I have a fair amount of friends who are atheists. This saddens me. Something that is such a large part of my life cannot be shared with them. We are kind to each other, and we can get together and laugh, but there is still a part that keeps us apart. What is especially interesting is that many of these people were raised within “churched” families. It is only within recent years that they have moved away from the church.
When I ask them why they left the church, almost invariably, I get the same answer: The people they find in churches are hypocrites. My friends say that they hear all this talk about God and love but what they see is hate and judgment. Christians talk the “God is Good” line, but then these same people are out slamming others and judging them. So often, it is this discrepancy between what is heard about Christianity and what is seen that sends people running for the hills. And as a Christian, I find this sad.
In today’s epistle reading we have what is commonly referred to as “The Love Chapter.” If you have been to a Christian wedding you have certainly heard it. Even people who may have little backing in the Bible have heard this chapter. And to tell the truth, it really is a great chapter! I don’t think I know anyone who can listen to this chapter and not get just a little wispy. We listen to it and think, “Yes, this would be great!” We listen to it and imagine ourselves surrounded by patience and kindness. We listen to it and imagine a world without arrogance, boastfulness, or resentfulness. We read this chapter and long for a world filled with love.
Am I wrong in saying that we all want a world like this?
But then what happens? Well, life happens. We go out and find that the world can be quite boastful and arrogant. We go out and find that people are often very rude. We watch TV and see nothing that smacks of kindness or patience. We feel like we are being duped, gypped, played. And, quite frankly, we don’t like it!
So how do we usually react when we are confronted with the unloving nature of the world? Do we go out and redouble our efforts to spread love in the world? Do we make extra efforts to show the world that Christianity is more than just a excuse to look upon others with disdain? Do we look to brighten our place in the world or do we decide to give back as “good” as we have gotten?
I will admit that I would love to stand here and tell you all how virtuous and upstanding I am and that I always send warm, loving thoughts to who are not necessarily too kind to me. I would love to, but I can’t. I get angry. I get frustrated. I feel hurt. And feeling hurt, I want to spread that hurt to the world. For what it is worth: I am not a saint, at least not in the traditional understanding.
So what are we supposed to do with this? Are we just supposed to be all wispy, realizing the world the Love Chapter presents will never happen? I guess we could. Are we supposed to reject the Church (with a capital “C”) figuring that it is filled with people who are just looking to make their own lives better while inflicting judgment and hatred on the rest of the world? Some have done that. Or are we just give up on any kind of God because it appears to be just a bunch of lies? That option just sounds too sad to contemplate!
This is where I get frustrated with all this God-stuff. I want some cut and dried answers! I want to be able to tell you all to just do this, that, and the other thing, and everything will be wonderful. But I can’t! And it makes me frustrated.
Perhaps we can get a little more insight from a part of the reading that is often ignored. Toward the end of the reading we have these somewhat strange statements: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” When we look at the behavior of so many people, doesn’t if feel like we are looking at children in adult suits? Often when I step back and look at my own behavior, I am embarrassed as to how childish I can be. I am not the paragon of maturity I would like to be; I am often a hurt child just wanting to be loved. Whether we want to admit or not, we often have these moments of feeling like children, and I think it is just this child that The Love Chapter speaks to.
Our “Inner Child,” to use the old pop-psych term, wants there to be patience, kindness, and truth in the world. We want to know that all things are possible and that all hopes can still occur. We want to have the reassurance that those who love us will not abandon us. This is what we want, and The Love Chapter reignites that hope in our soul. But then this nasty, evil sentence occurs: “…when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” This is the harsh recognition that the world with “Santa God” is not out there. There will be people who are not patient. There will be people who are not kind. There will people who will be arrogant. And there will be people who will be rude. And quite often, those people will be US!
Man! I am depressing myself!
It sounds as if we are stuck here in a world that is just plain nasty. And if the chapter were to end here, it would be just plain nasty. But the chapter DOES NOT end here, it continues with a promise. We are reminded that we only see things in part; that we cannot see things fully.
This reminder should give us all hope. What we see is not all there is; there is something more! We should remember that the world is not for us to control, that God is the one that leads and provides. And even thought things may appear troubling, we are only seeing part. That there is more going on and that we need to have faith in God to see to our needs.
However we are not left unarmed: We have faith, hope, and love. We are called to be those things that we want to see in the world. We are called to be patient and kind. When we see arrogance or rudeness, we are to respond in truth and tolerance. We are to be understanding and accepting. We are called to be the voice of love to the world. We are called to be the adults in the situation. We are called to be responsible and rational. We are called to heal the sense of isolation and exclusion that current Christianity seems to be unloading onto our world. It is our calling to become the change we want to see in the world.
Does this mean we will never get angry? No. Does this mean we will never be irrational? No. Does this mean we have to be perfect? No. What this does mean, thought is that we work on being the loving people we would like others to be. That we work on showing tolerance to others as we would like to have others show tolerance to us. That we work on wishing the best for the OTHER just as we would like to have the best for ourselves. This is stuff that requires work! Those who have been in relationships know this, love does not just happen, it requires work! And if we want to spread love in the world, that requires work too!
The Love Chapter does make us feel all wispy inside, and although we probably will never get to such a world drenched in love, I do believe we can move in that direction. We can choose to respond in love instead of react in anger. We can choose to respond in love instead of snapping back in hurt. We can choose to respond in love instead of seeking to avenge our fear and hurt. We can choose to be the loving heart of God to those who need to feel patience, kindness, and understanding.
Is this easy? No…But that does not mean we shouldn’t try. I will end with a little story: A former congregant of mine was telling about being cut off by a person pulling out of a parking lot. The congregant was about to let fly with a “one finger salute” when he stopped and though: “God loves this guy too.” Did the reaction of the congregant help things? I don’t know. But I do know that the congregant did not add to the hate in the world. Our first response is to return hate for hate, but Christ asks more of us. Christ asks us to return love for hate, just as Christ showed love to a world that was focusing all its hate upon him.
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”