A Sermon On Valentine’s Day, National Signing Day, and What’s Been Happening at Bama

Preached this one last Wednesday…

On 1 Corinthians 3

In case you’ve forgotten, Monday is Valentine’s Day. How could you forget, right? Every time I turn on the television, I see commercials begging us to go out and buy a Leo Diamond or Godiva Chocolate or a Valentine’s cookie cake for your campus minister.

Valentine’s Day: brought to you by your friends at Hallmark.

It seems everything is a purchasable quantity these days, love by no means being excluded. We sell it, box it up in pink and purple ribbon, and shelve it in our local malls.

And I can’t help but feel that something’s wrong with that picture. It seems biblically counterintuitive to me. I don’t remember Lou Ann preaching last week on a text saying, “Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is bought at half price at your local florist.”

Sure, we do things out of love that may affect the weight of our wallets or purses, but I think the Beatles had it right when they said, “You can’t buy me love.”

I get it, though. Sometimes we buy things up because we’re afraid they’re going to run out. We buy concert tickets before they sell out. We buy milk, bread, and candles at the store before an “Alabama blizzard” for fear of empty cabinets and fridges during the snow-pocalypse.

Why not purchase love in a world in which it seems love is declining in stock?

For evidence of that decline, we need not look that far, really. I’ve witnessed—and participated in—some disturbing trends the last couple of weeks.

Take, for instance, the annual fan fest we call National Signing Day. For those of you who don’t know, this is the day when high school senior football players—17 and 18 year old boys—declare formally where they will be spending their collegiate careers as students and football players. It’s a thing to be celebrated, really. Young men deciding that they’re going to college, to pursue an education… maybe a career as a professional ballplayer or something else. Thousands of young men deciding on one day that they’re going to college.

Instead, though, we’ve taken this day and turned it into a bloodbath… and I include myself in this as a college football fan. These days, if a player decides not to attend the school you support, people take to Facebook and write on these players’ walls and say all sorts of terrible things to them, including, “We didn’t want you anyway” and “You can go to hell.”

Grown adults writing these things to teenagers about, of all things, football…

And then there are the events that transpired at UA this past week. A young African-American walking down the street one evening is called an ethnic slur that I will not repeat here, and then is told to “come here, boy.”  All of which has created a firestorm on campus, with somebody even etching that ethnic slur in chalk all over the Quad today.

If that’s not sad enough, in talking with my students about this event at our Monday night Bible study, they, each one of them lamenting what had happened, told me, “Yeah, it’s not really that surprising that it happened on campus,” which only goes to show that racism is alive, well, even thriving among members of the collegiate generation.

The thing is, sometimes you have to stand back and take a look around… just to gain a little perspective. And when you do, you realize that our problems are eerily similar to those of the Corinthians, that not much has changed, that love always seems to be a fleeting commodity (if you can call it a commodity), that we really are just like our sisters and brothers in Corinth… with division wreaking havoc upon us all.

You look at the news and hear about violence in Egypt.

You go to the Ferguson Center around 12 any day of the week and you’re startled at the way so many people segregate themselves into factions.

You listen to one of your students say how frustrated he is with division on campus and he says, if there’s one positive thing that comes out of this devastating event last weekend… it’s that people will finally acknowledge and discuss the fact that diversity and integration don’t always go hand in hand.

And this whole issue of division is extremely important for the Church. I’ve heard many people say this… probably because it’s true… that Church is one of the most segregated hours in our culture.

And I can see how it’d be difficult for many (not all, but many) Presbyterians to remember that the City of God doesn’t only include the White Anglo Saxon Protestant.

But let’s not forget that division goes deeper than the color of our skin. We are absolutely ripping ourselves apart on various issues theological, political, and socioeconomic… to the point that it makes me wonder how we have any energy left over to join together and minister to the least of these with whom Jesus spent so much of his time.

That’s the thing! That’s exactly what Paul was getting at in this 3rd chapter of his letter to the people in Corinth.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? They’re not the ones who are important. They’re not the ones who matter. Sure, they said some things. They may have planted some seeds or laid a foundation. But they’re not the TRUE FOUNDATION here.

And as long as we build whatever it is we’re building upon something else, then, in the end, it’ll just fall apart, and you’ll have a clump here, piece of rock there, everything fragmented and broken, nothing unified whatsoever.

You know, we’ve messed up. We build our lives around belonging, around community: oh I’ll join this group here; I’ll attend that group there; I go to this church or that.

And I’m not knocking that. Community, done well, is important. We were, after all, created to live in community. Heck, I’m a Presbyterian minister—I belong to this particular community– because my beliefs align themselves most closely with those of the PCUSA.

But there is an inherent brokenness with that system. And that brokenness has everything to do with us. We’re just so human we can’t get out of our own way.

We belong to a certain community, meaning sometimes we insult people belonging to other, ‘rival’ clans. We compete against one another, throwing around dangerous words like “us” and “them.”

We say things like, “I would never like this person” or “I could never be a part of them.”

We take credit for things when they go well; we blame others when things go bad. We point fingers and throw our fists in the air and hurl insults at each other and chalk up offenses in University Quads.

We might as well say that we follow Apollos or Paul.

And to that, Paul says, “Enough is enough! Enough boasting! Enough jealousy! Enough quarreling! Can’t you see? You all belong to someone… you’re all worth dying for.”

It’s time for something to change. I don’t know what that looks like… I don’t think I’m smart enough to come up with that. But when I hear some of the things that have happened on campus and when I see the things I see in the news, I realize that we really haven’t progressed that far from the Corinthians… that Paul’s letter still echoes true for us. That we really have become dependent upon factionalism, and that unity… reaching out to someone starkly different than we… might just be too frightening for us.

But if we’re truly followers of Jesus Christ, isn’t more demanded of us? Isn’t that what loving our neighbor is truly about? Can that please be our prophecy to the world?

Because, I know, this whole idea of unity in community may seem a bit utopian to us. Maybe a bit far-fetched… But, folks, utopia has nothing to do with it. Because if we all really do belong to Christ like Paul says… then it’s not other groups or communities or races we’re turning our backs on.

It’s our very flesh and blood.

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~ by presbytide on February 14, 2011.

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