Wednesday, April 13, 2011

To Corinth with love

I seem to remember Michael Green once wrote a book on 1 Corinthians with this as its title. Certainly, love is central to this letter.

I've been writing a series of little studies for the Jesus Army on 1 Corinthians and here are my thoughts on the closing chapter of this wonderfully varied correspondence, with its unifying strand of the call to 'agape' love.

If love is central to this letter, it is also central to this closing chapter: 'Let all that you do be done in love'.

Love is practical, not just a fine feeling, but worked out in actions. Paul spells out his plans for financial sharing between (mainly wealthy) Greek Christians and (mainly poor) Judean Christians. This is partly so that there may be equality, but also reflects Paul’s wider concern for unity between Jew and Gentile in Christ.

Love is personal, not just a concept, but about real people. The Corinthians, with their love of impressive speakers, were to receive Paul’s co-worker Timothy with respect, even though he sometimes lacked confidence. And devotion to Paul was not to prevent loyalty to God’s other workers.

Love is plainspoken, not soft or sentimental, but straight-talking: 'If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come!' True love for Jesus will love what He loves and long for His coming. Paul ends by expressing his love for the Corinthians: a love that will be sorely tested (as 2 Corinthians shows) but will survive – perhaps by grace alone!

Searching questions linger after reading: How freely do I share my money and possessions with fellow Christians who are in need? How committed am I to working out relationships, with respect and without partiality? And perhaps (for me at any rate) most searching of all: how honest, how straight-talking - how real - is my love?

Friday, April 08, 2011

Two weddings and a resurrection

Photo by atroszko of sxcI haven’t blogged for quite some time. Not to get whiney with excuses, but life gets so busy. No really, it does: tomorrow some good friends and members of our church house group are getting married and holding their reception in our community house and garden. I’m speaking at the wedding. And the week after that, a brother from our community house is getting married – and I’m the best man.

I think I now stand justified in having been a little busy.

Anyway, all these nuptials have got me thinking about marriage. It’s been hard to think of much else.

My father-in-law wisely says, “There are three really important ingredients in a successful marriage: communication, communication, communication.” (More than a hint of Blairishness in this utterance, but I like it nevertheless.)

My wife and I have been meeting Mat and Georgia for the past few weeks, talking through marriage. A lot of what we’ve talked about that makes for a healthy marriage comes down to good communication; open, honest, frequent communication.

Anyway, at their wedding I’m going to talk about the story in the John’s Gospel when Jesus attends a wedding and helps out at the bar. Well – more than helps out, if you remember. (More wine, anyone?)

Ironically, given my earlier musings about the importance of communication, the story starts with what looks like miscommunication between Jesus and his mother. (Actually, reading between the lines, I think they knew each other well and there was a fair amount of sub-vocal communication going on. Certainly, Mary ignores Jesus’ apparent refusal to sort the wine – and Jesus does indeed “sort it”.)

Result: a miracle. Yet it wasn’t just a magic trick, however useful it was to the wedding party (running out of wine would have been a major social disaster). This miracle was, according to John, a “sign”.

A "sign" communicates. It point beyond itself, points to something.

John’s Gospel starts with that mystical passage about “the Word” – not a word on a page or a word in your ear – but a word who is a person: Jesus. And the “signs” all through John’s Gospel point to who Jesus is. Feeding 5,000 people – “I am the Bread of Life”; opening blind eyes – “I am the light of the world”; raising a man from death – “I came to give life”...

All these signs, from changing water to wine on, point to the ultimate sign, the one that Jesus referred to in this story as “my time” – the cross.

The cross says everything God wanted to say to us. The cross shows the love of God.

How? Love, true love, is a promise: “I give myself to you, I give myself for you”. Four dear friends of mine will be making such promises over the next two weekends (er, in two separate pairs - lest anyone start saying that the Jesus Army are embracing polygamy!)

The Hebrews had a special word for God’s love – hesed – which means “covenant love” or “promised love”. God wants to commit himself to us and looks for our committed faithful love in return.

But people mess up, they’re unfaithful, they break promises. And this is what the cross means – God takes on all the unfaithfulness, he bridges the gap. He renews covenant, he promises love forever and removes all the blockages into himself, swallows them up in himself.

Maybe this is why Jesus’ first “sign” took place at a wedding. Maybe this is why the bible describes God’s love for us as like a bridegroom for his bride.

Certainly this is the journey these two couples have ahead of them: exploring, learning and going deeper into this God-kind-of-love, this hesed kind of love. They’re going to have to forgive, many times. They’re going to have to take each other’s wrongdoings at times and not let it be the end of the relationship.

And that’s why they need to invite Jesus to their weddings, like he was invited to that wedding at Cana. To invite Jesus into their marriages. He’ll turn their water into wine; he’ll give them the love they need. (Oh and by the way, he’ll bring "his disciples" with him!)

And that’s why we all need to invite Jesus into our lives: he’ll turn our water into wine, he’ll give us the love we need.

In fact, Jesus actually will be at these coming weddings – because he actually is alive today. That’s what John hints at in his wedding story when he says it all took place on “the third day”, like Jesus' resurrection.

When Jesus rose, he poured away all the old stale water of our messed-up human failure. He started everything again. He starts a new world. He's getting married. We’re all invited.