The Barrel

by The Rev. John H. Pavelko
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Year A - 2001-2002 | Year B - 2002-2003  | Year C - 2003-2004

The Always of Love
Year C - 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time I Corinthians 13:1-13

The American Dialectic Society is dedicated to the study of the English language in North America. Each year they publish a list of awards for words of phrases of the year. The categories include Most Outrageous, Most Useful, Most Creative, Most Likely to Succeed, Least Likely to Succeed and Most Unnecessary. But the premier award goes to the word of phrase that most identifies the events of the past year. In 2002 the phrase weapons of mass destruction garnered the most votes and top honors in 2001 went to the phrase 9-11 for obvious reasons. This year's selection was metrosexual. The word is used as a noun, to describe a fashion-conscious heterosexual male, or, as coiner Mark Simpson put it, a man who "has clearly taken himself as his own love object."1

The phrase "his own love object" struck me as an accurate but rather odd use of words. I do not question the selection or the definition. We are becoming a society in love with ourselves. That is what is so odd. We use a term that once had a strong other focus to refer to our own feelings toward ourselves. We are losing the desire of expressing our feelings of affection for another person. Perhaps this is due to the difficulty of loving someone else. Love is demanding. It requires work and effort. It demands time from our overloaded schedules. 

Loving others is also dangerous. We become vulnerable in relationships. We share the most intimate secrets of our heart and soul. We expose our weaknesses. In loving others, we give them the weapons and ammunition to severely wound us. It only takes one sniper attack by a former lover to make us very cautious about entering new relationships. The demands and dangers of love compel us to turn inward. To limit our affections to the only person we know we can trust. However, the apostle Paul refuses to allow us to distort the meaning of the term.

From his Jewish heritage, Paul would have considered love, both human and divine, the deepest possible expression of the personality. Love is an inner force impelling action, giving pleasure, awakening desire and unswerving devotion. The commandments taught Paul that this demonstration of human emotion and action was to be first expressed to God than to others.2 In his writing to the church in Corinth, he begs them to have an other-directed love. Paul also advocates that our love should display a quality of permanence by describing in verse 7 by linking four attributes of love-protects, trusts, hopes and preservers-with the word always.

Paul first tells us that always love always protects the other person. In his paraphrase of Bible, Eugene Peterson writes "[Love] puts up with all things." That is a clever way of describing how love treats the imperfections of another person. Each of us has idiosyncrasies, weaknesses, inconsistencies and flaws in our personality. We all have done things in the past and will continue to do things in the future that others find offensive. Love protects the other person by putting up with those imperfections.

Professor Albeus Dumbledore, headmaster of the Hogswart School of Wizardry is splendid example of someone who displays his love by protecting his teachers. Hagrid is a half-breed. His mother was a giant and wizards have a prejudice against giants. They are violent, unpredictable and unruly. Exotic but very dangerous creatures fascinate him. Professor Trelweeny teaches Divination, the art of predicting the future but according to Professor Dumbledore, himself, she has been accurate in her predictions twice. Professor Lupin is a werewolf and must once a month drink a special potion every day for a week or he will transform into the dangerous blood thirsty creature everyone fears. And finally, there is Professor Snape, the Potions master, a highly skilled teacher but once a traitor who join Lord Vold...He who must not be named band of conspirators. Some still do not believe he should be trusted.

Every semester each teacher commits some questionable act. Hagrid creatures frighten the students. Trelweeny bores them with ridiculous speculation and Snape's vindictiveness toward Harry Potter continues to bring him under suspicion. Parents complain, sometimes they demand that the teachers be fired but each time Professor Dumbledore defends them, not because they are perfect but because he knows that each of them has an admirable trait. He knows that each person have value and so each year, Professor Dumbledore is willing to risk his own reputation by retaining the teachers that others would discharge.

Do you love anyone so much that you are willing to put up with all the annoying things that they do?

Paul also believes that an always love is love that always trusts. We often associate the word trust with the religious word faith. To trust someone is to place your faith in them. If we show people that we are suspicious, they usually continue to do suspicious things. But when we show people that we trust them, it will often transform them.

When Arnold became headmaster of an English boarding school, he decided to institute a completely new form of discipline. His predecessor ruled with fear. Beatings for small misdemeanors were common. On the first day, he called for school wide assembly. He told the boys that he was going to reduce the floggings and increase their freedom. "You are free," he said, "but you are responsible-you are gentlemen. I intend to leave you much to yourselves, and put you upon your honour, because I believe that if you are guarded and watched and spied upon, you will grow up knowing only the fruits of servile fear; and when your liberty is finally given you, as it must be some day, you will not know how to use it."

The boys did not believe him at first. When they were brought before him they continued to make the old excuses and to tell the old lies. Arnold would just respond "Boys,if you say so, it must be true-I believe your word." In a few weeks the school was transformed. Discipline problems became a thing of the past. When faced with the option of lying the boys would say to one another, "?It is a shame to tell Arnold a lie-he always believes you.?" He believed in them and he made them what he believed them to be. Love can ennoble even the ignoble by believing the best.3

Who do you love so much that you always trust them?

Paul also believed that an always love always hopes for the best. 

Ted Stallard undoubtedly qualifies as the one of "the least." Turned off by school. Very sloppy in appearance. Expressionless. Unattractive. Even his teacher, Miss Thompson, enjoyed bearing down her red pen -- as she placed Xs beside his many wrong answers. 

If only she had studied his records more carefully. They read: 

* 1st grade: Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but (has) poor home situation. 
* 2nd grade: Ted could do better. Mother seriously ill. Receives little help from home. 
* 3rd grade: Ted is good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year. 
* 4th grade: Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest whatsoever. 

Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher's desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted's package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker. But she silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist, and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too. 

At day's end, after the other children had left, Ted came by the teacher's desk and said, "Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I'm glad you like my presents." He left. Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude. 

The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher -- one committed to loving each of them. Especially the slow ones. Especially Ted. Surprisingly -- or maybe, not surprisingly, Ted began to show great improvement. He actually caught up with most of the students and even passed a few. 

Time came and went. Miss Thompson heard nothing from Ted for a long time. Then, one day, she received this note: 

Dear Miss Thompson: 

I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. 

Love, Ted 

Four years later, another note arrived: 

Dear Miss Thompson: 

They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. 

Love, Ted 

And four years later: 

Dear Miss Thompson: 

As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. 

Miss Thompson attended that wedding, and sat where Ted's mother would have sat. The hope she show for Ted entitled her the privilege of sitting in that seat.4 

Who do you love so much that you are always expecting the best?

The fourth attribute of an always love is it ability to persevere under difficult circumstances. When faced with a crisis we may either react with passive resignation or with an assertive strength. The passive response accepts defeat. It seeks to place blames and laments the unfairness of life. The assertive response accepts the reality but seeks to live in joy, free from a bitter or resentful spirit. It does more than just make the best of the situation but actually finds joy in the moment.

The surgeon stood by the bed of a young woman. Her postoperative face twisted. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh to remove the tumor in her cheek, but he had to cut the little nerve. He had no other choice. 

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed The young woman asks. "Will my mouth always be like this?" she asks. The surgeon says "Yes,it will. It is because the nerve was cut."

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. "I like it," he says, "It is kind of cute." Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.5

Love is not passive resignation but has a preserving quality that is willing to embrace anything.

Who do you love even during the tragedies of life?

Many years ago Irving Berlin the author and composure of the song, God Bless America, wrote a love song entitled Always. The first verse reads

I'll be loving you Always
With a love that's true Always.
When the things you've planned
Need a helping hand,
I will understand Always.
After observing the state of marriages in the entertainment industry, a friend once told Berlin that he ought to rewrite the lyrics. To be more realistic he suggested that the composer change the opening line to "I'll be loving you, Thursday."6

Is your love an always or a Thursday love?

1 The American Dialectic Society, Online:, January 30, 2004.
2 Douglas, J.D. New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1996, c1982, 720.
3 The Letters to the Corinthians. Edited by Barclay, William, lecturer in the University of Glasgow. The Daily study Bible series, Rev. ed. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975
4 Jon Johnston, Courage - You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear, 1990, SP Publications, pp. 111-113. quoted from
5 Richard Selzer, M.D., Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery, 1978, pp. 45-6. quoted from
6 William H. William, "Love is not all you need," Pulpit Resource, Vol. 29, No. 1, p. 22.

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