Updated: Apr 18
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
February 12, 2023
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 NRSV
1 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. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all
knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am
nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not
insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 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. 12 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. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Alright so let me clear this up right away: I said, “Risky Love.” I did not say the
title was “Frisky Love!” Although to be honest I’m not sure that sounds a whole lot
better, but, hey, I was trying to get your attention. “Risky Love.” What am I talking
about? Well I want to suggest to you that love is dangerous. Many people think guns
are dangerous, guns are risky. Sure, but love is risky too.
Now, let me be clear about that! I am not talking about abuse in the name of
love. I am not talking about people who call something love that is manipulative or
hurtful or risky in that way. And I am not talking about it in terms of STD’s or
diseases or anything like that. Don’t be nasty. I am talking about real, honest -to -
goodness love, in its purest form is a risky thing. Let me give you some reasons why.
I read that passage everyone knows right? And mostly we think of it being
about two people in love. We pastors read it in wedding ceremonies all the time. In
the movie “Wedding Crashers,” the two main characters, who get their jollies going to
weddings they aren’t invited to and becoming the center of attention, are at a wedding.
They announce that so-and-so is about to read the Scripture. One says to the other,
“Bet ya’ 20:1 it’s 1 Corinthians 13.” The other bets on a passage from Colossians, but
of course the appointed reader steps up into the pulpit and announces, “A reading from
1 Corinthians 13.”
The truth of the matter is Paul wasn’t about weddings or even about romantic
love, even though we use it that way. He was talking to a congregation of Christians
who were divided in ten different ways about what made each of them more important
than the other. They were divides about what made one of them better than another,
more spiritual, or special. Paul doesn’t ask if they are divided. He knows they are
based on the reports from a group within them that he calls, “Chloe’s people.” They
are divided over which apostle they follow, over what spiritual gift is the greatest, over
who deserves to eat and drink more at the communion table, and more. Paul doesn’t
ask if they are divided. He knows they are divided. He asks, “Is Christ divided?”
Of course, Christ is not divided. His point is that their divisions won’t be solved
by who is greater. It won’t be solved by a flow chart of least to greatest spiritual gifts.
It won’t be overcome by who knows more, who prophecies more, or which apostle has
the most followers. It will be solved when they learn the real meaning of love.
Divisions will be overcome not by superiority complexes but by love.
But Paul knows love is risky business. He knows love can look like the very
opposite of winning, the opposite of powerful, the difference between patience and
pushiness. He uses a poetic style of writing to lift their eyes and ours from all the ways
we divide ourselves to the one way, risky as it seems, to overcome division.
We are very aware of our divisions in our churches and in our communities and
in our politics these days. It’s not that it is different from any other time, or necessarily
worse, or better. It’s just we are very aware. And it is hard to accept some of the ways
we talk about one another, act towards one another, and we can say religion shouldn’t
get involved with politics, but I say if you religion doesn’t guide your politics then
your religion is too small.
Rev. Karoline Lewis, [Dear Working Preacher 1/24/16], puts it this way:
We are no strangers to the kind of division of which Paul speaks — racial,
denominational, and political. And our strategies for negotiating these divisions leave
much to be desired. It often comes down to choosing sides, as if a spectrum between
the two poles did not exist. It would be better if we only chose sides. Instead, we
choose which side we are on and then, to make ourselves feel better or justified about
our decision, we proceed to suspect, demonize, and tear down the other side.”
Then she something that I find very challenging. She says, “as Elias Chacour (
who is the Archbishop Emeritus of the Melkite Catholic Church for parts of Israel
including Nazareth, and all Galilee, and is an advocate for non-violence, working
toward reconciliation between Arabs and Jews) says, “The one who is wrong is the one
who says ‘I am right.’”
I’m not sure I like that too much, but Paul does say, “love does not insist on its
own way.” So what do you do when those who insist their way is the right way and
the only way want to make the laws, control the courts, the schools, and everything
else? What do you do when they leave no room for anything but their way while using
the false technique of saying those of us who disagree with them are the ones taking
away freedom and want everything our way?
Rev. Lewis goes on to say, “We are also no strangers to the kind of division that
the gospel provokes. And sometimes we forget just how divisive the gospel can be.
Choosing regard over rejection, respect over disrespect, love over hate, peace over
conflict is not as easy as we hope it could be, as we wish it would be. It seems like it
should be easy — and that’s the problem. Why is it that we find it so difficult to make
what appears to be a rather obvious choice? A choice for love? What stands in our
way? What is at stake for us that we are reluctant to admit or to say out loud?”
We are reluctant because we are fearful. We are afraid that “they” will destroy
“us.” It feels very risky to offer love in response to what sounds hateful and
destructive and controlling. Love is a risky thing. It asks us to do what truly sound not
only risky, but impossible. Jesus says to love our neighbors, to love the one who hates
us, and it often sounds like it is asking us to allow ourselves to be abused, treated
unjustly, even destroyed. I don’t know about you but to me love sounds just too risky
The Rev. Martin Luther King, jr., who knew a thing or two about hate, and about
injustice famously said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden
to bear.” And he was beaten, and jailed, and reviled, and even killed for it. I tell you
maybe love is too risky. Maybe Paul was wrong. Maybe Jesus was wrong. Maybe all
these preachers who preach love are wrong. Maybe it is just too risky.
Hate can change things. It can kill, it can divide, it can be a powerful thing. What it comes down to is can we live with hate? We can. We certainly can. I don’t know how loving those who have chosen to make some people the focus of their hatred can overcome that. I want to be brutally honest here. It is a risk I am not sure I can take. But I know hate, powerful as it is cannot give real life to anyone. It cannot give real meaning to life. It cannot give value to anything. Hate is a fire that consumes and destroys.
In spite of my fear of the risky requests of love, in my heart I hold hope that love
can be a fire too, a fire that brings warmth and light. There is always a risk in starting
a fire. It can burn out of control, yes. But in the right hands it can help us see others.
It can help us warm ourselves and feed ourselves - and others. A fire can change dark
to daytime almost. With a fire that brings light and warmth I believe we can see God.
It takes light to see the face of another and recognize them as a child of God. It is the
light of love that allows us to recognize God’s presence in someone we might
otherwise dismiss with hatred. It takes the light of love to recognize the real
characteristics of love that Paul names.
I think this is because when you can see love you can see God. Sometimes in
retreats or on spiritual journeys a leader will ask the fellow pilgrims at the end of the
day: “Where did you see God today?” In other words, “Where did you see love,
where did you sow seeds of love, where did you receive love? There, there was God.”
The light of a fire burning without love is a risky thing because used wrongly it can
hurt, it can maim, it can kill. Used with love it requires us to risk not hurting or
maiming or killing others, it risks others using their fire to do that to us. But love
cannot live without dealing with division, difficulty, and conflict.
When we turn from the wider picture to our personal relationships, this is as true
in those relationships as it is in all these terrible messes in our nations, our politics, our
communities and even in some churches. Love must be able to risk dealing with
division, difficulty, and conflict. The truth I hear in Paul’s words give us a pretty good
checklist for making our way in these things.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It
does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in
wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all
things, endures all things.
Let me close with the thought I am thinking about risking. Rev. Michael Bos
shared the words of Emil Brunner, [“You’re Nothing Without It,” day1.org, 02/03/13]. Brunner
was a theological superstar in the 20 th century. Brunner speaks of this in his book
entitled, big surprise, Faith, Hope, and Love. Brunner connect the relationship
between faith and love, with this: “...faith is nothing in itself but the openness of our
heart to God’s love” (p. 75). Faith is what opens us to God’s love. It puts us in touch
with the source of love itself. Faith allows us to draw from that source so that the love
of God shown to us in Christ can also show itself in our lives.
We often take love so lightly. The fact is it is the greatest risk in living. But the
bigger risk, I think, is to not risk it. The bigger risk is to live without it. My prayer is
this: May we ALL find a way, despite all our divisions, to risk opening our hearts to
God’s love.” AMEN.