Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Book of Common Prayer
Psalm 24, 29, 8, 84
1 Corinthians 12:27 – 13:13
How do we love the way God wants us to?
A few years ago, I spent a few years studying the minor prophets in the Old Testament. It was one of the most fascinating studies I have ever undertaken – and it certainly opened my eyes to how we throw around the terms prophet and prophecy, and how we cite ancient prophesies in relationship to events today. We can take lessons from them, as the scriptures today provide, we just have to be careful what we say.
We have a living language that alters meaning over time, but applying current meaning to ancient language gives us a warped understanding of that time. The prophets in Israel’s history were specific people and they delivered a specific message for a specific people at a specific time. God did not speak a warning intended for centuries in the future. Those who connect the events of prophetic history to events today, fail to understand the specificity with which they were delivered. One can easily cite some great disaster as a threat if things are not done a specific way: that disaster has come and gone.
What we need to focus on comes in the verses preceding the disaster. How did the people fail God? Are we doing the same thing? What we know from the prophets is that God will act for those who do not follow his command and under the New Covenant that command is love God and love your neighbor as yourself. The passages from Corinthians and Matthew reinforce that concept emphatically. Throughout the Old Testament prophets when God’s people failed to care for the needy (their brothers and sisters, fellow Israelites, strangers in the land), when the wealthy let their means isolate them from the poorest rather than become a tool to alleviate desperation, when idols – both intentional and accidental – took the place of God, God takes action.
The recent trend crossing my news feed from religious groups carries the theme of how the church is failing and what can be done to change it. My news feed from secular press regularly reports on religious figures who make inflammatory, controversial statements. Largely, the religious groups find that people are turned off by the vocal message promoting a legalistic, agree with me or-else, image of Christianity. The secular press finds that people mock inflammatory statements and see the church as an arcane joke. People are right to be turned off against that church – it is not the church of Christ, or even Paul. Both of them focus on love in the passages from Matthew and Corinthians today.
Paul’s listing of spiritual gifts – then calling them worthless without being used in love demands that we consider our language of faith, our view of others, and our own belief of who God loves. Instead of polarization and judgment, unity and compassion may be the key to revitalizing the church. Threats of Hell never saved anyone; ministrations of love saved everyone who has been saved.
Loving, as God wants us to do, is incredibly hard. If it were easy, the command would not repeated so many times in Jesus’s lessons and the apostles Epistles. Loving, as God wants us to do, requires that we get out of our own head and into God’s head. If we really believe God sent his son to be tortured and killed for our sin, our shortcomings, is there anyone we should not love in his name? Failing to love will bring a response from God. The prophets of the Old Testament give us dozens of examples when that happened. The calamities they foretold will not be the punishment God sends our way, but as God created all things, he will find the punishment that is right for us.
Let us love with the heart of God as he has given us that love.