a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
based on the theme: “It’s Just Love”
Arlington Congregational Church, U.C.C.
February 9, 2020
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 NRSV
1If 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.
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. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When 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. 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, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Well it is time to prepare for that great celebration of love, Valentine’s Day. Jewelry and chocolates and flowers and gifts of all kinds are being advertised and marketed feverishly. Dawns on me that most of this is aimed at men to buy for the ladies. Seems a little one-sided to me or has the romantic in me been overwhelmed by the cynic? What do you think men, should we see more advertising for gifts for men? Wonder what that would look like? It might require a change!
Romantic love is at the “heart” of Valentine’s Day of course, and most every romantic lover wants want we might call “endless love.” We hope that the fleeting passions of youth might be lifelong or at least rekindled often enough throughout our lives to be considered endless. But my words today aren’t about anniversary weekends in Tahiti, passionate embraces, walks in the rain on the beach or of course, as the song goes, Pina Coladas, most of us know the illusion of endless romantic love is just that – elusive and illusionary. But there is a love that is endless. And it is really a love for more than sweethearts. It is the love that allows us to love those we least want to love, believe it or not.
Yes, I know the source of endless love. Of course I am talking about Almighty God. Yes, I am saying to you that God’s love is better than all the arrows in Cupid’s quiver. God’s love is endless AND it is a whole lot more because it is “just love.” I told you already that my theme for this series is a play on words that reminds us all that God’s love is just – it always does what is right. Now, let’s be honest up front. You know and I know that you know that much of what we call love is not endless. The number of divorces and the problem of domestic violence both remind us we cannot be naïve about human expressions of love. So let me remind you that this love I am talking about has a different source, and a different aim than most of what is called “love” in the romantic sense. Romantic love tends to be about satisfying oneself and maybe the other person. It is often self –oriented if not selfish. Too many people are “in love” for what THEY get out of it and too many de ide to get out of it if THEY aren’t satisfied. Even the most mature of us who strive to be a blessing to the other person still get those times where we want to ask, “What about me?”
Let’s look at what Paul said about the qualities of love that God gives:
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.
Remember, Paul is talking to the church, not to a wedding couple, or even to those of you thinking about what you need to get your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day. He was talking to a divided church. He was talking to a church of people who were competing with each other to claim they were the best – the best disciples, the best at prophecy, or at speaking in tongues. Now most of us can’t relate to that because we don’t go around talking about of thinking what great disciples we are. Sure a lot of us want our church to be the best, or our political party to be the best or our nation to be the best - or at least to believe it is the best. And that often leads to very unloving behavior. I believe Paul’s words apply to our nation as much as to our churches.
We need to let God’s endless love speak for us and not the hateful talk so many use today. I fear our nation is faltering under the expressions of hatred toward those we differ with over politics, religion, and social justice issues. This may not be what you expect in a Valentine’s Day sermon, but it is critical. If “love is patient, and kind,” and “not … boastful or arrogant 5or rude.” If it “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;” then we must find ways to change the destructive speech that goes on in our private and public conversations with those who differ from us. We have to stop looking at each other as “the enemy,” and look at the problems we face as an opportunity to work together. Democracy fails when there is no compromise. Democracy is built on two sides coming to a middle point. It cannot live when each side insists on not cooperating. As Christians we must stop sitting on the sidelines or worse, adding to the division, and start working to change the public monologues. We need to start talking with each other and insist that those we elected to be OUR public servants do the same! America does not win when one side vanquishes the other – neither side has all the answers that are the best for everyone. Hating others only profits our nation’s enemies, not our nation. We must work to change this.
Our faith calls us to change when we are not living out the love of God. Jan Richardson, a writer and poet, [ paintedprayerbook.com/2016/01/25, ] says something that I think is very true. She says, “Loving is always risky, because we cannot enter into it without being changed. Altered. Transformed.” She challenges us to realize that, “Loving is never just about opening our heart. It is about being willing to have our heart become larger as we make room for people and stories and experiences we never imagined holding. It is about being willing to have our heart become deeper as we move beyond the surface layers of our assumptions, and prejudices in order to truly see and receive what—and who—is before us. It is about being willing to have our heart continually shattered and remade as we take in [the] brokenness of the world.” She reminds us that the brokenness that changes us will also help us receive the “beauty” of the world “the astounding wonder that will not allow us to remain the same.” So endless love asks us to be willing to be changed.
Christ spoke about changing our vision for the world to see a Kingdom of Love, a Reign defined by the love of our God. He was talking about creating a community where people who were rich and people who were poor would treat each other as equals and as loved by God and loved by them. He talked about creating a community here and now where everything was “on earth, as it is in heaven.” He talked about a community that welcomed people of different religions, that treated women with as much respect as men, a community that loved and sought to heal what they called the “demon-possessed,” persons in need of mental health care. Jesus called us to love the neighbor as ourselves and defined the neighbor as the child, the widow, prisoner, the immigrant, the suffering and the powerless.
This endless love of God is the source of and the resource to allow us to do this. You and I cannot do this on our own. Many don’t WANT to do this at all because they think they are right and everyone else is wrong! But Jesus always challenged the ones who thought they were in the right the most. He challenged the religious leaders – the “Pharisees.” He challenged the rich young man, who thought he had it all but wanted more, to give away all he had in order to have what he really wanted the most, and to discover that what he missed with all his wealth was the love of real community. He challenged Pilate and he challenged Herod and he challenged Caesar by talking about any other kingdom than Caesar’s. He was challenging the power of the Empire with an alternative reality. You and I must begin to focus on this alternative reality if we want to save our nation, if we want to save ourselves, if we want to find – and live with - the endless love of God at the center of our lives rather than simply something we think a bit about on the Sundays we happen to show up at church. To do this we must check our faith.
Remember that in this passage Paul exalts love over faith! It is a bit shocking since Paul’s teaching was how we are saved by faith not by works! But I think what Paul meant by love was a love based on that faith that Paul was always talking about everywhere else. Emil Brunner, [Faith, Hope, and Love], “said that ‘...faith is …the openness of our heart to God’s love (p. 75). Faith is [ what ] opens us to God’s love. It puts us in touch with the source of love itself. Faith allows us to draw from that source so that the love of God shown to us in Christ can also show itself in our lives.” Rev. Michael Bos adds, “This is crucial in being able to love. You know those tense moments, when all you feel is anger or frustration. You know those moments in a relationship when things have become so complicated you no longer know what love looks like. Rather than trying to generate love from within us … we need to turn to our faith so that we open ourselves to the source of love itself.” In short, God’s love is the endless source of love when ours fails.
I can’t change the hate of white supremacists, or people on Facebook who post the most hateful descriptions and names for people like me. I must however turn to my faith and seek to forgive and love them in order to be what God demands I be, to love as God demands I love, and be the person Jesus Christ calls me to be. You can love or hate however you choose. I pray my faith will change me. I pray your faith will bring you to love not just for people like yourself but for all people, to actively seek to do good for all people not just those like yourself. I pray my faith and your faith is renewed by a love that is a “just love” – a love that truly expresses the kind of love God has for all of us, not just those of us who are like ourselves.
That was the challenge Paul put before the Corinthians. Stop hating those who weren’t like you. Stop thinking you are better than someone who doesn’t believe or express their beliefs the same way you do. Start loving the way God loves. Open your heart to a faith that will show you God’s endless love. Love those nearest you that way. But don’t stop there. Keep loving, until you understand the people who are different and think different and then love them in spite of the fact that they are different from you. After all, even the person we love the most is different from us. Yes, that person whose politics, religion, economic status and beliefs are different. But God still calls us to love them with God’s endless love.
Now go buy your sweetheart something good for Valentine’s – maybe even buy, and give - or better yet DO - something loving to or for someone who isn’t your “sweetheart.” Extend your love to reach someone else in the name of the God who is the source of “Endless Love.” AMEN?