Last week, a friend shared this article entitled “Preach it like Lincoln”. It had a juicy challenge: “what would it be like to preach a sermon in just 272 words?” (the length of the Gettysburg Address, an astoundingly brilliant and short speech).
That got me curious. My text for this past Sunday was 1 Corinthians 13 — a passage similar to Lincoln’s in its brevity, familiarity, and beauty. So I counted. In the NIV, it has 274 words. Sweet, I got two bonus words to try to preach Love like Paul did.
Here’s what I came up with:
If you point out that someone is in a ditch, and tell them that they shouldn’t be in that ditch, and tell them just how deep that ditch is, and then throw them a shovel to dig that ditch deeper, that isn’t love. No matter how sweet you are about it, you’re not loving them.
If you keep the rules: don’t swear, don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t cheat on your spouse, read the Bible daily, pray for the brokenhearted, give your money away, that isn’t love. Congratulations, you’ve won a prize that’s incredibly hard to get but not worth a dime.
If you surround yourself with people who see the world the way you do, agree on everything (anything important anyway), take them casseroles when they’re sick, exchange Christmas gifts, that isn’t love. That’s a holy huddle. But turn around: you’ll find some people who really need love (and may even love you back).
Love walks the line. Love forsakes the right to pick who’s in and who’s out, who’s right, who’s wrong, who deserves and who does not. Love lives on Calvary. Watching slings and arrows from every side: Pharisees, Romans, conservatives, liberals. Love never gets to settle in. Love is never comfortable.
We can do all that other stuff. It will be fun and probably make us feel good. That’s fine. But we can’t call ourselves Christians until we’re ready to love. Until we’re ready to follow the man who died on the cross, forgiving his executioners. Until that love turns us upside down, and makes us see every last scoundrel as God’s beloved. Then we have loved. Then we are Christians.
It was a good, if hopeless, exercise. It reminded me of a quote I can’t find (I want to say it was Walter Brueggemann) that the most important words that are shared every Sunday in worship are the words of scripture. It was a good dose of humility, reminding me what an awesome and terrifying calling it is to preach God’s Word for God’s people every Sunday.
How would you preach love in 274 words?