Commemoration of Gregorio Aglipay
The end of all things is near;* therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9Be hospitable to one another without complaining. 10Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. 11Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. - 1 Peter 4:7-11
Often when I read these readings something pops out at me as if it were in boldface type and several points larger. I made it past statement that the end was near because this was written 2000 or so years ago and the and hasn't gotten here yet (so far as I know, anyway,) I got past the part about maintaining constant love, which is a very familiar admonition then I got the boldface 20 point part "for love covers a multitude of sins." Whoa boy
We know what sin is, at least we have a nodding acquaintance with the definition. Sin is doing something wrong, that part I think everyone agrees with. Problem is, everyone tends to define sin just a little differently. It seems a number of people tend to judge sin as what other people do that irritates them or goes against their principles. Of course, the shoe is always on the other as well. Many will admit to little things like telling a white lie someone's feelings or even to get out of doing something you don't really wanted to but don't want to say no to either. Still, nodding acquaintance or not, we have some idea of what sin is all about, namely doing an injury to self or others, consciously or not and not necessarily having it be a physical act.
When Peter, or the writer of this letter from Peter, wrote this he was more interested in love than pointing out sin. The thing about love is that it will usually get or ignore smaller perfections in a loved one but not necessarily the big things. It's easy to overlook (even if it's as irritating as it can be) someone who is habitually late because when they arrive, there's such wonderful conversationalists and wonderful company. The same person or known to be having an affair were abusing their children, it would be hard to love nearly as much without wanting to say something about.
It is easy to forgive little things especially if they make you laugh, but it's harder to forgive big things. Love can't always cover those big sins, in fact, it can be dangerous to do so. The battered woman who says she can't leave her husband because she loves him even though he beats her regularly and severely, isn't showing love as much as fear of retribution and not being able to stand on her own, raise her kids, and build lives for themselves without the batterer or, at least, the income he brings in. It doesn't always work that way, and far too many women return to that "love," to the their detriment and that of their children.
The thing with love is that it wants to see the best in people. So what if they're always late, don't remember to pick up milk and bread on the way home, plan a hunting trip when your mother is coming for a visit, or even remember your birthday. Love covers them more easily than a gambler who doesn't pay the bills but instead puts their entire paycheck (or most of it) on a racehorse or a roulette wheel. We are told to love the sinner, not the sin, but too often that isn't good enough. To protect their own purity, families cut off a loved one for various reasons, like coming out as gay, lesbian or transgender, there is adultery or substance abuse (or any other kind of abuse). Love will try to cover some of that, but it doesn't always work. Love isn't enough; there needs to be action of some sort and too often it is expressed in casting out rather than trying to help or even see the other as not just a child, family member or friend but a child of God who needs help or, in some cases, just understanding and compassion.
We are told in the New Testament that Christians were known by their love They shared what they had, they protected one another from discovery, and loved one another. There were glitches, like rich people who came early to the communal dinner and ate most of what was there before the working people could arrive, but a way was found so that all could be fed and harmony restored.. That was love, the thing that made the whole thing work.
As I considered this covering a multitude of sins thing, it occurred to me that if I put the phrase under a microscope and looked at it what I came up with was an epiphany. I can gauge how much I love a person by how many flaws I see or how often I find fault with them. Sure, I don't know anyone without flaws of some sort, be it anger, egotism , or just about anything else, but the love I have for them makes me want to overlook those things that I do not see as minor flaws, not destructive to them or to others, because I love them. It's that simple. With other people however, it isn't that easy. I can't overlook rudeness, mistreatment, cheating, or overt acts of privilege. I can't love enough to cover those.
God covers a multitude of our sins, that's a given. Our asking for forgiveness from God is not so much for God as it is for us. We need to acknowledge and ask for forgiveness, not because it's going to change anything except us. God's already forgiven us, but we need the lesson, and hopefully not a repetition of that which we have just asked to be forgiven. God's good about that. God is a lot better at it than we are; many of us can hold grudges for decades over faults and flaws, large or small.
The thing I have to work on now is learning to see past flaws in people and see the child of God in each of them. That's hard. It's hard especially if those people do something to me that hurts me or injures me in some way. I imagine I'll have to learn to do it somehow, because I know God wants me to do it that way. It seems almost difficult to believe God would forgive me a big things when I can't forgive others smaller things.
So that's my task. There are multitude of sins out there, and I've got a learn to love enough to cover them, at least to the best of my ability. God help me.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, September 5, 2015.