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As I sat down to work on my first Sentinel-News column, I began by making a list of possible topics. It didn’t take long to compile a rather lengthy list. As I pared the list to a few ideas that seemed most timely, it occurred to me that I should first present the perspective from which I write.
I am a minister, so I will naturally take an interest in the way that faith intersects with the various elements of life, such as politics, social issues, economics and, of course, religion and/or the lack thereof.
Obviously, there are many different perspectives within the world of faith, but to me there is the commonality of the foundation of love. As a minister, I have officiated at many weddings over the years. During many of those weddings I read I Corinthians 13, which is such a powerful and eloquent statement on love that we call it, simply, the love chapter. At the heart of that chapter we read these words:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8a).
That passage captures the essence of a story presented in the gospel of Matthew. In the story a group of Sadducees and Pharisees gathered together and decided to test Jesus. One of them asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
And Jesus replies, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)
There are people, like these Sadducees and Pharisees, who want to create all kinds of rules and regulations within faith. They are buried in legalism. They believe they have the right to dictate what we should believe and how we should live. They are judgmental and harsh in their dealings with people.
What they don’t understand is that when it comes to faith, there is only one law, and it is love. Everything, Jesus says, hangs on love. Everything Jesus said goes back to love, and everything he did was based on love.
That’s the good news – love is the law.
Here’s the difficult news – sometimes love is really, really tough. Love is tough because sometimes we can be difficult to love.
Sometimes we don’t always agree. Sometimes we have clashing perspectives. Sometimes we have values and beliefs that pull us apart. These, and other, differences test love.
I believe that love is the foundation of faith. Not rules and regulations, not doctrine and not dogma. Love is the foundation.
Far too many people have seen and heard nothing but judgment and condemnation from churches and religion. They’ve heard love the sinner, hate the sin, but felt more hate than love. They’ve been subjected to lectures and discourses about the errors of their ways and wondered what happened to the love.
Paul says that love never fails. Never. Ever. I believe that. But sometimes we fail love.
I have witnessed far too much heartbreak because of people failing love. At some point in life, we all feel the heartbreak of someone failing love. But while we may fail love, love itself never fails.
Love calls us ever higher. Love calls us to live with grace rather than judgment, love calls us to forgiveness rather than bitterness, it calls us to move beyond hatred, it calls us to go places we would not ordinarily go, it calls us to people we would normally shun, and it asks of us what we sometimes feel we cannot do; but love will still ask of us all those things and more.
Love never fails, and I believe that statement should be our daily mantra.
Say it to yourself when you rise in the morning, and say it when you lie down at night. Say it throughout the day, especially when you don’t feel much love welling up within you. Say it when someone tries your patience or hurts your feelings. Say it over. And over. Again. And again.
So that’s my perspective, that love is the foundation of everything, and love never fails.
Everything I write in the coming weeks begins – and ends – with that affirmation. You may not agree with everything I write, but I hope we can at least find common ground on this one point.
Dave Charlton is pastor of First Christian Church. His column will appear every other week. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.