Festival of Preaching – Atlanta 2016
- Bible reading: I Corinthians 13
1 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4-6 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.
7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Let us watch this video:
May the peace of Christ be with you. I am delighted that you chose to be here this morning. Thank you! I hope this time of worship will be a time of self-knowledge, transformation and expansion of your soul, heart and mind.
Yes: there is much more to life than this! In any theory, idea, or perception of life. In any doxa, prayer or theology! For any doxa carries an overflowing glory of God beyond itself, any prayer is addressed to something bigger than life, and any theology we believe or any theologian we like falls short from the fullness of life promised by God! In fact, any good theology should always end by stating: there is much more to life than this!
Our opening prayer today has already opened up our eyes to see that there is more to life than meets the eye, more to life than sounds in our ear, more to life than feelings in our heart, more to life than thoughts in our minds, more to life than whatever image that can tickle our imaginations. Hamlet’s famous line sounds so true: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” And there is way more beyond heaven and earth. We are just a tiny small particle in the scheme of things, living in one particle of time and space, within the many universes and the endless notions of time and space and the immensity of God’s creation.
To say there is much more to life than this is to have our beginning and our end in God’s love! We were wonderfully and fearfully made by God, and in the image of God. And we will end in God’s love, as God’s final act of love to us in this life we know.
So imagine: every time we hear or issue a Call to Worship we are reminding ourselves of a love that loved us first, where we belong, where we start and where we will end. When we hear a Call to Worship, we are reminded that we are called by Somebody/Something that is deeply within ourselves, more intimate than ourselves and also way beyond ourselves. This call to worship is a call from love, a call to love and it assures us that because of this belonging to love, there is much more to life than this. This very this that we are living, this that we are going through, this that we are facing right now. It is because of God’s love for you that I can tell you my good brother and sister that there is much more to life than this that you are living. There is much more to the life of the world than our selfish consumerism, than poverty, and the destruction of our planet.
This is what Paul is doing when he writes about love to the Corinthians. Paul is reminding us that love is what amplifies our lives and it is because of this love, that there is much more to life than this that we are living!
However, Paul puts this wondrous statement in certain conditions. This love can disappear for it is vulnerable. There is a certain conditionality for this love to happen. For unconditional love is only in God! Paul alerts us that we are always running the risk of losing the sight of this love, of interfering with this love, of juxtaposing ourselves into this love, of thinking we can do more than love can.
Let me give you an example of how this text can be said in our days, naming some of the dangers that can extinguish our love:
1 If we speak in the sounding theologies of our churches and the proper liturgies of our Sundays, but do not have love, we are saying there is nothing much to life than this.
2 And if we, using our authority, hierarchical powers and understanding of all mysteries and of all knowledge of our faith, do not get into the vulnerable side of those who are the most threatened by our society, and if we say we have faith, so as to remove mountains, but at the end, we do not use this faith to embrace the poor, there will never be much more to life than this.
3 If we think we are giving our best, to the point of being burnt out, but we do not carry enough love to love ourselves, we will experience the disastrous consequences of thinking that there is not much more to life than this.
4-6 For love is patient with others and to ourselves; love is connective and not envious, which makes us fight for the same rights of other pastors. Love is kind so salary or positions are never the reason we go serve our people. Love is not rude or resentful as to blatantly admit salary differences between pastors just because the world lives in this way. Instead, love rejoices in the truth that every pastor carries the same Imago Dei, the same image of God, and the same salary wages.
7 Love bears all things, including losing what one has in order to see others have something better. Love hopes for an extended horizon of life, and endures the struggle until justice might flow down like a mighty river.
8 Love never ends. But with high positions, top salaries and hierarchy, love will come to an end; as for tongues that rationalize everything, love will cease; as for knowledge and love that dismisses a call to justice, it will come to an end.
9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the fullness of life comes, we will finally see that there was indeed much more to life than this. What is partial will come to be fulfilled.
11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; and I thought that life was only what I saw and what society told me it was possible. When I became an adult, I put an end to the naiveté of my life lived individualistically, I perceived the racial, class, sexual differences of my people and saw the ideology of destruction in our midst. As a disciple of Christ, I started to see that there was… as there is… much more to life than this.
12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, as if there is not much more to life than this; but then… now and then, even in this life, we will experience miracles that will show to us that there is indeed much more to life than this. Then we will see God face to face. Now we know only in part; and we keep thinking that there shouldn’t be much more to life than this. But then ahhh, we will know fully, even as we have been fully known. And then… we will sing: “YES!!” God has told us all along: there is much more to life than this.
13 And now what undergirds the belief that “there is much more to life than this” is faith, hope, and love, these three; and the greatest of these is love. Because love is God and God, who is love, is the one who continues to make us believe AND have hope that there is much more to life than this.
Thus, to continue to talk about the Christian love in our time is to know that there is more to life than what we can think of and at the same time, there is not much more to life than this life we are living now. And here I don’t mean more goodies, more stuff, more money! I mean there is more to justice than this, there is more to care than this, there is more to share than this, there is more to give than this, there is more to mission than this, there is more to live in equality than this!
What is at stake here for us my friends is the ways in which we see love as something more to life than this. What this means? This “this” is shaped by our gender, race, sexualities and class locations. Some examples:
A woman pastor always placed under suspicion because she is not a man will say “there is more to life than this! And affirm: one day women will have all our rights respected.
A black pastor always placed under suspicion because she/he is not a white person will say there is more to life than racial prejudices! And affirm: one day black people will see the end of racism and segregation!
A gay pastor always placed under suspicion because she/he is not a heterosexual person will say there is more to life than this! And affirm: one day there will be equal space for all queers, gays, lesbians, transsexuals…
A poor pastor working for substandard wages because she/he couldn’t make to the crème de la crème, to the top charts of ministry, will say “there is more to life than this inequality!” And affirm: one day all the pastors will receive the same salaries and live in fairness!
The homeless will say there is more to life than this! Hoping that one day homeless people will be considered human beings worthy of having a shelter like anyone else.
Latinos and latinas will say “there is more to life than this!’ expecting for that day when they are not going to be considered lower human beings to be exploited in this country so people can go on having a nice life.
Asians will say “there is more to life than this!” until that day when they are considered full humans just like anybody else.
Native people will say “there is more to life than this!” when their lands are restored, restituted, until they are stopped being abandoned and killed.
Even the earth will say “there is more to life than this!” when we return to the pace of the earth and stop endangering all forms of life on the planet.
It really depends where you are for you to say prophetically “there is more to life than this!” Where is your love? “What do you love when you love your God?”
I believe that our task as pastors is to show our love by going down the hierarchy of our society in order to be with the least of these. We need to take our churches go serve the poor.
Recreate our budgets so we can be more concerned with feeding people on a daily basis. Reclaim our buildings not to be closed during the week just for the ones who belong to our class but to open our doors in the morning to offer shade from the sun, and in the evening to protect from the cold.
Unless we say “there is more to life than this!” to those in the midst of hell, there is not much meaning in saying it.
As Paul names some of the dangers to love, I am afraid we have already incurred many historical dangers that have made our love mean almost nothing in our society. For our love has been kidnapped!
- Kidnapped by capitalism! We serve Mamom and not the god of the poor.
- Kidnapped into an easy psychologized, cozy warm love that intends to make us feel good. A love that does not make any demand anymore; God forbid the gospel demands something from us.
- Kidnapped by a middle/upper class church that serves mostly to appease our class fears and protect us from the poor;
- Kidnapped into a faith that is more concerned with beliefs than actions, with proper meetings, budgets and buildings rather than people going hungry and homeless;
- Kidnapped by a faith that is often clueless about what capitalism is actually doing to our people and to others in our name;
- Kidnapped into a faith silenced around race that keeps us with the excuse of not being racists;
- Kidnapped by a consumerism that does not care for the earth and the global warming;
- Kidnapped into a growing self enclosed sense of absorbed identity that serves to keep us protected in denominational silos from a world of changes;
- Kidnapped into a form of living that mirrors more the world and its hierarchies and injustices than the kin-don of God.
With a kidnapped love, we move on. Loving in ways that protect us, that doesn’t place us into any risk, that doesn’t change our ways of being but only confirm our class and social status. Good is good all the time! But to whom?
Let me expand very quickly with two examples of how this love has been kidnapped by ourselves. Yes by ourselves, not even by the devil! Kidnapped to the point that we don’t even know this love was actually taken away from us since we haven’t perceived it has gone away!
Racism. Why we don’t name the racism in this country Sunday after Sunday in our churches? We see the police brutality, we see the incarceration of so many black people and we don’t say much! We don’t do much! Our silence is our accuser.
Salaries. Our churches are just like big corporate institutions. Why among us all here, some are getting good salaries and others are not? Why big steeple churches can support pastors with full package salaries and the majority of pastors in this country are scraping by? In my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church, more than 60% of the churches are small churches, less than 100 members.
Very few are well off financially. And we keep the unbalance of salaries the same way our society keeps the difference between big corporations and the working class. We do have our own 1% over against our 99%. Why do we accept this distinction? THIS shows that our love was kidnapped!
Aren’t we all bearing the imago Dei, the image of God? Are we really? It seems that from what we see, some carry more resemblance of the imago Dei then others because if this love was true, if it was not kidnapped by the capitalism we all sustain, we would make a revolution in our denominations and not accept different treatment. And if that difference, discrepancy and injustice runs free and true within the institutions that are supposed to keep the gospel of Jesus Christ, imagine in non Christian institutions?!
We have detached ourselves from each other deeply. All we want is to search for a better salary for ourselves and anybody else should care for their lives. Like running after the myth of the American dream for ourselves. The result? Ambition is socialized but when the desire is not accomplished, our ongoing frustration destroys the very core of our psyche. And the result is that we tend to recur to the consolation of spiritual and social detachment, drugs, and resentment, the beast that devours our hearts.
When I look at this situation within our churches and see so many pastors afraid of losing their jobs, since we don’t have enough tall steeple churches… At these moments, I have to remember the gospel of love and say: “there is much more to life than this…” More than This capitalist vision, More than this individualistic dream, More than this carelessness with our own class of pastors, our very brothers and sisters.
We are about to celebrate 500 years of Protestantism next year. We have a wonderful opportunity to wrestle with our identities and with the love we say we follow. Perhaps now is a time for us to think more seriously about our identity as Christians and our covenant with God and what it means to love God and love one another in our time. Our covenant with God is shown in the covenants of our denominations, our churches and ourselves. What is it to be a protestant and who do you have a covenant with?
In these last 500 years, our identity as protestants has run together with a theology of covenant that showed our faithfulness. However, we need to ask a painful question: how broad is this covenant and to what are we faithful to? Is it broad and wide as God’s love?
We are what we have become during these 500 years of life, meaning: sustainers and developers of various forms of capitalism, slavery and colonialism. Nowadays, our denominations are often more faithful to the stock market then to its own pastors and people.
Our major mistake was in the fact that we have made a covenant with the rich and not with the poor. Our theologies have a clear preference for the rich, for the well off, for those who can give us money, with big donors, with the market of money influence.
Every time I look how absent historical protestant churches are from the life of the working families in this country I have to shout:
“there is much more to life than this…”
Every time I see our baptism being a covenant with this world and not a rupture with this world as Luther said, I have to shout:
“there is much more to life than this…”
Every time I look to struggling congregations and struggling pastors I have to shout:
“there is much more to life than this…”
Every time I look at how our churches become social clubs I have to shout:
“there is much more to life than this…”
Every time I look at myself and my own ambiguities and limitations, I have to shout:
“there is much more to life than this…”
In this season of Pentecost, let us be reminded that it is the Spirit who makes it possible for us to love again. God is calling us back to the fold. To remind us of God’s love and God’s preference for the poor.
The gospel of Jesus Christ should be shouted from the rooftops, or whispered in that still small voice:
“there is… much more… to life… than this…”