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The Rule of Love

Updated: Apr 7, 2019

Lesson: 1 Corinthians 13

That Scripture I just read: How many of you have heard it before?

Where have you heard it?

That’s right! A lot of us have heard this love Scripture read at weddings. You know the scene: The brides are standing there – all aglow, beautiful and strong – surrounded by family and friends. And there’s this feeling in the room– happiness, joy, hope. They walk in together – at some point they make promises to each other – they exchanges signs of all the ways that they have shared and will share life together. Their dads are crying. And in the center of it all. Someone stands up and reads:

Love is patient; love is kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant,

or rude. It does not serve its own interests; it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things; believes all things; hopes all things; endures all things. Love never fails.

Of course, we read a Scripture like that at weddings; it is a text fit for the occasion. But here’s the thing, the association is so strong, that we might start thinking of this as only an occasional text. A scripture that we bring out only for weddings. I want to suggest that this text is so much more. This morning, I want to invite us to think even more expansively about this Scripture, to consider it not only as an occasional text – but as an everyday text – a Scripture that we can lean into every day, and in every moment. I’m going to go ahead and say it: This Scripture, this scripture –

It is a plumbline by which we can evaluate where we stand.

It is a polestar by which we will find our way.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. First, we should probably start at the beginning, and think about what the Apostle Paul might have had in mind when he first wrote these words, right there in First Corinthians. I LOVE First and Second Corinthians. In First and Second Corinthians, we get a glimpse – we get to eavesdrop – on an extended conversation between the Apostle Paul and the church in Corinth. Paul helped found the church – he’d lived with them at the beginning -- and then when they were up on their feet – Paul moved on to the next city to spread the gospel there. But he stayed in touch – he wrote letters back and forth to the church.

What we have in First and Second Corinthians is a good chunk of Paul’s side of the conversation. First Corinthians is probably one letter; Second Corinthians, we think it’s actually made up of fragments of as many as 5 letters. The church is writing to Paul about what’s going on, and we get a glimpse of what Paul is writing back.

And when you start reading these letters, one thing jumps out pretty quickly: The church at Corinth is a hot mess. First Corinthians is all about all the problems they are having with each other – the divisions, the disagreements, the injustice. And the letters in Second Corinthians, well, by the time we get there, it seems like the church – or at least some of the folks there – have turned on Paul.

But in First Corinthians, it’s all about conflict within the community – and Paul addresses the many conflicts one by one.

· They are dividing up into factions.

· They are bringing lawsuits against each other.

· They are attacking each other’s spirituality.

· And they’re even wrecking communion – they share a meal together, but the rich folks eat first, and when the working folks get off work – there’s nothing left.

Paul writes back, addressing each of these conflicts in turn, and he says “you’ve been given so many gifts – you are the Body of Christ – act like it.”

And then, in the midst of it all, he sets down what we read just a little while ago – he says – be the body of Christ – and do that by and through and in LOVE. Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not serve its own interests. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, love rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things; love hopes all things; love endures all things; love never fails. And at the very end, Paul turns it into a command: Pursue Love.

Paul loves this young church – in the days after resurrection – they are trying to follow and embody Jesus – and as they live it out – they find out: It’s hard. And, so, in the midst of all their mess, Paul sets down this text – he lays down, what I would call, the Rule of Love. This, is how you live your life in the way of Jesus. Love.

Now, some of you know I’m borrowing that phrase. “The Rule of Love” is actually an important principle of scriptural interpretation. Anytime we interpret Scripture we are to do it through the lens of love. That’s what the cartoon on the bulletin cover is referring to. It says: “You use scripture to find out what love means. I use love to find out what Scripture means.” Better yet, I think it is both/and. Yes, we must use love to interpret Scripture AND we use the love we find in Scripture to understand and live into and create the love we see in the world. Paul lays down this Rule of Love – for the whole of life – not only or our most intimate relationships, like marriage, but for every bit of life.

Love. This Rule of Love.

It is a plumb-line by which we can evaluate where we stand.

It is a polestar by which we will find our way.

One of my favorite writers, Rebecca Solnit, says it this way: “There is so much other work that love has to do in the world.”[1] She says that we “hyper-map love into narrow zones of our lives,” as if it is relevant only for our most intimate relationships, but “there’s so much more territory” to explore. “There is so much other work that love has to do in the world.”

Solnit has written about this, oddly, in the context of disaster – in the context of times of crisis – critical times when the world falls apart – as important territory for love to be at work. She points out that when the flood waters rise, or when the walls crumble in around us – the person most likely to help us off the roof, or to lift a beam up off of us – is our neighbor – the folks next door – or down the street – whether we know them well or not, whether we like them or not – in critical times, we see each other’s common humanity – and have the opportunity to live love out. I thought of some volunteer work I did after the Sonoma fires, and how folks told me that the only reason they’d survived is because their neighbors had banged on their door in the middle of the night, telling them to run. Time and time again, in times of crisis, neighbors help neighbors. When the world falls apart, Solnit insists we have the opportunity to “fall together.”

Now, Solnit is not naïve. She also points out that times of crisis also lay bare the worst of us. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, it laid bare the systemic racism that had long been at work hurting the people of the 9th Ward in New Orleans. Through practices of systemic racism, black residents in New Orleans were living disproportionately in low-lying, flood vulnerable areas. Rich white folks had settled on the high ground in the city, and zoning and discriminatory mortgage practices (redlining) kept black citizens out.[2] And when the Katrina floods hit – there it all was for the world to see – white supremacy at work – the black neighborhoods were not as well protected against flood, they weren’t evacuated as quickly, and the black residents of the 9th Ward, as often as. Not, were treated as criminals and sometimes shot, instead of rescued.

Crisis or critical times (1) lay bare the injustice in our lives – there’s no place to hide, and (2) they also open up our common humanity – the basic human needs we all share – for shelter, and safety, and meaning, and dignity. All of it made plain. And they present us with a choice. What will we do? Putting Solnit and the Apostle Paul together, what love then does is this: Love gives us the means – if we choose it – to do better – out of the wreckage of our lives – (1) to dismantle what needs to be dismantled, and (2) to rebuild and reshape and remake something better.

I thought of this again last month when I went to see the musical Come from Away. It tells a story from those awful days of 9/11, and specifically, the story of a small community in Gander, Newfoundland. We all remember that on 9/11, after the towers were hit, American air space was closed for 4 days. All of the airplanes over the Atlantic were diverted and directed to land at the airport in Gander, Newfoundland – that once had been the central refueling place for transatlantic flights. This community of 9,000 people, welcomed, housed, and fed 7,000 airplane passengers.

Now always present in Come from Away, is how that day laid bare the worst of us. What happened on 9/11 was a terrorist attack that killed more than 3,000 people; it laid bare the complexity and danger of religious fundamentalism and colonialism; and Come from Away makes sure to tell of the Islamophobia – laid bare that day – that continues on into today.

And, in the midst of all that, Come from Away takes the time to tell what happened in Gander. On 9/11, as passengers sat on 32 planes at the Gander airport, and as day became night, they saw on the horizon a line of headlights – cars and buses, come to take them to shelter – any and every community building in Gander. The people of Gander emptied their stores and shelves to provide for their guests; they found phones and sat with anxious folks trying to find and contact their family, one the mother of a NYC firefighter; they cooked meals round the clock. They connected with these unexpected guests – Come from Away -- across national and religious difference – all of them – and us – caught up in this global tragedy. All of us trembling and human. As one of my favorite religious thinkers – Rev. Dr. Joanne Whitt says – Come from Away “shows us the best that we can be.” To which I’d add, it what we can be when love is at work.

The rule of love, of course, has central place in our most intimate, loving relationships, particularly our relationships of family. Love is patient; love is kind. And, the Apostle Paul insists, this Rule of Love is central to how we live – as the Body of Christ – in community. But it doesn’t even stop there. “Love has so much other work to do in the world.” As we are called to live as the Body of Christ in and for the world God loves, we are called to carry this Rule of Love into the Public Square – that public space where we engage each other to shape and critique and reform and sometimes dismantle the systems and structures that govern our lives. We hear talk of the Rule of Law – but through the lens of this Scripture and our faith -- for those who seek to follow the way of Jesus —we are called to insist that the Rule of Law reflect this Rule of Love – particularly in our critical moment. And here’s what that looks like, for example:

· To policies that separate young children from their parents at the border, we say, above all, Love is kind.

· To our leaders and their rhetoric, we insist, Love is not arrogant, or boastful, or rude.

· To systems of economic disparity, where the gap widens daily between rich and poor, we use the Rule of Love as a check on ourselves, and move into the public square grounded in the conviction that Love does not serve its own interest, but works for the good of others.

· And to those systems of white supremacy and American racism – in every form they take – and every other – ism that pushes people down or holds them back, we say, Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

We pursue love – the Rule of Love – not just for those who are in closest relationship to us, but for the good of all people, and we roll up our sleeves with the assurance and admonition -- love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things – love never fails.

I want to tell you a story that I may have told you before – but it’s worth repeating. It’s about Rev. Lisa Larges, whom some of you know – Lisa is an ordained Presbyterian minister. She’s amazing with such wisdom and insight and compassion – and she is funny too. But for years and years and years, the Presbyterian church kept her from being ordained only because she was a lesbian. At some point later in that lengthy process, when some of the process – but not all – had broken open, Lisa was at the point that she was going to be “examined” (questioned) at presbytery. Lisa and I are friends, so she called me up and asked me to help her prepare for what are called the “trials of ordination. And she said, “Scott, I want you to question me like you would question a witness on the stand?” And I replied, “Be careful what you ask for.” And we met at a coffee shop in Noe Valley, and I did. I asked her about Scripture, and on our Presbyterian polity, and even on those hateful things that some Christians say to us, just because we are queer. And Lisa – she was amazing. For me, it was such an experience of grace and love. And at the end, I said, “Lisa, I have just one more question, and it is a question for me. I am your friend. I have read everything that you’ve submitted to the presbytery – all your statements, and we’ve been talking here now for a couple hours – and not once – not once have you used the word, ‘justice.’ We’re good progressives -- how can that be? And she said, “Scott, that’s the easiest question that you’ve asked all day. You see, there’s not a thing that I can say with the word ‘justice’ that I can’t say with the word ‘love.’”

Love has so much other work to do in the world.

It is a plumbline by which we can evaluate where we stand.

It is a polestar by which we will find our way.

Now, I need to say just one more thing before I sit down. We’ve been talking about this Scripture today as a command – and it is – pursue love – that is the work we have to do in the world. But in this Scripture there is also a promise: When the world lays bare the worst of us, and when a way opens up for us to do better – we will always see things and understand things – as this text says – only in part. We see now in a mirror dimly.

But this Scripture promises – that in Jesus Christ – someday we will be complete. We will see each other and the world and God, face to face – we will know fully, even as we are fully known.

This text gives us a glimpse of what that will look like –

a glimpse of the way that God sees us whole –

a glimpse of the life we will live, forever and ever, together –

It looks something, something like this:

Love is patient; love is kind.

It is not envious or boastful or arrogant, or rude.

It does not serve its own interests.

It does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things; believes all things;

hopes all things; endures all things.

Love never fails.

Copyright 2019 Scott Clark.

[1] Interview with Rebecca Solnit. Krista Tippett, On Being podcast, 12/14/2017,

[2] 8 reasons why New Orleans neighborhoods remain segregated,, April 06, 2018,

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