Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Sixth Week of Easter
Diversity isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
For the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve been an African American pastor leading a mostly white suburban congregation in Minnesota. On the surface this should be a wonderful achievement, a sign of racial progress. If we could just come together then everything will be peachy.
But while I’ve done fairly well, leading this congregation, this is not always the case. A number of large congregations have called African American pastors, only to have the whole process end in disaster. Sometimes it’s a clash of cultures. Sometimes congregations didn’t realize what it meant to hire someone from a different racial background and how that could change the church. None of this should stop churches from calling pastors of a different background than the majority of its members, but it is a reminder that diversity, as much as we like to celebrate it in American culture, is a challenge and it requires a certain fortitude to make it work.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth, he urges this very diverse church to learn to love each other. This was not an easy thing to do. The church was riven by a number of divisions; Jews and Greeks, rich and poor with differing opinions and gifts clashing with each other and pulling rank over each other. Paul tells them in chapter 13 that focusing on themselves, on what made them different than their sisters and brothers was not the way. “If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal,” Paul says. If you have the spiritual gifts, but don’t have love it tends to not mean much.
Paul shows a better way. Instead of focusing on the differences, he talks about a love that cares for the other. “ Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant….Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things,” Paul says. Love in a community is one that learns to love the other…even when you don’t understand them…even when they drive you crazy.
Paul’s love is not the love of teens or a newly married couple. Instead it is a love that cultivates community. Like the tending of a garden, or the making of bread, love is something that is handled with care and with time.
I don’t know if some of the churches that had conflict with their pastors failed to cultivate love, but I do know that if we believe in diversity, in welcoming all of God’s people to the communion table, we have to be able to take time in developing love in the community. Love takes time, but it is worth it.