I think my favorite kinds of sermons are those that I can riff off of. Not audibly, of course, but I tend to think tangentially anyway, so I like a sermon that raises points that I can explore while I’m sitting in church. Even better if I continue to think about them afterwards. They don’t have to be great sermons, as long as they provide food for thought. (I do not, however, enjoy a sermon that causes me to mentally analyze every bit of tortured logic and twisted scripture. It may be a great exercise in critical thinking, but it’s neither edifying nor fun.)
In the last couple of weeks I’ve heard one of each. I will talk about the good one. The topic was love, and referenced a few good quotes by Paul that got me thinking about what Paul did not say, which leads me to my topic today.
THINGS PAUL DID NOT SAY
Let holiness be your highest goal. (1 Cor. 14:3)
And above all these put on correct doctrine, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:14)
Without our church I am nothing. (1 Cor 13:2)
Owe no one anything, except to judge each other, for the one who judges another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
The greatest of these is truth. (1 Cor. 13:13)
And there’s more, but I’m sure you get the idea. Paul was undoubtedly the master of proper doctrine and logic. He bragged about winning an argument with Peter and the rest of the church leadership. However, Paul was, at heart, a softie. He was concerned about widows and orphans, the poor and the weak of faith. In Paul’s mind, everyone had value, and had gifts to share. There were no favored classes, and no one had the right to judge anyone else (even themselves).
What has happened to Paul’s message that grace is a gift, and cannot be earned? That God loves all of us unconditionally, and we should in turn love others unconditionally?
It seems that in today’s evangelical circles, putting love first makes you a liberal. Love is conditionalized, as it seems to be a scarce and finite resource, not to be thrown around indiscriminately. Or, perhaps the definition of love has been retooled in a type of Platonic dualism; we can love in a universal, ideal sense, but we must be careful who we love in a practical, earthy sense. We love sinners Platonically, but not incarnationally. We love refugees, just only where they can’t touch us. We love the GLBT community, but not as equals.
And that’s what happens when you start to think about what Paul (and Jesus) really said.