(1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a)


Recently I had the honor of officiating the wedding of a sheriff’s deputy I knew from my past life as your county prosecutor.  Neither one had a pastor, and someone suggested me as a possibility.  I was flattered even though I was their only pick and gladly accepted.  The ceremony was held in a beautiful outdoor setting, and after asking everyone to put their phones on silent and their pistols on safety, we began.  It was a simple ceremony, and they recited their own vows which was special and heart-felt.  I ended the ceremony with the Apostle Paul’s love scripture from 1st Corinthians, chapter 13.  I felt it was fitting as it celebrated the love of the young couple and I also purposely used the opportunity to remind those in attendance how important love is in their own lives, and not just the two people about to begin their life together.  You hope that the couple never loses that loving feeling, and that those in attendance can recapture it if they’ve lost it in their relationship.  You hear preachers use the love scripture a lot at weddings and you really can’t go wrong with it.


But the Apostle Paul in our scripture reading for today was not officiating a wedding.  He was writing a letter to a church that had lost their loving feeling and needed to rediscover it for the good of the church.  Through various sources, word had gotten back to Paul regarding problems within the Corinthian church.  He was hearing stories about jealousy, divisiveness, sexual immorality, and failure to discipline members for inappropriate and un-Christlike behavior.  The Christians in Corinth were struggling with their environment much like we struggle with our environment today, although ours seems to be on steroids at times.  They were surrounded by corruption and every conceivable sin, feeling pressure to adapt and they didn’t even have social media to contend with.  So, Paul says: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  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 have not love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.  Paul is telling them that love is more important than all the spiritual gifts exercised in the church body.  He’s telling them that great faith, acts of dedication or sacrifice, and miracle-working power produce very little without love.  It’s love that makes our actions and gifts useful.  He tells them that: Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails.  Paul is reminding them that God’s kind of love is directed outward toward others, not inward toward ourselves.  It is utterly unselfish.  This kind of love goes against our natural inclinations.  It is possible to practice this love only if God helps us set aside our own desires and instincts, so that we can give love while expecting nothing in return.  Paul is saying that the more we become like Christ, the more love we will show to others, without giving it a second thought.



Recently, after giving a tour of our church, our mission wing, to a couple who had stayed in our apartment, they sent me a book with a note saying that we, our church, was on the right track.  The book is entitled: Love Is The Way by Bishop Michael Curry, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.  I told the sender I would read it and undoubtably find some great sermon material.  Well guess what?  My first sermon comes from Chapter One, What is this they called Love?  Bishop Curry starts out by explaining that the New Testament Greeks had three different words for love.  Eros was romantic love, philia was fraternal or brotherly love, and agape was a love for the other, sacrificial love that seeks the good and well-being of others, of society, of the world.  He says that love is a firm commitment to act for the well-being of someone other than yourself.  And he reminds us that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.  God gave.  Love is giving.  That’s agape and this kind of love has a special place in the heart of God.


The Apostle Paul gets this all-encompassing concept of love, but because we only have one word for love in our English language, we seem to have put limits on it, to weddings and babies and those closest to us.  As I mentioned a moment ago, Paul wasn’t performing a wedding ceremony or giving advice to a couple of young lovers about to be married.  The situation he faced was not one of joy and celebration.  Bishop Curry observed that Paul broke down love so eloquently because he was really upset with what was going on in a church he had planted not all that long ago.  Its members had forgotten all those values and lessons of Jesus Christ that had brought them together and were ripping each other apart.  They had lost that loving feeling of Jesus Christ and they were fighting amongst themselves and splitting into factions according to who baptized them.  They were suing each other and sleeping with each other’s spouses.  The rich and high-status folk were demanding that they be served communion before anyone else and other people were getting drunk at communion.  This was some serious dysfunction and amid all of this everybody’s arguing about who is the better Christian, who is going to heaven, and who is not.  Sound familiar?  Sounds like something you’d see on social media; arrogant, rude, insisting on our own way, irritable, resentful, and rejoicing in wrong doings.  Sounds a lot like the conversations coming out of Washington DC and many other politicians across the country.  Things heard from some of our pulpits, self-serving positions taken by prominent business leaders, and heated discussions around our own dinner tables at the annual food fight held on Thanksgiving.  Paul feared that the Corinthian church had lost the love that was a gift of self to others, and it was his intent to remind them that love was their rule for living, their default position.  For Paul, love wasn’t a sentiment, it was the only thing left that could save a divided church community that had been built on love.  It begs the question as to whether or not agape love is currently strong enough to bring our divided country and world together?


Bishop Curry goes on to state that the opposite of love is not hate.  He says that if love looks outward, to the good of the other, then its opposite isn’t hate; it’s selfishness, a life completely centered on the self.  He observed that it was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said: “To be selfish is to put yourself in the place of the sun, the whole universe revolving around you.”  Pretty much the definition of self-centered.  And Bishop Curry says that selfishness is the most destructive force in all the cosmos, and hate is only its symptom.  Selfishness, he says, destroys families, communities, societies, nations, and global communities, and it will destroy the human race by laying waste to our planet if we let it.  You see, I think selfishness is born out of a fear of losing something.  You’ve gotten whatever you have by either working hard for it or having it given to you by someone like through an inheritance, and you will fight to your last breath to protect and keep it.  You have this fear that if someone else gets something it has to come from somewhere else, possibly you.  It’s these kinds of irrational fears, born out of selfishness, that feeds the hate and divisiveness we see all around us whether in the papers, on the news, on talk shows, in social media, or on bumper stickers.  It’s “you people” who are ruining this country for everyone else!  Like many of you, I’m old enough to remember the turbulent 60s with protests for civil rights, equal rights, and against the war in Vietnam.  And  I remember the bumper stickers that were proudly displayed on cars that said: America Love it or Leave it.  These people who were protesting, like many of us today, loved America.  They just didn’t like what they were seeing and what was happening in their country and how hell-bent people were to selfishly keep their status quo at the expense of others.


So, what’s the solution?  Well, Bishop Curry says that love as an action is the only thing that has ever changed the world for the better.  Kind of like that great Life Magazine cover photo of a young girl putting a flower down the barrel of a National Guardsman’s rifle.  The Bishop says that love is a commitment to seek the good and to work for the good and welfare of others.  It doesn’t stop at our front door or our neighborhood, our religion or race, or at our state’s or our country’s border.  It calls for us to sacrifice, not because doing good feels good, but because it’s the right thing to do.  I think he’s describing our SODS (Somebody Oughta Do Something) mission effort and our desire to be a part of the solution.  At this point the Bishop asks: Is it me or we?  He says that the problem with a me approach to life is that if it’s only or primarily about me, there is no or little room for you.  And if everyone thinks, lives, and acts that way, there will be no room for any of us.  And this is what Paul was getting at.  Where selfishness excludes, love makes room and includes.  Where selfishness puts down, love lifts up.  Where selfishness hurts and harms, love helps and heals.  Where selfishness enslaves, loves sets free and liberates.


Bishop Curry closes out chapter one by reassuring us that the way of love will show us the right thing to do, every single time.  It is moral and spiritual grounding, and a place of rest, amid the chaos that is often part of life.  It’s how we stay decent in indecent times.  Loving is not always easy, but like with muscles, we get stronger both with repetition and as the burden gets heavier.  And it works.  So, we have to ask ourselves; is it all about the “me”, the I got mine, so you get yours as long as it doesn’t cost me anything?  Or is it about the “we” as in we’re all in this together and if it’s good for you, it’s good for me?  Well, I think the answer lies in whether or not you’ve lost that loving feeling for the other, that sacrificial love that seeks the good and well-being of others, of society, of the world, and if you have, what do you need to do to get it back?


Let us pray.


Gracious and loving Father, instill in us that agape love for others that is not selfish, but that gives as you have given.  Give us a love that is patient and kind.  Instill in us a love that does not envy, that does not boast, that is not proud.  And give us a love that is not rude, not self-seeking, and not easily angered, one that keeps no record of wrongs.  Show us a love that does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  Place within us a love that protects, a love that trusts, a love that always hopes, and a love that perseveres.  Give us a love that never fails.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.