…the following is a sermon excerpt from February 3, 2019
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13
1 Corinthians 13 was written to a group of Christians in Corinth who were struggling with unity. The fraying edges were showing and there was a real risk of implosion. They argued over who had the better gifts. They did not take each other into consideration during time of communion and these were just two of the issues. And so Paul, wanting them to know before it was too late, writes,
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.[
Love, the commitment to help another person thrive. Without it, nothing else matter. With it, everything is possible.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “Steadfast love (hesed is the word most often used in the Old Testament) is to stand in solidarity, to honor commitments, to be reliable toward all the partners.” Did you catch that? love is solidarity with one another where we are reliable and keep commitments. Nothing about an emotion or a fleeting moment.
Jesus said that his followers would be known by their love. Interesting…not their theology….or their worship practices…but by the way they treat one another. And Paul echoes this by saying it is the greatest attribute for Christians. This isn’t the only time that he puts love at the front of the list. The fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5 starts with love as well.
The passage in 1 Corinthians describes in great detail how love helps others thrive. Patient when tested. Kind when put down upon. Humble instead of proud. Long-suffering and not what have you done for me lately. Rightly directed. Strong. Eternal. The word that the New Testament uses to describe love is agape. A divinely inspired way of treating one another. But this kind of love cannot be ginned up on our own. It flows from a deeper realm of relationship. It must be given by God or it does not exist. That is why Paul says faith is in the mix too.
Faith is belief that shapes actions. Or as Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assuranceof things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith provides the road map from which we move throughout life. Faith is not a thing done in our head but things lived out with our hands and feet; our calendar and bank account; our yes and our no. Our true north begins with what we have faith in. Is it in Christ or something else…those are our two choices. Do you want to know how to tell the difference? Those who choose to follow Christ manifest the works of the Spirit both fruit and gifts.
Hope, the certainty that tomorrow has potential. That is something we can depend upon too. While faith is the road map, hope is the motivation to move forward.
Henri Nouwen writes in his book The Wounded Healerthat “hope makes it possibleto look beyond the fulfillment of urgent wishes and pressing desires and offers a vision beyond human suffering and even death. A Christian is a person of hope whose strength in the final analysis is based on neither self-confidence derived from personality; nor on specific expectations for the future, but on a promise given. Hope prevents us from clinging to what we have and frees us to move away from the safe place and enter unknown and fearful territory. It allows the act of discipleship (following the hard road of Christ) who shows us what hope can do for us when he entered death without nothing but bare hope.”
It can be sobering to find out that a relationship is built upon something other than love. We have all had the experience of someone walking away when things got tough. Even some of our most treasured of relationships like a marriage or family. Or an employer who chose short-term profits over long-term loyalty. We as a congregation have not been immune to this reality. About 11-years ago it became apparent that we were united based not on love but something else. I know first hand what pain and hurt that causes and many of you do too. This was a challenging time for us and one that I believe we have learned from and grown.
What is the anti-dote?
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.1 Corinthians 13:4-8
Love is the anti-dote. It is the ultimate glue which holds us together.
My prayer is that we remove love from simply a greeting card understanding and into a vital and active part of our lives. It is the very hope for our relationships whether it be within our family, work, and even the congregations and denominations we hold so dear.