4 Epiphany Year C / 1/30/2022 / St. Paul’s Random Lake
1 Corinthians 13
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. 2 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. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing. 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. 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. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 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. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] 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. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
What is Love?
Let us pray. God of love, help us to be patient, kind and humble. Give us strength to bear all things, believe, hope and endure. Above all, help us to live with love. Amen.
If you’ve ever been to a church wedding, you are likely to recognize the poetic beauty of today’s New Testament lesson written by the apostle Paul to the church in Corinth. As a pastor, I have preached on these words many times as they relate to marriage, however, truth be told, Paul wrote them for a much different context.
The church in Corinth was a church in conflict. In the previous chapter, Paul discussed the value of various gifts of the Holy Spirit. This was a topic of concern because there were members of the congregation who believed that their ability to speak in tongues far surpassed any other spiritual gift. Paul declared that just wasn’t true. Every gift was necessary and important for building up the Body of Christ.
So today we find Paul writing about love in the context of spiritual gifts. In a small way, he contradicts himself by saying there are a few gifts that are more desirable than others by concluding Chapter 12 with these words: “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.”
What are these greater gifts? What makes a more excellent way for believers? The gift and the way of love.
As Paul began his poetic reflection on love, he referred back to the gifts of the spirit he had spoken of earlier. “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.” Speaking in tongues, the gift so many in Corinth bragged about, is only noise without love behind it. “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.” So the gifts of prophecy, knowledge and understanding, even the gift of faith mean nothing without love to ignite them. “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.” Even willingness sacrifice EVERYTHING means nothing when it isn’t motivated by love as was Jesus’ death on the cross.
The kind of love which Paul writes about is not romantic love, but the kind of unconditional love that God has for God’s children and Christ for the church, the love that builds up Christian community.
Retired pastor June Eastvold urged me to read her book, Boys on the Porch, An Allegory: Bridges from Fear to Faith. At its heart, June’s book is about the type of love Paul wrote about.
Her congregation, University Lutheran Church in Seattle, Washington dealt with the question of what to do about a group of homeless men who had taken up a nightly residence on the church porch. Some neighbors and church members fought to have them permanently removed while Pastor June and others sought to be open to the spirit that was calling them to show love to their neighbors by forming a nightly porch patrol whose mission it was to “provide sanctuary, support, information, advocacy and spiritual encouragement for the homeless who came to their doors.” During the time they were there, church members got to know them as fellow human beings, ministered to them, at times got them addiction treatment or medical care and in the end laid some of them in their final resting place as an expression of God’s love.
As followers of Jesus Christ, how may we use the blessings we have been given to spread God’s love to our neighbors in real and tangible ways?
Paul’s words are quite poetic and general. My question for today is how do we translate that into loving actions?
Let’s look closer at the words and see if we can translate them into images of love:
“Love is patient.”
Love is letting an elderly person go ahead of you in the grocery line
“Love is kind.”
Love is sharing your chocolate chip cookies at lunch.
“Love is not envious.”
Love isn’t wishing you had your neighbors new car.
Or bragging about your straight A report card.
Or getting a big head over the goal you made in the soccer game.
Or nudging someone out of the way to take their seat on the bus.
“It does not insist on its own way.”
Love doesn’t say, “My way or the highway.”
“It is not irritable.”
Love isn’t whining when mom tells you “no.”
Or pouting when you don’t get your way.
“It doesn’t rejoice at wrongdoing.”
Love doesn’t laugh when a bully embarrasses a kid on the playground.
But rejoices in the truth.”
But sticks up for the kid who gets bullied.
Love bears all things.
Love helps us get through tough times.
Believes all things.
Trusts that God wants the best for us.
Hopes all things
Knows what is best for our future.
Endure all things.
Is always there for us
Love never ends.
Only God’s love is perfect and unending.
When we show love, it is imperfect, but God can use us to do amazing things. We see glimpses of God’s love and participate in it here and now, but God’s promise is that we who believe in Jesus will only see and experience the fullness and completion of God’s love when we see him face to face. AMEN.