Sunday, February 5, 2012

The more excellent way

My personal laptop is still sidelined, now sent off to the manufacturer because what appeared at first glance to be a mere power cord issue is an infernal internal one. So I'm at the mercy of other whatever other computers I can get my hands on--far fewer than back in the days when we were a populous crowd in our home and the laptops outnumbered us. And that's just about all the disclaimer I need, though there is plenty more, if you'd like: the Super Bowl, for one thing, which doesn't usually live up to the hype but managed to today. More importantly, I put my back out Friday. Not doing anything strenuous, just lifting a quilt, but it's wrecked havoc on a weekend that was supposed to be full of packing.

That bad back made me so stinkin' cranky when I went over to the elders' apartment to help with the moving, that when Thyrza got upset, I got upset right back.  Even as I heard myself, I knew better. Her memory, faulty as it is, tells her she KNOWS the truth so she doesn't back down. I've been around that block about a hundred times, understand the best course of action is to be patient and gentle, to respond to her anger with kindness. But I didn't do this Friday. The combination of pain and muscle relaxants were enough to make me less than I should have been. No, that's an excuse. I simply failed to love her. The end. Afterwards, Beve suggested that I stay home this weekend and allow my back to heal. We both knew I'd been a menace--and that that was what he was really telling me.  I need to admit it. To face what I am in my worst moments.

This takes me straight to 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8.  In the first scene of the movie "The Wedding Crashers" (which Beve and I only saw about 10 minutes of, then had to turn off because it was too crass for us), the two crashers took bets on whether the readings at the wedding would be 1 Corinthians 13 or Colossians 3. I was surprised by this apt reference in a Hollywood movie to the very passages in scripture I also associate with weddings (Beve and I had Colossians 3: 12-17 at our wedding). However, if we look carefully at either of these passages they aren't precisely aimed at the relationship between a marrying couple, though one could make the case that a marriage is the first and primary form or community for any believer.  These are passages about living in community. And 1 Corinthians 13, coming on the heels--as a 'therefore' almost--from what we call chapter 12 (though chapter markers did not, of course, come from Paul, but much later) emanates from our understanding of what it means to live in the Body of Christ, to work for Him, to use our gifts for building up of His Body.

And...as we live in His Body, we do so in LOVE.  Seeking Love, which He describes in these central verses of the 13th chapter.  Do you want to understand the characteristics of Christian love? We can do well to look no further than 1 Corinthians 13.  And what we come up with is the opposite of selfishness at every turn.  First, it's the description of love (and opposite of selfishness) in attitude, what it is: patient and kind; and what it isn't: not boastful, envious or proud. Then it's the opposite of selfishness in action: it does not dishonor, seek self, anger easily, keep a record of wrongs, doesn't delight in evil, but rejoices in  the truth. And then it's the description of love comprehensively: always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres and never fails.

I read this description of love and am intimidated by it, knowing how far I am from having the attitude, practicing the actions and living the comprehensive life of love of which Paul writes. But I'm not alone in this. In fact, only one human who ever lived, lived such love perfectly. The Incarnate LOVE. Jesus Himself. When we look at His life, we see such love. When Paul calls us to seek such love, He is, in fact, telling us to seek the only One who love thusly, the only One who can Incarnate that love within us. Without Him, our shabby human love will fail right within our own chests. We'll give it our best shot, perhaps, but come up short. Find some people easier than others. But have no staying power, not experience the patience He demands, nor the permanence these words insist upon.

So where does that leave us? How then shall we love? Do we simply give up? Decide we aren't made to be kind, and that's the way it goes? Say we've always been the jealous type? Decide we can boast a little as long as we're among friends (or family)? As Paul would say, 'by no means.' We are told to seek a more excellent way. To seek the way of love. If it wasn't possible to be changed, to love as He loved, He wouldn't have told us to. I believe that. Every day, we are put in situations where we get to practice His love for others. And in every situation, we can either make the effort, or allow Him to love through us. Which we will choose will determine how successful we are at this love of which Paul writes.

And at the same time, we can pray. Paul writes in Ephesians 3: 17-19 "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love [or, perhaps, in the One who is Love], may have power, together with the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

That's the path to the more excellent way of Love, folks. The only way. He promises He'll give us power to know it. Without our effort, but His. In the first chapter of Ephesians, we're told that the very power that raised Jesus from the dead is the power available to us. That's world-tipping-on-its-axis power, and He means it for us, so that we can love each other, and His world.

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