Resent-less; Rev. Dee Ledger, January 30, 2022

Love is both a gift and a choice.  It is also hard work and its own immense reward.

What has life taught you about love and how loving relationships work (or do not work)?  Oh, I am not just talking about romantic relationships with their roller-coaster feelings and late nights of pillow talk, but of those familial and friendship relationships, those partnerships that are solidified by loving forbearance and innumerable, unspoken kindnesses.

Today we have a very well-known passage from 1 Corinthians 13.  Its several verses have been clipped, embroidered, painted, and used by countless couples at wedding ceremonies.  Its individual verses are printed on cards, magnets, and valentines. So very well-known, 1 Corinthians 13 runs the danger of sounding trite or being ignored from familiarity.

But these words were originally addressed to a church, not to starry-eyed, blissed-out couple about to step into life together.  When Paul wrote these words in a letter to the church at Corinth, he sought to address several troubling aspects of behavior and thought within the church.  The early Corinth community was a complete mess; Paul’s treatise on love was just one part of his overall direction to the church.

Writer Douglas Campbell counted at least 15 issues within the Corinthian church: “partisanship, with the Corinthians factionalizing behind rival leaders; incest; prostitution; celibacy within marriage; Christians married to one another asking about divorce; Christians married to pagans asking about divorce; questions surrounding marriage and remarriage; lawsuits; idolatry; concerns about women praying and prophesying in immodest ways; chaos in worship, with speaking in tongues and competing voices; inequality in the communal meal; denials of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and of Christians; the collection of a large sum of money to be sent to Jerusalem; and a change in Paul’s travel plans.”[1]

Whew!  What a mess indeed!  The early church at Corinth was made up of human beings with lots of different ideas about how to be a community together.  Today, we might have and name our own issues within the local and larger church.  But today, I’d like us to think about which verses in 1 Corinthians 13 are particularly difficult for us.  I mean, when we really look at those words about love, can we truthfully and wholeheartedly agree with them, or do we cross our fingers behind our backs? Does your experience with the reality of love’s hard edges square with Paul’s definition of love and of right relationships?  Can you think of a better way to describe love without using the adjectives: patient, kind, and truthful?

Personally, whenever I heard the words, “Love believes all things,”  I used to shake my head, saying, “no way.”  Because I do not believe all things—I questioned how that could be true.  Yet, I approached these words primarily in an intellectual sense…until.

Until 2013, when a few months after my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive, terminal cancer, he had a battery of tests.  He was always having tests for one specialist or another.  He insisted on going to the hospital to pick up his own tests; he naturally and anxiously wanted to see the scans and notes before the doctors spoke with him.

One particular day stands out vividly to me because he came home and excitedly proclaimed, “I am going to live!  I am going to live!”  He had picked up his test results that day and interpreted them as he mistakenly thought.  At the time, I remember feeling very divided inside.  We had been told quite a few things by the doctors by that point; it was a winter’s day like this one and I remember sensing a chill run through me every time the doctors explained quietly and carefully just how advanced his cancer was, how surgery would no longer be an option, and the various complicating factors that limited his treatments.

At the same time, I remember—in that moment—deeply wanting to believe his hope, to share in his joy of a future unhindered by a sharp decline, even as I observed something very different and had come to a much sadder conclusion.  I could not feel his enthusiasm, but I could not deflate it either.  My love for him demanded something different of me in that moment as he rushed through the door with an intensity I cannot describe.  To honor his necessary, passionate hopes and to meet the present needs of that moment, love invited me to share in his enthusiasm, as well as his hope beyond hope that the tests would show something positive. In just days, we would learn differently.  But that moment was not then.  He gradually came to “see” what the doctors had seen and his hope changed slowly to living in the moment rather than living for all time.

In that time period, I came closer to the meaning, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” To this day, I remember that it is possible to believe two or more contradictory things at the same time because we often do not have the fullest picture; someone or something needs our support in the moment to be there as they digest hard news in small doses, and love recognizes there are more needs at play than the ability to accept reality and the unfairness of life.  That particular day, my husband needed to believe that he would live another day to see his children and I needed to believe that I could take steps to lessen the pain of learning otherwise.

What about you?  Have you learned a greater wisdom about love in these words of Paul?

If you’ve ever felt resentful in a relationship, perhaps you have struggled with Paul’s reflection that “Love is not irritable or resentful.”  Another way to say this is that love keeps no record of wrongs, no scorecard, or mental tally sheet.  That person who ghosted you?  That friend who gossiped about you?  That grown child who betrayed you?  We have all had feelings of resentment from time to time.  The question is whether they stick.  Sometimes these things brush off our shoulders; other times they fester and grow like a malignancy.

We remember that resentment is an emotional response to feeling mistreated or wronged by another.  Often feelings of resentment include anger, mistrust, bitterness and hard feelings.  Actually a form of protest, resentment signals that something has gone awry in your relationship—it is a response to a perceived or an actual injustice.

Carrying of grudges is a form of resentment.  Like baggage that we carry into the future with us, grudges weigh us down and tear at relationships.  But carrying such weight undermines love because it destroys trust and equitable relations between two or more people.  Many of us feel entitled to our resentments.  We get angry when others don’t see what the big deal is.  Or we re-live our grudges each time someone inquires about our past or life’s unfairness.   But resentment and grudges can be detrimental to our health.  Debbie Ford writes, “Resentments and grudges are two of the main culprits that perpetuate cycles of self-abuse and victimhood. Stowed away inside you like parasites, they deplete you of your God-given life force and separate you from your inherent worth, your joy, and the love in your heart.”

How easily can you name the people who have wronged you or hurt you in some way?  For Paul, a love that holds grudges cannot and will not sustain a relationship or a community.  It is like persistent water damage causing the structure of love to flounder, fail, and rot.

So, what is the answer?  What if you carry grudges from your past, or nurse grudges when you are hurt?

First of all, we become aware of what we are carrying and we ask God to help us lessen the weight.  The singer, Alanis Morrisette, has a wonderful song called, “This Grudge.”  In it, she describes coming to the realization of her grudge and the power that she has given it.[2]

She sings:

But who’s it hurting now?
Who’s the one that’s stuck?
And who’s it torturing now
With an antique knot in her stomach?

And then she asks:

Like an abandoned house, dusty covered
Furniture, still intact
If I visit it now, do I simply re-live it?
Here I sit much determined
Ever ill-equipped to draw this curtain
How this has entertained, validated
And has served me greatly, ever the victim
But who’s done whining now?
Who’s ready to put down?
This load I’ve carried longer
Than I had cared to remember…

Morissette realizes that she relives a grudge every time she revisits it.  She also realizes that her grudge has been entertaining her, validating her troubled behavior, and serving her as a victim.  She wants to be bigger than that, to put down this load that she has carried for far too long.  She sings:

I wanna be big and let go
Of this grudge that’s grown old
All this time I’ve not known
How to rest this bygone
I wanna be soft and resolved
Clean of slate and released
I wanna forgive for the both of us.

Maybe as I cut the cord
Veils will lift from my eyes
Maybe as I lay this to rest
Dead weight off my shoulders to rise.

Robert Enright founded the International Forgiveness Institute, a training center in Madison, Wisconsin.  He says, “The essence of forgiveness is always the same…You’ve been hurt by someone. You choose to give up resentment to which you are entitled. You offer benevolence and mercy to someone who does not deserve it.”[3]

Sometimes, as Paul well-knew, we unfairly hold grudges and resentment against members and friends of the church.  Somebody said or didn’t say something; someone promised or didn’t promise something; somebody remembered or didn’t remember something.  Paul asked the Corinthians for a fresh beginning and asked them to make love foundational.  He didn’t make love abstract, but described what that love must look like and act like for the community to grow and thrive.  Love is a choice, always a choice, and it is hard work.  But friends, a love that can put down the burden of the past and allow all people to start over fresh, with a clean slate, even while admitting to difficult truths—well, that is a love that endures and grows more precious as time passes.  May we have this love for ourselves, each other, and the church.





[3] Mary Rourke, “Finding a formula for forgiveness,” Los Angeles Times, September 9, 1999.

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