February 3, 2019
1 Corinthians, 13
All Saints’ Church
Every year, some of the world’s richest and most powerful people gather in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for something called the World Economic Forum. The event features talks and panels with experts who talk about important global issues. This year, some 1500 private jets arrived at the nearest airport. I’ve never been, but if you ever want to take me on your private jet, let me know.
There was one panel this year that went viral. One of the panelists was named Rutger Bregman, an economist from Holland. He said to the crowd of millionaires and billionaires that the real economic issue facing the world that no one wanted to talk about was what he called “tax evasion,” or the fact that most of the people in the room pay less in taxes proportionally than working people in their countries.
Dr. Bregman was the one who got the most media attention for his comments. Aside from the courage it takes to say what he said to that crowd, I wonder if that’s also because he used a curse word in his comments. Stay tuned to see if I give that tactic a try in my sermons.
Anyway, I was intrigued, so I decided to watch the whole panel, which was actually way better than just the tax thing. The next person to speak was Winnie Byanyima, the executive director of the charity Oxfam global. She said that in 2018, the wealth of the world’s billionaires increased by 2.5 billion dollars every day. At the same time, the wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population by wealth actually decreased by 500 million dollars a day. That means that roughly 3.8 billion people were basically transferring their wealth to the tiny group of people gathered at Davos every day last year.
But the next person to speak was Jane Goodall. You remember her—she’s the British anthropologist who did all that amazing work with chimpanzees in the 60’s and 70’s. On the panel next to her, she had a stuffed animal monkey holding a banana. I found that a little weird, but I got over it once she started talking. She was asked the question, “what’s gone wrong?,” as in, how have we gotten to a point as a people where this inequality exists. To answer, she praised animals, and especially the primates she’s worked with. But then she outlined how vastly more intelligent human beings are than chimps and apes. She marveled at the human capacity both for achievement and for self-destruction, and she said that the reason for the cycle of we find ourselves in today is that, we have broken the link between intellect and wisdom.
Jane Goodall said, “if we think of wisdom as love, compassion, and making decisions not based on how will this help me now, how will it help my bank account, how will it help my next political campaign, but how will this decision I make help future generations—that link seems to have been broken.” Then she asked, “how do we address that?”
Well, we’re addressing it right now, right here, this morning. In this place, we believe that the wisdom that Jane Goodall calls “love” is Jesus Christ. He shows us what it means to be wise and loving. He shows us what the extraordinary things a human being can do, by living in love and offering compassion especially to the most vulnerable among us. He teaches us that the stranger is our neighbor and that everyone matters. He stood with the poor and was himself poor to his final day, and in doing so shows us that glory is not to be found in earthly wealth or power, but by walking in love all our days. It is this same Jesus who tells us not to store up treasure on earth, where moth and rust corrupt, but to store treasure in heaven, because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
And this Jesus most definitely wouldn’t go to Davos. But I promise I’ll look for him when you take me there on your private jet.
If the reason we are suffering as a people from greed, the reason we are so gleefully destroying our planet, the reason a tiny group of people are hoarding wealth from the poorest among us is that we have lost the link between intellect and love, then let us learn what love is and what it does.
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. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
Paul wrote these words in his first letter to the Corinthians as a gift to them, and it’s a gift we continue to receive today. He tells us what he learned from his faith in Christ because he knows it is the thing that will restore the link between intellect and wisdom, the thing that will heal the life of a single person, or a community, or the whole world.
Love is patient.
You’ve probably heard this reading at a wedding—at least that’s the last time I heard it, at a wedding I was officiating. I wondered at the time if the couple really listened to Paul’s words. Love is patient. You need a lot of patience to spend your life with another person, because it’s hard. Without patience, there’s no such thing as a real and lasting human relationship.
Love is kind.
How could love be anything but kind? And the opposite is true too—whatever is not kind is not loving. Even a parent who disciplines her child is doing it out of kindness, even if her child doesn’t understand that at the time.
Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
Oh my. I can think of some people in the news who should hear about this one. Love is not envious because it has nothing to envy. When you have love, you already have everything you need. Love is not boastful because when you have love, you know it is a gift from God and not something of your own creation. Love is not arrogant or rude because those have nothing to do with love, and when you see that someone is being arrogant or rude, you know what they need most is some love.
You might have heard these words a thousand times, and they might sound simple. But just think for a second about how powerful they really are. Think for a second about what Davos would be like if everyone got together to talk about love. Think about how people’s lives would be different if we had a love-driven economy and not a wealth-driven one. Think about how differently we would treat the environment if we actually loved people who are being affected by climate change or whose homes will disappear in the coming decades.
If we can reconnect the link between intellect and wisdom, if we can put love at the center of our thoughts, then there will truly be no end to what we as a people can accomplish! At the end of Chapter 12 of this same letter, Paul tells us to strive for the greater gifts. Now he tells us that these gifts are faith, hope and love, and that of these three, the greatest is love. He tells us that love never ends.
Why would we devote ourselves to anything else?
Why would we waste a single moment of our lives striving for anything other than this amazing love?
Why would we inspire our fellow human beings to do anything but to fill their lives with this almighty, eternal, and world-changing love?
Love is the greatest of the gifts that we have.
This love is that treasure you can store up in heaven.
It is where your heart should be.
It is the great commandment and it is our salvation.
This love is God, and there is nothing, life or death or angels or rulers or things present or things to come—there is nothing that can separate us from this loving God of ours in Jesus Christ.
Do we see through a glass, darkly? Yes.
Are there clanging symbols and noisy gongs in our time? My Lord, sometimes that’s all I can hear.
But though we may only see in part today, one day we will know fully. And when we do, we will know the fullness of this love. Because the greatest of all these things…is love.