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Life Notes

Love Rejoices in the Truth

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.

1 Corinthians 13:4-6

Paul lists 16 characteristics about love in the second paragraph of 1 Corinthians 13. Eight are positive, or things that describe love, and eight are negative. I find the groupings interesting. He begins with two traits that characterize love, followed by eight qualities that do not, closing with another six positive qualities. It seems to follow a common pattern of worship today – begin with a positive, uplifting tone, move to something more somber, and then end on a positive, encouraging note.

That “love rejoices in the truth” may seem obvious, at least at first. After all, why would love rejoice in a lie? Yet, what poses as “truth” is often harsh. Truth may take the form of a significant other being a little too honest with us, or a boss providing an all-too-candid performance review. In her book, Lean In, Cheryl Sandburg writes, “Communication works best when we combine appropriateness with authenticity, finding that sweet spot where opinions are not brutally honest but delicately honest. Speaking truthfully without hurting feelings comes naturally to some and is an acquired skill for others.” When we consider love in relationships, we often need to be “delicately honest” with the truth – not that we should lie, but there are many ways to speak the truth in an unloving manner. When we speak truth without a perceptible love behind it, we simply make the other person defensive, or worse. Once that happens, the opportunity for a meaningful and healthy dialogue is likely lost, at least for a time.

On the other hand, Jesus says, “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32). Knowing the truth is supposed to be a freeing experience, but it seems contradictory to our experience to say the truth will always make us free. Is it always best to know how another truly feels about us? Is that truth? Is it best to know where we stand with our boss, or how our abilities rate against others? Probably, but that is not necessarily truth. It is best to know these things when we first know we are loved and accepted as we are and not judged for what we are not. In an unloving environment, knowing the “truth” will not be a freeing experience at all. We will not rejoice – we will be devastated. The truth is found in the knowledge that who and what we are is good enough for love and acceptance as a child of God – only then will the truth set us free. As a result of that truth, relationships become more genuine, love based in truth thrives, and there is much rejoicing! The Truth is that we are loved with an eternal, freeing, undeserved love that is beyond all comprehension, and for that we can rejoice!

Let us make 2016 the year of love, as love was meant to be.

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Won’t You be My Neighbor?

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second (command) is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. Mark 12:30-31 

Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.  — Fred Rogers

My children were not among the tens of thousands of children who watched Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood on a regular basis. The show, however, was a regular feature on television for 33 years. At the beginning of each episode, Mr. Rogers would sing the song, “Won’t You be My Neighbor?” as he came through his front door. He would put on his cardigan sweater, and then sit down to put on his sneakers. After he was comfortable, he began an informal visit with his (mostly) young audience. Fred Rogers – both in character and in real life – preached love, acceptance, and gentle living. He received training as a Presbyterian minister, so his focus on virtues, values, and the respectful treatment of others should not come as a surprise.

In one of his simple and profound writings, quoted above, Mister Rogers stresses the importance of recognizing the action implied in love. Too often, we relegate love to emotion and to romance; and while those are important expressions of love, they are not necessarily love’s highest expressions. Jesus, too, focused on the act of loving, saying we are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. To love, both God and our neighbors as ourselves, is the greatest of all the Biblical commandments.

During this season of graduations, imagine a commencement address given by Jesus or by Mister Rogers. There would be no shallow platitudes such as, “Be all that you can be,” or “Go forth and prosper,” or “Seize the day!” There would be no cheerleader-like chants and no sports metaphors. Equally absent would be tired clichés and forgettable advice. I believe a graduation speech given by Jesus or Mister Rogers would be straightforward. The focus would be on relationships – with God and with others – and the words would be about love. The words of love would be couched in caring for and about others – being a good neighbor, particularly to those less fortunate than we are. There would be no flowery descriptions of dreamy, fairy-tale futures. There would, however, be direct instruction for a focused present – a moment-by-moment, single-mindedness that assures its own glorious future, beside our God and with those we love.

Come home to church this Sunday. Won’t you be my neighbor?

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