Life Lessons from Paul

Monday, October 10, 2011 — Week of Proper 23, Year One

Vida Dutton Scudder, Educator and Witness for Peace, 1954

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 988)

Psalms 1, 2, 3 (morning) // 4, 7 (evening)

Jeremiah 36:11-26

1 Corinthians 13:(1-3)4-13

Matthew 10:5-15

As I read the opening two verses of Paul’s “Love Chapter” this morning, some real people came to mind.

“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.” There is a writer who contributes regular columns to our newspaper. He writes extraordinarily well. Beautiful prose — almost poetic. Compelling references to literature, music and history. Deeply reasoned articles and passionate argument. But his loves are limited. He loves learning and sophistication. He loves being smarter than the other person. He loves being right and putting the other in the wrong. But he doesn’t communicate love itself. He doesn’t seem to love people, especially those whom Jesus showed such particular love to — those who are below him. His columns read like 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 have a correspondent who is full of certainty, knowledge and a fierce faith. He knows that the scripture is literally true, and he scorns those who might read it with a less than a literal interpretation. He knows things so certainly — climate change is a hoax; anyone who doesn’t accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior is going to hell; Obama is a demon. His faith is rock solid. Absolute faith. He believes in God and in Jesus as the only way, the only truth, and the only life. All else is folly or demonic. Yet he seems to communicate little love. I’m sure there is love in his life (I only know him from his emails). I’m sure he is loved and loving of those within his personal circle. But he writes only of judgment and certainty, with an aggression that borders on the violent. He seems like nothing, except awful.

As I read Paul’s next verse about heroic actions, no particular person came to mind. “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.” Although I thought of no one in particular, I have known some who were involved in heroic and sacrificial activism, who yet seemed so bitter and angry that it compromised their good intentions.

Some other people then came to mind. Some modest people of modest accomplishment. One person who is not so bright, but oh, so good, so loving. Another who seems to have made little impact in the world other than within her small family, yet there is a such glowing peace around her that her presence seems to create a quiet sense of coherence. I thought of a person who says she wishes she could believe more — her doubts about God, Jesus, and religious dogma trouble her — yet she lives with such transparent love and remarkable generosity, that the presence of the Spirit glows from her being. She has a knack for smoothing rough edges and a gracious gift of hospitality.

The good life is not really about intelligence, certainty, or acclaim. It really is all about love. Paul’s description in 1 Corinthians 13 is like a formula for authentic living. We want to be with people who are like this. Hopefully, we want to be like this: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

This past Sunday’s epistle reading offered a similar formula for the good life. Paul writes from jail to say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Then he encourages us a bit more: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9)

Compelling teaching from Paul. Now… to actually live that way…

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