Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3
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. 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. 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.
Sermon Title: “Love and Foolishness: PDA – Public Displays of Affection” (by Peter Tupou)
Christianity asks much from us – that we love extravagantly, and we often do things that seem foolish to the world, because of that love we bear. But what does that love look like when it’s lived out? Does it look like puppy love holding hands for the first time in public, A 50th wedding anniversary, or does it look like 500,000 people showing up for the Women’s March in LA? Together we’ll explore this call to love and holy foolishness.
If I speak with the languages of humans and angels, but don’t have agape, I’m a noisy gong, just another clanging cymbal. Paul is telling the folks in Corinth that, with the absence of love, speaking is just making loud noises. There are definitely lots of loud clanging cymbals out there vying for our attention on our newsfeeds. If you’ve ever seen an episode of Info Wars, you’ll understand the noisy gong reference. Social media companies and certain news stations have perfected the language of othering. And every day it becomes a personal challenge to decipher what really happened in the world from some of the readily available sources. Many of our politicians have mastered how to say this and how not to say that, but their actions give them away and show whether or not they have compassion, integrity or love.
If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but don’t have agape, I am nothing. We remember that Corinth is a Greek city. And the Greeks value philosophy, art, and knowledge. While knowledge in the service of others can be a force for good, beware those who use their knowledge to establish dominance or superiority over others, for that is simply evil. I can give you examples of how large corporations have done this, but let me give a more frivolous example.
I once took a gap year of sorts and lived in Las Vegas. My neighbor Sarah had a special charm, a way with words and she could sing like Sheryl Crow! She was intelligent, sarcastic, funny, and beautiful and I found her to be extremely attractive. I also felt the attraction was mutual but was too awkward to risk anything. She was from Atlanta, Georgia and was the epitome of what I imagined a Southern Belle was. And she used to knock on my door quite frequently and always asked for my help with something or other in her apartment. To her sweet Georgia peach of an accent, I always said yes and did every task she asked of me with a smile. Even when she asked to borrow money for an emergency trip to go see her sick grandma back home. Needless to say, after I loaned her my monthly paycheck, I never saw or heard from her again. That southern drawl has lost its charm and I don’t like peaches anymore.
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. One year at school, after pulling an all-nighter and having a series of debates with classmates about the idea of altruism, I asked a trusted professor of mine, what was the point of me going to college, if I wasn’t even able to help my family with the immediate financial needs that they suffered from? Which begged an even larger question, would it be better to just drop out, sell all my belongings and go where people needed the most help? He smiled with his eyes and simply answered, go if that is what your heart calls you to do.
If we don’t have love, what can we truly do? If we don’t have love, what can we truly affect? Keep in mind that Paul isn’t talking about just any kind of love. We’re not talking about Eros, romantic or sexual love; or Philia, friendship or affection; and it’s not the love of chocolate as great as that may be. Paul is talking about the highest and most radical type of love according to the Greeks which is selfless and which acts to help the beloved. A love that acts! Unless we have that kind of active, unselfish love, we are nothing.
Agape is as much a “doing” as a “feeling” word. It calls for action.
Years ago, I drove 10 hours straight, to the home of Christina, my girlfriend at the time to deliver her birthday gift. As I look back on it now, it was quite foolish because we had just broken up the week before, but since I had already gotten her birthday present months prior, I figured why not. Yeah, it was definitely foolish for me to show up on her doorstep unannounced. The things we do for love.
Agape is as much a “doing” as a “feeling” word. It calls for action. It requires us to demonstrate our love in some practical fashion.
One summer, I filled up my car with all of Kate’s belongings. Kate was a different girlfriend. (Sorry I’m trying to stick with the Lenten lovers and fools theme, and I’ll let you decide who was who). She had just graduated from the UofR and it was time to move every little thing she had gathered over those 4 years back to her home in Santa Rosa. My car was packed full. We had her stuff in the trunk, her stuff tied on top, the whole back seat was full. I couldn’t even see out my back window, and I couldn’t even see her in the seat next to me because we had books stacked high between us! Oh, and she forgot to let me know she had moved my seat all the way up to make more room for her stuff! I was cramped, I was tired, and I was angry. I don’t think I was feeling the love on that particular drive. It was a long time traveling and I just wanted to get out of the car and lay my body down. The things we do for love.
Agape is as much a “doing” as a “feeling” word. It calls for action. It requires us to demonstrate our love in some practical fashion. To do what is possible to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to welcome the stranger, to clothe the naked, and to heal the sick. Those are the things we do for love.
Pastor Jill showed us a couple weeks ago, how love can make fools of us, and I can personally attest to that. Some astrologists say the Fool’s Journey is a metaphor for the journey through life. I’ve often thought of myself as a wanderer, and sometimes a wandering fool. I was born in New Zealand, grew up in Tonga, lived in Hawaii, went to school at Oxford, and on the weekends hopped on the train to see as much of Europe as I could. I then lived in Vegas and wandered around from town to town through the States, sometimes hitchhiking sometimes train-hopping, wherever the wind blew. Sometimes I’m surprised I made it to Redlands. But the foolish journeys didn’t stop when I arrived here.
(Standing Rock) – I was perhaps a little foolish to drive not just 10 hours, but 28 hours through icy roads straight to the Oceti Sakowin Camp in North Dakota on the Standing Rock Reservation. Perhaps also foolish to try and sleep in my car on that first night I arrived there, when the first snows fell. I may have frozen to death that night, if it weren’t for my bladder. I got up to the use the bathroom and I had icicles on my beard. I survived that first night. It wasn’t until I stood arm in arm with natives and allies, and seeing the first can of tear gas shot at us… yeah, that’s when it hit me. WTF Peter, what have you gotten yourself into this time? Oh God what am I doing here in the freezing cold away from my friends, away from my family, on Thanksgiving Day! In a moment of despair, I felt utterly alone in my foolishness and my fear. Why am I trying to be a hero? What is this fool’s journey I’m on?
Walter Breuggemann, who I consider to be one of my Old Testament teachers because I love his books says, “One of the misfortunes in the long history of the church is that we have mistakenly separated love of God from love of neighbour and always they are held together in prophetic poetry. Those who practice justice and righteousness are to be active advocates for the vulnerable and the marginalized and people without resources. And that then becomes the way to act out and exhibit one’s love of God.”
As all of you know, we weren’t able to stop the oil company from drilling through the Lakota sacred land. I wasn’t able to save lives from a potential pipeline break that would contaminate all the drinking water in that area. But many of us went to stand for what was right, to stand for the least of these, the vulnerable, to stand for and with those who stood alone at Standing Rock. So we went, and as a church family you all stood there with me in scared protest. The journey where we must foolishly set out on, is sometimes where we realize our wholeness.
Paraphrasing Paul Tillich (Love Power, and Justice: Ontological Analyses and Ethical Applications) “The first duty of love is to listen.” Tillich says, “All things… call on us with small or loud voices. They want us to listen, they want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being. They want justice from us. But we can give it to them only through the love which listens.”
Are we listening to Colin Kaepernick when he takes a knee?
Are we listening to environmentalist Bill McKibben when he says, “There’s no happy ending where we prevent climate change any more.”
Are we listening to Marielle Franco, Brazilian politician who fought for women and the poor? She was a gay black woman who defied the odds of Rio politics to win the fifth-highest vote count among council members when she was elected in 2016. One of Franco’s final posts on Twitter called attention to police violence. She wrote, “Another homicide of a young man that could be credited to the police. Matheus Melo was leaving church when he was killed. How many others will have to die for this war to end?” She was recently killed in an apparent assassination.
Are we listening to Desmond Tutu when he says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Are we listening to Alicia Garza and the Black Lives Matter Movement?
Are we listening to our neighbors like Alondra Naves from Fontana, a student at Cal Poly Pomona, who came here this past week to speak about immigration justice?
Are we listening to our young Ian and the thousands of students who walked out with him this past Wednesday morning?
Are we listening to Emma Gonzalez, the courageous young survivor of the parkland shooting who has spent every day since advocating for gun control? I showed the Youth Group a video of Emma speaking passionately at a gun rally and she was featured on an episode of 60 mins. In that interview Emma’s mother tells this story – someone told Emma’s mother, “Please tell Emma we are behind her….” to which her mother replied, “I appreciate, but we should have been in front of her. I should have been in front of her. “
Are we listening to Dr. Cornel West when he reminds us, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public”?
Are we listening to Mother Theresa when she tells us that “Justice without love is not justice. Love without justice is not love”?
Let’s go back to those bold and beautiful revolutionary students from the 1960s, the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) folks who turned a reluctant Rev. Dr. King into an anti-war, anti-colonialism activist. They talked about this love that penetrates justice as the agent of social transformation. Here is what they stated back in 1960, about what happens when love is linked to nonviolence. When love is lived out, then, and only then, we see that:
Courage displaces fear; Love transforms hate. Acceptance dissipates prejudice;
Hope ends despair. Peace dominates war; Faith reconciles doubt…
Justice for all overcomes injustice…
You and I heard the call for sacred resistance from Standing Rock and we prayed with our feet. I listened to Sarah with love and she taught me how to forgive. I listened to Christina with love and she taught me how to be brave. I listened to Kate with love and she taught me how to be kind.
Even through all the loud gongs and the clanging cymbals, are we still listening? Because God is still speaking