A few years ago I was talking to a friend of mine about prayer life and how we used scripture in our personal prayer lives. In the course of our conversation, she told me that she was currently using 1 Corinthians 13 to learn how to love better. At the time, I could not fathom that this person, who seemed to be so full of love from my perspective, found it important to meditate on the words that Paul offers in 1 Corinthians 13, and it led me to wonder about the nature of love and how we are able to enter into the action of love. For me, it inspired deep questions about the role of love in our lives not merely as a noun – that is to say, not as something that is given away but rather something that we do in an effort to live more fully into the cruciform life of Christ. The reflections on the nature of love began to float on the fringe of my thoughts and continued to resurface over the next several years, but the question was not a question of defining a thing. Instead, the questions began to evolve into questions of being and doing. The questions that continued to surface in my own thoughts and prayers were (and continue to be) questions of entering into, to quote the moral theologian James Keenan, the chaos of my own life in order to encounter the divine that dwells within me and to share that divinity with others. Though I started with love as a noun, as a thing that is to be shared, I ended up at the place of recognizing love as an action that is at the center of all that we do as disciples of Jesus Christ. Love is the single most difficult thing that Christ calls us to do in our daily lives, and it is the single greatest commandment that Christ gives to us.
In giving us a command to do something, Christ is actually giving us a command to be. The doing in our daily lives informs who it is that we become as persons; our daily doing, which we call living, defines through action what we have to say about what it means to be as a disciple.
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Alice finds herself in a room with a particularly tiny door while she is growing to unfathomable heights for a young girl. As she grows, she begins reflecting on how at this stature it would be quite impossible for her to care for her own feet – especially as she would not be able to do it herself being such a long distance off from her feet. Yet, Alice comes to the conclusion that she must care for her feet. “I must be kind to them,’ thought Alice, ‘or perhaps they won’t walk the way I want to go!” As Alice’s mental meanderings continue, she stumbles into the rather surprising question of being. Indeed, as the strange events of the day continue to unfold, Alice asks herself, ““Dear, dear! How strange everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night?” Ultimately, Alice confronts the real question as she thinks, ““But if I’m not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I?”
If our answer to Alice’s question is anything like “beloved child of God” or “disciple of Jesus Christ” then our answer also involves us doing the work of being a child of God and a disciple of Christ. The doing in our lives defines our being and calls us towards that which we are in the act of becoming. The acts that we do in our daily life define who it is that we are becoming as children of God, and Paul tells us that our acts must be informed by the ethic of love as we find it in 1 Corinthians 13. In short, our way of being is defined by our way of doing, and our doing, if we hope to follow the cruciform life of Christ, needs to be informed and transformed not by the knowledge that we have in our heads but by the Divine that dwells in our hearts.
God calls us to share in the life of the Divine love – the same love that dwells within us – in a way that mirrors the patience and kindness that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians. The reality is that to live a life that reflects that Divine love is difficult; it is difficult, as human beings, to keep in front of us the call to practice the love that Paul describes – to remember to be patient and kind, to celebrate the giftedness of another, to put aside our own way. The love that Paul describes is none other than the Divine love that dwells within each of us, and it is also, while being fully here in the present, always on the horizon as that towards which we move. The love of God is the very thing that moves us, that enables us to live, and gives to us our being as a beloved child. Just as Jesus’ love was made real through his life, we are called to make known the love of God in the ways that we go about our daily lives and the ways in which we enter into relationship with people around us. The love that we have for God needs to be immediate, realized, and expressed in the ways that we share our lives with each other and in the ways that we invite others to be part of a shared vocation of loving God, neighbor, and self.
It might seem that the gospel lesson for today is not necessarily focused on living this kind of cruciform life; however, today we hear about how Jesus understands his own vocation and how he intends to live that vocation out in the world. As the hometown kid, Jesus’ obligations, according to the culture of the time, rested first with his family and his village; however, Jesus turns away from the obligations for the in-group and towards those that are excluded. In the same way, we are called to share our vocations in such a way that the excluded – the poor and the oppressed – are the first to share in the fruits of Christian vocation and ministry.
As we move through our lives, we take as our example the life and doing of Christ, and we are called to mimc that same love not only in the ways that we serve as ministers within the life of the Church but also in all things that we do in our lives. Paul reminds us that the gifts that we receive from the Spirit – whether that is a gift of teaching, of being good with money, of being a lawyer or a doctor or a community organizer or a stalwart to whom others turn to for guidance – none of these gifts hold any worth if we also do not have love. In the context of the Corinthian community, Paul is urging the members of the church in Corinth to share their gifts with each other in way that mimics the cruciform life of Christ. The words that Paul writes to the Corinthians are important words for us to remember as we practice Christian vocation and ministry.
Just as Paul urged the Corinthians to share their gifts of the Spirit through an ethic of love, we are called to share our gifts through an ethic of love. As we celebrate the lives of the saints that live in the neighborhoods surrounding Jubilee Park and Community Center, we are being called to recognize a shared vocation of Christian ministry with each other. Our new call to ministry is to enter into the ministry of shared vocation, which begins with listening to each other, and through that listening, we have the opportunity to learn about the amazing, gifted, beautiful children of God that make Jubilee Park and Saint Michael rich in the gifts of the Spirit. Our shared ministry is to express and realize the love of God through the ministry of invitation to share our stories with each other, to share our gifts with each other, and to build each other up through our shared giftedness. We are being called to take the time to listen to the narratives of another and to cherish the precious gift of her story. What new things might be achieved because we take the time to listen to a person’s story? How might we be changed as people because we were the recipient of another person’s story? How might our view of Jubilee Park or of Saint Michael be changed because we hear a story that is different than our own?
Mother Theresa once said, “We have been created for greater things. Not just to be a number in the world. Not just to go for diplomas and degrees. This work and that work. We have been created in order to love and to be loved.” Our shared invitation to ministry this morning is to love each other by sharing our gifts of the Spirit freely while also welcoming the gift of another into our lives. For those of us that do not live in Jubilee Park, it might involve going to Jubilee Park as a student going to school – to listen and to ingratiate ourselves to our neighbors that live there day in and day out. For those of us that do live in Jubilee Park, it might look more like welcoming a stranger into your neighborhood and taking the time to tell your story about the neighborhood in which you live. Each one of us is being called into the Christian vocation of sharing the Divine that dwells within us and celebrating the life of another person through stories, laughter, tears, and the love of God dwelling within each person we meet.
Last week Doug left us with the homework to listen for God’s vocation through prayer and meditation on God’s will as it moves within our daily lives. Today, I would like to add to that homework assignment just a bit. While meditating on the way that God is calling you into vocation in each day, week, month, year, and lifetime, listen for the ways that God is gifting you with the presence of another’s story in your life. Listen for the ways that the Divine dwelling within you is calling you into relationship with the same Divinity dwelling in another. Listen for the ways that God is gifting to you the very people you need in order to realize your vocation while also helping another to realize hers.