I don’t mind admitting that I was pretty disappointed that the snow last Saturday night ended in Greenville County and thus didn’t quite expand completely into our neck of the woods. It has been a while since we have had a good winter snow in Laurens. Like many of you, I enjoy a snow day from time to time.
There are lots of things to love about a snow but one of the best parts in my opinion is how a fresh snowfall just makes everything look beautiful – the dead grass, the trash on the road sides, the dilapidated buildings – they all get transformed by the new fallen snow which makes no exceptions but which instead covers everything in equal measure.
I Peter, in the second phrase of chapter 4 verse 8 makes the same assertion about love. “Love covers a multitude of sins,” the text says or as The Message offers the same Greek phrase, love “makes up for everything.”
Last week, we began a two week look at this one verse in I Peter 4 where we are given two challenging statements about love. The first, which again we dealt with last week, is the call to love as if our lives depended on it which is to say that we should give our best energy to the most important people in our lives through the way that we love them. Today, the second challenge regarding love is the call to believe that when we love well, it really does make up for other deficiencies both in our lives and in the lives of others.
At least from my perspective, this statement that love covers a multitude of sins or makes up for everything should influence how we think about God, how we think about others and is a window into an understanding of how others often think about us.
As it relates to God, this statement is a way of recognizing and never forgetting that God’s love for us overshadows all of those elements of each of our lives that are simply unlovable. God’s love makes up for all of our shortcomings. God’s love covers the multitude of sins that our lives represent. Like a new fallen snow, God’s love blankets the ugly parts of who we are. As the old sayings go, God’s goodness is bigger than our badness. God’s ability to love is bigger than our ability to sin.
As it relates to how we think about others, this statement from I Peter serves as a grand reminder that as we interact with others, we must let love be the emotion that we lead with in our relationships. If we can begin by trying to love others, we may just find that the parts about them that we don’t like or care for begin to fade to the background and become overshadowed by that same love.
A colleague of mine shares a story about going to his first church and beginning the process of meeting some of the older members. One day he went to the home of an elderly female who couldn’t get out and come to church in person anymore. In the midst of telling her how glad he was to meet her, she said, “I am not just glad to meet you, I want you to know that I already love you. I’ve been praying for you for three months now. Those prayers started the day you became our new minister. And, you know, you can’t pray for someone for very long and really mean it until you begin to love them.”
If we begin with love of others as our aim, it works its way into our bones and into the dark corners of the relationship while settling in our spirit. In time, it becomes very hard for that love not to cover the parts we invariable won’t like about them.
Finally, this phrase is also a window into an understanding of how others generally think about us. If others believe that we love them, this sense of being loved will overshadow everything else. If others know that we love them, more times than not, they will fall back on that love in the midst of the rough edges of life where we let them down or struggle to live up to our full potential.
Now, this is not to say that as long as we verbalize our love for someone that all of our failures and hurtful actions will be swept under the rug. But, it is to say that if love acted act is regularly at the heart of who we are and how we approach our relationships then others won’t forget that in those moments when we fail to live by this same virtue.
When I first went to Duke for Divinity School, there were four or five of us who ended up pastoring small churches out in the same area roughly an hour from campus. In that general vicinity, there was also an older Baptist minister at the point of retirement who took us under his wing. He made time for us, encouraged us and in a very natural, relational way he mentored us while offering bits of wisdom that we all needed to hear. What we didn’t know at the time is that his presence was a grand gift in our lives.
One of his many pearls of wisdom that he loved to repeat was the idea that people would tolerate mediocre or even poor preaching skills as long as they felt that we loved them. In other words, if the folks who made up our congregations knew that we genuinely cared about them and if our lives expressed words and acts of kindness in the every day, ordinary affairs of each day then these expressions of love would more than make up for our deficiencies in the pulpit.
Truthfully, I don’t know that any of us paid attention to that great advice. My guess is that we were too afraid that he had somehow gotten word that we were all terrible preachers and thus he was just trying to make us feel better about our poor communication skills. But in truth, he was offering us great wisdom in trying to help us to see that developing our ability to love our congregation was far more important than honing our preaching skills. And that in fact, our ability to love would more than compensate for our ability to preach.
Love does make up for everything. God’s love can overshadow all else about us. Our love for others can overshadow all else about them. And, we can rest in the truth that our love for others can help to overshadow our own imperfections.
Like a new layer of snow, love can cover all of the ugly places. Amen.