Martha M. Shiverick
February 3, 2013
Scripture: 1Corinthians 13:1-13
Listen to Podcast
This morning’s epistle lesson is familiar to all and I invite us to read it aloud together. Please open your pew Bible’s to page 175 in the New Testament.
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 as end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know 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.
OK – I would like a show of hands… raise your hand if this is your favorite epistle lesson. I thought so… It is hard to separate this passage from warm fuzzy feelings we all have of beautiful brides in white wedding dresses, rented tuxedos, unity candles, and all the other rituals and trappings in our wedding ceremonies. This passage is unique to any other passage in the Bible which speaks of love, in that it is totally linked to romantic sentimentality. It is the wedding passage. Even though there is nothing in the passage about marriage, it is linked to flowers, kisses, and those frilly wedding gowns.
It is an interesting text. God is not mentioned in the text nor is Christ. But the meaning of the text is all about our relationship with our Lord. The speech is brilliantly written, so I do hope that Paul had an opportunity to read it out load to the people of Corinth. The writing style of this chapter of the epistle is so rich with metaphors and imagery. “Sounding Brass and Clanging Cymbals”!… isn’t that great! Paul also used short phrases and forceful verbs which add exclamation points to the message. LOVE Bears, Believes, Hopes, and Endures all things! This is speech writing at its finest. No wonder this text has become a favorite of so many.
But let’s return to the text and glean its fullness and its meaning. Yes, this is the text about love, but to understand it we must realize that the love Paul is talking about is Christian love. The Greek language was rich and had different words to describe different forms of love. There is EROS which is physical love which is indeed a gift from God, but not the type of love Paul was addressing. Then there is the Greek word for brotherly love from which is words like philanthropy come. But Paul used another word for Christian love which is AGAPE. It was a word to which he attached the meaning of this Christian love. It is the love we have experienced from God in the experience of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. The love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is the love we experience as God takes hold and grasps our lives!
Paul was a man on a mission. This epistle was written to a very fractured community of Christians. Paul was writing to a community and a Christian congregation with great divisions. Some members were trying to enhance their status within the community by saying that their Spiritual gifts were of greater worth than others’. Last week, Pastor Eric preached on the chapter 12 where Paul said that all spiritual gifts as gifts from God and that all members of the community with their wonderfully different gifts play essential roles for the good of the church.
Now in the 13th Chapter, Paul says to those who practice Christian love or agape trump all other gifts. Paul wants us, the Christian community to know that love, agape, is at the center of our very being. Agape is the grounding for our meaning and without it even the most spiritual or justice seeking activities are meaningless. As a community who follows Jesus, Paul says we should ask ourselves why we are doing things and if we cannot say we are doing it for love or in love, we should question it. What had happened in Corinth was that the members of the Christian community had gotten so preoccupied with who had the greatest Spiritual gifts that they had forgotten Christ’s message which was about love. Love, not other gifts, is what the community should be about.
Paul believed that the Love/Agape molds us as to who we are. Love is not just about our feelings, as they will come and go; but love remains forever. Paul has a tirade of things that love is not… it is not envious like the people or Corinth were… It is also not boastful; as they had been as well. Love is to be practiced within our community of believers. Paul says that we learn behavior like patience and we learn not to keep score on the wrong doings of others and that it is within the community of believers called the church, it is within our relationships as members of this Fairmount Congregation, that we develop this part of our character. The church is where we learn to love. The church is where we learn what Agape means.
Paul wants us to know that our knowledge of everything including this thing called love is only partial. We must maintain a sense of humility and a sense of humor with everything we do and believe as we are mere humans. When the perfect comes… when God’s realm comes… God will be able to judge the secrets in our hearts and everything but love will be rendered obsolete.
The key to this love is to live it. WE live in the love of God. The type of love Paul described expresses itself in patience, kindness, rejoicing in the truth, bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring. We know that this love is not envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, irritable, resentful, and that it does not insist on its own way. As we learn about this ‘Agape Love’, we know it is something that must be lived. In fact to live in Christian community is to be an agent of love in the world. We are not to seek our own advantage, but are to work on behalf of the other.
Agape/Love is not a feeling but an action. To follow Christ, we are called to love and to bring love to others. WE do this in our ministries. We teach our children to love others through their mission programs. WE teach them to be concerned about the hungry as God is and to work to bring love and care to the world. Our ministries of pastoral care bring God’s love to others. Whether it is a deacon bringing flowers to a homebound member, a prayer shawl being taken to a person in the hospital; we are loving others. Through our mission projects we carry love/agape to the community by our youth serving community meals at Bethany Church, our housing homeless families through Family Promise, and our partnership with North Church which serves Cleveland’s poorest population.
God calls us to love. And even though our knowledge of God and God’s realm might be dim, we can be assured that the love we experience in our Christian life is permanent and persistent. The love we learn about at this church, that we experience together in this Christian Community, and that we take out and share with others in God’s world is what matters. The faithful life is one that gives testimony to the centrality of love in our faith that embodies the character of that love, and gives witness to its permanence.
I want to close by asking you to look around this sanctuary. Look at all of our fellow Fairmounters who embody God’s gift of love. In their work, in their daily activities, in their prayer life, and in the many ways each person here has found a ministry at this church, you are a testimony to what agape, of what Christian love is. In what you do, both here and throughout the week at your home, in your job or classroom, you are witnesses to others about what a Christian is. I look at each of you and know the many things you do to as a person who has experienced God’s agape love and can share it with others. And as you share God’s love by caring for God’s children as Christ cared for us, you spread the good news, the Gospel to others. Thank God for you! Amen!