Beloved Members of St. Martin’s,
This last Tuesday, some of us throughout the diocese and all around the country attended the theatrical premiere of a documentary entitled A Case for Love, which examined the teachings of our own Presiding Bishop Michael Curry on the Christian call to live lives centered on what he calls “The Way of Love.” The documentary included a handful of vignettes of ordinary people who have been transformed by the power of love—both of receiving it from others, and offering it to those they have encountered in the course of their lives. Stories included people who have fostered and adopted traumatized children; women who have been supported in leaving lives of crime and violence on the streets through the work of Thistle Farms around the country; and the beloved church friend who stepped into Bishop Curry’s life as a mother figure when, as a young boy, he lost his mother to cancer. In the trailer for the movie, Presiding Bishop Curry’s prophetic voice comes to us, saying: “We were made for each other, and I believe we were also made for the God who made us. And that’s the ultimate community: all of us together and the God who made us.” In our reading from 1 Corinthians this Sunday, we have the question of whether it is lawful for Christians to eat food that has been sacrificed to idols. What’s interesting is the way that Paul frames this discussion. In vv. 1-3, which we do not get to hear in our reading, Paul starts with a discussion of which is greater: knowledge or love. It reminds me of a question I used to ask my middle schoolers: If you could only be one thing, would you rather be the smartest kid in school, or the kindest? It was always an interesting discussion, and often the first time they had had a discussion about values. And basically, Paul comes down with something that many of my students stated: being truly loving can have more of an impact than self-serving knowledge. The question comes down to being inwardly or outwardly focused. In vv. 4-6, we see how Paul’s seeming detour makes sense. The Corinthians are well-educated, and their argument runs logically: If there ARE no gods but Yahweh, then meat “sacrificed” to those gods has in fact been sacrificed to nothing. Therefore, it actually has no taint, and is therefore acceptable for Christians to eat, since it does not have any sort of change from being offered to a nullity. Paul admits the logic of the argument. But Paul asks them to consider the greater good: what happens to those who SEE Christians openly eating meat sacrificed to idols? They might misinterpret this as engaging in worship of those same idols that the Corinthians claim to reject on the basis of logic. Knowledge is rooted too often in the self, while love only exists in community, and love must be in a community to build it up. But love always comes first, both in time and as a priority in our relationships with God and with each other. Paul argues that even if what we do is legal, if it causes another to be led astray, the demand of love must take precedence. Could it be that the Corinthians—many of them former pagans by default cultural practice—might be unwilling to really change their lives that much even while claiming to follow Christ? But that is a question for us as well: how much are we really willing to change in order to live out the values of Jesus in our everyday lives? And yet, by calling ourselves Christians, how we live and love—or not—is a profound testimony to the rest of the world. We live in a world that does NOT prioritize real, self-giving love.
Yet that is exactly the main ethical demand God calls us to live by as Christians.
To live not in fear, or by vengeance, or by indifference to the suffering of others—but to live by love. Jesus calls us into community—parish, diocese, denomination, or as the universal Body of Christ, to remind us that love always comes first—from God to us, and from us to the hurting world in which we live. A Case for Love aligns perfectly with Paul’s argument, which was Jesus’s as well, that sometimes love calls us to a higher standard than knowledge and logic alone. Knowledge may be good, but LOVE as an act of the will and freedom in the world is most important.
As we prepare for our parish annual meeting, I invite you to consider all the ways that St. Martin’s exists not just as a community for its members—but as a sign of Christ’s love in the world. There is much to celebrate here—and everything that we do in love is ONLY possible through each and every person here. How do we all make a case for love—the love of God and love of each other—in our own lives each and every moment? And how can we continue to grow that in the days amd months and years ahead?