The Spirit of Compromise

This is my second sermon for Performance & Preaching. Unfortunately, I think I threw away my notes that I received in class by accident, so they are not posted along with this one. If I find them, I’ll add them in later.

 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

 

 Today’s Calvin and Hobbes illustration is a Sunday comic again, published on January 29th, 1995. In this comic, Calvin and Hobbes are building snowmen. Calvin’s idea is to build two snowmen shaking hands in a gesture that shows “The Spirit of Compromise,” which is also Calvin’s title of the sculpture. They have the grandiose idea their effort will be so inspirational, “People will weep to see two snowmen overcoming their differences and cooperating!” These ideas weren’t expanded on, because Calvin and Hobbes quickly descended into an all-out fight.

            As they’re building the snowmen, Hobbes asks Calvin to make his snowman’s arm longer, because his couldn’t reach. Calvin starts to shout that he shouldn’t have to do that because it would be more work for him and that Hobbes should just have to make his snowman’s arm longer. “Then it will look like my snowman had to reach farther than yours did. They should be equal,” Hobbes replies. Calvin takes this as an affront and escalates the argument quickly by demanding that Hobbes move his snowman closer. Hobbes shouts back, “I’m not going to start all over! Just make your arm longer!” This leads to Calvin becoming more defiant.

            The two start describing how their snowmen are actually going to treat each other because of their lack of ability to compromise, “In that case, my snowman refuses to shake with your snowman!”

            “So what! My snowman won’t even talk to yours! I’m turning his head the other way!”

            “Ha! While he’s looking over there, my snowman will kick your snowman in his big white butt!”

Soon, they are destroying each other’s snowmen and end up in a physical altercation themselves. The strip ends with the two lying on the ground with little symbols over their heads to denote exhaustion and Hobbes saying, “I don’t think this sculpture is very good.” Calvin replies, “It’s a compromise.”

For a good number of us, we probably hear those verses from 1 Corinthians and think of wedding bells. It’s a piece of Scripture that a lot of couples choose to have read at their wedding, with the understanding that Paul is describing what love in a marriage is supposed to entail. And, on the surface, this is a pretty good description of marriage. With your spouse, ideally one would be patient, kind, not envious, boastful, or rude. If you’re spending your life with someone else, you shouldn’t insist on your own way, be irritable or resentful. Your heart should not rejoice in any wrongdoing in your relationship and always strive to be truthful. You will have to bear all things with that person, hope for the best, and endure through everything.

            So yes, those are great qualities for a partnership and marriage, but the wrench in the machine is that Paul wasn’t writing this just about marriage or love in the sense of spending your life with another. Paul was describing how, in the image of Christ, all people should be treating each other. It’s a love that sits outside of smaller relationships and instead is supposed to encompass all humanity. This is Paul telling the church in Corinth that they are messing up and not treating each other as true Christians should. This is not, “Love is patient; love is kind…” Instead, this is Paul saying, “Love is PATIENT; love is KIND! You are not exemplifying any of these traits. Love is the emotion of true Christians. Let’s stop being children (see verse 11) and start acting like adults. Grow up and start acting like adults.”

            Calvin and Hobbes in this comic are the crowning example of the Church in Corinth. They start their snowmen, “church,” with the right idea in mind. They want their snow sculpture to be inspirational and moving. The idea is for people to come from all over to see their creation. They will weep because it will be inspiring! But as soon as that initial, inspiring idea is there, it is gone. As soon as the vision of this snow sculpture is realized, it is doomed to fail. There’s a clear reason for that, too.

In the same sentence where Calvin says how people will come from all over to see “The Spirit of Compromise” and weep upon first sight, he also says that this will lead to public commissions. Calvin and Hobbes aren’t building this snow sculpture because of love for fellow man and the hopes that their statue will inspire others to act in love; rather, they’re building it so they can be famous and get paid.

I can only imagine Paul’s reaction if he were privy to this scene with Calvin and Hobbes. I would assume that Paul’s opinion of the sculpture, upon hearing the beginning conversation, would be one of approval. He’d probably start smiling once Calvin started talking about the inspiration he’s hoping to instill in others, but that same reaction would go south as soon as Calvin started the talk about money. That’s about the point where Paul would put his hand over his face and breathe a deep sigh of frustration. Then, witnessing the fight, Paul would probably get a little more frustrated. When Calvin and Hobbes are lying on the ground exhausted, Paul would be standing over them and scold them, “What are you doing? You started this thing for all the wrong reasons! You’re not supposed to be doing it for the money! You’re supposed to be making this sculpture because of love! Love is PATIENT! Love is KIND! You’re acting like children and that’s the reason you are both on the ground exhausted and depleted!”

You see, Paul wasn’t writing this text to necessarily give guidelines for marriage, even though they are excellent guidelines for any marriage. Paul was writing to correct the Corinthians. Paul was setting folks straight. He was opening a can of “You’re about to get what’s coming to you!” And that’s what makes this passage so great, because we all need that now and again. We all forget what love means. We all forget the qualities in which we are supposed to treat each other. We’re all members of the Church in Corinth. We’re all Calvin and Hobbes. And, because of that, we all need to know what love is and does. That’s the real reason Paul writes these words. He writes them so that the Grace of Christ can encompass us in the true meaning of love.

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