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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How to Find The Love You Want

2016-01-29 1Co 13 01-13 How to Find The Love You Want


Every day I drive past a church that gets the award for Most Interesting Church Sign Not Involving Puns.

Lately, they've been advertising their sermon series on "The Art of Marriage."

One side of the sign says,

"Guys, are you tired of sleeping on the couch? Come to our 5 part series on the Art of Marriage."

And on the other side, it says,

"Ladies, are you craving more romance? Come to our 5 part series on the Art of Marriage."

I'd tell you the name of the church, but I don't want to hurt our attendance.

The series ends today, anyway, so, too late for you.

It's really a pretty brave thing to try, so good for them.

Could be helpful stuff.

But it makes me wonder, "What version of the Bible are they reading?"

And, "Where can I get one?"

And then the cynical part of my brain kicks in and I think, "It's probably the old 'bait and switch'.

"They'll get couples to come and it'll turn out to be just more stuff about Jesus."


"Love and marriage / love and marriage / go together like a horse and carriage."

Sadly, the Bible has so little to say about romance, and all the other stuff on the cover of Us Weekly, not that I stand in line and read it.

(Imal Clooney is SUCH a diva.)

Inquiring minds want to know about relationships, but let's face it:

Romance isn't really that biblical.

In the Bible, love and marriage DO go together like a horse and carriage, and sheep and oxen, several bulls and a reasonably-sized parcel of land.

So when couples come to me wanting to get married, their choices for wedding scriptures are slim pickin's.

I would say that 98.6% of the time, they go with todays' scripture lesson, First Corinthians 13:1-13.

"The Love Passages."

And that's fine.

It's very sweet.

But it's a wedding.

I could read "The Leprosy Passages" from Leviticus and people would still say, "That was a lovely service, Pastor."

I get it.

Nobody cares about the preacher.

Everyone's looking at the bride and groom through their phone cameras, secretly hoping the ring-bearer and the flower girl will start pummeling each other with their basket and pillow so it'll go viral on YouTube.

"I got a million hits!"

"And, somebody got married."

What inquiring minds don't usually know, is that the main reason it's interesting – or ironic – that we read The Love Passages at weddings is that they have nothing at all to do with the Art of Marriage.


In First Corinthians 7:9, Paul actually encourages people NOT to get married unless your love / is a burnin' thing / that makes a firey ring / and bound by wild desire / you're fallin' in / to a ring of fire.

(That's from the Johnny Cash Version, the JCV.)


The famous Love Passages are actually about a church fight.

The scripture right before this, which you'll remember we read two Sundays ago (?), are about severed body parts.

People wanting to cut off people who aren't like them.

Remember? Of course you do.

"You're an eye, but I'm an ear, get offa my head."

"I am Joe's nose. You are Joe's toes. You are disposed!"


"I'm a post-tribulational pre-millennialist and I'm going to heaven.

"You're a double-predestinational Calvinist and you're gonna burn."

"That church has drums. I'd NEVER go there."

 "This Bible is not the Johnny Cash Version."


And Paul says, "Stoppit!" "Enough, already!"

Let me show you a still more excellent way.




"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."

Or breaking glass.

Or a car alarm.

You know what it means when car alarms go off?


Nobody even looks.


"And if I have prophetic powers, and [if I] understand all mysteries and [if I possess] all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains…???"

You're obviously running for President.

Your Facebook friends really don't mean "Happy" birthday.

Paul says that not even the BEST things are worth ANYTHING without love.


And what IS love, according to Paul?


Here's what he says:

Love is patient;

love is kind;

love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.


Love does not insist on its own way;

Love is not irritable or resentful;

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.


A long time ago, at a high school church camp far, far away, we sat around a campfire and our counselor had us pass around a Bible.

Each of us took turns reading The Love Passages.

But wherever was the word love, we were to say our own name.

James is patient;

James is kind;

James is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.


James does not insist on his own way;

James is not irritable or resentful.


It was an instructive moment that I've never forgotten.

It made us think about love.

It also made us think about the times we weren't kind and patient and lovely, which when you're a teenager is pretty easy to do.

Basically, it made us all feel really guilty.

Yay, religion.

"James is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude."

"James is NEVER irritable."

Even my DOG will tell you, "Yep, he can be pretty irritable."

Are any of you NEVER envious or boastful or arrogant or rude?

Never, ever irritable?

As much as I appreciated the church camp lesson, it just wasn't true.

The lesson was instructive, but it was wrong.

Because this passage is not about me.

And it's not about you.

It's about love.

This is not how YOU are (or aren't); this is how love is.

Love is what always endures and love is what is most excellent.

Not me.

Not you.

None of us is the most excellent thing in the world.

Love is.




Paul is not describing loving people who get "A's" in the Art of Marriage.

Paul is talking to a bunch of people who really might not even like each other that much.

Paul is describing love.

He's describing love like it's a power and a purpose all its own.

The way Paul describes love, it's like some invisible third person.

Love is a Spirit – a Holy Spirit, you might say? – that lives and breathes on its own.

Love finds us.

Love finds us where grumpy, selfish, unloving people choose – CHOOSE – to do the hard work of living together in the same, confined space and time.


According to the Bible, Love isn't a OUR feeling, like happy or sad or mad or hungry. Hangry.

Love happens.

It happens when we're not doing things that get in the way.

Paul never once mentions flowers or chocolates or new golf clubs.

Maybe love comes by invitation only.

By our invitation, our openness to living with the excellence of Christ, instead of proving our own excellence.


I don't know.

I'm speaking of things far greater than I.

I have a hard time saying what I mean because, as Paul says,

"For 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."

I also like the translation that says, "for now we see through a glass darkly" (KJV).

Amen to that.


There are so many things we can know but not explain, like hope, faith – and the greatest of these is love.

Love – as the Bible speaks around it – isn't about romance.

Everybody loves pizza, but that's not in the Bible, either.

Love isn't something you can learn in five easy steps in five short weeks.

It's certainly not something you can learn in a 20-minute sermon (although I think they're shorter), or create in a 12-minute ceremony.

But love is something you can practice – practice inviting.

Love is something you can practice inviting into your home, your relationships – every new day.

And by the grace of God, love may surprise you.

In my experience, it kinda always does.

Situations, people – you – turn out to be more excellent than you could know or plan or explain.


Crazy, stupid, holy love.





It was a nasty morning a couple weeks ago.

I was dropping Anna at school.

In a handicapped parking space across from us, a mother was helping her daughter out of a van.

The mom slid open the door and put the wheelchair just so.

She lifted her daughter out of the van and into the chair.

Not an easy move, but they looked to have mastered it.

The girl had this beautiful, red hair.

It reminded me of Merida in the Pixar movie, Brave.


It was raining.

Rain, the archenemy of curly hair.

Rain, that makes even the happiest people impatient, unkind, irritable and resentful.

And after the mom got the daughter into the chair, she combed through her daughter's hair with her fingers.

While holding an umbrella.

In the wind.

Yeah, that worked.

It got them both laughing.

Then, the mom pushed her daughter in the wheelchair down the ramp, both of them splashing, smiling, and giggling the whole way.

It was beautiful.

It was patient and kind.

It was bearing all things, enduring all things, and rejoicing in the truth of the moment, even when it made no sense.


And it occurs to me that if the Apostle Paul could have seen this he might have added to his passage,

Love is red hair flowing in a cold rain.

Love is laughing at your mom and rolling your daughter through puddles.

Which reminds me of a quote that Caroline Owen taught me: "Life is not about staying out of the storm; it's about learning to dance in the rain."

I think the same could be said of love.

The kind of love you want? Maybe.

But definitely the kind of love you need.

Whether you're enamored with someone, or enraged at them, or both at the same time (which happens) – love triumphs above any one moment.

Love is the Holy Spirit that lifts us up, sets us down, and rolls on.




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