“Say nothing at all,” a mother once said,
“If the thing that you’re saying makes your face turn all red.
Say only the nice things, the things that are kind.
Leave the harsh things unspoken: leave those hard words behind.”
Clichés are so common, they’re so matter of fact,
that to say them suggests you have not too much tact.
A long time ago, this was still clearly true,
when Jesus was teaching old friends that he knew.
“Where’d this attitude come from,” they asked of Joe’s son.
“Who died and made him king? Who made him the One?”
“Heal thyself, dear physician, before you heal us,”
was the proverb he mentioned amid all the fuss.
No prophet is welcomed among his own peeps,
not when old friends are wolves merely dressed up like sheeps.
But it’s not just in Naz’reth that this was the case;
Jesus’ message is thwarted all over the place.
In our own day and age, we just take it for granted
that the Gospel of love is not easily transplanted
from the lips of the Master to the world that we live in,
which we seldom admit is disfigured by sin.
In that cliché of weddings, First Corinthians, thirteen,
we hear Saint Paul polish to an ultra-high sheen
the new law of love that replaced all the rules
that were taught in the seminaries and theology schools.
And its words have become so familiar, so common,
that it seems no more special than a hot bowl of ramen,
when in fact it’s worth pausing; it’s worth being specific,
to say they’re stupendous, fantastic, terrific!
I’m a gong; I’m a cymbal! Hear me roar; hear me clang!
Without love all I do is cajole and harangue!
Without love it’s as though all I have has been filched!
Without love, I’ve got nothing, I’ve got nada, I’ve got zilch!
Love is patient and kind; love’s not boastful or rude;
love is lovely and blind; it’s not sneaky or shrewd.
Love believes all things, bears all things, doesn’t gripe or complain;
love endures all things, hopes all things; but gets wet in the rain.
Love’s not pushy or greedy; love tells you the truth;
love’s not touchy or needy; nor the domain of the youth.
love’s lasting, it’s endless, goes on, never stops;
love’s eternal, not friendless; hate’s the bottom: love’s the tops.
Love’s the answer, the way; it will keep us together;
love’s a dancer, it’s gay; makes you light as a feather!
Love’s splendors are many, and love’s all you need;
Love’s genders are any: love can never mislead.
I digress from the pattern of Paul’s well-known letter;
and not because ever could I do it better,
but only because love is more than a trope:
love’s a marvelous, a wordy, and a slippery slope.
All our knowledge is partial, it’s the best we can do;
all the smarts we can martial, and still hardly a clue;
and the words of the prophets o’er centuries accrued,
are like ceilings whose soffits have all come unglued.
When I was a child like a child I spoke,
childish thoughts were the best that my mind could evoke.
But now that I’ve cast off my childish ways,
I feel I could preach about love here for days!
But time won’t allow it, there’s Mass to be sung,
there are prayers and anthems, there are bells to be rung.
There’s incense, communion - not just bread nor just wine -
it’s love all-excelling, that same love divine.
For now we can see in a mirror most dimly,
and so to our vision, God’s love can seem primly
to meet our desires, our dreams and our yearning,
but somehow we know something greater is burning
within us: the chance that some day by God’s grace
we’ll stand in his Presence and see Love face to face.
In that day what to us in this moment looks woolly,
will at last be available to be looked at fully.
Now faith is important, it’s great, and it’s grand;
the thing on which Luther could take quite a stand.
Saved by grace through our faith, that’s been done once for all,
since the tree and the apple, and the serpent, the Fall.
And hope springs eternal for sure, does it not?
It’s about what comes after the grave, if not rot.
It’s a new holy city, where saints all in white
sing praise to the Lamb who conquered in the fight.
There’s faith and there’s hope, these two still abide,
but the thing about love is, it’s deep, high, and wide;
it connects us to others, to those far and near,
and in moments of terror, perfect love casts out fear.
My song is a song about love to us shown,
I sing of a Savior’s love known and unknown.
I might stay and sing here, for who, who am I
that for my sake, Love should take on flesh and die?
So maybe these verses of Paul’s have grown old
in a world that revolves ‘round what’s bought and what’s sold.
If we fight about carrying guns in the open
then maybe we’re almost beyond being holpen
by God, who is love, (meaning love is God, too);
and maybe we think we could all just make do
in a world where some preacher wouldn’t natter and natter
on and on about love, as if love just might matter.
And maybe we see things through just the same lens
of those people in Nazareth, Jesus’ old friends,
who hearing him teach, went off in a tiff,
and tried, but then failed, to throw the Lord off a cliff.
Love isn’t easy, it’s hard, it’s demanding;
for love doesn’t shrink, it’s always expanding;
it’s not just for family, for sisters, and brothers;
it seeks out the lonely, the lost, and all others.
Remember that love was Christ’s only command;
they’ll know we are Christians, if on love we do stand;
it’s our watchword, our motto, our only true light,
and by love we will manage through any dark night.
Love, they say, if you let it, will soon find a way;
love brings peace, for which daily in this place we pray.
Love’s a four-letter word, said fast or said slowly;
Letting love in your life will make all things holy.
If love is clichéd, well, I don’t mind at all;
Love’s the cream in my coffee, the response to my call.
Of preaching on love I shall never grow weary;
love’s the one single note that will never get dreary.
So faith, hope, and love, they abide, these three things,
despite life’s hard fortunes of arrows and slings,
but here in the Name of Son, Father, and Dove,
the greatest of all of them has to be love.
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
31 January 2016
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia