January 30, 2022: Sermon Preached byThe Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector

Sermon for 1/30/22, The Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector

It may be impossible for many of us to hear this section of Paul’s letter to the Corinitans without recalling at least one wedding we have attended where this was read. It is a beloved piece of scripture for so many. While this was not read at our wedding, the summer we got married many of our friends also wed. I remember one wedding in particular where I was a bridesmaid. As these famous words of love were read I recall catching Phil’s eyes across the crowd and feeling such profound thanksgiving for the journey of shared life we had said yes to.

I reflect often on the vows and foundation of our journey of choosing to live life together every single day. You see, when Phil and I first met, both of us found ourselves in a season of intentionally not dating anyone. In our very early twenties both of us had come to the understanding that we needed to spend time working on ourselves. Figuring out who we were growing into as adults, discerning our vocations, understanding our relationship with ourselves and so too with others. Love was the very last thing either of us were looking for. Yet, love is what we found.

When we met, we quickly fell in love. Then, it almost came as a shock, this love neither of us were looking for, and still we knew within just a few months that we were called to one another in the sacrament of marriage. Perhaps, because of the intention of working on understanding and loving ourselves, or perhaps because of who we each naturally are as people, we quickly realized that our bond was built on the foundation of individuals first and foremost who then formed a partnership. Taking care of ourselves first, doing our inner and outer work first, has remained a priority for us for over a decade. What I have learned from this way of being in our marriage, is that when I do what I need to to take care of me and to more deeply love me, I can more deeply take care of and love him. It is my life’s greatest honor to grow in love; love of myself, and love of my husband by way of this intention we hold in our relationship.

It is a gift to ponder this notion of love in my life through the lens that Paul presents to us in this letter to the Corinthains. This early church was founded in the year fifty one, years before the first Gospel was written. This particular letter to the community is actually thought to be his second letter to them as he references another letter previously in chapter five. Here, Paul seems to be responding to questions they have of him regarding their community and how they are to be as followers of The Way (WBC, 557). This was a diverse community who seem to all have previously been Gentile or pagan (WBC, 557). The location of this community is also of note; “Corinth, a prominent trade center boasting two ports, was the heart of Roman imperial culture in Greece.’ (JANT, 287).  Paul in this instruction is calling the people of the gathered community to live differently than the empire they are living in. The empire they possibly once supported as Gentiles.

Taking the time to understand the context of this letter to the Corinthians helps us to see that Paul is speaking to a community that is still learning about how to, 1. Be a true community of Jesus and 2. How to live that out in not just their own community but also the wider community. His primary point in this teaching is the importance of grounding ourselves and our spiritual gifts in authentic love knowing that the use of our gifts depends on it (JANT, 308).

This hymn of love in that context is a continuation of the gifts of the varied Body of Christ we heard last week in chapter twelve. Paul is trying to help this church see that the problem is not with their vibrant spiritual gifts, but with the ways in which they exercise them. They must strive to be more deeply grounded in love so that their gifts might truly be to the glory of God moving in the world through them (FOTW, 302). Paul’s notions of love then are more about a state of being founded on right relationship with God and ourselves that leads us to right action (FOTW, 304).

Here is the thing about the love of God. Real love, authentic love that truly is kind, patient, without arrogance… it asks us too to live differently in the world. It is agape love. Love that God has for humanity expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. This love is action, more than feeling. It takes actual shape in our lives. It asks us to have a different set of priorities, to live in a way that is indeed counter cultural. And so I wonder, how does the practice of grounding ourselves and our spiritual gifts in God’s love take shape in my life? In your life?

Paul teaches us that, “Faith, hope, and love will outlast spiritual gifts, but love is eternal. In the fulfillment of the kin-dom, love will embrace all.” (JANT, 308). Now, let me be honest about something. That bit about loving and caring for myself as a first priority in our marriage is one of the hardest things I choose to do. Self care; not in the trendy or trite way, but in ways that truly fill me up and honor that I am a beloved child of God. Because the truth is, part of understanding the empire we live in, is understanding that I am the only one who can and will truly take care of me. I am the one who needs to hold priotties of caring for myself so that I can keep caring for others. From putting down work and taking time to read for pleasure, to cooking and baking, walks… turning off so that I can recharge. It takes real intention and it can be hard. It means tuning out the voice of the world that tells me to keep striving for busyness as a means of success, and tuning into God inviting me to hone my gifts of the Spirit through loving myself first.

This is how I, how each of us, not just fully access our spiritual gifts, but do so with the confidence that this is how we become the hands of God in the world. This active love is caring for ourselves as a foundation for our spiritual gifts. It is love that tethers us to our spiritual gifts so that we aren’t pouring from an empty or ever depleting cup. Loving ourselves well so that we can love others well. We “know only in part”- love is completeness and we can’t serve one another well unless we strive first for the wholeness and love of self. In the words of Lennon and McCartney… “all you need is love, love is all you need”. So, let us love ourselves and love well, for that is what will help us to love the world, and love will be the ONLY thing that endures.

References: The Beatles: All You Need Is Love, Feasting on the Word, Jewish Annotated New Testament, Women’s Bible Commentary