Life can be full of awkward moments. Standing the wrong line for several minutes would be one, buying something and seeing it for less in another store within a day or so, the unlocked bathroom door can make you just shudder at what you might not want to see. Perhaps the most awkward moment is to ask someone: “How are you doing?” and have them take several minutes to answer you. In detail. In more depth than you care to hear.
You’ve probably seen the Internet Meme on Facebook or something else: imagine you and I find ourselves handcuffed together in the back of a police car; in three words, what would you say? Thinking about the different people I know, it would tell a lot about how I feel about the person which three words. “Who are you?” “We met where?” “We did what?” “You darned fool.” “Sobriety next time.” “No, not again.” If we expand that a little: “Next time, my way.” “Not listening to you.” Someone we’re really close to, it’s a little different. When you’re really close, what matters is the proximity and the commitment. It’s the kind of person you find yourself handcuffed to, and you smile and say: “Here we go again.”
Why is this? Because there are very few people you really want to know in detail how they’re doing. Only special friends, certain family members are the only non-professional folks we really want to know how they’re doing, in fact, that’s a sign of deep friendship. A true friend asks how you’re doing and wants to hear the full answer. That kind of friendship is rare.
How rare should it be? Today’s second reading is the love chapter from 1 Corinthians, and it’s one we usually hear at weddings. The description of Love being patient, kind, rejoicing in right seems very appropriate when two people commit their lives to one another. But Paul didn’t write this passage for a marriage celebration. He wrote it to a community in trouble. The Church in Corinth had a lot of problems: in those days, community gatherings were associated with a meal, but the rich people were getting there early and devouring everything, while the poor working folks who came late were getting little or nothing; some were buying meal sacrificed to idols, perhaps even participating in the pagan rituals, with the excuse “Well, we know these gods aren’t real, so it doesn’t matter what we say or do as long as we get a good meal”; there was a public scandal where a man was openly living with his stepmother, a situation that no-one was dealing with; there were factions that sprung up, one supporting Paul, one supporting Apollos, and others, that were vying for control of the church.
The standard Paul sets for love is to be an antidote for the ills of the community. Love wasn’t something to be shared by a small elite, or contested in local politics, or the pursuit of what one person may want. Church isn’t a social club with an elite membership chosen by a vote of the members who’ve paid their dues. Love is about focusing unselfishly on others, their needs, their vulnerabilities, their understanding. Love is about seeing the larger picture, the larger whole, and arranging our lives to serve that need. Love isn’t about knowledge, wisdom or even particular talents, but the attitude that holds them all together. Love is about people who are truly willing to put their lives on the line for one another, who would die for the sake of any other person there.
This is also a standard to recognize the authentic spirit working in the midst of the community. If the movement is seeking the good of all, amplifying the good in others, not demanding blind allegiance, then it is the operation of Love, the operation of the Spirit deserving attention. That’s even true when the vessel is someone we think we know who’s already in our midst. That’s even true when the Spirit arises in our hearts and calls us to do something we’ve never done before.
The standard of Love is a wonderful life giving standard, which is very hard to do. Among other things, it means when we ask someone how they’re doing and they take five minutes to tell us, we have to listen even if we don’t really want to. It means we have to be careful, because our own need to get our way, to build up our own power, can be very subtle and very seductive. It’s particularly easy when we think of rules we want to enforce on others, for the common good, but we find ways to exempt ourselves from.
The Eucharist was called a love feast in the earliest days of the Church, and it can be that today if we let it. The Body and Blood of Christ can open our hearts, minds and souls to the true nature of love, and give us the strength and security to live it out. As we come to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, let us look at our own hearts, and how we are called to be Christ’s presence of Love in the world.