Today I had an opportunity to speak instead of to sing at service. And what did I talk about? My two favorite topics — music and love, excuse me, Love. It will make sense as you read on. The following is somewhat close to what I actually said, just in case you weren’t there.
Over the past week, I’ve gone back to school full time. Let me tell you: going back to school is nothing like it was the last time I went back to school. In the last week, I’ve spent a lot of time taking tests to tell me just how I learn. Many of you won’t be surprised that, since I’m trained as a musician, I need to hear AND see something to really understand and remember it. So what was the first thing I thought of when Pastor Leah asked me to say something our text and what it means in my life? Why, it was a song, of course. In fact, the first thing I thought of was the hymn that we will sing together in a few minutes, “The Gift of Love” , with a text written by composer/arranger Hal Hopson, a native son of Texas and yet another graduate of Baylor University, in 1972. It is a song for me that has always been a song of both challenge and comfort – a call that says that only in letting loose the things of this world, only in peeling away the layers of achievement and possessiveness that cloud my life in the modern world, only then could I experience the kind of love, Love with a capital L, that Paul writes about in this text paraphrased by Hopson.
Hopson is a name that most of us in church music easily recognize – he is a living composer, still creating new work; he is responsible for over 1000 anthems, hymns and arrangements of some of the most familiar church music heard and sung in worship. If you’ve spent any time at all around church music, you have probably heard or sung this hymn often. I’ve sung in choirs where “Gift of Love” as a round was a standard fall back for those days when the numbers in the choir were going to be thin, because, well, it is always safe to talk about Love in church isn’t it? And the music feels somehow familiar, probably for both singer and congregation…If you know the work of folk musician Pete Seeger, or maybe you went to camp you might know why it feels familiar: you might recognize the tune as “The Water is Wide”, an old Scotch or English folk tune first noted in the 1600’s as “O Waly Waly”. But the version I know best is this adaptation by Hopson.
So imagine my surprise when I realized that Hopson’s song really only addresses the first three verses of this amazing passage from Corinthians. And when I took a moment and set aside the music, I realized there was another reason that over and over again I return to this passage for comfort (and I do, probably more often than any of our other Bible Baggage passages). The reason I come back to 1 Corinthians 13 is this – I love a good how-to manual. Don’t you? A good set of directions to follow to help me reach my destination. And that’s what I get from verses 4-7 – no wonder this text is so often read at weddings and sometimes funerals. But verses 4-7 tell me everything that love is (and is not)…like a how to manual for being a disciple. If I remember that love is patient and love is kind, it isn’t arrogant or rude, and (my personal favorite and the hardest for me to remember) that it does not insist on its own way…if I just follow these instructions then I can fully embrace and revel in the simple fact stated in verse 8: Love never ends. Or, translated as one writer suggests “Love never falls down on its job.”
So that is the first assurance offered by Paul: Love never falls down on its job. But as wonderful as the guidance in this little how-to passage is, it is the second assurance that Paul offers that brings me the greatest peace and most restores my sense of faith and hope. That second assurance is this…even if we don’t understand, if we don’t know love when it is staring us in the face, if we ourselves are not as loving as we are called to be, if we are surrounded by a sea of divine love and only see the raindrop….that is okay. Because when we are ready to understand, we will. When we are ready to express the world of love that lives within our hearts and our souls, we will. It is all there, in verse 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.”
A song to stir the heart, a list of how-to-do-it, and an assurance that even if I fail now I will succeed someday: no wonder 1 Corinthians 13 is a passage to which I cling for guidance and to which I hold all the days of my life.