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January 30th, 2022

Our second lesson this morning will be familiar to many of us. I couldn’t count how many times I have heard it read at weddings. In fact, my mother-in-law read it at my own wedding 25 years ago. We can understand why it captures the idealism and joy of a couple newly-wedded. It is beautifully written, with the cadence of a poem. It is a description of perfect love: a love that is patient and kind, that isn’t selfish or envious. A love that doesn’t anger easily. A love that keeps no record of wrongs. That is a kind of love we all aspire to: both to give and to receive in our lives. And yet, since none of us is perfect; we do not achieve it. At least not all of it, all of the time. And I imagine it might be for you, as it is for me, that the qualities of love that evade in the moment, are the very ones I need most. When we most need patience, we are impatient. When we most need to be selfless, we are selfish. When we most need to be kind, we are neglectful. And it is perhaps no coincidence that the story of the gospel is one where Jesus returns home to preach and finds his most doubtful critics – his own community. For it is among those who know us best and claim to love us most, that this perfection so falters. And yet this does not mean we do not love. It only means that we are not God, who loves us perfectly in this way. We are human, loving as best we can. While these verses in Corinthians are often read at weddings, to describe romantic and family love, they are equally powerful for friendship, and for the love we might show complete strangers. This week, I was sent an essay written by a woman describing how hard it was to maintain her friendships after she lost her baby and was struggling with infertility. It was hard because her friends had what she most wanted and seeing them, she was constantly reminded. It was impossible for her to love them without envy. It was hard because her friends, uncomfortable with her grief, wanting to keep with other happy mothers, also drifted away. It was impossible for them to love with patience. And yet the piece was written gently, without judgement, seeking to understand, and to navigate this difficult space. It was about losing friendships; but it was also about the imperfection of human love. If we were at church today, across the street we would see the truck convoy protest against vaccine mandates. And I imagine many of us would not feel love toward those people; we would easily anger. Their positions, as far as the gospel are concerned, are untenable; some trucks even arrived showcasing the Confederate flag, a symbol of slavery and oppression. They claim to speak for truckers, now mandated to be vaccinated to cross the US-Canada border both ways, and yet at least 85 per cent of truckers are vaccinated. The other 15 per cent refuse to take the vaccine that would protect others and help us to end this pandemic, which is taking such a toll on our mental health. Why do they deserve our love – we might ask? Their love is selfish, angry, judgmental, and unkind. Here is one adjective that the verses in Corinthians do not use to describe love: Love is not a push over. Love may not keep score of wrongs, but it also does not roll over in the face of them; indeed, Love craves justice. Love is a stance, a line in the sand. And so with both these examples, we see a way forward. We do not need to accept the position of the protestors to love them; we can be loving in the way we respond to them. If they are angry, we can be patient. But also, sometimes, we focus our love in the wrong direction; when we are looking at the loudest voices, who are we not seeing? We can turn our loving attention in another direction. If we see actions that are harmful – if we are a witness to bigotry and hate – we may look to those who are feeling that hardest of all and be a loving presence for them. In this way, we may also turn hate into love. Indeed, while Jesus cast the net wide and loved both friend and enemy – he spent more time extending love to the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, than he did to the rich and powerful. To the former, he offered love; to the latter, he often tried to be an example of love and in this way, show them how to love as well. I hope, then, that while the noise and rabble of protest may distract, we will devote more of ourselves to the quiet need for our loving attention. I imagine we all have friends who have drifted away during this pandemic; may we be loving to them when they return. We have people who have been challenging for us during the pandemic; may we be patient with them. And perhaps we have disappointed ourselves and feel guilt and shame; the love described in our second lesson is also for us, perhaps most important for us. When we are kind and patient with ourselves; when we don’t keep score of our own failings – we find it is much easier to share love. Perhaps, it is also no accident that patience is the first descriptor of love in our second lesson. Surely we need it now: patience to let love happen. To be open to opportunities to receive it from others with joy and without guilt. And to look for every chance to share it. The one thing love does not expect is perfection. Jesus sends us out knowing that we will love imperfectly. And yet, this will be more than enough.

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