Sunday, January 31, 2016

“Another Four-letter Word” (I Corinthians 13:1-13)

In the last half of verse 31 of the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians the Apostle Paul prefaces what is one of the most famous passages of the Christian faith: “And now I will show you the most excellent way.”  From there he proceeds to speak of “love” . . . love, a four-letter word.  Rarely do we think of “love” as being a four-letter word.  No, we reserve that expression . . . that phrase . . . for more profane and nasty words that we are taught not to ever utter . . . cuss words.  And, yet . . . here is “love” . . . L . . . O . . . V . . . E.  Four letters.

All of us have grown up with the axiom that “actions speak louder than words” . . . and, we all know the truth in that statement.  Actions portray the truth . . . actions reveal the truth . . . actions show us for who we really are.  With such knowledge, as we look around the world in which we live . . . as we look around in the society in which we live . . . in the communities where we live . . . what is it that we see?  If what fills the screens of our television news is true . . . if the words and pictures that fill our newspapers are true . . . if the words we hear on our radios are true . . . then what is being revealed is far, far from what any of us would ever consider to be “love”.  With love there is no room for what we witness on a daily basis . . . no place for war . . . no place for violence . . . no place for hunger or poverty . . . no place for division and separation . . . no place for injustice . . . no place for what we witness daily in our lives and call the “news”.  The world we live in is a far, far cry from “love” . . . the world betrays the reality.  The reality is that “love” is a four-letter word . . . ranks right up there with the best of those profane cuss words that are more familiar than “love”.  Oh sure, the word “love” is thrown around a lot, but the actions . . . the actions . . . betray the truth.

We, the human race . . . God’s children . . . are a long ways from “love”.

Which is sad.  Sad because “love” is the very foundation . . . the very reason . . . for our existence as the children of God . . . as the followers of Jesus.  Remember what Jesus said?  “You should love the Lord, your God, with your whole being—mind, body, and soul; and, you should love your neighbor as you love yourself.”  True, that is a paraphrase, but I think that it covers what Jesus was attempting to say . . . “love” is the key. As the followers of Jesus . . . as the children of God . . . we are called to a life of “love”.

Yet, the world we live in . . . the world we exist in . . . is a far cry from what it is supposed to be.  There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of “love” in the world.

Paul’s letter to the congregation in Corinth was meant to address conflict within that body of faith.  There in the Corinthian congregation there was a great battle for power that was taking place . . . a battle as to who was the true embodiment of what Jesus called his followers to . . . everyone was divided into camps that opposed one another.  Arguments ensued . . . name-calling took place . . . and, it quickly was creeping towards violence as each division proclaimed itself the “way” . . . the one “truth”.  It was getting to be a nasty affair; thus, the Apostle Paul’s correspondence.  The apostle’s goal was to get the “whole” of the congregation back on the right track . . . to bring them back to the very foundation of the faith.

And, that foundation . . . no matter whose camp one was in, was “love”.  “Love” was the very foundation which all of Jesus’ teachings and miracles were based . . . on “love” . . . which the apostle describes quite well in the scripture reading we heard this morning. 

Love . . . pretty simple, wouldn’t you say?  We all get it . . . and, because we all get it, there is no reason for me to go any further.  I just need to remind you to love . . . love God . . . love one another.  That is the gospel—the “good news”—in a nutshell.  That is the foundation of all that we—the followers of Jesus—base our lives on . . . the words that we speak, the actions that we take.  Love.  Pack up your Bibles and go home.

I wish it were that easy.

How does one define what “love” is?

The Apostle Paul does a good job of describing what “love” is and is not, but does he really tell us what “love” is?  All the songs and poems we ever heard about “love” describe it, but do they ever really tells us what “love” is?  Most of us can describe it . . . our pulse increases, we begin to sweat, we stutter grasping for words, feel light-headed . . . but, is that “love”?  I have heard a heart-attacked described with the same phrases.  So, what is “love”?

Long ago, someone I really admired told me what “love” meant  . . . at least to him.  He told me that “love” was wanting the best for the object that was desired . . . that it was helping the individual to become the best that he or she could be . . . of helping the “beloved” to grow . . . to help him or her to be all that God created them to be. It is putting the other first.  It is a verb and not a noun . . . it is action, not mere words or a strong feeling.  It is helping the other become all that God created him or her to be . . . to grow.

Fundamentally, that is “love”.  And, because that is “love” . . . putting others first . . . it does not do well in the world or society in which we live.  It kind of rubs us the wrong way . . . goes against the things we were taught about watching out for ourselves—taking care of Number One.  Thus “love” falls into that category of being a four-letter word.  The world we live in . . . the society in which we exist . . . does not do a good job of loving.

So, confession time . . . despite my desire to “love” my wife, my children, my fellow sojourners on the journey of faith, my neighbor, God . . . I have not always done a real good job.  I admit . . . I have fallen short in the area of “love”.  I have not honestly desired the best for those around me . . . not strived to help them become who God created them to be . . . for whatever reasons.  I have failed at “love”.  And, it is with great 20/20 hindsight and age that I see this.

But, I keep trying . . . we all do.  We all keep trying to master this art of “love”.

Why?  Because “love” is the only thing that makes life worth living.

A song writer once said, “What the world needs now . . . is love, sweet love.”  No truer words have ever been sung or spoken.

Jesus understood that “love” was the key to everything.  Love was the key to an intimate relationship with the creator.  Love was the key to others. Without love there was nothing . . . no relationships . . . no kingdom.  The Apostle Paul understood this foundation of “love” . . . understood that love was the basis to everything . . . especially relationships with God and one another.  Without “love” there is nothing.  Thus it was that he preached a message of “love” because he knew that there would be or could be no true family . . . no heavenly or earthly kingdom . . . without love.  “Love” was the key.  With that he admonished the congregation in Corinth to “love”.

The message has not changed.  We are called to “love”.  To love God.  To love one another.   The apostle puts it quite eloquently in what we refer to as the “love” chapter.

Without “love”, says the apostle, he is nothing.  Without “love” we are nothing.  So, we must continue . . . we must continue to “love”.

One of my favorite movies is the 2004 movie, Saint Ralph.  This movie a young teen has lost his father to the war, his mother is in the hospital battling cancer, and he is living at home by himself.  Eventually his mother falls into a coma, and things do not look good.  In his Catholic school he grasps on the hope of a miracle to cure his mother.  The priest in his religion class tells the class about miracles . . . that faith, purity, and prayer produces miracles.  The priest, also the school’s cross country coach, mentions that any teen winning the Boston Marathon would be a miracle.  The boy, Ralph, now has a goal . . . he is going to win the Boston Marathon to bring his mother out of a coma and back to life.  And, so . . . he runs.  He runs because he wants the best for his mother.  I won’t ruin the movie, if you have never seen it, but I will tell you that a miracle happens.  It happens because Ralph tries . . . and, keeps on trying.  The music in the background of the climactic scene is Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
I share with you the last verse of that song:

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

Jesus called us all to a life of love.  The Apostle Paul reiterates love as the foundation of being a follower of Jesus . . . as a child of God . . . as a keeper of God’s kingdom.  We are called to keep trying . . . over and over again. . . to love.  All we can do is to stand before the other . . . God and our fellow brothers and sisters created in God’s image . . . and, love.  To love and to cry out, “Hallelujah!”  Four-letter word or not . . . it is our only hope.  Amen.

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