The Gathering: Freedom

READ: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

If we’ve ever been to a wedding or a funeral, chances are, we’ve heard this reading. 1 Corinthians 13.1-13. At some point in my life, I had the well-known Bible verse in a frame hanging on a wall. It was a gift. Love is patient, love is kind… We almost know this verse better than John 3.16. It’s a little ironic that Paul wrote these poetic verses not to celebrate a life of love between two people or a life well lived; He wrote it because the young church in Corinth was divided against itself in many ways. This whole “Christianity” thing was new, and many of the church’s members had different ideas about how to live in community. I don’t know: Maybe instead of reading 1 Corinthians at weddings, we should be reading it in marriage counseling sessions… Either way, it is a great reminder of what it takes to live in community: Whether that community is matrimony or church, and, more, it is the perfect roadmap for us to live as Christ calls us to live in the world. The keywords, Paul writes, are Faith, Hope and Love, with Love being the glue that holds all of it together. And so if we know we’re supposed to love one another as Christ loves us, what gets in the way? That is our first question tonight. Roadblocks Here are a couple of scenarios. Just the other day, I was on Facebook — which is always a great place to see love and hate … There was a post from Relevant Magazine — if you’re not familiar with it, it’s a Christian pop-culture magazine — and the story posted was about the band U2 and Bishop Michael Curry. No one knew of Michael Curry before the Royal Wedding, in which he presided over, but now we all know he’s the bishop of the Episcopalian Church, and the first black bishop of that denomination as well. In an interview with the bishop, he said this about the band, U2: “I know of no other group that has sung and witnessed more powerfully to the way of love than U2. It was a real blessing to sit with them and talk about Jesus, the way of love, and changing our lives all over the world.” As some of you may know, the band — and especially its frontman, Bono — has for decades worked toward building peace and ending suffering in the world. Whether it be ending starvation or malaria, or apartheid and civil war both home and abroad, the band modestly touts its Christian heritage, it’s certainly a rock band that lives in the world, and is bent on changing the world through its Christian values. But then you read the comments written by other Facebook users… and it’s vitriol. It’s hate. It’s division. Clearly, there is this rock ’n’ roll band out there trying to make a difference in the world — and significantly has — and there are people — Christians, even — who will point out their flaws. ### When I was studying at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC, when Donald Trump won the presidency, the very liberal Christian seminary reacted with disbelief. Students mourned, professors openly wept in classes, and the seminary president issued a harsh statement about Trump. And that deeply wounded and alienated the students who voted Republican, albeit a very small minority. All of a sudden, there was an “us” and a “them” which breached the very core of what the seminary stood for: Unity. ### Now, there is such as thing as solidarity, and that means calling out the evil in this world and standing with those who oppose it. But we must do so, as Paul tells us today, in Faith, Hope and Love. Faith binds us to God: When we lose faith, we lose our very connection to God. Hope keeps our eyes on the goal of God’s promise. When we don’t believe the promise, there is nothing to hope for. And love: That is the attachment that we have to one another because of Christ. Love is the glue that holds all three things together. If I’m prophetic and full of wisdom and knowledge, and have faith to move mountains but don’t act in love, it’s a waste. I am nothing. Verse 2. We are far from perfect, indeed. But each day we practice love, we are another step closer to perfection. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. We can criticize a rock band, and we can criticize a president. But let’s make sure that what we’re doing is an act of love. Not pride. Not politics. And certainly not prejudice. Before we open our mouths to speak on any of this, we should flip open Paul’s roadmap and ask: “Am I doing this in Faith?” “What is my Hope in all this?” “Is what I’m saying or doing an act of Love?” Freedom Well, it’s the Fourth of July, and we love to talk about Freedom on this day. And rightfully so. 242 years ago today, this country gained its independence from Great Britain. Ever since, we’ve prided this nation on its fierce independence. And we’ve even prided our own lives on being independent. We want to control our own destinies. When we can’t do that, we see it as a weakness. When we must depend on others, we’ve made that seem like a weakness. It’s interesting that Christ calls us not into independence, but interdependence. A place where we all come together and share what we have and help one another. The opposite is selfishness and greed. It creates classes of people, and it separates us. Paul is saying what freedom is there in any of that? “4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.8 Love never fails.” What Paul is telling this divided church — this church more interested in breaking apart so that it can have the freedom to believe what it wants and the independence to not care about what others believe — and he’s telling them we have a new humanity in Christ. We are called to a different kind of relationship, a different way of life. That the Good News that Jesus speaks of is exactly this: Faith, Love and Hope. See, through faith — that holistic trust in the benevolence of God — we are able to love even those whom we disagree with. Even our enemies (imagine that!). Because love enables us to live in a new way with others, and it strengthens us to work for justice, mutuality and friendship. Hope enables us to love in greater freedom for the fulfillment of Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. What all of this means is simply this: In our world today, we see the idea of freedom as this: Freedom from… Freedom from being connected to another. Freedom from depending on community. Freedom from having to take care of others. Don’t believe me? We believe that freedom means erecting borders and walls at any cost to keep intact all that we have and not share any of it. We believe freedom means turning a blind eye to those suffering in the world and even in our own communities because it will cost us something. We believe freedom means taking care of ourselves first, as if others’ lives don’t ultimately affect our own. Boy, do they… The freedom that Christ gives us isn’t freedom from; it’s freedom for. We are so held in God’s arms and so saved by Jesus’s blood, that we don’t have to worry about being so chained, so bound up in making provisions for ourselves or trying to save ourselves. It can’t be done! No, the freedom we have is a freedom for being concerned with helping our neighbors. It enables us to get outside of our selfish, egoistic concerns so we can help others. And when we help others, we are helping ourselves. We are helping ourselves spiritually, for sure — we are moving toward perfection — but we are also helping ourselves in a practical sense, too: When we help others stand up, we build a stronger neighborhood, community, city and world. We have the freedom to share our gifts and talents so that they can share their gifts for the rest of us, too. That’s how we build strong communities. Imagine… It’s hard to imagine sometimes, the community that Christ calls us to. It’s countercultural, and our independence can actually hurt us and be harmful to others, too. Long gone are the days when we all grew up and remained in the same towns, when we all knew our neighbors, when we weren’t afraid to ask for help and believed it was our responsibility to help others. Now, we live far from home. Our kids will move farther. And our freedom from creates isolation. Paul even noticed it way back in the church of Corinth. He says if we lose Faith, Hope and Love, we lose the togetherness in community, and we lose our togetherness in Christ. It erodes. Because we can’t say we have Faith, then turn our backs on those who hunger. We can’t say we have Hope, and live only for ourselves. And we certainly can’t say we Love Jesus, then shun our own neighbors. Love is patient, and it’s kind, Love never fails. And if we only know if this partially, then we only know a partial kingdom. If we truly want to live into the kingdom God has for us now, let us completely walk in faith, live in hope and act in love. Then we will be complete.

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