Text: I Corinthians 13
I begin with a trivia question. (Laura Foley you have a chance today to redeem yourself for not knowing the Abbott and Costello Who’s on First routine.) Who remembers the slogan coined by Flip Wilson in the 1970s? “The devil made me do it.” While I don’t know for certain, I imagine its roots are grounded in the biblical story of when Adam decided to blame Eve for his participation in eating from the forbidden tree thus followed by Eve then blaming the serpent; or as the serpent became known, the devil. The phrase, “the devil made me do it,” references those times when we give into temptation. I’m wondering this morning if there are things in your life that tempt you over and over again? Be careful and be honest. Think about it. I know I face temptations. And I’m dealing with one of mine this morning. It’s a temptation that I find difficult to resist, especially in trying times or when discussing hard topics like peace. I try, I do, to not get caught in this particular temptation but inevitably I fall into the trap, even when I’m making a conscious effort not to. Sometimes I just can’t help it. It is, at its worst, a “weakness of mind” and, at its best, an “exercise in futility.” And this temptation has nothing to do with Coco-Cola, Dolly Parton, or motorcycles. Are you curious? It is the temptation to oversimplify things—to not recognize the complexity of an issue or how complicated many of life’s issues are and for that matter world issues can be. And I am afraid that if I’m not careful today with how I speak my words and if you are not careful in how you hear them, together we will fall into the temptation of oversimplifying the things that I wish to discuss today.
Peace, social justice and love—that is what I want to talk about for a few minutes. I want to begin by telling you where I hope to end. It is my hope that at the end of this sermon you will understand why I think the following words written by the great social reformer Walter Rauschenbusch leads the way to world peace and serves as a guide to anyone who would take up the cause of social justice. In a 59-page book, written in 1914, Rauschenbusch wrote:
Those who take up the propaganda of love and substitute freedom and fraternity for coercion and class differences in social life are the pioneers of the Kingdom of God; for the reign of the God of love will be fulfilled in a life of humanity organized on the basis of solidarity and love.
Could it be that solidarity and love is the way of peace and an entrance into a just society?
Peace is one of those words whose true meaning has been oversimplified in our society. We play the chicken and egg game with it by debating which comes first: inner peace or world peace. We have reduced it to slogans that can be printed on a bumper sticker for our cars. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not against peace bumper stickers. I simply quote these to make the point about how easy it is to oversimplify a very complex issue. I’m sure at one time I have had one or more of these bumper stickers on my car:
- War is costly, Peace is priceless
- There is No Path to Peace – Peace is the Path
- Another Patriot for Peace
- Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.
- No God, No Peace. Know God, Know Peace
As much as we want to oversimplify what peace means—whether one is talking about inner peace or world peace, peace between Palestine and Israel—it is anything but simple. It’s not just the absence of war, as another bumper sticker declares. It is not even about everybody getting along and playing fair. It is about how we trust one another and how power is distributed. It is about learning how to respect differences. It is about all the things in life that require sacrifice and compromise from us. Peace is created out of the things that don’t come so easy for many of us. But if we truly want peace then we must wrestle with the hard issues of trust and power and respecting differences—for those are the foundation of peace.
If our world has, to some degree, oversimplified peace, we have extra-oversimplified the word love. We treat it casually, almost as casually as saying hello and goodbye. “Luv ya” has become a term that is said in passing to people we hardly know. The letters “lyl” is commonly texted among friends meaning “love ya lots.” We say the word love in different phrases to friends and family and lovers, each carrying its own meaning. But we don’t only use the word love for people. We also speak of loving our country, our state, and our church. So I’m wondering, what does it mean to speak of love?
I want to be clear today about what I mean when I speak, as I will, of love as the way to peace. First let me say what kind of love I’m not talking about. Many of you have heard me tell this story but it’s worth repeating because it so clearly makes the point I want to make. My last year of seminary was the year that the Southern Baptist fundamentalist took over control of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. At the board meeting in which the takeover was final the chairman of the board gave a speech in which his message was basically, “We have done what we have done out of love—love for God, love of God’s Word, and love for this institution.” Fewer than 15 minutes later, Dr. Elizabeth Barnes walked into my theology class stood behind her desk and began the class with these words, “Luv, luv, luv. I’m so sick of hearing them talk about an empty love.” I have thought of that story in recent days as I have heard our legislators base their recent decisions and actions on what amounts to an empty love for their fellow human beings. Love never excludes. Love never oppresses people. Love never acts unjustly. Today, I’m not talking about an empty, self-serving, coercive love that is paternalistic and abusive. Love is never empty, self-serving, coercive, paternalistic or abusive. Never!
No, when I speak of love this morning, I am speaking of justice love—the kind of love that Paul talks about in the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians. I’m speaking of the kind of love to use Rauschenbusch’s words that has “set the mired runnels of good-will flowing again.” The kind of love that “has gentled our resentful feelings and made us forgiving.” The kind of love that “by making us feel the worth of love, it has made us feel the worth of those we ought to love.” I speak today of the kind of love that “carries its own validation…that proves it own efficiency and trustworthiness in action”…the kind of love that “always looks like an enormous risk.” That is the kind of love that I wish for you to hear about and think about this morning. It is this kind of love that leads us to peace—peace in our lives and peace in our world.
What happens in our world when we try and make love something other than justice love—when we fall into the temptation of “luv luv luv” rather than justice love? Wars break. Violence, torture, human trafficking, environmental rape occurs. Legislators pass laws and policies that oppress and marginalize the most vulnerable members of our communities. When we act out of “luv, luv, luv” our love is empty, boastful, arrogant, rude, insisting on its own way. But when our love is a justice love as Paul speaks of it, it is patient and kind and rejoices in the truth. It moves us to care for one another and to lift up those who need lifting up. It is a love that serves the common good, not personal preferences. Justice love as Paul describes it “demands that the needs of the community shall have the right of way over private religious pleasures…”
Every step of social progress, including peace, demands an increase in love. And it certainly demands an increase of love from the institutional church. Rauschenbusch writes: “If the Church looks on injustice without holy anger it allows the institution of redemptive love to give shelter to lovelessness, and is itself involved in the charge of hypocrisy.”
Today is Peace Sunday. Before we gather again, many of us will march for justice and peace in the Moral Mass March on February 8 known as HKonJ. As we work for peace and march for justice may Paul’s words on justice love guide us. And may we be inspired by these closing words from one of the great peace activists and social reformers of our modern day, Walter Rauschenbusch.
If, now, love is so all-pervasive and manifold in the life of humanity; if it is indeed the indispensable condition for the existence and progress of society; if it has proved its constructive value and superior efficiency whenever it has received a fair test, then I ask all…to affirm with me their faith in love and to make a new committal to the cause of establishing love on earth. We must not only accept it and enjoy it when it comes to us, but we must seek it, cultivate it and propagate it like health, wealth and education. It is not an incidental blessing, but the first and fundamental law of God, written in our hearts, and written large in all the world about us. When we heal love that has been torn, remove all contradictions of love from the outward relations of our life and allow love to become our second nature, we shall deserve the highest patent of nobility—to be called sons [and daughters] of God. If love involves loss, we must accept the loss. Christ did. If selfishness seems to work better than love, we must have faith in love. Just as a business man invests money for years in a business proposition because he has faith in it, so we must stake our fortune on love and feel sure of coming out ahead in the venture. Why else do we call ourselves Christians?”