Homily from service on 30 January, 2022 – Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden // The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
We are told all kinds of things about love. That it’s patient, and kind, not envious or boastful, not arrogant or rude, doesn’t insist on its own way…We are told that it bears all things, believes all things…hopes and endures all things…and also that it rejoices in the truth. That God is love, and that love never ends.”
We are told a lot of things about love…and sometimes we even experience it. And, because we are told so many things about love…and experience it in so many different ways…I sometimes wonder if we really know what we are talking about…when we talk about love. Because, love is not just some warm fuzzy feeling that we get. Certainly not the kind of love that Paul is talking about…certainly not the kind of love that enables Jesus to confront the rage he faces today, and still to pass through the midst of them and go on his way. That’s a different kind love…It’s still patient and kind and all those things Paul mentions…but it’s so much more than that.
A little over 20 years ago, the recently deceased teacher, activist, author, cultural-critic bell hooks went in search of a definition of love. In her book, All About Love,* is like Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth…only to our contemporary society. In it she writes: “The word “love” is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb.” Love is a verb. Not a noun…not a thing…not even really a feeling…Love is a verb…an action. It is not something that simply emerges in spite of our will…it is something that we must choose…It is a choice we make over and over and over. We choose to love…or not. And the action of loving, says hooks, is really a choice to “nurture our own or another’s spiritual growth.” Love is choosing to nurture our own or another’s spiritual growth.
That’s the kind of love Paul is talking about…And Paul is talking about that because the church in Corinth…the community he is writing to…they are NOT choosing love. They are impatient, unkind, super envious, ridiculously boastful…arrogant, rude…with various camps insisting on their own way. And Paul wants them to get back to nurturing their own and one another’s spiritual growth…Paul wants them to choose to love…Jesus wants us to choose to love.
bell hooks says, “When we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist,” she says. “And they got up, drove him out of town…to the brow of a hill…so that they might hurl him off. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.” Love and abuse cannot coexist.
Neither can love and injustice. “There can be no love without justice,” writes hooks, which is also what God, and Jesus, and the prophets say over and over again…in various ways all throughout scripture. It’s echoed today in Paul…“Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” And, “the heart of justice,” says hooks, “is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.” So the first step in the process of love, says hooks, is choosing to be honest.
Love is a choice. Love is a choice about how we move about in the world. How we choose to be patient, and kind, not envious or boastful, not rude or arrogant…How we choose to be just, and truthful…and honest…how we choose to love ourselves as much as we love others…and we choose to love others as much as we love ourselves. And how we choose to love God.
To truly love…says hooks, ”we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication. […] When we choose to love we choose to move against fear—against alienation and separation. The choice to love is a choice to connect—to find ourselves in the other.”
To choose to love is to choose to find ourselves in the other.
That’s the choice we make…when we choose to follow Jesus. That’s the choice we make when we choose to come here. By being here today…by being a part of this community…we are choosing to love. We are committing to love. We are proclaiming…that love is what we are committed to. That love is our choice…It’s the choice we make every day…in our lives, in our alone-time, in our families, at our work, in our communities. We choose love. The love that Paul describes…the love that Jesus lives…the love that never ends…We won’t always get it “right”, and it won’t always feel warm and fuzzy, but this is our commitment…Love the verb. Love the action…love the choice…May God help us make that choice for ourselves, and for others…always.
*All quotes from bell hooks are from the electronic version of All About Love: New Visions.