Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful with the message that you have for us this day – guide our thoughts, our hearts to feast on the abundant love that only you can provide. Amen
This week, like many of you, wherever I go and regardless of whatever radio station or TV channel that I tune to, there is the message of Love – or more specifically there is the message of the Valentine’s day.
Advertisers promote ‘sweetheart sales’ – candies, flowers, chocolate and all things red are all around
Today, with only a day to go there is sense of excitement building
To quote a popular song of some years ago by Barry Manilow – “Love is in the air”
But what kind of love is it?
The message, of course, is romantic love – the type of love expressed best with outward gestures of affection – preferably grand gestures
Like a sweetheart announcing their love regardless of who else is around
Where the emotions of love are too much to be bottled up – and regardless of how others might think, passionately expressing love
The romantic love that Valentine’s Day seems to promote is deep living out one’s emotion
I imagine that when I come into the office next week and for the next few weeks to follow – I will have more inquiries for weddings than any other time of the year
In fact next Saturday, I have a wedding planned and I had a wedding last year at this time as well.
The middle of February may not be the best time of the year for pictures outside – but it carries with it the value of Romantic love, so understood to be the glue that holds marriages together
The most popular piece of scripture that gets read at weddings is – 1 Corinthians 13 – which we had today
For many it is simply known as “the wedding text”
It is beautiful – Kelly and I selected it at our own wedding – and when couples ask for guidance, even though I have done well over a hundred weddings and heard it at most weddings – I suggest it time and time again.
In fact all the readings that we have today come from a list suggested for weddings
The reason that these texts from scripture are so often chosen is that they tell a message of love
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends. (1 Cor 13:4-8a)
What a wonderful message to declare to the world about the marriage of two people and the type of love that they will share together.
The key detail of this message is ‘the type of love that they will share together’
Today, in the face of Valentine’s Day only a day away we are going to explore a Christian understanding of Love
Some scholars when they approach 1 Corinthians 13 suggest that St. Paul, in the middle of writing a somewhat difficult and challenging letter to the church in Corinth, took a break
Took a break from responding to matters that were causing division amongst the people, questions about eating sacrificial meat, or whom do they follow, or the correct understanding of the Eucharistic feast, and many other matters
And for a moment delivered the most beautiful definition of love…
And, while that might be true, I suspect that we have this description of love not as a break …but love right in the middle of all the disunity, all the chaos
I believe, that in fact, this is the way of God
To come, as grace, mercy, charity… love, right in the middle of all our troubles
That is the very essence of the this season of the year – epiphany – the light of God, revealed to all, in the middle of IT all
So if this quintessential definition of love is right in the middle of it all, what is God through St. Paul trying to say?
First and most important we are to understand that to God... love is the main message
That might seem obvious, but some times the obvious needs to be stated – Love matters
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. 2And 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. 3If 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. (1 Cor 13:1-3)
Prior to this St. Paul was speaking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and now he introduces love as the trump card to all this – without love… nothing
Secondly, the essence of what St. Paul is trying to do is to define Love – not in the romantic sense that our society has come to understand, especially in the last 80 or so years
But define love from God’s perspective for us
I say for us because in what St. Paul is doing, there is a clear imperative
This is not merely a definition as an academic exercise, but within His message there is goal for us to achieve
4Love is patient; kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It’s not selfish, nor irritable nor resentful; rejoices in the truth. 7It bears, believes, hopes & endures all things. 8Love never ends. (abridged - 1 Cor 13:4-8a)
I think when we hear that list of attributes of love – we do two things:
We might consider the way we have been in our lives and our relationships of love and we might feel that we fall short of the lofty goals…
But then, and I truly believe there is a strong, but then, we take on our weaknesses and strive to do better – we hear the high standard of love and in a small or big way it challenges us
If you are like me, each time I read this list, one attribute in particular jumps out, and it is always the one that I have recently neglected, and I make a silent vow to do better – to love… in that area… better
Maybe in the last day, I have been rude, I take the message to heart and vow to not be so rude – or maybe I haven’t been patient and haven’t been bearing all things – again a vow to do better… even if it is the 100th time that Matthew has come downstairs after we put him to bed an hour ago…
You see this gets us to the third thing that St. Paul is trying to do – He is declaring that love is for adults
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. (1 Cor 13:11)
There is a journey towards the maturity of love
All the lofty attributes of love: are goals, goals that we strive towards as we become adults in our relationships
And if you consider the behaviour of a child… it is all about the self… me, me, me
But all the attributes of love are about others – they are selfless
patience; kindness; not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude.
– all focused on someone else
It’s not selfish, nor irritable nor resentful
– me, me, me has been replaced with: other, other, other.
It bears, believes, hopes, endures all things
– devoid of selfish pursuits
The goal of love is a mature concern beyond oneself
Love is for adults…
The forth and final thing that St. Paul does is actually kind of surprising…
You see he has just defined love, and done so poetically and beautifully
And then he discounts all his efforts
12For 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 (1 Cor 13:12)
He declares, what has become the quintessential wedding text, as but a pale reflection of the full and complete love - that is waiting for us
For all the beauty that we may see, even in the best of all pursuits here on earth – the greatest of these is love – we will experience it far grander in the life eternal
To this St. Paul concludes with a simple instruction - “Pursue love”
When we hear ‘the wedding text’ because of it’s familiarity we can easily let the fullness of the message slip by
We might gravitate to the romantic language of Love
It attributes that sound like a wonderful foundation for a marriage (and they are)
And we might hear ‘with out love there is nothing’ or ‘love never ends’ or ‘the greatest of these is love’
But this passage has so much more to other than the romantic message of love
I hope that you hear 1 Corinthians 13 in a different light now, that it carries with it a weigh of great value – it is indeed the best passage on Love, for weddings or funerals or any moment of great importance
Because it tells of Love, from God’s perspective:
That of all the things in the world that matter – all of God’s special gifts – tongues of prophecy, all wisdom, knowledge of all mysteries, all faith, all possessions and even life it’s self …. Come up as nothing… without Love
This passage defines love, in a wonderful poetic way that draws to want to be better towards others that we love – defines a selfless love always concerned for others
Thirdly that God calls us to grow up in love, the goal of love is a mature concern beyond oneself - Love is for adults…
And forth and finally that he declares, our notion, our understanding of love, which is the best of all pursuits here on earth… it is but a pale reflection of the full and complete love - that is waiting for us, in the life eternal
I have spoken to this point about 1 Corinthians 13 – but I would like to conclude briefly with some thoughts on our gospel passage for today – because no sermon titled “love… according to God” would be complete without the red letter words of the Bible
Jesus is speaking to his closest disciples on the last night of his life.
Just prior to His crucifixion on the brutal cross the next day, which we who have read ahead can see that Jesus knows is coming
He has washed their feet to shown them the servant love of God
He has shared with them the Eucharistic feast
He has taught them the new commandment that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13::34-35)
And then Jesus tells them… and us… to abide in my love. Or dwell in his love
We are called to live in love – to make our home in love
We are to do this so that God’s joy will be in us
And our joy may be complete.
Jesus declares “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
You are my friends (John 15::12-14a)
On this last night of Jesus’ life He calls his students: friends, and tells them… and us… how we are to love as friends – laying down one’s life for one’s friends
Love is not for wimps – at least God’s love is not for wimps
Love is not the light and happy romantic messages of Valentine’s Day
Love… according to God – is growing up into… and growing up for
Love is not about me, me, me – but other, other, other
Love is the greatest of all spiritual gifts – so much so that it is even greater than life
That God in the flesh, as Jesus Christ wants us to love like Him
Loving us, as a friend that He died for
Loving and Almighty God – May we trust in your love and upon hearing it defined – strive for the greatest of these … love Amen