It’s the infamous LOVE text!
Read it (maybe for the umpteenth time) here.
It is not unfamiliar. This text is often used in wedding and union ceremonies; sometimes ordinations and installations, too.
In the Working Preacher Commentary, you can find a historical and contextual glimpse into what might have prompted the Apostle Paul to write these words at that particular moment. In it, Shively Smith writes
“In fact, the very placement of 1 Corinthians 13 suggests that Paul may be up to something. He wedges this poem in the middle of his discussion about spiritual achievements. In chapter 12, Paul discusses spiritual gifts and presents his famed analogy of the Church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16; Romans 12:5). This body boasts many gifts and many stations unified under one banner. Yet, these many giftings and functions are not enough to sustain the community. Paul digresses in chapter 13 to talk about love as the hidden ingredient, only to resume his discussion of the spiritual life in 1 Corinthians 14:1. Here, he connects love and spiritual gifts to each other saying, “Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts … ” (NRSV).
Unlike the marriage vow moment, Paul does not introduce this passage to affirm an ethic already present in the community. He presents this passage as a way to introduce into the community an ethic that is necessary if they are to survive the muddy waters of difference and disagreement produced in interpersonal relationships.”
You can read the entire commentary here.
Given the moment we find ourselves in today, it might be appropriate to spend some time with our congregations and communities exploring what it means to be a source of love.
I have a quote taped to the stand under my monitor that has been there for years; I don’t know who the author is nor do I recall where I got it from. It reads
“The starting point or foundation of a life filled with love is the desire and commitment to be a source of love. Our attitude, choices, acts of kindness, and willingness to be the first to reach out will take us toward that goal.”
In her book, All About Love: New Visions, African-American author, feminist, and social activist, bell hooks embraces a definition of love that says, “love is the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth” (page 5).
Isn’t this what we are called to do as a church: to be concerned about the spiritual well-being of all of God’s people? To those ready to receive this love—and to those not yet ready…?
And, given that we are still in the season of resurrection, let us not forget that we are all embodied spiritual beings. Therefore, this “will to nurture”—to be concerned—should be connected to the well-being of the whole person.
In other words, like Jesus’ ministry, the work of the church is to ensure “that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, NRSV). As a source of love, with a commitment to practice kindness, mercy, and justice (Micah 6:8), the church wills not only the survival but the thriving—spiritually, emotionally, physically—of all of God’s people.
Dr. King once said
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
As followers of the way of Jesus, are we ready to claim our power as God’s love made flesh?
Is the church ready to stand in its power unabashedly and unapologetically as a source of God’s unfailing love in a dying world?
What do we want to reclaim after COVID-19? What do we hope dies away? What should we let go?
Is there space for lament in a conversation about love? What about confession and forgiveness?
Where do we need to recommit—on purpose and purposefully?
Are we willing to review our budgets, plans, committees, ministry, use of facilities, action and inaction, with this love as a lens?
What have we learned about love in the midst of social distancing and remote engagement? Where has love shown up? Where has it been painfully absent?
Have we become more concerned with being the church everyone loves rather than BEing the source of love for everyone?
What would we add to Paul’s list of what love is? and what love isn’t?
Do you feel loved?
What is your love language?
p.s. Some of the musings above started in my DMIN thesis, Love Overcomes Chaos™.
Rev. Dr. Marilyn Pagán-Banks (she/her/hers/ella) is a queer womanist freedom fighter gratefully (though not always gracefully) serving as executive director of A Just Harvest, Senior Pastor at San Lucas UCC, and adjunct professor at McCormick Theological Seminary. She is a joyful contributor in the newly released book “Words of Her Mouth: Psalms for the Struggle.”
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