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Love is Patient (so why should we be, too?): The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

February 3, 2019:
Jeremiah 4:1-10
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Luke 4:21-30

There is an often useful, but often terribly negative website called Reddit. It’s very simple: it’s basically the home of bulletin boards for conversations; someone posts about an event or thought, and then others join in. There’s a section devoted to Kitchener, a section devoted to just about every author and literary genre, a section devoted to hobbies, and on and on. I mostly use it to learn more about local happenings. For instance, if I’m driving and notice a certain street is closed, and the local news doesn’t give much information about what happened, there’s probably someone who lives nearby that has posted on Reddit what’s happening (like a water main break, or a car accident, etc.).

And this little story popped up on one of the local Reddit boards a few weeks ago:

Someone with a guide dog in training was at a restaurant. The puppy jumped up on someone (who, it turns out, was fine with the situation).

A shift manager saw what happened and dealt harshly with the trainer of the dog. The manager wouldn’t listen when the trainer tried to show paperwork. The shift manager insisted that the puppy get tossed out.

The person who witnessed this went on the internet to share their frustration at the ignorance of the shift manager. And indeed, it stirred up a lot of anger (and discussion on whether or not ‘in training’ puppies count as actual guide dogs or not).

But only after a herd of angry people were stirred up did the author provide some updates:

The owner of the restaurant was terribly sorry. He would follow up with the employees, so that it wouldn’t happen again.

The owner would even try to find the puppy and its trainer, to apologize.

Even the corporate office of the company wanted to be kept abreast of how the situation developed. They would follow up if needed.

The author, originally fuming, was now completely pleased with how things had been resolved.

So this is kind of like the story I shared last week. An injustice was committed. Dialogue between parties was initiated. An apology would be coming. And change was effected. Having lived through this mistake, or ego trip of the manager, the restaurant would ensure that that sort of thing wouldn’t happen again.

But… when you think about it… the flow of events on the Reddit website wasn’t so smooth. This is what happened there: Someone was wronged. A concerned citizen screams about it on the internet. An online mob gets ready for a fight, like the mob of villagers with torches and pitchforks in the old Frankenstein movie. (Or the mob trying to throw Jesus off the cliff in the Gospel story.) But then much later, AFTER the torches are lit and AFTER the pitchforks are ready: ‘oh wait, everybody, the manager apologized; the head office is tracking the situation; everything’s going to be fine…’

Could things have been set in motion in a less blood-boiling way? Probably. Were pitchforks needed in order to instigate change? It doesn’t look like it, because the owner, as soon as there was an opportunity, apologized. (And this isn’t just me with a unique take on this. Actually, on that Reddit website other people very quickly pointed out to the poster that they were being a jerk. Saying: how about you choose your path — try to reach a constructive solution, OR get everyone really angry. But you shouldn’t do both. In other words, we’re asked, do we seek a change of heart in our enemy, or do we seek to destroy them utterly.)

Sadly, anger, and judgement are what guide much of the world. Not love. Think of how things might have played out differently, less finger-pointingly, and more life-givingly, if the law of love had been followed:

“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. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” [1 Cor 13:1-7]

Paul is dealing with a church in Corinth that, while flawed, is also incredibly gifted. All of these gifts of the Spirit are manifesting themselves in this little community: prophecy, tongues, healing, teaching, etc. And it threatens to tear the community apart, because you’ve got not just a bunch of superstars, but you’ve got superstars excelling in different things.

So what does Paul say? He says: remember, there are many gifts, but one Spirit. There are many parts, but these many unique parts make a whole body. And a body’s not a body unless it has different parts. And he concludes ‘even if I’m a superstar, I’m empty and distracting if I lack in the most important thing of all: love.’

While we as Christians affirm the need for change and the call for justice, the gospel, and our acceptance of it as seen in our baptism, calls us to be governed first and foremost by love. And love isn’t always showy, let alone explosive (like an argument on the internet). Because it starts on the inside.

Late this past week we celebrated Candlemas, where we remember when Jesus’s parents took him to the Temple to be presented to God as their firstborn. Candlemas is a kind of transitional, or hinge day. It formally ends the observance of Christmas in the church. (Technically we could have had the tree up until yesterday.) It’s a transition from Christmas and a slow movement toward Lent and Easter. It’s a turning from crib to cross, in other words. And with Lent coming a little later than usual this year, in early March, we’ve got some time to think about what Lent might look like for us. I’ll suggest that Lent isn’t about making yourself into a superstar like some of the Corinthians. Any discipline, or new practice, or worship isn’t about being being a superstar; it’s about being a disciple of Jesus. Which means being someone who has been changed by the love that they’ve seen on the Cross. So maybe we can start asking ourselves, “what can I pick up, or what can I let go of this Lent that will help me grow in my capacity for love?”

There’s an expression I’ve come across, I think in lessons and literature regarding conflict resolution and congregational development. We all know the saying: “Don’t just stand there… do something!” Well this expression just turns it on its head. There are times when we would be wise to say: “Don’t just do something… stand there!” Stop for a moment, and resist the urge to react. To react out of fear or anger or the need to ‘be right.’ Don’t just do something… stand there. Ask: “can I resist the urge to react unhealthily, and instead, respond from a place of love?”

Lent will be a time for us to ‘not just do something… but stand there. And to stand apart from mobs on the street, mobs on the internet, and the mobs as we encounter them in our stories. And deep in our hearts we will hear the direction and reassurance that the prophet Jeremiah did:

“you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.”

Amen.

© 2019 The Rev’d Matthew Kieswetter