Most mighty God,
who makes new our hearts and restores our soul,
who lives beyond death,
open our eyes to see clearly.
When we do not wish to see, we too often turn away;
we do not see the suffering of a neighbour;
we do not see you calling to us to help;
we do not see your face in the face of everyone in need.
turn our hearts toward our neighbour,
fill us with love and compassion rather than judgement and mistrust,
so that we may come together in our hour of need,
and seek first your kingdom and justice.
In the name of Jesus, crucified and risen,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
Message: Abide in Faith, Hope, and Love
Text: 1 Corinthians 13
This is obviously a disruption.
Two weeks ago, I thought this would be like every other time the media hypes a new disease—bird flu, swine flu, West Nile, etc.—obviously serious diseases, but also sensationalized because that’s how media works. A week ago, it was more serious, and now, there’s been major disruptions in our lives because of this.
I think that for many of us, church isn’t necessarily about the exact way we worship, or the exact doctrines or beliefs. It is about community, first and foremost. It’s about sharing something personal and profound, our belief in God, with others through music and prayer. It’s about the emotional connections we make with each other during and in the time after. It’s about the work we do together. The best expression of God is in community, as we are in communion with one another. God doesn’t exist as a thought in our heads, an idea we “believe in;” God lives through our love for each other, through our togetherness. That’s why religion isn’t expressed in private devotion at home, but in community. The literal meaning of the Greek word for church used in the New Testament, ecclesia, means a gathering of people. Not a building, not an organization with rules and doctrines; a community.
Humans need community, not just on a social or emotional level, but on a spiritual level. So what happens when that community is disrupted?
We are doing what we can to be safe, and that is the most important thing right now. If I got COVID-19, I’d feel sick for a few days, and be fine. I come into contact with enough people, though, including my partner, who if they got sick it might very well kill them, so I’m not going to expose them to risk just because the risk is okay for me.
But it takes something away from us when we don’t gather, when we don’t break bread together, when we don’t work together, hand in hand. We are losing something in this.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a plea for community. He takes great pains to point out that everyone belongs, whether they think they deserve to or now. He draws the analogy to the body in chapter 12, and in this passage, heard at weddings and funerals around the world, pleas for love to be the first and most important guiding principle. If faith falters, it’s okay if you still have love. If hope falters, it’s okay if you still have love. Without love, you can have all the faith and hope you want; it’ll be meaningless.
The love that keeps communities together, that persists despite disagreements, differences, and distance, is the love of God, is the love that makes God real for us. It’s the love that made God real for the disciples, because it was Jesus’ love for them and for the people around him. That’s why the greatest of these is love.
The church in Corinth was torn apart not by disease or anything like that, but by divisions and arguments. We can read some of this in the rest of the letter, where Paul is angry that some people come earlier and eat all the food (church then was always a communal meal), leaving nothing for the people who came later because they had to work; or he’s angry that some people think they are better Christians than others because of who specifically baptized them.
For Paul, a church that did not love was hardly a church at all. That’s still true.
This happened during Lent, a time of separation. We encouraged each other to give something up, so here we are. We are separate, and in that we become even more aware of the separation we have from God. Because we are separate from one another, we find it harder to love one another. There is no chance to put your arm around a friend who needs a hug. There is no shaking of hands and smiling to one another. And there is no singing together. So all these little acts of love that make God real for us aren’t there.
And, even more so, we are aware of our separation from God by all the things we are doing wrong, as a society. Natural disasters happen—and a pandemic is a natural disaster—but it our response to them that truly makes something a disaster. It is our fear-driven hoarding that has us wondering if we will be able to make it through; it is our inability to provide for one another as a society that has some people wondering about their jobs or rent. It’s our self-centredness that has us unable to truly care for one another. In other natural disasters, such as a hurricane, it’s our lack of response that causes far more deaths and suffering.
And yeah, this is human sin. It doesn’t cause the disease, but it causes the worst things to come out of it. It is our inability to truly love; our lack of community that truly makes us sinful. Not dirty thoughts, not “disobedience to God’s law,” not eating shellfish or working on the Sabbath or any other of the rules; it is our inability to love, which is only made all the worse in crisis.
But we can still love one another, even through all of this. My high school history teacher once said that disasters bring out both the best and worst in people, and while it’s discouraging to see the worst, I have seen so much more of the best that I can’t help but hope. I’ve been more connected with people over the last week than I have been in a long time, with phone calls, just to make sure everyone is doing okay. In Revelstoke, we’re coming together to care for our seniors and make sure they’re able to get groceries. So even though it’s discouraging to see things like grocery hoarding or racism toward Chinese people, there are other things we are doing that show that we can abide in love.
God is real through our love for one another. Christ is alive in so much as we live in love for one another; the love that without a second thought reaches out a hand to help, without asking, “What’s in it for me?”
So my encouragement to you through this is to keep finding ways to love. Faith, hope, love . . . these are things that are not just thought about, these are things that are done. Reach out to people even through telephones or the internet; reach out to others who are homebound and see if they need anything. Never stop loving, because it’s the way we remain community; it’s how we continue to walk with God even through all this disruption.