1 CORINTHIANS 13
Rev. Dr. Anita Farber-Robertson
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13
1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.
13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.
I was a stay-at-home Mom when my son was born.
He did a lot of sleeping. I did a lot of reading.
After 38 years, I don’t remember most of the books. But I do recall Letters to Karen, a book of letters written by a father to his young adult daughter. I was taken by the tenderness, and by the love of a father who was trying to release his daughter into adulthood while at the same time wanting to offer the wisdom, caution and counsel of his years. The letters let her go, but offered the tangible piece of paper that she could hold and touch, and re-read, experiencing a loving connection that could not be broken.
Letters. A profound and intimate form of communication. I have letters squirreled away that were written to me by suitors from my school days, and letters written to me recently by people whom I have loved and who loved me in return. Maybe you do too.
I have a file of letters from my children and my step children - letters that record our love, our struggles and our reconciliations. Letters that are rare, infrequent, and deeply precious. Maybe you have such letters too.
And there are letters that I have written, of which I have no idea if they were saved or not saved by the recipient, because that was not what was important. They were letters of apology, or of forgiveness, of consolation and of gratitude. It matters not what happened to them; their saving power resided in the writing of them. I needed to express my regret or joy, sorrow or forgiveness for the good of my own soul. How it was received was for them to work out. Maybe you have written those letters too.
We write letters for all kinds of reasons and motivations.
The Apostle Paul wrote letters to the churches he had planted and served. Some are preserved for us in the Christian Testament. They were letters of reminder, support, correction, comfort and most of all, encouragement. They were letters of love, and of the angst that often comes from concern for those we love who struggle and live so far away. He reminded them that they were not alone, and that how they lived their lives together as a faith community mattered.
Love is patient and 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 right. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.(1Cor. 13:1. 4-7)
Rev. Adin Ballou, the visionary and founder of the Hopedale utopian, communitarian community, and of the congregation that still lives and thrives in the center of town, wrote letters to Tolstoy,i nearly halfway around the world, describing his commitmentto what he called non-resistance, what we would now call non-violence, a kind of pacifism. Tolstoytook it up, was fascinated and convinced by it, and pushed it even further, taking the pacifism to a level even Ballou found too passive.
It didn’t stop there. Because Ballou had taken the time to write to Tolstoy, and then Tolstoy had taken the time to write about these principles of non-violence, Ghandi, on another continent, in another culture, in another era and situation read those ideas, wrote letters and talked with folks in India, creating a non-violent resistance to the British occupation that eventually secured India’s independence. And Ghandi’s work, and his writings and letters got into the hands of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who became convinced of the rightness of what Adin Ballou called Practical Christianity and the principles of non-violence. He wrote a letter from the Birmingham jail, where he had been incarcerated as result of his non-violent resistance to segregation, a letter turned the tide of American history, and brought us closer than we had ever been, to being the country of which we dreamed, fulfilling the ideals we loved and to which we aspired.
Letters are carriers of values to be preserved and cherished. One factor is their very physical nature. We can turn it over, read it, touch it, remembering, again and again. I make e-mails like that for me sometimes too. E-letters in which people I love and care about communicate meaningful things to me, I print. I have them to re-read and hold. I even have a small three ring binder in which I have stored much of the e–mail correspondence between me and my son who lives on the other side of the continent from me.
The other dimension to the essence of letters and letter writing that is precious, is the gift of time which they bestow not only with their arrival, but with their very existence. Someone had to take the time to sit down, to think, to find a suitable piece of paper and a pen and conceive of what they wanted to say. They needed to put it into words and sentences - not sound bites, hunt up your address, find an envelope and a stamp, and put it in the mail. They had taken their time, and thought about you all the time they were doing it. It is like being in their prayers. For as long as they were engaged in that process, you were in their thoughts, their hearts and minds, connecting with you across the boundaries and the barriers. A gift.
We sing in our hymnal “you can heal the world with your love.ii Paul says, “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Friends, do not hide your love under a bushel. Put it in writing. It might heal the world, and it might heal your soul.
i Singing the Living Tradition, “Love Will Guide Us”, Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association.
ii Leo Tolstoy, Russian author, 1828-1910.
Consider the letters you meant to write - to your children, your parents, your local newspaper, your friend. Maybe they are people no longer physically present in this life. Letters to people who were important and are deceased. Letters to God, to Jesus, to saints who have been your models and your guides. Take some time to identify these people, appropriate recipients of letters not yet written.
What has stopped you from that writing? What have you lost because of your failure to do so?
Consider letter writing as prayer. Take your time.
Gracious God of love, who holds us ever in your affection, even when we turn away, reject you or forget you, we ask forgiveness and we offer thanks. Thank you for your constancy, for your infinite messages of love and care that surround and maintain our lives, mostly unnoticed.
Forgive us our pride that accepts the good that comes to us as being earned, and the rage that decries the pain as unfair. Companion us through this life of joy and sorrow, rejoicing in our gains and sorrowing with us in our losses.
Grant us wisdom to perceive your gifts of grace, strength to perceive the world’s deep pain, and the courage to love boldly, in our affections and our actions. And in all we do, may we be sources of blessings upon the world, as you have blessed us with life and love. Amen.