First Congregational Church
February 3, 2019
Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Communion Sunday
1 Corinthians 13
“If You Love…”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Sven was talking to his sweetheart the other day, and he said, "Freja, on this Valentine's Day, I want to tell you something... I'm not rich like Jack. I don't have a mansion like Russell. I don't have a Porsche like Martin. But I do love you and I want to marry you."
Freja replied, "Oh, Sven, I love you too! What was that you said about Martin?"
This morning’s scripture passage surely falls into the Top Ten Bible Favorites of all Time list. Well, at least since the first century A.D. It can easily stand alone, but it seems even better when the last verse of the previous chapter is added. “And I will show you - a still more excellent way.”
1 Corinthians 13
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Thank you, Cheryl. It is highly tempting to - sometime - read that passage at the beginning of the sermon portion of worship and then sit down - for all 15-20 minutes - in silence. There is so much to capture one’s attention and thoughts - and I don’t know that most any of those thoughts or attentions would necessarily be called “bad.” At least for today, I would feel badly about doing that; cheating you all of “a still more excellent way.”
If you ever wanted to see patient love in action, kind love, humble love and honest love, get yourself to a fifth grade basketball game. In fact I know that there will be such a game Saturday, February 16 at Benzie Central High School, and since it’s free, and there will be nothing good on tv at 10:35 a.m., there are few reasons to miss this golden opportunity.
You will see basketball plays and moves that you will not see in older players. You will see referring and coaching that is selfless and noble and even altruistic. And you will be reminded again of what it is to be part of a child’s village upbringing. More than that, you will be doing what the writer of Corinthians, the great Paul, is encouraging all of us to do - being the people of God and Christ’s church.
This passage can sometimes be misread. Between the lines, we get an idea of what Corinth was like back in Paul’s day; just think opposites of the bullet points about patience and kindness and such. But it is not a list of spiritual gifts. It is a job description - of how not to be a Corinthian.
If you love you will not be arrogant. If you love you will not be rude. If you love you will be a partner for the kingdom of God and not insist on your own way. If you love you will not be irritable. If you love you will not be resentful. If you love you will not rejoice in the failings of others but you will rejoice in their best nature and their successes. If you love you will be strong and have forbearance. If you love, belief will come, hope will happen, and you will endure.
This is hard medicine because the key ailment of Corinthianitis is that we don't want to love the ones that are hard to love. We only really want to love the ones that are easy to love. Deep beneath this reality can be the even more poignant feeling that we don't believe or feel that we are loved.
Ole died. So Lena went to the local paper to put a notice in the obituaries. The gentleman at the counter, after offering his condolences, asked Lena what she would like to say about Ole. Lena replied, "You yust put 'Ole died'." The gentleman, somewhat perplexed, said, "That's it? Just 'Ole died?' Surely, there must be something more you'd like to say about Ole. If its money you're concerned about, the first five words are free. You must say something more." So Lena pondered for a few minutes and finally said, "O.K. You can put 'Ole died. Boat for sale.”
I get that there is potentially one person here that is reeling back from the message - or at least the passage - at this point. Love patient? Yep, been there. Love kind? Been there, too. Love not dishonoring? I have tried and tried and tried to be honorable, and what do I get in return? If it’s a good day - perhaps vitriol or anger. If it’s a typical day - nothing.
If this passage were about becoming instantly perfect, I don’t think Paul would have included the part about one day seeing fully and clearly, rather than the foggy, tarnished glass sight we currently have. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully. It’s not immediate perfection but transformative maturation.
If we give up the idea about this larger-than-life love, called agape love, being reciprocal, then we get closer to becoming the church Christ called us to be - the arms and feet and ears and mouth Paul talked about in the previous chapter of 1 Corinthians. While it may still seem overwhelmingly impossible, here’s the big hint behind the ability to love so largely and rightly and even elegantly. This sort of love is not sourced from us or the world. It’s source is from God.
Whether it’s a Hallmark card or a Facebook meme, we’ve all seen pictures of little kids wearing professional adult clothing and footwear: little kids standing in the huge boots of fire fighters, peeking out from under police hats, attired in ridiculously huge lab coats and stethoscopes. Those are cute pictures, but there is a bit of “practice” in those play times, for adult jobs that are important and transformational. We do the same thing as adults, when we spiritually step into Jesus’ footprints, facing the same direction as he faces, genuinely loving from the same motivations - at least as close as we can humanly do.
Most all of us can grasp the idea of this passage being our job description, business plan and mission statement all rolled into one. And most all of us know, all too well, that we don’t always get great scores when we do our own annual or quarterly reviews. Regardless of how well - or not well - we have loved those needing our love, how kind - or not kind - we been to those needing our love, how patient - or impatient - we’ve been to those watching our witness, we have this day to put down regrets, imperfections, burdens, Corinthianitis, that we may take up the bread of life and the cup of love. As we prepare our hearts, minds and souls to partake in our Lord’s Supper, let us also be reminded that we do any and all of this through the power of the Holy Spirit and God’s love for each of us. So shall we prepare.
Let us pray. Beloved God, we are truly vessels of your Spirit. Empty us of all that is not your love. Flood our souls with your tender self-giving to wash away our fears and embolden our hearts. May our whole lives flow with your love: humble, powerful, gentle and strong. Strengthen us in each moment that we seek to serve and to bless,
heal and to set free all whom we meet. May this be our only work, our strongest desire: not to be right, not to be safe, not to be approved, but to love, especially with those with whom it is hard; because it is love, your love, that saves us and makes us whole. May the love of Christ live in us with every word and every breath, as all God’s precious ones say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.