Speaker: The Rev. Shearon Sykes Wiliams
The Very Reverend Shearon Sykes Williams
Saint George’s Episcopal Church, Arlington, Virginia
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
January 31st, 2015
Life is Patient. Love is Kind. Love is a Practice.
“…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…..And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13: 1-13
These words from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians are very familiar, but they never grow old. All of life flows from love, the love of God, the life force that animates the whole universe. God’s love for the creation is literally what keeps the world in motion. It’s the energy of the universe. And love is what holds us together as individuals, as families and as a parish. And yet offering that love, letting that life force flow through us, is often really hard.
Love is not just a feeling. Love is also a practice. Trying to get a young child to put their shoes on and get to preschool can be exasperating, but because we love them even if we’re not feeling loving, we stick with it and try not to lose our tempers. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is a practice. That’s what children will remember about the people who took care of them – beyond all else. That doesn’t mean that we don’t also have to be firm when we’re being loving, but that experience of love is what endures. When each of us thinks back on our most joyful memories of childhood, it’s the people who showed us love that we remember best. The people who stuck with us despite temper tantrums and all.
And in a friendship or an intimate relationship with a partner or spouse, when the feeling of love for our friend or partner isn’t there at the moment, we remain faithful to the relationship, acting lovingly even if we don’t feel loving. Love is patient. Love is kind. These words are so much harder to say than to actually live and that is why we need God and the Church.
Church is a school for love. God made the life force of the universe visible and personal in Jesus. And we come together in his name to learn how to love each other so that we can then go into our daily lives to love ourselves and to love others. And Jesus’ love is a love that costs us something. There’s nothing detached about it. Being in relationship with one another is about engagement. It’s about being all in. It’s interesting to think about the context of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. There were apparently differences of opinion and people having a hard time getting along in the Church at Corinth. Paul reminds them that the way they interact with one another is much more important than the substance of their differences. They stick together through thick and thin, even when they aren’t feeling the love they are living the love. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is a practice. Love is our very essence. Without love, nothing else we do matters. All we do in the name of Christ at Saint George’s has to be rooted and grounded in love. All of our ministries from fellowship to finance to social justice find their meaning in the practice of love. We have fellowship events because we love one another. Time in relaxed conversation over food and laughter is important. It is the tie that binds. The Evensong and Chili Cook-Off tonight is about practicing love. The work that the finance committee does enables all of our other ministries. The budget is about practicing love. The work of our social justice ministries changes the world bit by bit. Our membership in VOICE is about making our love for those on the margins incarnate. All of our ministries are equally important and help each of us, as we work together, to listen to one another and to honor each other, and to go forward together. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is a practice.
When people near death reflect on their lives, it’s their experience of costly love and belonging that sustains them. When everything else is stripped away, accomplishments, professional acclaim, success of whatever variety, in the end, that which abides, is love. It’s really about who we want at our bedside when we die.
And for Christians, the love of God and looking back on a life lived in Christian community, frames everything. When I think about the Saint Georgians who are now part of the communion of saints, I feel deeply grateful for their enduring witness. We can see through them the value of being faithful, step by step- and the value of coming to church every Sunday and being involved in ministries, and developing sustaining relationships.
One of the most poignant moments for me was when we held a service for Emily DiCicco as she was about to die five years ago. Members of the choir surrounded her bed and we celebrated the Eucharist. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” took on a very immediate and powerful meaning. Emily had been a lifelong member of the church. She had raised her family in the church. She had sung in the choir. And she was about to enter the ultimate experience of communion, of being in God’s direct presence. She came from love, she was returning to love and she could feel the love of the choir and the extended community of Saint George’s loving her into the next life. That time together in worship at her bedside brought into sharp and clear focus the reason we do what we do, those enduring relationships with God and with others that sustain us in this life and the next. Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is a practice.
“And now faith, hope, and love abide; these three; and the greatest of these is love.”