St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga


Matthew 18:21-22 | 2 Cor 2:1-10
It seems such a simple question. And, for that matter, a simple enough answer.

The disciples have heard Jesus speak of forgiveness. And perhaps they’ve understood how their own deep need to be forgiven – by others, by themselves, and by God – finds an echo in the call to forgive one another.

But when, how, and, and here’s the question Peter brings – how often? And when he offers his question “as many as seven times?” I think it’s clear that he isn’t talking about seven random, unrelated offenses. The debate within Judaism at the time was around the very real question of what we do when someone does wrong, gets forgiven, and takes advantage of that forgiveness to sin again in the same way. The forgiven thief, who is entrusted with money and steals again. The abusive husband who begs for forgiveness only to continue the pattern of abuse.

How many times? How often do I forgive only to be hurt again? Do I really have to go through that, seven times?

And of course, Jesus’ answer is ridiculous. Forgiveness is to be, in effect, unlimited. Because, as he would often say, that is how we need to be forgiven by God. Honestly, if I thought of the ways that I most often fail, and come back to God asking forgiveness, only to fail once me – seventy-seven times, even seventy times seven (as it might be translated) would not be enough.

Seven times?, Jesus, in effect, says to Peter. No. Don’t keep count.

And this is at the same time one of the most profoundly important declarations of our faith, and one of the most terribly abused doctrines.

Because it has been used, through history, to tell women to return to submit to the violence of a husband, to tell children to forgive the abuse they have suffered over and again, to tell indigenous peoples (all over the world) to move on from what has been done to them, to tell victims of economic plunder to put the past behind them and accept the ‘generosity’ of their oppressors as fair recompense for their loss.

Because aren’t we supposed to forgive without limit, as God forgives us?

Yes, we are.

But careful with that word, ‘forgive’.

Our reading from Paul’s second letter to the Church in Corinth is also about forgiveness, and contains, almost in passing, a wonderful description, almost definition, of forgiveness. Encouraging the Church to forgive a member who has hurt them as a community (we don’t know why, or how), Paul writes

“I urge you reaffirm your love for him”

“reaffirm your love”. Here is the core of forgiveness.

Refusing to allow the offense to define the future of the relationship.

It’s not “forgive and forget” – indeed, if you ask me that’s one of the most harmful phrases in the English language. Genuinely forgetting the harm that someone has done is not only impossible, but would be downright dangerous. Indeed, I’d even go as far as to say, unloving.

If someone we love has a weakness that leads them to sin, to harm us, or others, or themselves, then to forget is to place them, ourselves, and others, back in danger. A friend is an alcoholic, perhaps, and drunk, they do great harm. We may choose to forgive; but forget? And presumably offer to buy them a drink next time we see them?
And what do we say to the one who has been hurt if we speak of “forgive and forget”? Do we say that if they still remember the pain they have suffered then they have not yet truly forgiven?

No. To forgive is not to forget. It is not even to act as if the offence never happened – though that sometimes might be the way, by no means always. It is not to pretend that the past was somehow different to the truth.

Forgiveness is the reaffirmation of love, even in the knowledge of wrong.

Forgiveness is the offer of reconciliation, even in the cold light of truth.

This is the core of forgiveness. What it looks like in practice depends a great deal on the circumstances. Forgiving another, one does not lightly give them freedom and power to reoffend. Sometimes, yes. Sometimes the one who has hurt us needs to be trusted, needs to know that they are trusted. But not always, not automatically, not unreflectively.

It is not unforgiving to say “I love you, but I’m not sure I can trust you with this right now”. Or “I love you, but I’m not going to let you hurt me again”.

Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness always comes back to our need of forgiveness by others, and by God.

And so what is it that we need, when we come, naked of all our pretentions and excuses and defences and self-justification, before God?

When we finally dare to confess our darkest side to God – or harder still, to another human being?

Do we want them to say “oh, consider it forgotten, we’ll just pretend it never happened”?

Or do we want them to say “I hear you. What you are telling me is hard to hear, it’s a darkness neither of us want to think about, but I hear you. And I still love you.”
God’s forgiveness of us is not the forgiveness of forgetting what we have done (does God forget?), not of pretending that it never happened, lying about the past. It is the forgiveness of re-declaring love. “Yes, this is what you have done. This is what you are like. This is who you are. I know. I always knew. And I still love you”.

How much better is that than the kind of image we seem to paint of God saying: “I’ll pretend you’re not like you are, I’ll pretend you didn’t do what you’ve done, because then I’ll be able to love you.”

As if God could only love an idealised version of ourselves, a version of ourselves that we know well doesn’t match to the reality, doesn’t truly exist. As if God could only love the other us, the one we wish we were, not the one we really are.

Forgiveness does not deny the truth. Forgiveness does not pretend.

Instead, forgiveness leaves scope for acts of reparation (which would make no sense if the wrong has been forgotten); acts done not in order to earn forgiveness, but because of the relationship that forgiveness has restated.

And forgiveness may come with, not conditions as such, but constraints, consequences. This is where the assumption behind Peter’s question breaks down. If you keep letting someone sin against you in the same way, you are missing something. You may not be doing the best that love can do; for love, in forgiving, would be seeking ways to protect the wrongdoer from their temptation to sin again.

Forgiveness is to know the darkness in another soul, and still to love.

And forgiveness is to let another know the darkness in you, and still be loved.

Forgive and forget?


Know, and still love.

For you are known, and still loved.



John 14:25-27
“but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

“brought peace?”

“oh peace! Shut up!”

It’s not often that one gets a chance to start a sermon with Monty Python quote. But today it is bizarrely relevant.

“Peace I leave with you,” Jesus says to his disciples in the farewell discourse in John’s gospel, “my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”.

One of the great claims of the Roman empire was that it had brought peace to the region. For the occupants of the fertile crescent had been torn by war after war, as great empires struggled with one another – Israel, a small pawn in the middle of board swept back and forth as one mighty power after another dominated the ancient world.

The peace of Rome, the Pax Romana, may have been more propaganda gloss than reality, but it was the gift of the world. Peace, as the world gives it. Peace through strength, peace through control, peace through superior firepower.

It’s the same peace that we hear in the voice of serious contenders for the American presidency, promising to end the threat of terrorism and the refugee crisis by carpet bombing Iraq or Syria. Peace through violence or the threat of violence, peace though power.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. But I do not give you peace as the world gives it”

Not as the world gives.

The peace that Rome brought, the peace that the world gives, is peace on the terms of the powerful. Peace where the strong perhaps choose to be generous, perhaps make concessions to the weak, but continue to hold all the cards, all the power.

The peace of Jesus is not as the world gives. It is not a peace in which the powerful hold the reigns tight and keep everything in order (according to our definition of order).

The peace of God is much messier than that. It is the peace of setting free. The peace of empowering the other. It is a dangerous peace, unpredictable, uncontrolled by design.

For love never finds peace through fear, through threat, through force.

But of course, when we speak of peace it is about far more than the geopolitical considerations of conflict, war, or terrorism.

We speak too of peace within our communities, our workplaces, our families. And once again, the world has its way of giving peace. Looking out for your people, your tribe. Excluding those who are different. The ones who might be a threat to the peace of the community. Ones who look different, or behave differently, who worship God differently, or worship a different God. One who speak another language, or hold different values.

But the peace of God is not given as the world gives. It is the peace of hospitality, the welcoming other the other, the stranger, the different. It is the peace that Jesus lived, eating with outsiders, outcasts; and also with the privileged and powerful. “For Christ”, the Apostle will later write, “himself has brought peace to us. He united those who were divided into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.”

And when we speak of peace, we might too think of an inner peace, a sense of wellbeing, of satisfaction with life. And here too the world offers peace in a very different way.

Some voices would make peace something that can be bought: if you just had the things that you needed, the right clothes or gadgets or physique, then you would fit, you would be comfortable with your life, you would find that peace which comes from not needing any more.

Of course, we know that to be an illusion spun by the world of advertising; and perhaps we go in a different direction: peace through being connected with your inner self, your own spirituality, your own sub-conscious. While religious observance may continue to shrink away in our society, spirituality remains strong, as people seek out spiritual peace outside of the constraints, as they would see it, of institutions or organised religion.

A peace that seems too often to be characterised by the needs and wants and comfort of the individual; my spirituality, my self-actualisation, my path.
But once again, the peace that Jesus offers is not as the world offers. For those who seek inner peace, he does not prescribe the pathway of individualism, but of community; not the pathway of self-fulfilment, but of discipleship; not the pathway of comfort, but of consolation in trial, as Paul describes the opening of the second letter to the Corinthians: “For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ”

And of course, if we speak of peace we must also reflect on peace with God.

How does the world offer peace with God? Some, of course, do so by denying the reality of God at all, destroying even the possibility of peace with that which is not.

Many choose instead the peace with God that comes from redescribing God. “I like to think of God…” the sentence begins – and ends by describing a God who just seems to fit seamlessly with the way things already are. Peace by recreating God in your own image: peace, but at the expense of growth. For if God is no more than I imagine God to be, how can I be challenged to be more than I already am?

Or perhaps instead, the world would push God off into the infinite distance – “we can’t know anything about God, God is so completely other”.
The peace that Jesus offers, once more, is not as the world gives. For he came to show us the reality of God, and to make that reality knowable, approachable – but containable.

The peace with God offered by Christ is not the peace of perfection, not the peace of absence, but the peace of grace: the peace which comes from knowing your weakness, knowing your failure, knowing your sin, and knowing that, with it all, you are still held in the loving care of God.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

Peace is what we want, it is what we need. As a world, as communities, as individuals within ourselves and in our relationship with God.
It is peace we strive for, at least on our better days.

And it is peace that Jesus promised.

But are we ready to let go of our own understanding of where peace might come from, and receive the gift that is offered?


Uniting-Catholic Dialog

On Tuesday June 7th, Bishop Peter Comensoli of the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay and The Rev. Ann Hogan, Chairperson of the Kuring-Gai Presbytery of the Uniting Church will engage in a dialogue on the topic: ‘For what should Christians lobby in the public square?’ in the Shirley Wallace Parish Centre (on the first floor above Holy Family Catholic Church at the corner of Pacific Highway and Highfield Rd, Lindfield – lift access available in the side lobby of the church) on Tuesday 7th June at 7:30pm. All welcome. Church carpark entry at the end of Balfour Lane.

Variety and Unity

Acts 2:1-4 | 1 Corinthians 12:1-13
So today we celebrate one of the great festivals of the Christian Church.

Actually, strictly speaking, today we are celebrating four of the great festivals of the Christian Church, all in one go.

Later in our service we will join together to share in the festival, the sacrament of communion, sharing together brad and wine as we remember Jesus’ last supper with his friends, and his words his words about his own death – a death willingly accepted because it was a part of the process of reconciliation.

And the reason we join together for worship on a Sunday, and not on Saturday, the Sabbath, as our Jewish heritage would suggest, is because we are celebrating the great mystery of the resurrection; the miracle in which that willingly accepted death was turned around into new life, new hope, new opportunities.

And of course we’ve already today witnessed the great festival of baptism; that strange practice by which people – children, adults, babies – are welcomed into the community of the Church. A gift of God, offered to all, like the seed in the story of the sower, never knowing where it will fall and how it will grow.

But today is also Pentecost Sunday. The day when the Spirit of God filled the first disciples of Jesus, and drove them out into the world; speaking the good news, sharing the miracle of God, telling the story of Jesus.

Pentecost, the “fiftieth day”, was a great celebration in the Jewish faith of Jesus’ day. Not on the scale of Passover, but none the less, a great day in the Jewish calendar. In Palestine it marked the end of the grain harvest (which traditionally began directly after Passover) and was celebrated much as many communities would celebrate a Harvest Festival; with the best of the produce being brought to the Temple to be shared for the common good of all. It was, in fact, a party, a week long feast of food and drink, giving thanks in celebration for the goodness of God’s provision.

And this was the reason that so many different languages were being spoken in the city that day – if you remember the story, of which we just had a small section read to us today, the great miracle of Pentecost was that, filled with the Spirit, the followers of Jesus overcame the barriers of language, speaking words that everyone, wherever they were from, could understand.

It’s a miracle, a story, that has many sides, many implications. It is, of course, the start of the Church; the beginning of this movement that spread out from those first eye-witnesses to touch people throughout the world, echoing through two thousand years (and counting)
And with the gifting of the Spirit it was also the start of that strange and unpredictable reality that is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives; changing us, challenging us, supporting us, comforting us, and, occasionally, working the miraculous through us.

And this seems to have become a big thing for the Corinthian Church that we’ve been reflecting on for the past few weeks.

And in particular, it seems that the divisions amongst them focussed on the gifts of the spirit – that is, that people within the Church were choosing which faction to support, which leader or guru to listen to, based upon the gifts of the spirit that they displayed: did they speak in tongues? make profound pronouncements? perform miracles and healings?

And while this isn’t really a problem that plagues us here at St. John’s, there is a lot in Paul’s response that we can learn from, as we reflect upon the gifts that God has given us.

For the heart of Paul’s reply lies in these simple words:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

There are varieties of gifts: we are not all, thank God, gifted in the same ways. Some may have a practical bent, others more inclined to study. Some have insights of wisdom, some a natural touch of hospitality, welcoming the stranger. Some have a gift with words of healing and comfort, some the skill of teaching. Some are organisers, some know how to find the words to lead God’s people in prayer and worship. Some are skilled in managing resources, others in leading people, others in hearing and sharing the vision God is bringing to the people.
There is a variety of gifts: but the same Spirit.

And there is a variety of services, but the same Lord. Not coincidental that these are the very next words. For the truth too often forgotten is that those gifts that are given by the Spirit of God, whether they look like spiritual things or secular things, are all given for the sake of service. Your gift as a skilful administrator? That’s given for the service of God. Your ability to speak and be heard? For God. Your skills in finding solutions to difficult practical or political or social problems? You got that skill from God, and you got for use in God’s service.

I’m not saying here that all these gifts, all our skills or talents, are for the sake of the Church, or the Christian institution. There is a variety of services, a wide range of ways that God can be served; and within the congregation of God’s people is just one of them. There are those who serve in our schools, our hospitals; those who serve by administering business, by fixing roads, by growing, transporting, selling the goods we need; by working in or for government; by providing services to those in need, or in protection of those at risk.

The key refrain in Paul’s is this: there variety, but there is one

Different gifts, from the one God.

Different ways to serve, for the one Lord.

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

To each is given.

I don’t know if you feel that this applies to you, but it does.

Whether you feel like you have a lot to offer or not, the word is this: everyone has been given gifts of God, manifestations of the Spirit of God.

And the test, in the end, is not what those gifts are, that you have been given. Nor is it the particular way that you use them.
This test is this: for the common good.

Whatever it is that God has gifted you with, whatever skill or talent, resource, insight, relationship, ability; for there are a variety of gifts – there are a myriad ways that you might use it, and no one right way, for there are a variety of services.

But it is given for the common good. Not for you. Not for your profit, not for you aggrandisement, not for your security; but for the common good.

The apostle challenges us to answer three questions:

What is the gift – what are the gifts – that God has given you?

What is the service in which you are putting them to work?

and in it all, is it the common good that is served?


John Vicars’ funeral

We’re deeply saddened by the death of John Vicars, Peter and Janet Loxton’s son-in-law. The funeral will be held this Thursday, May 12th, at 1pm at St. John’s.

The last enemy

1 Corinthians 15:1-26, 51-57
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been looking at this letter written by Paul to the Church in Corinth; a Church divided, that he called to unity in the foolishness of the way: the foolishness of the cross. Then last week, we read his amazing, beautiful poem to love; his description of a love which goes far beyond the sort of love we find easy or automatic, which transcends the barriers and divisions that we so easily place between ourselves.

And he ended that poem with the famous trilogy: these three remain – faith, hope and love.

Now faith is something that Paul writes about a lot. Not, for him, the “believing something even though you know it isn’t true”, faith is not irrational, although it is, perhaps, arational, outside, beyond reason, but not contrary to it: in the same way, perhaps, as love goes beyond the rational. Faith, for Paul, for us, is intensely personal. It is not about believing a set of doctrines, or about assenting to a ‘statement of faith’. It is not “faith about”, it is “faith in”. It is the belief in things not (yet) seen, but a believe grounded in the character of the one who has made the promise – believing, not in the impossible, but in the faithfulness of God.

Love, then, and faith. And now, as he brings this letter to an end, he turns to the third of his trilogy: hope.

For if faith is the belief in things yet unseen, and the love of God is what sustains faith, then hope is that for which we have faith.

And it is with our final hope that Paul leaves the Corinthian Church.

“For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day.”

The death and the resurrection of Jesus has always, from the very first days of the Christian movement, been at the core of the faith. “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again” was perhaps the earliest declaration of faith; “He is risen indeed” the earliest response.

“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile … and those also who have died in Christ have perished”

“But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.”

Paul’s argument is simple enough: “in Adam”, by the simple fact of our humanity, all die. It is the universal fact of human existence. All die. But God entered into our humanity, even into death, and then added something new; added the postscript, the “deeper magic from before the dawn of time” as Aslan called it – resurrection. And just as in our humanity “in Adam” all die; so in our faith, “in Christ”, all will be made alive.

For “the last enemy to be destroyed in death”.

I’d like to linger on that phrase, for it bears reflection. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”

Death is an enemy.

There’s no attempt here to avoid what we all know at some deep, animal level – death is an enemy. But for much of the history of the people of God that could not have been unambiguously declared.

For in the most faithful of Jewish monotheism, death – like everything – came from God. In the story of the garden “if you eat of that fruit you will die” – it is the declaration of God, the judgement, even, of God; that we will die.

But here death is not a necessity, not a judgement, not, ultimately, even the will of God: death is an enemy.

For some, dying at an old age, after a full life, death might be an enemy greeted, finally, if not as a friend, as a final release: for others, when death comes far too soon and far to unexpectedly the enmity of death is all too clear.

Whatever else we might say of death, let us not fall into those trite pseudo-Christian mottos: “God must have taken them for a reason”. No. Death may not always be the worst thing possible, but it is the enemy.

And it is an enemy as of yet undefeated, undestroyed. However deep and secure and profound our faith, death still comes and when it does, it shakes us, attacks us, confuses us, stands against us. We may hold with unshakable faith to the promise of the resurrection and the life of the world to come, but still, death comes at us as an undestroyed enemy – a genuine foe.

For death is the last enemy to be destroyed.

Indeed, death is the last enemy.

In the course of our lives as people and in our lives of faith, we face many enemies, literal or figurative: people who stand against us or against the faith; circumstances that seem to conspire; limitations of resources, of abilities, of time, that prevent us from doing the work that we feel called to do as well or completely as we wish we could; sickness that seems to strike at the least convenient moment; violence, crime, terrorism, war.

We face enemies throughout the walk of our lives. Some we defeat, some we flee from, some we compromise with, some we make friends of, some set us back, some, perhaps, even help us.

But at the end, beyond them all, lies the last enemy. In each of our lives the last enemy we will face is death.

And then, it will be the last enemy that is destroyed

The trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
And then ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’

This, in the end, is our hope, the great, eschatological hope of the Christian faith. That death, the final enemy, will be swallowed in victory. For even now, while it is still undestroyed, it has been defanged. Sin, the sting of death, has been defeated. Also not destroyed – we surely all know that sin is still very much alive – but defeated, for it lacks the power to control our final destiny, lacks, in the loving forgiveness of God, the power to shame us, the power to drive us apart from God or from one another. And when sin cannot separate us from God or from one another, death lacks any final meaning.

For the pain of death is the pain of separation, the pain of loss of the beloved.

And the Christian hope, the sure and certain hope of our faith, is that nothing that is good is ever lost forever, but is held in the hands and memory of God.

Death is an enemy, and one who can still cause much pain, but in the end, one who is ultimately, and totally, defeated.
Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.


Swing & Things

This Friday – 8pm in the Upper Hall – don’t miss Don Reid’s band “Swing & Things” playing live music for an evening of dance. Whatever your dancing ability (or, my case, lack thereof) come along and enjoy!

$10 on the door, kids free, BYO!


mark 12:28-31 | 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
The Corinthian Church was divided.

We heard about this last week, about people forming into camps, parties, within the Church, arguing amongst themselves about which group had the truest understanding, the most faithful interpretation of the message of Jesus.

They boasted, about their spirituality, about their understanding and ability to teach, about their miraculous acts, about their generosity, about their own physical suffering for the faith.

As if any or all of these things would earn them honour, respect, status, within the Church.

In last week’s reading, back at the beginning of the letter, Paul called them to unity; called them to live united by the foolishness of the cross, the foolish wisdom of the crucified God. For the bulk of the letter, he then deals in detail with particular questions that have been dividing the Corinthian Church – in particular, questions around the Holy Spirit and miraculous spiritual gifts.

And having done all that, he comes back to the start. Back to the core of the gospel message. Not, this time, talking about Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, but going back to the core of Jesus’ very message, the greatest commandment, as we heard it in our gospel reading.
Back to love.

To one of the best known, and surely the most popular, of Paul’s writings: the poem that is 1 Corinthians 13. One of those passages that makes it onto religious posters, the passage most read at weddings.

Love is.

But as we come to this passage, I think it’s really important to remember that context that it is being written to.

It isn’t written to starry-eyed romantic couples on their wedding day, to people who believe that love (at least, their love) will be unswervingly true, all conquering, never failing.

For that matter, it’s not written about the love of a parent for their child; the love that would willingly, unquestioningly lay down even life to protect the beloved.

It’s not written of the love of friends, or family, couples, or parents.

It’s written to a fractious, argumentative, bitterly divided people who couldn’t even agree on the day of the week. Who were so busy trying to be right – or righteous – that they forgot that the people they were trying to get one over were not the enemy.

It’s written to a time and place where loving was hard. Not, as we so often use it, for when loving is easy.

For the time, perhaps, when love is most important.

And so it is that this passage begins with the whole noisy gong / clanging cymbal bit. It’s like Paul’s been listening in on their arguments, and is telling them – ‘You sound so smart, so spiritual – to yourselves, to each other. You speak the wisdom of men and words of deep theology. But all I hear I noise. Because I don’t hear love. You boast of your miracles, your faith, your knowledge, but I just see an empty shell. Because I don’t see love.’

And then it’s like there’s a pause. Perhaps, it seems to say, you think you are loving. Perhaps you think that being right, and sharing your wonderful rightness with others is love. How often have you heard “speaking the truth in love” as an excuse for criticism, self-righteousness, gossip.

So, Paul goes on, just in case that’s where you’re at, let me tell you what love really looks like.

Love, he begins, is patient. Not the patience you exhibit when you are waiting for the train, or the patience you need when you’re recovering from sickness or injury; there’s a different word for that, a word more like ‘endurance’. No, this is patience with people; the patience with which God is described in response to our rebellion – waiting, ever hopeful, for us to come around. Slow to anger, slow to fight, slow to condemn another.
Love is slow to be angry with those who are not in our camp, not in our tribe. Love recognises, as John Haldane beautifully put it on Q&A last Monday, that those who disagree with us are neither stupid nor wicked. Others can understand differently, can understand matters of faith differently, without it being a moral failing, or an intellectual failing.

Love, indeed, welcomes the different, the unexpected, the other; for it sees in graceful disagreement the opportunity to hear God speak: the eye, to pick up another of Paul’s great analogies, does not get angry with the foot because it sees the world differently (strictly speaking, of course, the foot doesn’t see the world at all, but you know what I mean); the foot and the eye each recognise that the other knows things of the world that they cannot, and that together that they are more than they could ever be apart.

Love is patient with the strangeness, the weakness, the foolishness, even the plain wrongness of others.

And in graceful disagreement, there is no place left for boasting. For what is boasting if it is not lauding over another for the superiority of our way, our skills, our place? If we truly see in our differences an opportunity for growth, a gift from God to the body that is the Church, then what place is left for boasting, or for arrogance? Or, for that matter, for envy?

Love bears all burdens – it’s own, and those of others. It endures all with the foolishness of the cross.

It believes all – not in the ‘seven impossible things before breakfast’ sense, but in the sense of the parent, or the coach, encouraging you on:
“You can do it. I believe in you.” Love believes, because love hopes. Hope – Christian hope – that sees past the immediate, past the failures and setbacks of the present day, to a future in which God’s will will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

And so love will never end. Never fail. Never be defeated. For that is where the foolishness of the cross took us; to the apparent defeat of love overturned in the glorious upset of the resurrection.

Faith, hope and love will endure. Even when knowledge becomes out-dated, when wisdom is superseded, when our knowledge of God is no longer a pale reflection but a face-to-face reality, still these will endure; faith, hope, and love.

And even, the greatest is love.

Not faith. You notice that? Paul, the theologian of salvation by faith alone, still places it below love in the final measure. Perhaps because love without faith is still love; but faith without love is a broken empty mockery of the real thing.

The greatest of these is love.

But read on one more verse.

“It is love, then, that you should strive for”

The point of this whole poem is not to decorate our walls, not to give us a warm glow at weddings.

Written to real people with real arguments, this is not a passage to make us feel good. It is a call to action.

This is love. This is the way of God. Patience with those who try you. Welcoming difference, disagreement. Believing in one another, even when things look bleak. Never giving up on the path that lies ahead of us, however hard things get. Always hopeful, not with foolish optimism but with trust in the final victory of God.

This is who we are called to be. There is no other commandment greater than this.