I Before E Except after C

I Before E Except after C

Worship for May 17, 2020

The weekly worship video of Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church -- for the weekend of May 17, 2020

Posted by Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church on Sunday, 17 May 2020

Easter 6 (NL2) John B. Valentine
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 May 17, 2020


“I before E except after C.”

Anyone remember that from back in grade school ... reciting it along with your third grade teacher and the rest of your classmates?

How did it go???

“I before E except after C – or when sounded like A as in neighbor or weigh.”

For generations ... since back in the 1800's even!!! ... “I before E except after C” was taught as a rule to young spellers ... as a tool for making sense of all those IE and EI words that challenge both kids and adults.

Heck ... I even remember my mom reminding me of that rule when I walked out the door to go to school on Friday mornings ... because Friday morning was always the time for the weekly spelling quiz at Anne T. Case Elementary!

And because that rhyme-y little rule helped you spell:

• IE words like friend and thief and yield ... and

• EI words likes ceiling and receive and deceit.

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BUT ... you may also remember that there was a problem with “I before E except after C – or when sounded like A as in neighbor or weigh.”

There were a few ‘exceptions’ to the rule!!

It didn’t work if you were trying to spell words like:

• neither ... or
• weird ... or
• ancient ... or
• leisure ... or
• protein!

In fact ... take this one sentence:

“Isn’t it the height of inefficiency to realize that society conscientiously teaches this ancient spelling rule to feisty atheists and surveillant deists alike, while neither of these species realize it is counterfeit?”

In that ONE sentence ... there are no less than a dozen exceptions to the “I before E except after C” rule!

• height ... inefficient ...
• society ... conscientious ...
• ancient ...
• feisty ... atheist ...
• surveillant ... deist ...
• neither ... species ... counterfeit.

It’s just weird! (Oops ... there’s another one!)

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Actually ... the reason I bring up this whole “I before E” thing is that it’s a rule that really isn’t a rule at all.

There are so many exceptions to the rule that the rule just falls apart ... and teachers across the country and around the globe debate endlessly about whether teaching that rule is of any value at all!

In fact ... somebody did a study not too long ago that determined that those people who are good spellers of IE and EI words are people who’ve learned to ignore the rule and just learned to correctly spell those specific words one by one ... either that or they’ve just learned to rely on their computer’s spellcheck program!

But I can’t but think that the same sort of fussing about rules and exceptions that is at the heart of the debate about “I before E except after C” is at the heart of this morning Bible lesson ... that one which Ed read for us remotely.

You see ... 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the more famous chapters in the whole of the Bible.

But what seems to have elicited those famous and familiar words of Paul was a debate among the Corinthians about the nature of love.

• What does it really mean to ‘love’ somebody?
• Jesus said we should ‘love’ our neighbors, but what does that really look like?
• What is the ‘loving’ thing to do?

It’s as if the Corinthians are trying to get Paul to answer the question: “How do you spell ‘LOVE’”???

How DO you spell ‘Love’? What DOES love really look like? What DOES it mean to ‘Love our neighbors as ourselves’???

Paul seems to offer a succinct series of rules for spelling it ... actually.

• Love is patient.
• Love is kind.

• Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
• Love does not insist on its own way.

• Love is not irritable or resentful.
• Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.

• Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

• Love never fails.

Paul’s rules are far more poetic than the sing-songy chant that I used to repeat with my third-grade classmates ... but it’s clear ... according to the ‘Apostle to the Gentiles’ ... that when it comes to spelling “Love” ... I doesn’t come before anything.

When you love somebody ... U always comes before I.

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Now ... obviously ... most people wouldn’t disagree with that ... that U always comes before I when it comes to spelling ‘Love’ ...

But agreeing with it and really believing it ... much less living it ... can be very VERY different things!

I mean ... a number of years ago now ... the Nova TV series advertised that it was going to do a show that was an intimate portrait of two groups of utterly selfless individuals.

Two groups ... ‘societies’ even ... whose members labored exclusively for the good of the community as a whole.

In other words ...

The individuals in these two communities always prioritized the groups needs over their own needs.

In each of these two societies ... no member put his or her own needs first.

And who were these remarkable groups that were marked by such selflessness???

• Some tribe deep in the Amazon rainforest?
• Some isolated community of monks living high in the Himalayas?
• Some clan eking out an existence on the edge of the Arctic Circle?

No .......... sad to say .......... it was ants and cockroaches!

To find individuals who are truly selfless ... we have to look beyond our own species!

I mean ... think about it ... last Sunday was Mother’s Day ... a day set aside to celebrate the selfless love of mothers in our community.

But what percentage of the gifts that were purchased in advance of that celebration were given truly ‘selflessly’?

• Is giving Mom a new KitchenAid mixer in hopes that she’ll make more cookies truly selfless?

• Is giving Mom a macaroni-framed portrait of ourselves truly selfless?

• Is buying yourself a new cell phone in order to justify giving your old one to your Mom truly selfless?

Sorry ... folks ... but in every one of those cases ... the divine SpellChecker would tell us that we just put I before U!

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I think ... really ... THAT is what makes these days we’re living through right now so amazingly curious ones.

It’s like we’re living out a grand sociological experiment about whether or not we can actually BE a little bit selfless ... or whether we’re going to commit the grievous spelling error and putting I before U.

I mean ... to be truly selfless in these days of COVID-19 would be to take seriously the appeal to just stay home ... to hunker down and ‘shelter-in-place’.

DOING NOTHING is probably the single most effective thing that any of us can DO to slow the spread of the virus that is ravaging our planet right now ... and really help keep the community which we are a part of to be safe.

But there are countless excuses that you and I ... and umpteen of our neighbors ... have ginned up as to why we can’t do nothing ... but NEED to be out-and-about.

WEARING A MASK is another thing we can do ... but have you heard the litany of excuses people make as to why they can’t wear them?

• It’s too uncomfortable.
• It’s too inconvenient.
• It messes up my hair.
• I’m not going to be told what to do by the government.
• If the President’s not going to wear one, why should I?

Honestly ... we don’t yet know the science behind COVID-19 ... and whether mask-wearing is truly effective as a deterrent in the long-run or not ... but if we’re going to put U before I ... U in this case being the grocery clerks and the delivery people and the first responders and doctors and nurses and our own neighbors and the like ... wouldn’t it be wise for us to at least TRY?

Speaking of ‘try’ .... maybe here’s one other thing we should TRY ......

Try NOT to allow the online opinion-generators to define the state of our existence these days!

I mean ... if there’s one thing that this virus has revealed is that the news media ... ALL the news media ... my favorite sources for news and opinions ... even YOUR favorite sources for news and opinions ... ALL of them ... THEY are in the polarization business!

• THEY make money by building their brand.
• THEY make money by building customer loyalty.
• THEY make money by demonizing the other side.

And WE???? We just soak it all in!

Whether the background music of our lives right now is Fox or CNN ... Rachel Maddow or Rush Limbaugh ... Common Dreams or the Patriot Post ...

From what I can tell ... precious little of what they generate is patient or kind or humble or forgiving ...

But rather they are chock-a-block FULL of things that are boastful and arrogant and rude and resentful ... and insistent that their own way is the only way.

And NONE of us are well served .... and the cause of the Christ is not well-served ... when we allow them to tell us what it is that we should DO.


Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

Love does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

+ + + + +

Think about it this way:

Our congregation has a mission statement ... right??? It’s “Building Up Households of Faith”. That’s who we are. That’s what we say we aspire to do. Simple, brief and to the point. "Building Up Households of Faith".

But if we want to embody that mission statement ... if we want to spell it right and get it right ... if we actually want to build up households of faith in both this community and throughout the world ... if we want to embrace what it is that we believe God is calling us to do ... B-U-I-L-D ... Build Up Households of Faith ...

The U always comes before I!

Think about these things!

“I Before E — and Other Spelling Problems” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on the weekend of May 17, 2020.  The text to which it refers is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13, wherein St. Paul writes:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 comment

  1. Tracey Blanchard - May 17, 2020 2:32 pm

    Thank you for another message of Love in a time of need.
    💖. Tracey B.

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