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February 20, 2004
Friday's eMo is a meditation one of the texts for the upcoming Sunday's worship. Although it is normal, Episcopal churches, to preach on the gospel reading, you don't go to Hell for preaching on the epistle once in a while. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution. No further permission is necessary.


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. I Corinthians 13:1

There was this really beautiful reading at my cousin's wedding, one or the other always says. You know, it was about 'if you have the tongue of an angel...' You know the one I mean? You remember the one, honey? About 'I was a child, and then I became a man...?' What was that one?

And you say, Yes, that's I Corinthians 13. And you open the Bible to I Corinthians 13 and hand it to them and they read it together, the two heads bent earnestly over the page. Yes, we'll have that one, for sure, they say, that's really beautiful.

Maybe you get a chance in the homily, maybe you don't: the wedding goes beautifully, of course: a beautiful couple, tearful parents -- everyone is happy and hopeful, and there's kind of a lot going on. So maybe you don't get a chance to talk a little about this beautiful reading, the one that has half the congregation in tears. A young man reads it, perhaps, a brother of the groom, or a cousin. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, he reads. I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things. His own mother sits in her pew and mists up a little: He's growing up, grown up already, really, my little boy, what a fine boy, a man really, now, how can it be that they're all grown up now, these kids, can't we just go back in time for a little while, just for a little while?

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...across the church a friend of the bride from work sits. He has come to the wedding alone, although many of his friends are here and he will have a good time at the party. But his divorce is still not final and she still hangs up on him when he calls, will only communicate through her lawyer. He thinks maybe they had this reading at their wedding, he's not sure, he was pretty nervous that day, maybe it was something else. Her dress that day, the way it was sort of square in front, so you could just begin to see the curve of her breasts, her hair, her hand in his hand, how she laughed and danced and pressed her cheek against his cheek when they danced slow in front of everybody and he was such a lousy dancer. How he aches now. So lonely in that stupid apartment, he never has anybody over, he can't stand even to be there, really. How did everything get so screwed up?

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.

This wasn't really written to read at weddings, you begin, as the people all sit down, a rustle of skirts and creak of old wooden pews. It's part of a letter. And the people who received the letter first didn't experience it as the sweet and tender hymn to love we think it is. They experienced it as a scolding. It wasn't a hymn to anything, and it certainly wasn't tender. All those things it says love is? Patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, all those things? Paul lists those things because he doesn't think the Corinthians are being any of those things. What we're reading today is a rebuke.

How about that -- we get dressed up in fancy clothes, parade down the aisle, and somebody stands up in front of our friends and reads them a rebuke from the first century.

Life together is hard. It demands forbearance. There is betrayal in life together, and failure. Our strength fails before these things. People are not what we thought they were. We are not even what we thought we were. We didn't know we'd have to continue getting to know each other every day. We didn't really know we'd change. We thought we were already who we would always be. Things happen that we don't expect.

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.

This line of the letter was about heaven, not about marriage. This side of heaven, people are mysterious, even to those who love us best. Even to ourselves. Hidden. Take my hand and we will walk together into the future. Let me find the truth about me and show it to you, and show me your truth. Resolve in advance that you will forgive me, and I hereby resolve that I will forgive you.

May God give them the strength they will need to do these impossible things. To work things out, as the first Christians in Corinth had to do, and learn how to work things out in love. And find a way to live together in a peace that satisfies.

The letter was about gifts of the spirit. The Corinthians all thought themselves very gifted. They must have been most annoying, and Paul was clearly most annoyed when he wrote to them. Paul was easily annoyed.

But now abide faith, hope, love, these three. But the greatest of these is love. It's a gift. A precious one, curiously tough and delicate at the same time. It comes from God, and it's worth all the work and the heartache of keeping it alive. More work than anybody thinks at first. More worth it than anyone thinks.
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