Sermon for January 31, 2010

1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13 (The 4th Sunday after the Epiphany—Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

January 31, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text this morning is the Epistle Lesson from 1 Corinthians 13:

But earnestly desire the higher gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Our Epistle lesson today is the very popular “Love” chapter in the Bible.  It’s been one of the Scripture readings for just about every wedding I have performed here during the past 8½ years.  It almost seems strange to be preaching on this text since we are not having a wedding today.  Most couples like these verses about love for their wedding since, after all, they have fallen in love and at the Lord’s altar are seeking His blessing in uniting them in the lifelong union of marriage.  The interesting thing is that 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t about marriage nor is it really about the love couples have for each other.  St. Paul describes here the qualities of Christian love that expresses itself in outgoing, self-forgetting activity.  So as we discover and re-discover what Christian love is all about, I thought it would be a lot of fun to include as many song titles that contain the word “love” in this message.  So keep your ears attentive and see what song titles you pick up on as we work though God’s Word today.

Well, it has been said that All You Need is Love. (Beatles 1967)  But What is Love? (Haddaway, 1993)  Is it just some kind of fickle emotion?  Is it something that I feel toward someone today and not tomorrow so that you have to ask, When Will You Love Me Tomorrow? (Shirelles, 1961)  Is love simply affection toward someone or something?  Is it only a romantic inclination?  I guess you could say that Love Is a Many Splendored Thing. (Four Aces, 1955)  It’s a emotion, a feeling.  But we’re talking about Christian love today.  Christian love is not so much the expression of emotion as it is the extension of the motion—the lengthening of emotion into outgoing and self-forgetful activity.  So I Want to Know What Love Is. (Foreigner, 1985)

Paul describes the qualities of Christian love using 15 verbs.  You’ll remember that verbs are action words.  Christian love is found in action.  So the first and greatest characteristic of love is that love is patient.  You Can’t Hurry Love (Supremes, 1966).  The Christian is not short-tempered, but long-suffering with others.  We imitate God who has always displayed patience with His people.  God’s long-suffering with you and me is to be reflected in the patience we show one another.  It’s an action.  So Stop! In the Name of Love (Supremes 1965) and show patience.

Along with patience, love is kind.  Again it is God who sets the example by showing unfailing kindness in the creation, preservation, and redemption of His people.  Love isn’t jealous.  Jealousy is the green-eyed monster which is never content with the gifts it receives.  Jealousy is always eying what others have, even trampling over others for enhancement and preferment.  Christian love does not act that way.  If it did, You[’d] Always Hurt the One You Love. (Mills Brothers, 1944)

Christian love, then does not behave like a braggart or a windbag.  Nor does love condone the closely related sin of being inflated with self-importance.  Ballooned, inflated egos are totally incompatible with Christian love.  Boasting and arrogance playing the part of love is not a Groovy Kind of Love. (Phil Collins, 1988)  Egotism fractures the body of Christ, of which we spoke last Sunday.  But Christian Love Will Keep Us Together. (Captain and Tennille, 1975)

What also isn’t Christian love is love that behaves improperly.  We must be conformed to the Word of God and hold to what is right and take care not to offend others.  At all times we must be ready to say, “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That). (Meatloaf, 1993)  Since Christian love is also not self-seeking, we will always consider loving others before ourselves.  Christian love enables us to control our anger and not be easily provoked.  Even in the face of frustration and angst, we won’t let ourselves be a Part-Time Lover. (Stevie Wonder, 1985)

Christian love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.  It follows the Lord of Love, who did not keep a record of our sins, not even those who crucified them.  Our Lord erases our sins from His ledger and remembers them no more. (Rom. 4:8; Col. 2:14; Jer. 31:34)  When you forgive others as Christ forgives people don’t need to ask How Deep is Your Love (Bee Gees, 1977) for they see Christ in you and then know the depth of His love when you Let Your Love Flow. (Bellamy Brothers 1976)

What else does Paul say about the active nature of Christian love?  He says that love doesn’t rejoice in unrighteousness.  Love avoids the human inclination not only to give unspoken approval to wickedness but even to delight in hearing about it and perpetuating it.  If you as a Christian were to rejoice at wrongdoing that would mean You Give Love a Bad Name. (Bon Jovi, 1986)   No, Christian love rejoices with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That message is the true message of an Endless Love (Diana Ross & Lionel Richie, 1981) that makes Christian love what it is—a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Without Christ, You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’. (Righteous Brothers, 1965)  In fact, without Christ you Can’t Buy Me Love. (Beatles, 1964)  There is no love without Christ.  We can’t even begin to try to attain to the love described in 1 Corinthians 13 on our own.  Without Jesus, Love Bites. (Def Leppard, 1988)  It is jealous and boastful.  Our own natural sin-tainted love is arrogant and rude, insisting on its own way.  Our natural sin-stained love is irritable and resentful, not at all patient and kind.  It is perfectly happy to celebrate wrong-doing and seek every opportunity for evil.  Without Jesus Christ we would be better off in A World Without Love. (Peter & Gordon, 1964)

But the truth of the Gospel is that we have Jesus Christ who has shown us love, acted on that love, and provided us with the power to love with this very love His Word describes for us today.  We read in 1 John 4, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the sacrifice of atonement for our sins.  Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  . . . By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:7-16)

In Jesus Christ, the Son of God, we have the Greatest Love of All. (Whitney Houston, 1986)  He gave up His life into death on a cross to forgive us for our failed love.  Through His death on the cross Jesus says, “I have given you the Best of My Love.” (Eagles, 1975)   He died and rose again so that He might pour out His Holy Spirit on us through Baptism and give us The Power of Love, (Huey Lewis & the News, 1985) the power of His Spirit to love as Jesus loves us, unconditionally, completely, unselfishly, and actively.  Jesus is love incarnate as we see when we replace the word “love” in our text with the blessed name of Jesus.  I thank Pastor Tim Yeadon for this insight given me years ago.

Jesus is patient and kind; Jesus does not envy or boast; Jesus is not arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on His own way; Jesus is not irritable or resentful; Jesus does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Jesus never ends.

Jesus has given us His love to possess and to share in our lives.  In the power of His forgiveness, in the joy of the Holy Spirit, we are able to love with outgoing, self-forgetting activity.  We love with true Christian love.  Christ is The Glory of Love (Peter Cetera, 1986) and He has given to us the ability to love with a Higher Love (Steve Winwood, 1986), the love of the Lord Himself.  In Christ, we become “one. . . for others” as we love them in His name and with His power.  Our love, which is Christ’s love in us, is long-suffering and kind, not jealous, not filled with our egos but with Christ.  Our love in Christ doesn’t behave improperly, but models the Lord of Love Himself, seeking others first.  Our love is not easily provoked.  It keeps no record of wrongs just as Jesus doesn’t keep a record of our sins against Him.  Our love rejoices with Jesus in the joy of His cross and empty tomb, bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring in Christ and with Christ.

I guess to some it might be a Crazy Little Thing Called Love. (Queen, 1980)  But not for you and me.  I have Jesus who will Love Me Tender (Elvis Presley 1956) always and so do you.  Jesus tells us in His Gospel and again in His body and blood received with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, “I Honestly Love You.” (Olivia Newton-John, 1974)  He proved it on the cross.  And now He supplies us with His love so that we can love others just as He loves you and me.  It’s not a Baby Love. (Supremes, 1964)  It’s better than any Love Train. (O’Jays, 1973)  It’s God’s love and it’s for you in Jesus to have and to use to love others in His name.  So I guess it would be fair to use the words of the King of Rock and Roll to say that the King of kings has made each of us a hunk of Burning Love. (Elvis Presley, 1972).  And on that note God’s people say, Amen.