Love Is Ridiculous
Text: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
For many people, February is a month for love. After all, tonight is Groundhog Eve - I imagine a romantic occasion at least for people in Punxsatawny. And then later in the month is Valentine's Day - a time to give cards and candy and flowers and other expressions of love. Personally, though, the only significance February 14 has at my house is that it's usually one of the slowest mail days of the year. But we'll save that sad story for another time.
We hear so much about love. Almost every song on the radio speaks about love. The television programs that we watch show us people that are in love. And the newspapers that you pick up at the check-out line at the grocery store tell you who's in love with who this week. We hear so much about love, we just figure that we know what love is all about. But then we read this 13th chapter in 1 Corinthians, and we have to wonder whether we really do know what love is all about.
For instance, last year Glynn Wolfe passed away at the age of 88. Now maybe his name isn't familiar to you, but according to the Guinness Book of Records, Glynn Wolfe was married more times than any other human being. 29 times he was married. And so that means that 29 times he swore his love to a woman. But as we read here in 1 Corinthians, we have to wonder whether that's the kind of love that the Bible's talking about.
Here in 1 Corinthians, the apostle Paul speaks of love as something that never ends. But the reality today is that many people approach love and marriage with a very different understanding of what those words mean. And so, for example, the state of Louisiana is recognizing the fact that love means different things to different people. And so now in Louisiana, when you go to get your marriage license, the clerk at the courthouse will ask you what kind of a marriage license you want.
You see, in Louisiana, they now have two kinds of licenses. There is the covenant marriage license, which means that the couple states up front what will be the only conditions that would be grounds for a divorce. So that means that years later, if the couple just says that they're bored or unhappy with each other, the state won't grant them a divorce, because with a covenant marriage license, they have made a lifetime commitment, something that the state won't allow to be casually set aside. But if you're not interested in that kind of a commitment, Louisiana will give you a no-fault marriage license, which means that any time a couple becomes unhappy and is separated for at least six months, the marriage can be dissolved almost automatically. And so in Louisiana, couples getting married are asked what kind of love they have. A love that will endure until death do them part, or a love that will last until something better comes along.
It's that first kind of love, the kind of love that endures forever, that Paul speaks about in this chapter in 1 Corinthians. But the reality is that it's the second kind of love, the kind of love that's temporary, that we're most familiar with. But instead of just accepting that, Paul encourages us to aim for that higher love.
Back during the Christmas season, I read about how Land's End - that's a company that mainly sells clothing - how Land's End was being sued in Germany because they were offering a lifetime warranty on their products. And the group suing Land's End said that such a promise represented unfair competition, according to German law. You see, in Germany they do not allow stores to have 2-for-1 promotions, or to offer giveaway items, or to have sales where the discount is more than 3% off the regular price. So Land's End was being sued because they were trying to offer something better to consumers than what the other retailers were willing to do. And in effect, the people suing Land's End were trying to say to them: "Lifetime warranties. We don't do that here. We keep our standards low, and we don't want anyone messing that up for us." And I wonder if that's what we do with love. We hear Paul telling us what love means, but we're all too ready to settle for something a whole lot less than that.
And so Paul tries to help us to see that love is not just some emotion. Instead, Paul invites us to see what love is made of. For instance, when white light goes into a prism, the light comes out separated into all the colors of the rainbow. And that's what Paul does with love. He helps us to see the whole spectrum of things that are meant by that one word.
And as we look at these familiar words that Paul wrote, an interesting idea I've seen is for us to put ourselves into those verses and see how our love measures up. For instance, starting at verse 4, if we substitute the word "I" for "love", the passage reads like this: "I am patient; I am kind; I am not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. I do not insist on my own way; I am not irritable or resentful; I do not rejoice in wrongdoing, but I rejoice in the truth. I bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. My love never ends." How true are those sentences for each of us? How well do they match up with the way that we really are?
What those words show us is that love is something we do. It's not just some feeling. For instance, in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus praised a group of people by saying: "I was hungry and you gave me food." Notice that Jesus didn't commend the people by saying: "I was hungry and you felt sorry for me." No, I was hungry and you gave me food. In other words, love means doing what's necessary, what's needed. But really love means even more than that.
One day a father asked his little girl what love meant. And the child said: "Love is something that you do that is ridiculous." And I think that's a pretty good definition. Love is something that you do that is ridiculous. After all, isn't the love that God shows to us a ridiculous kind of love?
Think of the love that God showed in the Old Testament to Abraham and Sarah. They were the old couple, around 90 years of age or more, and God had promised to give them children and to make a great nation out of them. But the Bible says that Abraham and Sarah laughed. They thought that the very idea of their having children was ridiculous. But God's love found a way, and in time, a child was born to them.
Or think of the love that Jesus showed in the New Testament. The Gospels tell us about a time when a man begged Jesus to come quickly to his house, because the man's little girl was very sick. But by the time Jesus arrived, the crowd standing outside the house told Jesus that it was pointless, that the girl was already dead. But Jesus said to them: "Don't worry. The child is not dead; she's just sleeping." But the Bible says that the people in the crowd laughed. They thought that what Jesus said was ridiculous. But Jesus went into the house, touched the girl, and brought her out of the house alive.
Or this last week, I was re-reading the story of the Exodus and how the Hebrews got to the place where they were trapped with the sea on their one side and the on-coming Egyptian chariots on the other side. And so in a panic, the people turned to Moses, wanting to know what to do, and in turn, Moses turned to God. But the answer that God gave must have seemed like a ridiculous answer to the people. Because the people were probably looking for God to give them a battle plan so they could fight against the Egyptians or to tell them how to make rafts so they could escape across the water. But instead, God did none of these things. Rather, God told the people that the only thing he wanted them to do was to keep quiet and to know that God would save them. Again, with the Egyptian chariots getting closer and closer, that must have seemed like a ridiculous thing for God to say, for the Hebrews to just sit there and be quiet. But as the people did just that, God showed his love to them, by parting the waters of the sea so that they could cross over to the other side on dry land.
In Psalm 46, it says: "Be still, and know that I am God." If we want to know what God's love is all about, maybe we need to pay more attention to those words. Be still, and know that I am God. Too often we get this image in our minds that one day we'll stand before God on the day of judgment, and we figure that we'll just explain to God why we should be let into heaven. We'll tell God about all the good things that we've done, and all the people we've helped, and all the times that we've prayed. Of course, we'll conveniently leave out all the times that we've done bad things, and all the people we've hurt in one way or another, and all the other things that we're not so proud of. But we figure that we're fairly certain that we could put together a pretty good case for ourselves and argue our way into heaven. But the truth is that if God were to listen to our speeches, the only thing that God could do would be to laugh. Because even when we don't want to admit it, God knows that we're sinners. God knows that we don't deserve to get into heaven. And so it's only when we hush up about ourselves, that we can hear what God says to us. It's only then that we hear the amazing and ridiculous news that God forgives us and welcomes us anyway.
Too often we think of love in terms of: if you do something nice for me, then I'll do something nice for you. We treat each other based on what we figure the other person deserves from us. But the good news is that's not the way that God loves. No, God's love is much more ridiculous than that. Because God loves us even when we don't deserve it. Even when we give God every reason not to love us, God still does. And that's the same kind of love that God wants us to have. A love that extends not just to our friends, but even to our enemies. A love that's not just temporary, but a love that never ends. Because as Christians, if we don't have love, then we have nothing at all.
C. Edward Bowen
Crafton United Presbyterian Church