February 3, 2019
Love – a verb, not a feeling – J. Barry Vaughn – Feb. 3, 2019
Last week was our annual meeting. By and large, I thought we had a successful and positive annual meeting. When I asked you to talk about the good things going on at Christ Church, there was a great feeling in the parish hall.
You also raised some real concerns. One of the concerns raised was about finances. In response to those concerns, I will be having a town hall meeting on our finances in the Guild Room on Sunday, Feb. 3, at 9:15 am. If you have questions you’d like to have Spencer and me address, please write them down and give them to me. Alternatively, you can send them to me by email.
Like most of you, I also believe that Christ Church is in good shape.
Rabbi Harold Kushner who wrote Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? also wrote a book entitled How Good Do We Have to Be? in which he pointed out that when God created the heavens and the earth he declared them to be good. Not perfect, but good. That’s how I feel about Christ Church. Our church is good, maybe even very good, but not perfect. There is always room for improvement.
In my sermon last Sunday I reflected on the fact that when I came here to be your rector, Bishop Dan warned me about Christ Church’s history of conflict. What he told me really concerned me, and I expressed doubt about my ability to deal with the level of conflict he described. Then Bishop Dan said that the only question I needed to ask myself was whether or not I loved you. That was before I really knew anything about the people at Christ Church.
As I look back at my six years as your rector, I realize that Bishop Dan was right. With enough of the right kind of love, you can weather any conflict. And I am happy to see that I have fallen in love with you.
I believe an interesting thing happens when you serve as a priest to a group of people over a period of years. The relationship that develops between priest and people creates an environment in which love almost always begins to grow. And strange as it may seem to say this, one of the things that fosters the growth of love is giving communion.
I have discovered that it almost impossible not to love people you give communion to every week. There is an intimacy about the act of giving communion that brings priest and people together.
There is more to it, of course. Love grows as we laugh together. It also grows as we cry together. When you share your concerns and worries with me and the other clergy on the staff, it brings us together. Mutual prayer also brings us together. When you tell me about a health concern, a sick friend or relative, a relationship problem, and ask me to pray for you, that touches my heart and love starts to grow.
When I first felt a calling to ordained ministry, I had no idea that the relationship between priest and people was like this. I have to admit that I thought about the ministry almost entirely in intellectual terms. I am really embarrassed to admit that I thought that all I had to do was preach brilliant sermons. It’s fine if you laugh now!
Maybe there are clergy who labor under that misunderstanding throughout their careers, although I don’t think that’s possible. But I am so glad that I realized that I was wrong.
Make no mistake: I know that I’m bright, and I believe that I’m a good preacher. But there is so much more to being a priest than that. And I am more grateful than I can say to you and my other parishioners who have taught me that lesson.
The main thing I want to say is that the most important element in the relationship between clergy and the people they serve is love, the kind of love that St. Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 13.
As I said last week, Christ Church has a history of conflict. Given our history of conflict, I want to do everything I can to prevent that kind of conflict from breaking out again. Although Christ Church is mostly healthy, I have a few concerns. It does not take much to rouse smoldering embers. Old wounds are just beneath the surface.
The best prescription against conflict is the one that St. Paul gives in today’s second reading:
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. Love never ends.
That’s it. That’s all I really need to say. But it’s so much easier to say than to do.
In the coming weeks, I would like for all of us to keep St. Paul’s words uppermost in our hearts and minds.
Love is not a feeling. I cannot repeat that too frequently: Love. Is. Not. A. Feeling.
Feelings are nice. Sometimes they are wonderful.
Falling in love is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world, but I really wish that they had called it something other than “falling in love,” because that’s not really accurate. The experience we call “falling in love” is really more about desire and excitement than about love.
Love is work. But the interesting thing about the work of love is that when you do the hard work of love, you really do start to like and care about the other person.
When you start to exercise patience and kindness toward another person, then you really will start to care about him or her. When you refrain from arrogance and rudeness, it changes your feelings and attitude. When you do not insist on your own way and are not irritable and resentful, you will feel differently.
The psychologist William James once said, “Act yourself into a new way of thinking.” I’d like you to think about that. It is quite different from what I once I believed, and I think it’s very different from the way most of us think.
First, comes the act. Behave as though you love someone else. Act in a loving way toward them, and then the feeling of love will follow.
That is exactly what St. Paul is saying.
If you are having a difficult time loving someone else, then try this: Turn what St. Paul says about love into a kind of mantra like this:
I will be patient and kind toward you whether I feel like it or not. I will refrain from being envious, boastful, arrogant, and rude. Instead, I will rejoice at your gifts and achievements; I will shift the focus from myself to you. I will exercise politeness toward you. I will let you have your way. I will celebrate truth and doing the right thing. I will bear my duties with cheerfulness. I will believe the best about you. I will hope for the right outcome.
Do those things, and I absolutely guarantee that your attitude and your feelings will change.
Let’s all resolve to behave in that way toward other members of this church.
I want to conclude by quoting Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.
That is my deepest hope for Christ Church: that we will learn how to love like that. Make no mistake: It is difficult. It doesn’t happen in one day, or one week, or one year. It takes a lifetime. But we can learn how to do it. And when we do, it will not just change us: it will change the whole world.