary in life, love has character, and love endures. Love does.

The Gospel message from Luke today is a continuation of the passage from last week. In fact, verse 21 overlaps in the readings. “Then he began to say to them, ‘Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” Christ has returned home to Nazareth and dares to be bold in the presence of his family, friends, and home congregation. Jesus dares to speak words that demand action; words that command love; words that incite a revolt. And he does so with a “just passing through” attitude. Jesus knows that he’s too close to the people who’ve gathered to hear him preach, so he doesn’t try to get through to them as he knows it’s impractical: there is no talking to his Nazarene mates and them suddenly realizing their exclusivity and desiring immediate change.

No, Jesus was coming to challenge the status quo and demolish existing stereotypes, and he knew he would not be well received. Thus, speaking truth to them, he allowed the ancient scrolls of Isaiah’s words to stand on their own, and once he’d gotten the attention (and admiration) of the synagogue, he used the actions of other prophets Elijah and Elisha to call attention to inaction. “Love…does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” The truth (aletheia) was this: Israel as full of widows and lepers, “yet Jesus stated that ‘none of them’ (none of the hometown Israelites) received assistance from Elijah or Elisha.” Repetition of this phrase ‘none of them’ and referencing the ancient prophets provoked the crowd.”[9] They suddenly realized that Jesus wasn’t preaching an approval, but rather bringing to light their wrongdoings and mistreatment of others. They quickly moved from a mood of astonishment and pride over their hometown hero, to disdain, disgust, anguish, and enough anger to want to drive Jesus out of town.

I recently learned of an interfaith organization called The Night Ministry which works to provide food, shelter, basic healthcare, and humanity to the homeless populations in and around Chicago. The ministry makes every effort to be a reliable presence in impoverished areas, as many who receive care depend on the care, meals and companionship on a daily basis. In short, “The Night Ministry is a Chicago-based organization that works to provide housing, health care and human connection to members of our community struggling with poverty or homelessness. With an open heart and an open mind, …[they] accept people as they are and work to address their immediate physical, emotional and social needs while affirming their sense of humanity. Through The Night Ministry’s Health Outreach Bus, Youth Outreach Van and Youth Shelter Network, each year …[they] provide services to 5,200 adults, teens, pregnant and new moms who have nowhere else to go.”[10] How dare that Jesus challenge the status quo! No wonder the Nazarenes wanted him gone! “Love…does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

When God moves through the Holy Spirit in our lives to solidify our callings, it’s terrifying, unsettling, and daunting. Jeremiah’s reaction to his call is no exception. He fears he doesn’t know the words and is too young, but God disagrees and strongly encourages Jeremiah to trust in the goodness and guidance of the LORD. This fear of inadequacy, and therefore ours, is irrelevant. God has called him for a purpose and Jeremiah is to live into his calling. Theologian George Martin notes a few pertinent items for our understanding: “The prophet Jeremiah speaks to something many of us know; we do not choose God; God somehow mysteriously and even against our will chooses us.”[11] God chose Jeremiah, so therefore God happened to Jeremiah. The God of love takes action in, through, and with us so that we may in turn, with God, do love.

Martin continues, saying, “Acceptance or resignation usually happens only after struggle, and that is true in …[Jeremiah’s] story. Jeremiah is not easily cornered, especially not after being as to be a prophet to all the nations, a terrifying idea at any time. The Hebrew word for nations, goyim, referred in the natural discourse of that day to the enemies of Israel to those who sought it’s destruction.”[12] God’s vision was incomprehensible. And Jeremiah was just a boy. This prophet would forewarn the destruction of Jerusalem, including proclamation that the nation of Israel face famine, be plundered, and be captured by foreigners who would exile them to a foreign land. Known as the weeping prophet, Jeremiah would face increased persecution, but the Lord would protect his life. “Love…believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This calling for Jeremiah meant existing in God’s truth and a life of service to the Almighty.

Brittaney is a young adult who recently took back her life after ridicule, degradation, and mental abuse by a boyfriend. According to the article, she was “in a relationship with someone who pointed out her every flaw…yet Brittaney couldn’t find the strength to leave the relationship behind.” Finally, after months of self-blame and low self-confidence, Brittaney reclaimed her life by sharing this on social media:

You always told me I didn’t look good with long hair and that you preferred girls with short hair. So I kept my hair cut above my shoulders at all times. You laughed at me and told me I looked ridiculous when I dyed my hair red when we were together. So a week later I dyed it back blonde. You would always point out if I was wearing too much makeup. So I just stopped wearing it. You told me tattoos and piercings were tacky and ugly. And would try to take out my belly button ring every time you saw it. So I took out my piercings and didn’t get any more tattoos. You pointed out my stretch marks every chance you got. So I did my best to keep them hidden. You pointed out every time I looked like I had gained weight. So I started eating less every day. You pointed out every single flaw I had. So I lost every bit of confidence I had. I did everything I could to be what you wanted. I did everything you told me to do. It still wasn’t good enough. You left me for a younger prettier girl. Someone you could mold and shape into what you wanted. Like you tried to do with me. And up until a few months ago I blamed myself for everything that happened. You blamed me too. But finally I started to see the truth. You weren’t out of my league. I was out of yours. I wasn’t the one who wasn’t good enough for you. You were the one who wasn’t good enough for me. You couldn’t accept me for who I was. When I took you the way you were. So now here I am… My hair is past my shoulders…[and] bright red. I’ve got a new tattoo. New piercings. Started wearing makeup again. I eat whatever I want whenever I want and weigh 135 pounds. I still have my stretch marks. And I’ve finally gotten my confidence back. I finally see myself looking back at me when I look in the mirror.[13]

This young woman understands the truth: she is a beloved, beautiful, created child of God. To me, the Lord said to her ‘before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’ And then  God called her to love herself while encouraging other abused women to self-love, also. “Love…believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

“God calls every Christian to live the radical gospel of Christ through faithful obedience in the world.” Professor James Calvin Davis says, “For some, that faithful obedience may require grand utterance, heroic measures, or world-changing actions. For others of us, it is in fulfilling the tasks of our social, political, and familial roles that we stand as prophets in the cultural wilderness, testifying to God’s intentions for the world in the way we live our lives.”[14] Love does. Love lives. Love is an action verb, not a noun or adjective describing a feeling. Dr. Eugene Peterson paraphrases love in The Message this way:

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies.

This thing called love is so much more than three little words. It’s a person who was born to die. It’s a parent who gave a child for another. It’s the concern for a congregation in pastoral crisis. It’s the call to life in ministry and service to Christ. It’s the challenging words of reality spoken to an exclusive nation. Love is living. Love is breathing. Love is reminding created beings of their beauty and worth. It’s showing up regularly to provide a meal and medical assistance. {It’s wrapping the pastor and her family in prayer as they celebrate new life.}

Love makes us practitioners of life.
Thanks be to God! Amen.


[1] Lewis F. Galloway, “Pastoral Perspective on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 302.
[2] Dr. Seuss
[3] Scott Adams
[4] Mae West
[5] Stephen Chobsky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower
[6] Galloway, 302.
[7] Nicholas Sparks
[8] ibid.
[9] Gay L. Byron, “Exegetical Perspective on Luke 4:21-30” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 313.
[10] http://thenightministry.org/
[11] George H. Martin, “Pastoral Perspective on Jeremiah 1:4-10” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 292.
[12] ibid.
[13] http://www.littlethings.com/brittaney-facebook-self-love?utm_medium=Facebook
[14] James Calvin Davis, “Theological Perspective on Jeremiah 1:4-10” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 290.

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