“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude…” I have heard this verse from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians many times.
Often it is read at weddings, but one time when I heard it at a wedding, I heard it very differently. It was my first year in seminary. One of the temptations in seminary is to become very fascinated – even obsessed with your own preaching. When you first start preaching you think, “I have so much to say that people need to hear.”
But in the middle of that fascination I heard these words: “If I speak in the tongues of mortal and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
As I heard this passage, I realized that I could spend hours laboring over eloquent words, but if I didn’t let my life reflect the sacrificial love of God, my words would be empty and meaningless. And through years of ministry, I have definitely found this to be true.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is writing to a church divided. In the chapter leading into this one, he speaks about the different gifts for ministry that God’s Holy Spirit empowers. And he talks about the need the Church has for all the gifts. Some people in the Corinthian Church valued their gifts for ministry above the gifts for ministry others had. But Paul taught that all the gifts are needed and valuable. And he taught that no gift means anything if it is not delivered with love.
This kind of love is not sentimental. There are several Greek words translated into the English word love. Here the word “love”’ means sacrificial love. This is the love that God showed us when he sent his son to live with us and to die for us. This love is an action. This love is what we do rather than what we say. When we let this love live in our lives, then others will see and know the love of God.
I’ve seen this kind of love in a parent who stays up all night nursing a sick child. I saw this kind of love in a group from our Diocese who went to Staten Island, N.Y., in December to help the survivors of Hurricane Sandy clean out the destruction that the storm left behind. I saw this love a few weeks ago when a group came together at my Church to assemble meals for Stop Hunger Now, a nonprofit organization that provides meals to hungry people in other countries. That day we assembled 10,000 meals.
Sometimes the demands of love push us beyond our comfort zone. We may be pushed into new areas of ministry that make us feel uncomfortable. We may be pushed to do new things. We may be called to take a risk so that others can know the love of God. And this may seem fearful. But when we step out in love, we are not alone.
The Lord is with us.
“Love.” This command is not sentimental. Instead it is an action that makes a difference in people’s lives. This is the kind of love that reveals the presence of God in our midst. This is the kind of love that never ends.
The Rev. Sally Franklin is pastor of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fort Mill.