Love is a topic we have heard and talked over so many times, I don’t know if I can say anything new here. Well, in fact there is nothing new about love since that is one thing that is older than dirt and one thing that will stay beyond the dirt. And so, let us think about it again.
Here is the announcement that went out in a college campus about romance, love and practice of compassion. “On this campus there is to be absolutely no physical contact of any kind between male and female students. There is only one legitimate exception to this rule. If a male student happens to see a female student about to fall to the ground, it is permissible to touch her to break her fall. However,” the announcement continued, “we shall not tolerate any young woman making a practice of falling.”
There is no better place to talk about love than in a church. Because in my opinion, Church has become a place for many Christians who strive to become more Christian than Christ himself. If we are not committed to living a life of love, I think we have missed the whole message of the gospel.
In my 18 years as a priest I have come to the conclusion that one of the hardest places to practice religion is church.I also like to say, that is why churches disintegrate and break apart. Churches are places where we all try to become better than Christ himself in preaching the fabulous theological view points and easily forget what it takes to live it. To remain in a church faithfully, requires outrageous amount of love in our hearts for our fellowmen.
Church or religion is the only institution in the world that truly teaches one person how to truly live in a community. One may learn the philosophy of religion, practices of religion and properties of religion in an institution like a university, college etc. But they all remain above our heart level.
I want to paint the picture of church or religion. Churches are made up of seven types of people.
People who are afraid and depressed
People who are excited and overjoyed
People who are narrow or broad minded
People who love politics of all persuasions
People who are radicals at every level
People who do not care about anything one way or another
And then a few people who are there, because they are able to live with the other with all the differences.
People leave churches based on these issues.
I am not afraid or depressed or do I want to be around those who are.
I am not as excited or overjoyed as some of them are, and I don’t care for it as I have my own of those.
I don’t like to be around too narrow or too broad minded people.
I am a republican or a democrat or any other, and the viewpoints are too liberal, conservative, and they are too political or not political enough.
I like to keep to the basics of the bible or I am too broadminded to believe in the bible as is or religious texts at all.
I don’t really care what you think or believe or act like, I have gone out of the habits or rituals and I don’t care about rituals and practices.
The list can go on and on without an end because all the list might pertain to what someone else is doing that does not agree with what I believe, like, interested or cares about. Ultimately, church gives us an opportunity to blame someone else for our inability to truly love someone who is different in mind, body and spirit. Church could be blamed for our inability to practice true love. Church becomes the scapegoat of our religious, secular, political, personal or social fundamentalism that we are not even in touch within ourselves. Church is the heartless institution that can be blamed for what we don’t see in ourselves.
Religion is the only place in the world, where one can truly practice love and tolerance. Religion is the only place in the world, all of the above, the learned, the lost, the poor, the needy, the uneducated, the Politian, the preacher, the sinner, the liberal, the conservative, the man and the woman and all the different colors, creeds, persuasions are in your face. Like it or not, they are in your face Sunday after Sunday. It takes courage, spiritual purity, power and continuous living of the Gospel to sit with them at the table and eat. Among those you eat with at the table here, are emotionally charged people with outrageous devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and to them one is tempted to say, I could do a little without such drama. People who like to pour their heart out in singing, and then there are those who could use some silence to pray. There are people among us who like to clap, and some who like to node their heads, some who like to embrace and those who like to keep others two feet away.
I am sure you get the picture. Church is the only place on earth, where heart meets the head. Church is the only place in the world where head and heart has to learn to co-exist. Church is the only place in the world where loving our neighbor as we love our children will become a challenge.
In this sanctuary history and facts have to meet with mystery and myths. Here, in this place, each of us have to deal kindly, carefully and lovingly with what the other is unable to deal with.
In short, I am trying to say, church is the only place where we are challenged to face our own demons and incapacity to truly love ourselves and truly love those who are not like us in every way. Marriages and families are choices we have made knowingly and willingly. But people walk into this space without our permission, acknowledgement or acceptance. Our surroundings change as a result. Like it or not, our circumstances change. Loving becomes harder when a new person walks in. Because we will have to learn a new way as we encounter the new person in his or her situation. Loving one another is not simple and it is all about each of us personally rather than about the other.
So, those who take pride in being more enlightened in any form or fashion, whether it is your knowledge of God, philosophy, theology, history, facts, myths, mystery, music, or mankind, hear O people of All Saints’, hear O children of God, loving your neighbor translates into simply being a presence that affirms, appreciates, encourages, builds, transforms, and accepts the other as they are among us in our community. It is not encouraging wrong doings of any kind for sure. But it is being the child of God that you are, as God has made you so to be, and recognizing the child of God in the other, in spite of everything that is wrong according to us, the other is doing. Religion is being together, and wondering together, what all these mean, in grand scheme of things, and in the mind of God. Religion and love is simply wondering together what God is and What man is. Religion is about living in a tension of healthy love that says, “I can still eat with you from the same table, even though the table is not of my taste, understanding or desire. But the table you are at is the table I want to be at because you are there.”
Your faith is not as important as your love is. Your faith is not sufficient enough to take you to the next. Your faith will carry to the ends of the earth, but cross you, better have some love, love that surpasses all understanding. Your love means, your ability to live in tension with what you are unable to reconcile with. Everything else is simply rhetoric. Like the Greeks, we may be good at fabulous language and gifts of teaching. We can try to wake up our God with the clanging of symbols and music, with fire and brimstones preaching, opposing theological view points and historical facts.
But God only wakes up when our heart meets the mystery of the person sitting next to us.
This is what 1 Corinthians 13 all about.