Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Need for Love

The Need for Love
1 Corinthians 13
            Last January we adopted two dogs.  A member of my congregation texted me that his kid brother’s dog had given birth to puppies; did I know anyone who might want one?
            Well, yes, I did—me!  My wife, much more unsure than I was, went with me (she would never have let me go alone!).  We took two dogs.  We’re out a lot, and we felt this would give them companionship.
            The trouble with puppies is that they grow (That’s not the only problem.  They chew things—anything!—but growing is the problem I want to focus on.).  Our two have grown a lot!  Beau, the male, has gotten especially large, and hasn’t stopped yet.  He’s still got over a year of puppyhood ahead of him.  No telling where this increase in size is going to end.
            Beau and Bella are two of the most affectionate dogs I have ever known.  They can’t wait to be petted.  Beau is particularly in need of affection.  When I pour them fresh water, Bella immediately takes a drink.  Beau is likely to come to me for another touch instead.  At their size being desperate for affection can be problematic.  What do you do with a 60+ pound animal who wants to be a lap dog?
            When it comes to affection there’s not much difference between our dogs and human beings.  We all need all the love we can get.  People go to extraordinary lengths to find affection.  If we can’t find love by doing something good, we will choose antisocial behavior if that is the only way we can get attention.  Some of us latch onto possessions as a source of love.  Even though inanimate objects can’t love us back we lavish affection on them, loving things that can’t love us in return.  Anything—anything—for love.
            The early apostles understood the force of love.  In his gospels and letters John emphasizes Jesus’ love, letting his readers know that God is love, that God’s love is made visible in Jesus Christ, and that God loves all humanity more than we can ever love each other. 
            Paul thought love so important that he called it “a more excellent way,” (1 Cor. 12:31), and wrote a whole chapter about it.  1 Corinthians 13 is referred to as “the love chapter.”  It is often used at weddings, and sometimes at funerals.  But if we limit its use to these occasions we miss its main point. 
            Paul is aware that the Corinthian Christians do not love as deeply as they should.  He wants the church to know that love must be its central characteristic.  If people don’t love each other—fervently, constantly, overwhelmingly—God is not working in them and cannot work through them.  Love is the essential element in their relationship with God and with each other.  Jesus said the two most important commandments are to love God and love each other.  Paul is echoing Jesus’ message in this chapter.
            As desperately as we need to receive love, we also need to give love.  Our dogs prove this every time we have a petting session.  They snuggle up to my legs, getting as close to me as they can, stepping on my feet, almost knocking me over in the process.  They do everything they can to lick me.  I’m not fond of being licked by dogs, but I realize this is their attempt to give me as much affection as I am giving them.  As annoying as I find it, I don’t object.  They need to express their love in return for the love they receive from me.
            “So now faith, hope and love abide,” Paul says, “but the greatest of these is love.”

Thursday, June 13, 2019


Ken will be on vacation for the next two weeks.  His next post will be on June 30. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

The Idolatry of Covetousness

The Idolatry of Covetousness
Luke 12:13-21
            Four years of teaching about the religions of the world taught me a lot.  I hope my students learned half as much.  A teacher is never sure what, or how much his/her students learn.  We can test them as much as we want; but tests never tell us what they learn, only what we make them remember to pass the test.  Students are accurate judges of what they have learned.  The same can be said for teachers and what they learn through teaching, although neither group may be able to fully comprehend what they have learned until years later.
            After the obligatory opening chapter (an introduction which tells students why they should study the religions of the world), the textbook looks at indigenous religions of North America and Africa.    Despite the geographical difference there are many similarities. 
            One of the most interesting similarities is the use of story theology.  Lessons in right and wrong are embedded in what we would refer to as myths—stories that teach a young person how to behave so as to be accepted by his/her society and be acceptable to that society’s deities.
            The use of story theology can also be found in the ancient cultures of the Middle East. The well-known stories in Hebrew Scripture are theological stories, designed to teach people how to be accepted by their society and be acceptable to their society’s deities.  We do not call these stories myths, but accept them as absolute truth—which they probably are not.
            When Jesus told parables he was continuing the story theology tradition.  He was not inventing a new way of teaching.  He followed in the footsteps of all those teachers from many cultures who had told stories—parables—for ages before him.
            In today’s reading we find a man asking Jesus to give up his role as teacher and be a judge.  The man wants Jesus to secure an inheritance for him that his brother seems to be withholding.  Jesus refuses to be led into the trap of deciding which brother has the best claim to the inheritance.  Instead, he warns the man and the other listeners to beware the temptation of covetousness.  Then he tells them a parable. 
            A rich man’s fields produce a bumper crop, so large that his barns will not hold all the produce.  He tears down his barns and builds new ones, big enough to hold all his crops.  Having accomplished this, the man sits back in his recliner to enjoy his bounty, only to have God say, “Fool!  This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” Whose indeed? 
            Was the man’s soul required of him because of his greed, or was that nature taking its course?  Since it’s only a story, we are not told.  Was his death God’s judgment for his foolishness?  This is only a story; we’ll never know.  Could the man have avoided death by saying, “Once my [current] barns are full I will give the surplus to those who are in need?”  Since it’s not important to the story, we’re not told.
            What we do know is that covetousness over the success of his crops led to idolatry.  The man held his possessions in higher esteem than he held his neighbors’ needs.  He was not personally responsible for his good fortune.  Nothing he did caused the bumper crop.  God had given the increase through ideal growing conditions.  He owed God thanks by enriching those around him whose need was greater than his.  He failed in that duty.
            The point of the story is that all we have comes from God, and God’s law says we owe God thanks for our success.  How do we show our thanks?  By sharing our bounty with those whose fields are less productive than ours.  Then, if our souls are required of us, we will know we leave behind a world that is better for us having lived in it.