Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Luke 4:21-30

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany 31th January 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Epiphany 4C January 31, 2010 Textweek

In the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen

The second reading, from 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, is probably the most popular reading at weddings and those of you who have been to a few weddings will have heard that reading a few times. I thought we might look through Paul’s eyes at Love, because Paul does it with a sense of objectivity and then seeks in exploring it to identity what Love is.

Love is a powerful force, and as soon as I got to that point, I thought it’s actually like the force of Gravity because both are unseen forces. And I thought if we look at something that the scientific world has already looked at objectively, we come away with an understanding. Do we do the same with our theology and with concepts like Love? The power of gravity is appreciated literally when it makes an impact; that parallels with love. It is the force that holds us together - similarly with Love - Love might also be considered the force that holds us together. But it is of an entirely different order to gravity. Gravity is a worldly force of time and place. It gives weight to objects - no objects, no gravity. It’s a really interesting idea and it’s entertained physicists for years. Gravity can be seen to come into effect when a body is evident – it is the force that acts between two bodies, between the moon and the earth, between any two large bodies, masses, planets. It’s what keeps the planets in orbit; it is the force that acts between – no bodies, no force. Therefore it can be seen as a force of time and place.

Now look at the power of love, the force of love, with an echo of the first line of the first reading....
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;
Before you came into being, I knew you, I formed you, I consecrated you. It suggests that we are not looking at a worldly force; this is not a force within creation, rather it is a force of creation, a force that brings into being.

And there’s a delightful play on words, because gravity works on the mass of a body; the mass of the body is the agent of the gravitational force – the larger the mass the larger the force. When we see ‘mass’ as communion, then just contemplate how communion may be the agent of Love in the world.

Paul gives us a somewhat poetic, rather than a scientific analysis of love. But he does identify certain characteristics associated with Love; he identifies the parameters in the same way that a scientist might seek to determine the parameters that specify and describe worldly forces.

Back to Gravity for a moment: Isaac Newton (isn’t it amazing, he’s called Isaac, named after one of the church fathers!) looked to the apple to identify the characteristics of gravity, he looked within the world. Einstein looked beyond the observable world; he looked beyond time to a world not constrained or confined by the speed of light. In Genesis, Eve also looked to the apple, and learnt something about the Divine creative purpose, the power of love, a power that is often revealed in the coming of light.

Then I thought about tide tables – they provide us with a guide; they’re telling us about the effects of gravity; that is, they’re a guide to the pull of a heavenly body on the water (the life) of our planet. Paul is really doing the same; that reading today is like the tide table - he provides us with a list of reference points that identify the effects of a divine (heavenly) body on the life (our life) in this world through the power of love. And again water plays a part – this time it’s the waters of baptism, rather than the tidal waters on the shore.

So Paul’s reference points are really worth contemplating: 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. Love never ends.

Spending only a short time with that list of Paul’s, it’s easy for me to see in my own inner landscape the parts that were not formed in Love. I thought I’d list them out, then I thought it’s stunningly embarrassing, we’ll be here for hours.
Love is patient: do you know the place of being impatient? How much of your landscape is formed without patience?
Love is not envious. The modern world is envious; it’s a place of envy. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing: surely we don’t do that, and then I thought I was watching a news item on the weather in England, all snow and ice and there was this delightful picture of people walking down the High Street and when one of them slipped over, I laughed so loudly – alone in the lounge room, I could not stop laughing. And then I’d just got myself back together again and saw these lovely Christian people came up to help the person up and as they got her up one of them slipped over. It not rejoice in wrongdoing; well I do, there’s a part of my inner landscape that does.

It’s really helpful to look at my/our inner landscape to see that part that was not formed by Love, that part that was not consecrated and called out of the womb before I was born, but rather that part of me that was shaped afterwards, that part of me that was shaped by the force of gravity, rather than the power of Love. They’re not separate landscapes because I walk in them all; I walk from one to the other, they are joined; at times I actually need a map to know which one I’m in. That which was formed in love, that which was formed in gravity. It is so affirming to know that I was formed in a womb with a divine consecration, with the power of Love. That is the eternal part of my landscape; that is the place where desire dwells in all truth. Part of my landscape that was then formed.

Those two landscapes create a wholeness and a fullness. It is helpful for us to be aware and to hold on to the affirming eternal call that drew us out in Love. It’s also affirming to know that now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know only in part, even as I have been fully known. This is not something that is going to be revealed in the future, but rather here we’re being reminded to explore with humility – I don’t know it all - and with a questioning belief. We’re only seeing in a mirror dimly, let’s not hold too fast to the truth that God is an Anglican who’s paid by the archbishop. Let’s not hold that truth, let’s open ourselves to ‘if I see in mirror dimly maybe, maybe, just like when I look out my kitchen window I need to get a cloth and wipe it’. It is not a veil that is to be pulled away - it speaks of the cloudiness of our landscape. The journey that we have is to make that more clear.

When we claim to know another fully, we actually turn them into an object; they become an ‘it’, an object of our knowledge. God becomes an ‘it’ rather a ‘thou’, whose mystery always lies beyond. Again it’s a beautiful reminder in Love to look for the mystery beyond.

The force of love transcends the known landscape; the force of love leads us to seek always higher things. In the space of not knowing, love is the creative power that drives a sense of adventure. Love enables us to risk, opening up new territories in ourselves and in others. Be aware of how tentative we are in our conversations with one another. We know when we talk with someone there is part of their landscape we cannot walk in - no trust, too much fear, an unwillingness to risk. Love opens us again to an orientation that is fed by awe and wonder, by appreciation that sees ‘all things new’ and that sees a newness in all things. Love is the womb of creation; it is the arrow that seeks the eternal movement. Love is not the drama that softens every Hollywood movie; it is not the knife that carves the heart on every tree; it is not the niceness of pretence that encounters the stranger; it is not the satisfied smile of some self-delighting goodness. It is the longing that draws life into the fullness of being; it is the very desire that opens up each and every soul to see the wonder of every life.

Love is the womb of creation - It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Peter Humphris