Good morning! Okay, I want to start today with a little audience participation. Thank you, Doug, for reading the Scriptures this morning. Let’s go with the second reading, the one from First Corinthians. Raise your hand if you have ever heard these verses read – or preached on – before today. Go ahead. It’s okay. I know we’re Lutheran, but you’re allowed to raise your hand. Ok, good. No, don’t put them down. Keep them up for a second. Okay, keep your hand raised if you have ever heard these verses read or preached besides at a wedding. Okay, hands down. The introverts can relax again.
Ok, here’s the thing – I hate destroying people’s illusions, but here we go…these verses are not actually about weddings or marriage. I mean, they’re not bad advice for people getting married…this is what it means to love somebody…but I’m not married, and there’s a couple of these that I had to lean on pretty heavy this week in my own life. Instructions on how and why to love people are not limited to the kind of romantic love that we most often mean when we’re talking about weddings and marriage. It’s not even limited to family. Think about this for a second – think about a person in your life who you are not married or otherwise related to, but whom you love. Somebody that you have genuine, Christian, nonromantic love in your heart for – maybe it’s a good friend, or a teacher or coach, or student or athlete, or a coworker or whatever. Somebody that you just – you care about them. Think about that person for a second, picture them in your mind, take a second to reflect on just how glad you are that this person exists on the planet and is in any way part of your life.
And now answer this. Is that person perfect? Do they ever annoy you? Or not return a phone call or text message? Do they ever show up late, or not be ready to work, or forget to do what they said they would, or say something offensive, or in any way just…irritate you from time to time? Of course. But you still love them. You would still do anything for your best friend, or your old football coach, or whoever. And so you need these verses, telling you how to love. This isn’t just hearts-and-roses-weddings-and-Valentine’s Day kind of love. This is in-the-trenches kind of love.
It’s the kind of love you need in a church.
Which is fortunate for us, because it turns out that’s exactly who Paul was addressing this to. This whole section that Doug read today follows right on the heels of where we’ve been the last two weeks – St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthian congregation. The first week was, “Here are all the different spiritual gifts people have to be used for the common good – they are: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues, and interpreting tongues. Last week was, “Even though they are all different gifts, like different body parts, they are all useful, and used together and in a coordinated fashion, make the Body of Christ able to do its work, and that’s pretty awesome. But even better than all of that, Paul says, and here’s where we get into this week’s reading, even better and more important than any of the aforementioned gifts, is love. I’m going to read this again, and quote from the New Living Translation:
“If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing… Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless…Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”
Now, notice that I skipped over the whole “love is…this that and the other thing…” I did that because I wanted to come back to it and focus on it for a minute. Now that we know that love is more important even than our spiritual gifts, Paul wants to tell us how, exactly, we are supposed to love. Fine, we can love people, but what does it look like?
Here we go. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
And remember, this is about the love that we have with our family, our friends, our spouse, and the whole Body of Christ…and it’s also about how we love our enemies. In the gospels, Jesus says “Love your neighbor,” but he also says, “Love your enemy.”
This is how we are to love – our neighbors and our enemies – our parents and our children – our bosses and our employees – our friends and the people we can’t stand and the people we don’t really know – the people who go to our church and the people who go to a different church and the people who don’t go to church at all. This is how we are supposed to love others, because it is precisely the way that Jesus loves us.
“Love one another, as I have loved you,” Jesus says, in the Gospel of John. And this is how he has loved us.
So, up until this point, I’ve been talking about how we’re supposed to love other people. But I want to switch gears for a minute. Think about yourself now. Instead of thinking about a person that you love, think about Jesus and you. You’ve done some rotten things this week haven’t you? When you think about it, you know it’s true. You’ve made bad decisions and hurt other people and not done the things you’re supposed to and yelled at the dog or the kids or your best friend or the waitress. You’ve wasted time or told a lie or wanted something that isn’t yours or cheated on your tax return or cheated on your spouse.
What do you suppose Jesus thinks about all that? He doesn’t like sin – that’s true. He wants us to follow his will for our lives, and not do things that hurt ourselves or other people. And yet, even when we sin, Jesus is patient and kind. Jesus is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Jesus does not demand his own way. Jesus is not irritable, and Jesus keeps no record of being wronged. Jesus does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Jesus never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. Jesus. Loves. You. Hear that, okay? Jesus loves you. Whatever it is you’ve done – whenever it is that you’ve failed at loving other people – Jesus still loves you.
And so that’s why we love others, just like this. We hang in there, and we keep on loving, even when the situation is tough. Even when other people aren’t acting the way we’d like them to. Even when we keep getting burned. We keep our heart open, and our hand out to help. We keep loving. Because that’s what Jesus does, and that’s what he asks us to do.
Now, hear me on this. Keeping no record of wrongs, never giving up, enduring through every circumstance, etc doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to address conflict and try to improve a relationship. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you have to tolerate abuse or mistreatment. Nowhere does Paul say, “Love is being a doormat.” There will, from time to time, possibly be people in your life that you need to no longer interact with, for reasons of safety or sanity, and don’t let anyone tell you that, “if you really loved me...” No.
Even Jesus knew when to walk away. In the gospel lesson for today, Jesus is getting mocked, and harassed, and physically assaulted. After he stands up in the synagogue basically announcing that he’s the Messiah, in his own hometown, people come after him. They’re basically saying, “Who the heck are you to say that, you’re just Joseph the carpenter’s son!” Jesus responds with, well, a good summary is, “Yeah, I knew you wouldn’t believe me…same thing happened to Elijah and Elisha…” And then the Bible says, “All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”
Jesus loved them, but he wasn’t a doormat. He walked away for the sake of his own safety - but he still loved them, and that’s good news. Because I think we also, often try to drive Jesus out – out of our town, out of our life. Who are you, Jesus, to tell me how to live? Who are you to be God “that way?” I want God to be like “this” or like “that”, and you’re not doing it that way. Get out. I’ll handle it myself.”
Ever said that? Or thought that? I have. There have absolutely been moments in my life when I’ve said, “God, you’re doing it wrong. This is what needs to happen, so get to it.”
And the good news, the Gospel, is that even when we’re doing that to Jesus, trying to drive him out because we don’t like the way he seems to be running things, he keeps on loving us. He keeps on being patient and kind, not envious or boastful or rude. He doesn’t demand his own way or get irritable or keep record of our wrongs only to beat us over the head with them later. He doesn’t rejoice over injustice, as though we “had it coming”, but he rejoices when truth wins out, never giving up, never losing faith, always hopeful, and enduring all circumstances. That is Jesus. That’s how he loves you, and how he loves me. That is how he loves every single one of us, and it’s how he asks us to love one another, as the body of Christ.
Three things will last forever: faith, hope, and love. And the greatest of these is love. Praise God that his love never fails.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit…Amen.