There is some resentment and pain in the Corinthian congregation. Someone, apparently, has acted in ways that have been harmful to the church, and Paul had called that person out on it. So Paul expresses his open love to them, no matter how they feel about him personally. His heart is open to them, because he is first a recipient of God’s grace. It is this that opens his heart so that love flows forth from him even toward people who resent him.
So he encourages them. Do not accept God’s grace in vain: open wide your hearts.
Easier said than done, Paul. Opening our hearts makes us vulnerable to being hurt. We all are pretty selective around who we open our hearts to. If we’re open and vulnerable to the wrong person, we are giving them power over us, potentially even to hurt us.
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC opened their hearts and their doors on Wednesday to a young man who they believed needed help and prayer. As a result of opening their hearts to him, he brutally killed nine people inside the church. Opening our hearts certainly risky.
Which is why we often set up barriers to protect our hearts. No one wants to put themselves into a situation where they could be wounded. We protect ourselves, restricting the openness of our hearts. Which means we restrict who can access our hearts, but it also restricts what comes forth from our hearts.
This has taken me a long time to realize this truth, and probably will take a lot longer to live into it more deeply. There are all kinds of hurts we can try to protect ourselves from.
My dad left our family when I was eight years old. I remember crying hysterically, blocking the door to prevent him from leaving. “You belong here!” I screamed. “You can’t leave, I love you!”
Without uttering a word, he gently moved me aside, opened the door, and walked out. I felt such love and admiration for my dad that I thought the injury to my heart was irreparable. The pain of that abandonment was so deep that I decided, at eight years of age, to never let anyone get close to my heart again. I developed habits and patterns around how I dealt with people that kept my heart protected. Even now, without me being aware of it, those patterns keep emerging and I sometimes come across as uncaring.
And yet, Paul says, “open wide your hearts,” even to people who might hurt you: whether with a gun, with abandonment, or gossip.
I think Paul understands that. And I’m certain the people of the church in Corinth do. Without a doubt the people of Emanuel AME Church do. But God, Paul tells the church, loves you and keeps loving you no matter what. God’s grace opens your hearts so that you can show love for each other. And as you love each other, that is the love of God at work. And opening our hearts and pouring out God’s love is the only way to stop the hate, stop the violence. It is the only way to proclaim the gospel of life.
Paul says, that is why I will love you, even though you are angry with me. I will love you with God’s love, without condition, without regard for whether or not I get hurt. I will endure afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger and more. If that’s what happens to me because I love you, then so be it. I will love you.
Paul explains that they already have everything they need for open hearts. They have God’s grace. They have God’s love. They have God’s forgiveness. They have God’s generosity. Paul has seen it in them. Paul commends them for it over and over. God’s love is already there. As you open your hearts to recognize that love that is already there, that love can also pour out to others.
Emanuel AME Church is opening their doors this morning. They are opening their hearts and having Sunday School today. They are opening their doors for worship today. God’s love, already present in their midst, is pouring out of their hearts this morning.
So why wait? He writes. You already have everything. There’s nothing left to achieve or fix or adjust. Right now, he says, right now you are loved. So right now is the time to love. Open wide your hearts, he urges. There’s nothing left to do but love. Our resentments, grudges, gossiping, divisions, prejudices, conditions gain us nothing anymore. They simply close off our hearts. The people of Charleston, SC are seeing that happen among them today as Emanuel AME opens today.
Yet we do these things to try and keep our hearts safe and protected. We push people away, spread rumors about them, judge their behaviors, keep our distance, all the while believing this separation will keep us safe and less vulnerable and thereby protect our hearts from being hurt.
I’m here to tell you it doesn’t work. I’ve tried for decades to protect my heart. All that’s happened is that I’ve had to work through a heart that’s been closed to giving and receiving love. I’m inspired by Emanuel AME Church today. If anyone has reason to protect themselves, it is this church. But they are opening their hearts!
God is still opening my heart. Some days are more open than others. But the single most valuable way God is opening my heart is by being loved—persistently and without condition. Especially when I know I’m not being very easy to love. I think that should be the experience of being church, but it isn’t always. Yet God opens our hearts through that kind of love and for that kind of love. We’re called to do that for each other, we’re called to do that for the world. Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is showing us what that looks like this morning.
We have everything we need: all the love, all the forgiveness, all the peace, all the happiness, all the generosity we will ever need. Right now.
Open wide your hearts, Paul urges us. Share the life that comes with loving and being loved. You already have it all. Today is the day to open wide our hearts. Let the world know they are loved—no matter what. Amen.