God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Sunday, May 29, 2016

May 29 -- Second Sunday after Pentecost

Grace to you and peace from God.  AMEN.

Today we’re talking about the Gospel.  Well, I hope every Sunday we’re talking about the Gospel, but today I want to spend a little more time talking explicitly about what the Gospel is...because that’s where Paul goes in Galatians.  

In Galatians, Paul has no introductory thanksgivings!  No I thank God every time I think of you, no joy for our partnership in ministry, no even-though-we’re-not-together-we’re-together pleasantries.  In Galatians Paul, asserts the Good News of God and his connection to it, and then chastises, lambastes, admonishes the Galatians for going after other gospels.  At first glance, and I’m guessing just about everyone, if spoken to like this, in our day in age, would not welcome Paul’s perceived tone.  “Excuse me?”  

It’s the kind of tone that inspires sarcasm in me, maybe rebellion in a teenager, back-talk, or maybe passive aggressive behavior and gossip among co-workers.   How do you deal with high-handed, bossy, authoritative comments from people in your life?  

There is way in which we can read Paul’s first words to the Galatians like this.  But let’s sit with Paul’s tone and passion for just a minute.  He’s talking about the Gospel here. 

That’s a word you probably hear all the time in church communities, and I hope this one too.  But how often do we stop and talk about what the Gospel really is.  If you had to describe the “Gospel of Jesus Christ” to a child, what you say?  

I don’t know that I was ever pinned down by that question until seminary.  That’s because I had this preaching professor, who, in my opinion had a tone like I imagine Paul to the Galatians: high-handed, authoritative, even bossy.  He didn’t want us to preach in congregations until after we had his class.  Many of us had preached (or thought we were already preachers) in our home congregations, where people told us we were so great.  But Professor Satterlee made it clear that we were to no longer preach until after our preaching course.     Guess how I reacted to him?  With sarcasm.  Some with rebellion, some with back-talk, some passive aggressively and with gossip.

I didn’t go into that class with a great attitude.  I didn’t care for his style and perceived arrogance.  He lectured like he was shouting at us.  And, man, he had a temper.  

But do you know what his whole schtick was?  I shouldn’t say “shctick”: it wasn’t a gimmick (that’s my residual sarcasm).  
Do you know what his whole “central message” was?  It was preaching the Gospel.  He had no patience for students and pastors alike who didn’t or couldn’t preach the Gospel.  

In the class -- as you might imagine -- we got up and practiced preaching to one another.  Then we analyzed each other’s sermon.  And what that looked like was after every sermon Dr. Satterlee would simply ask (in this calm but patronizing tone ;) , “So did you hear the Gospel?  What was it?”  Then we would discuss that question.

My whole preaching educational experience can be summed up in that simple question, which continues to haunt and bless me every time I prepare a sermon.  “So did you hear the Gospel?”  This is not unique to my preaching training, Lutheran preaching is centered on Gospel preaching.  It’s centered on Paul’s words here to the Galatians.  
The word “gospel” was not a new word to the ancient world.  Whenever there was news from Rome, it was announced as gospel, the good news of Caesar.  For Paul to say that there is only one Gospel is radically illegal and offensive to the mission of Empire. 

So what is the Gospel?  It’s always seemed so nebulous to me, like a fancy word pastors, bishops, seminary profs, liturgies toss around.  

Here’s what it is: The Gospel -- are you ready? -- the Gospel is the “grace of our lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the holy spirit be with you”.  It’s that Pauline greeting “Grace to you and peace from God.”  That’s it.  

This might sound simple...maybe you’ve known and certainly heard this your entire life, but it took me years to get it.  

Like a beige cross on a beige wall, it doesn’t exactly “pop”... unless we talk about what the Gospel is not.  And that’s what my preaching class, Professor Satterlee, and many other friends and mentors helped me see:  

The Gospel is not great life lessons, it’s not endless entertaining and touching stories, it’s definitely not Chicken Soup for the Soul. Ever heard sermons like that? Maybe you like sermons like that… The Gospel is not sentimental. The Gospel is also not finger-wagging about how you should live a better life, a more Christian life.  I’ve hear lots of sermons like that.  And I’ve given sermons like that.  [Dad: “People love it.”]  The Gospel is not a Bible Study, it’s not verse-by-verse mind-blowing information about the text.  This is good, and a gift, and what I love to experience in a Bible Study, but that’s not Gospel preaching either...

The Gospel is the Word of Truth proclaimed: that God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.  The Gospel is the truth that because of Christ, you are forgiven, saved and sent.  Not because of anything the preacher thinks about you, not because of anything you’ve done, the Gospel is always based on God doing the action and us simply doing the receiving, opening our hands and accepting.  The Gospel is good news -- not teaching news, not personal news, not entertaining news.  The Gospel is God-through-Christ’s war-ending, eye-opening, dead-raising, stranger-welcoming, prisoner-releasing radical grace-based love poured out for you and for this whole world! If you don’t hear that in sermons, then I -- and any pastor --has failed in preaching the Gospel, and Paul may as well lambaste us.    

Paul was sick and tired of the people of Galatia going after all these other messages, all these other stories, all these other inspirations.  So bold was he to say “THERE IS NO OTHER GOSPEL!”  All of that -- if it doesn’t point to the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion/community of the Holy Spirit -- if it doesn’t point us to God’s abiding presence and love, even if it comes from the saintliest of angels, all of that is worthless.  (I get that, btw, that angel comment he makes.  Sometimes the saintliest of angels make me feel the worst, because I can never be so saintly and angelic.  Sometimes some pastors can make me feel like that too.)  

The Gospel is not showing off; the Gospel is moving in.  It’s a Word about God’s moving in, dwelling among us, loving us in spite of ourselves, and sending us out to share this good news with everyone we meet.  That’s worth hearing...and that’s the church’s one foundation.  AMEN.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

May 22 -- Holy Trinity Sunday

Grace to you and from the Triune God.  AMEN.

It's true, as Jesus says in John’s Gospel here: there are still some things we can't bear to hear right now...

There is still some wisdom that we can’t comprehend, some truth that we can’t handle, even some unconditional love of God that we can’t let ourselves accept.

[slowly]  But in the meantime, we reflect today on the unselfishness of our Triune God.

The "omni's" of God are often acknowledged (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence), but not often enough the unselfishness, the omni-generosity, omni-benevolence, of God, the Holy Trinity.  

Today -- brace yourself and maybe you’ve looked ahead -- but today we’re going to be invited to say together the Athanasian Creed.  This super-long statement of faith that dates to the 6th century -- younger actually than the Apostle’s or Nicene Creeds we usually say -- is just as much a part of our teaching and our faith tradition as the others.  [Anyone memorize this?]

In the ordination of a pastor in the ELCA, you’ll hear the bishop say to the new pastor: 

“The church in which you are to be ordained confesses that the holy scriptures are the word of God and are the norm of its faith and life.  We accept, teach, and confess the Apostles’, the Nicene, and the Athanasian Creeds. We also acknowledge the Lutheran confessions as true witnesses and faithful expositions of the holy scriptures. Will you therefore preach and teach in accordance with the holy scriptures and these creeds and confessions?”
(I said yes, with the help of God.)  But in our new hymnal the Athanasian Creed was cut, because -- I learned this week -- it took up 3 pages, most churches aren’t using it, but maybe once a year, and it would always be available online.

Anyway, the point is, this is a statement of our faith too, and when you confess this with me in a bit, I hope you see the sharing that is described throughout.  Divine community sharing.  [Trinity icon: at table.]  The three persons of the Trinity: equal in majesty, co-eternal in glory.  That requires sharing.  This Athanasian Creed, more than any other we confess, emphasizes the equality of the Trinity.  I’d say the sharing of/among the persons of Trinity.  

How that has been God-our-Holy-Parent’s message from the very beginning!  Look at the creation story.  Isn’t it all about sharing?  Sharing of light and darkness, sharing of earth and sea, sharing of breath, sharing of bones, sharing of labor, sharing of food, sharing of care for the animals and the plants...

How Jesus-the-Holy-Child-the-2nd-person-of-the-Trinity’s whole message can be summed up in that single word: share.

From the Christmas stable, to the temptation in the wilderness, the sermon on mount, the miracle of water to wine, the welcome of the outsider, the healing of the sick, the empowering of the 12 (who are sent out in pairs), the promise of paradise from the cross, the command to his disciple and his mother to “behold” one another... all of it summed up:  SHARE.

And the Holy Spirit, and the Pentecost account we celebrated last Sunday: sharing the Gospel with EVERYONE and by everyone -- Jews and Greeks, slave and free, male and female, gay and straight, black and white.  SHARE.  Ever had a unlikely saint preach you the Gospel?  Ever learn something or get reminded of something about how much God loves and forgives you by a baby, or a Democrat or a Republican, or an animal, or a tree, or a drug addicted teenager...what are your unlikely saint stories, which bear witness to the sharing movement of Holy Spirit?

[One of mine, I haven’t told in a while:  Large African American  woman, “Olivia”.  Downtown L.A. -- former prostitute and crack addict, giving us a tour of Skid Row, greeting everyone she saw with open arms and big hugs...]

The mystery of the Trinity.  All things shared and holding together.  "Everything belongs."  And this includes us, we are wrapped into this cosmic dance of One-God-in-Three-Persons.  The ancient desert mystics of the early church said and believed that you are actually the Fourth Person of the Blessed Trinity!

Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams puts it like this:
“To be fully human is to be recreated in the image of Christ's humanity; and that humanity is the perfect human ‘translation’ of the relationship of the eternal Son to the eternal Father, a relationship of loving and adoring self-giving, a pouring out of life towards the Other. Thus the humanity we are growing into in the Spirit, the humanity that we seek to share with the world as the fruit of Christ's redeeming work, is a contemplative humanity.”  [pause]

I’m not sure how we talk about the Trinity, i.e. this business of sharing, without talking about contemplation and meditation.  In traditional parlance: prayer.
Spend some time resting in the glory, the mystery, and the unselfish generosity of the Holy Trinity this week.  
My boy, Franciscan Richard Rohr, has said, “If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe.”  

I’m afraid that contemporary Christianity, has lost this truth.  Karl Rahner, German Jesuit theologian, said in the mid-20th century that we could drop the doctrine of the Trinity tomorrow in our churches and nothing would change.  We Christians are tempted to lift up a non-Trinitarian God -- some have said, we still worship a pagan god, Zeus with a lightning bolt ready to strike you down, ready to find out if you’re naughty or nice.  But “if God is Trinity, and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe.”  Sharing.

Take time this week, stop doing all your stuff, and sit still.  Not to sleep, not to catch up on FB, not to think about your life and how everything's going...but find a place and a way to sit in the incomprehensible majesty of our Triune God's unselfishness and love.   I’m going to ask you: “How did you stop this week?  When did you breathe?”

Maybe this is something that we can't bear right now, but I'm going to say it anyway:  We live in an unreflective culture.  And because of that we've become negative, ungrateful, reactive, impulsive and anxious (root: choking).  Contemplating, breathing and resting in God's sharing, in the Trinity's unselfish, benevolent essence, would fall on us like a shower after a month trekking in the desert.

I'm telling you to do it.  But here's the reality, whether you take me up on this challenge or not, here’s the reality: that nothing (not even your busy schedule) can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit!  AMEN.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

May 15 -- Pentecost Sunday

Does the Holy Spirit ever not show up?

I’ve shared a bit before about my adventures during two of my college summers up in Washington State, where together we led Sunday morning worship services in the North Cascades.  I had this girlfriend at the time named Heather, who was with me, and her father was a pastor.  I had gotten to meet him once or twice, and I had learned from him that he didn’t write his sermons until Sunday morning.  

I thought that sounded pretty good.  I wasn’t a pastor yet, first of all...nor did I want to be (interestingly).  I figured not writing any kind of message was a great idea:  I’d just work and play in the National Park all week, and then when Sunday morning came around, I’d just do something that I heard various pastors and young Christians say -- (not generally Lutheran pastors, but) mostly those on television or classmates from the more fundamentalist branches of our Christian family: I’d just “let the Spirit speak” through me on Sunday morning.  I wouldn’t prepare anything and just let the Spirit speak...  

Well, how do you think that went?  

I remember saying to Heather after fumbling through a message at our sunrise Sunday morning service along the beautiful waters of Lake Chalan, vacationers up early with us to worship and sing and pray and hear an inspired message, “I think the Holy Spirit was sleeping late this morning.”  As if it was the Spirit’s fault.

I did nothing with whatever God-given gifts I had for writing and composition, biblical interpretation and public speaking, and just expected God to work through my laziness.

And in some ways I was right on!  God does work through our laziness.  The Spirit moves, sisters and brothers in Christ, whether we get on that train or not!  That’s good news.  But I was not participating in the Spirit’s movement.  I wan’t getting on board.

We are called to utilize the gifts we have been given.  We each have different gifts.  And Spirit-borne work is when together we share those gifts.  

Holy Spirit work doesn’t happen in isolation.  Spirituality is a term that’s floating around a lot these later years.  “I’m spiritual but not religious.”  Have you ever heard that?  Maybe you feel that way yourself.  “I totally believe in God, and see the Spirit’s work all around us -- in nature, in babies, in baseball, etc. -- but church and the community of church just isn’t really my thing.”  I think that speaks for lots of people today, I think it speaks for most people.  I mean doesn’t a majority of our culture profess belief in God, and yet church attendance and participation is in the greatest decline we’ve seen in years.  I think there’s this notion that we can do Spirit work in isolation, that we can do it alone, that we can both control it and let it happen to us, without community.   

Maybe this is what was happening to the early Corinthians that Paul was addressing, as well?  Maybe they were fracturing, isolating themselves, thinking they could control the Spirit’s power without the wisdom of the community of faith.  Without the love, the encouragement, the support, the hymnody, the prayers, the multiple generations, the food, the drink, the hope, the challenge, and even the brokenness of the community of faith.  (Did you know the word “liturgy” literally means the “work of the people”?  You can’t do liturgy by yourself.)

Paul’s words: “To one is given -- through the Spirit -- the utterance of wisdom...to another discernment, to another the ability to speak languages, to another gifts of healing…just as the body has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”  

When we cut ourselves off from the body, when we fail to use our God-given gifts, the Holy Spirit’s work has to go on without us. 

That word “gifts” is an interesting one:  in the Greek, the word is charismata, where we get the word charisma.  We translate it gifts, but it really has to do with “grace, God’s favor, and beauty”.  Not using our gifts within the context of the community, not working with the rest of the body, is really about squandering grace, not responding to God’s grace!  We know the struggle, the pain, the sorrow, the frustration of when a part of our own body (or that of our loved ones) ceases to function, or is amputated, or injured.  

The Holy Spirit keeps us connected.  Keeps us involved.  Keeps us healthy in the context of community.  If you’re a strong arm, don’t do it isolation.  Because a strong arm in isolation will eventually be no good to anyone.  If your a keen mind, what good will you be unattached?  If you’re a huge heart, where are you going to pump all that goodness and love if you’re unconnected?  

“On the day of Pentecost, they were all together in one place.” 

God takes us -- in all our diversity and complexity of life experience, and talent, and wisdom and background -- God takes us, and molds us, and fills us with the Holy Spirit, and binds us together and sends us out.  Our part is just showing up “Here I am, Lord”:  I didn’t show up when I did nothing to prepare a message back in the mountains.  I show up, when I gather with the faithful...and use my gifts -- that is, my God-given grace.  When I receive and respond to God’s grace.

How many of you memorized Luther’s Small Catechism in confirmation?  Oh good, let’s say together the 3rd article of the Apostle’s Creed (p.1162): 

I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

Spirit work comes from without, and draws us together.  Spirit work fills us with potential, with life, with joy, with forgiveness, and with faith.  I believe that I can’t do that on my own.  I need the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit shows me that I need you.  

It’s true: my father-in-law penned his sermons on Sunday morning.  But do you know what he did all week?  He met with the people of his congregation, he poured over the text with his colleagues, he prayed with friends and his spouse, he visited with people in the neighborhoods, he shared and listened with strangers.  Everything he did all week, can be described with the word “with”!  

“Thanks be to God,” we sing, with one another, in one place, filled with God’s love, burning with joy and passion for the Gospel, and reaching outward to love and serve the world.  Thanks be to God who gives us the Spirit!  AMEN.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

May 8 -- Seventh Sunday of Easter (Mother's Day)

Grace to you and peace…

Oh, Paul.  He takes us many times where we do not want to go.  He took those young preachers, Timothy and Silas into strange lands.  He took those struggling Christian communities into challenges around faith, inclusion, and God’s radical and boundary-less grace.  

And today he takes us into a conversation about death.  

I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t like to talk or think about death.  We’ve been described here in the United States as a death-denying culture.  We can’t deal with it.  In our culture, not only do we really try to push death under the rug during our lifetimes -- with endless painstaking and expensive efforts to look and feel “forever young”; even when that tragic day does come for our loved ones, we tend to -- as Presbyterian preacher and professor Thomas Long talks about -- we tend to “sanitize death”.  We clean it up -- usually these days we don’t even have the body of our dearly departed present at the service -- instead we tell funny stories, show the cute pictures, and play happy music.   We choke back tears and cries of anger at God.  And after some coffee and cake, cocktails and condolences, we try to just go back to work, back to our lives, back to our children, back to our schools... 

Maybe that doesn’t describe your own individual experience with or thinking about death, but I think that in our culture as a whole -- and frankly in much of my experience as a pastor around death and dying -- this denying and sanitizing of death rails against the reality of what Paul names as the sting.

The sting of death.  Death stings.  
Have you ever tried to pretend that a bee sting didn’t hurt?  (I remember being stung by a yellow jacket when I was leading a worship service in the mountains…)

Death stings.  Death stinks.  Death sucks.

Why do we in our culture push that primordial fact down or out of sight?  Make sure you make people laugh.  My mom (on this Mother’s Day) always told us, make sure you have margaritas at my funeral.  All that’s good and well-intended.  “But maybe I won’t want to party, when that day comes, maybe I’d rather cry because, Mom, your death is going to sting me!” Death is a monster.  

Paul sits us down and has us face the monster today.  On this Seventh Sunday of Easter in the church, on this Mother’s Day in our wider culture, here we are facing the monster.  How many of our mother’s helped us face our monsters?  And how many of our mothers themselves faced fear and death with courage and hope, oftentimes when no one else could.  

I love that movie Steel Magnolias: a strong and beautiful Southern mamma -- a steel magnolia -- at the death bed, when no one else could take it, everyone else left.  She faced the monster.

And yet Paul does not abandon us to the monster.  [Gonzo in a Muppets Christmas Carol].  Paul proclaims the gospel in the face of the monster, death.  And this is what we Christians have done ever since!  For us Christians, as well meaning as it is, a funny story or a favorite song, or that frequent promise that “we’ll never forgot you” is not going to cut it.  Our human efforts are not not going to beat the monster that is death.  

Only God can do that, friends.  Only God through Christ Jesus who never ran from the monster, but undertook it, can beat death.  Through Christ, death has been swallowed in life.  Paul tells us today about what Jesus did.  Jesus conquers the monster.  And because of that we too can conquer the monster.  Because we are joined to Christ.  “By the grace of God I am what I am,” says Paul.  I’m joined to Christ.  Death stings, yes -- we face that honestly and tearfully -- but our tears are not the end of the story, sisters and brothers.

We watched E.T. last night with the kids.  What an incredible movie experience!   The whole spectrum of emotions.  It was fun to ride that roller coaster with the kids.  

Katie sobbing.  “I don’t want to finish this movie!”  

“Keep watching,” Heather patiently kept saying as she held her, “It’s not over yet.”  She held her through her tears.  And the next time I looked over at her, I couldn’t even tell she had been crying.

I was struck by both their lessons: first of all Katie’s -- facing the monster of emotion and sadness.  The willingness to admit the sting.  And then her mother’s -- holding her through it, speaking patiently, waiting with her in the sadness, and reminding her that the story’s not over.

Death has been swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the end, it’s not dependent on us.  In the end, all we can do is let our mothering God hold us and comfort us and wait with us...and in the end, you wouldn’t even know we had been crying.  God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.

In the end, it’s not dependent on us.  Our stories and music and movies all come up short.  In the end, we have a God who conquers death, who swallows death.  So we can face it.

All we all we can do is open our hands, and spread out our arms, and give thanks.  The story’s not over.  AMEN.


Blessing of Mothers
God of all creation,
pour out your blessing on all mothers
and those who provide motherly care.
You have made them in your image
and given them children to love and care for in your name.
Bless them with a heart like your heart:
loving and kind, comforting and strong,
nurturing and grace-filled.
As they participate in your ongoing creativity,
give them discernment
to help their children discover their unique gifts.
As they teach their children,
grant them wisdom to know what is truly valuable.
As they strive to share your unconditional love,
give them long-suffering patience and a lively sense of humor.
As they model your mercy,
help them extend the forgiveness
they themselves freely receive from you.
In all circumstances fortify their faith,
that they may love you above all.
We ask this in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

May 1 -- Sixth Sunday of Easter

Grace to you and peace…

Dear friends in Christ, as many of you now know our dear sister in the faith, Betty Corsi has died.  Betty took her final breath on this earth on Friday night.  She was surrounded by family.  And Joe was right there.   

Many months ago, the family had actually planned to reunion this very weekend, to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries.  I remember Betty telling me about it, looking forward to it with hope, but saying, “God willing...if Joe and I are still here…we’ll have a party...”  

She had been frail and falling frequently for many months and really took a decline a few weeks ago.  

I know not all of you knew Betty Corsi.  But she did so many things in this place and around this city.  Her love for children was incredible.  She was a perfectionist quilter, and so truth be told, she couldn’t handle quilting with others “because they wouldn’t do it right”.  But in her solitude and magnificent quilting room, she quilted many, many quilts for children and babies in ICU’s all over San Diego.  She was one of the founders of Third Avenue Charitable Organization, back in the ‘70’s.  And she sang all the time.  

We will have a service for Betty here in about two weeks, so I don’t mean to go on and on about her now, I guess I could write a whole sermon on how Betty Corsi embodied the virtues of faith, hope, and love…

But today I wanted to talk about her as a way of sharing the news of her death, asking you to keep Joe and the family in your prayers...  

And there’s a story about her that, I think, guides us into this very popular passage from I Corinthians today:   

I gathered with Betty and Joe’s family at their home yesterday to lead a short service entitled “Comforting the Bereaved”, and visiting with two of her daughters afterwards, they told me that one of the last things Betty said was one of the common things Betty always said -- a Betty-ism --  I remember this too: “Humph, talk is cheap.”  Mary Lou and Laurie, her daughters, were reminiscing with smiles and tears that even at the end, there was this table that Betty wanted cleared off to make room for flowers, and they were saying, “Yes, we’ll do that,” which is where she dropped one of her more famous lines, “Humph, talk is cheap.”

Dear Betty was always concerned about the other, and she had a highly tuned meter for detecting one’s...hmmm, how shall I say in church...malarky, balderdash, I think that’s abbreviated B.S.  It’s one of the things I loved about her.  You couldn’t fool her with smooth talk.  “Humph, talk is cheap.”

I think this sums up Paul’s beautiful and climactic words to the Corinthians, here in Chapter 13.  “If I speak in the tongues of mortals or angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.”   Some scholars advise us not to read that in sentimental tones, but to imagine Paul almost shouting.  [read again]   He’s driving home a point.  Or to sum it up in Betty’s words, “Humph, talk is cheap.”  

Just a show of hands: how many had this text at your own wedding at some point in your life?  Some say this is the most popular passage in the bible.  But it was never intended just for two young lovers, as they entered a covenanted relationship.  I wonder if Paul had any idea this would be the wedding passage.  And what a great passage it is.  Good advice for marriage:  “Let love be genuine and primary; talk is cheap.”

But it was written for a small community -- this passage is what Paul’s been building up to in his letter.  It is the poetic finale to a group of Christians who were tearing each other apart, tearing each other down, with gossip, with elitism and exclusion -- who’s in/who’s out, with drunkenness and carelessness, and all in the midst of city filled with temptation and corruption and violence and fear.  

Those early Christians were up against a lot...as are we today.  Gossip, slander, the temptation to exclude and condemn, the temptation to draw the boundaries for God around God’s love.  The temptations all around us, corruption, violence, fear...

God speaks to us too...through Paul and through dear Betty: “Sisters and brothers in Christ, talk is cheap.”

Let our love be shown in our actions.  Let our love be genuine and selfless, patient and kind.  Not envious or boastful.  Not “look-at-me-how-loving-I-am.”  Let it be free and living.  No strings attached.  
Love never ends.  That’s the good news in this chapter.  Lest we end a sermon with a big “finger wag”: “Be a better lover.”  Paul tells us that love never ends.  Even as we flail and fluster our way through trying to love one another better, trying to be community better --  

We’ve got a lot of challenges before us, a lot of changes and transitions.  I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling the plates moving beneath me these days, both here at church and personally.  As we prepare for a building project (lots of anxiety and nervousness amid the obvious excitement too), as we face the death of loved ones -- especially Betty, for me.  Although my Grandpa, who’s been so influential for me too, is nearing the end.  Retirement of our bishop and the election of a new one.  Whatever transitions are happening in you life right now...    

Even as we flail and fluster and fumble our way through working at loving one another better, trying to be community better -- God’s love never ends.  God’s love for you never ends.

Final Betty story here: [“Jesus loves me.”]

It was like her final proclamation and gift to us.  Our faith might crumble, our hope might be dashed.  Our love might be imperfect.  But the greatest of these is actually God’s love...which is with you and for you and will never leave you.  AMEN.