No, not the Celine Dion song, although you better believe I listened to it while I was writing my sermon this week!
This scripture was actually the catalyst for this sermon series looking at 1 Corinthians in the first place. I wanted to explore some of the “love” passages in the Bible that we know so well to help us, as a congregation, as we continue to figure out how to best love God, love one another and then love others. Though not at all planned, the timing was perfect in light of Valentine’s Day this week!
We only have one more week left in this sermon series and then it’s Mardi Gras, Lent (I think I’m going to follow the RCL for Lent) and then I’m having a baby! I cannot believe that at the end of Lent, I will (hopefully) be preaching Easter and then will be off on maternity leave for 10 weeks. This pregnancy flew by!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
February 9, 2020
1 Corinthians 13
Let’s Talk About Love
Okay, show of hands:
How many of you have heard this scripture read at a wedding before?
I said a few weeks ago when we kicked off this sermon series looking at 1 Corinthians that this chapter of Paul’s letter was the driving force behind my desire to look at this particular book of scripture. The theme of love appeared and then re-appeared frequently throughout the year here, at RCC, in 2019 and I wanted to further explore, not only Paul’s well-known words about love that we just heard, but also the context in which he wrote them.
In reading bits and pieces of 1 Corinthians leading up to this passage on love, we know now that Paul is not actually addressing two people who are getting married when he talks about love. Instead, Paul is speaking to a church he founded that is struggling to work through some differences and conflicts.
First of all, before I dig a little bit deeper into this passage, I do want to say that despite the fact Paul is not actually talking about marriage here, I still think this is a really good scripture to read at a wedding – or even 5 – 10 – 20 years down the road in marriage when you and your spouse are deep in the throes trying to do life together and life is hard. I am only ten years into the whole marriage thing, but that has been long enough to know that sometimes you need a love to sustain your relationship that is strong and powerful enough to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things and endure all things.
Because the things in life are hard, right?
I don’t want anyone to take away from my sermon that I think these words have no value in our marriages or even in our other relationships with one another. Because they absolutely do.
However, I think these words are even more powerful when we think about where they come from and what Paul means when he writes them.
So let’s talk about love.
If Paul is not talking about marriage here, then what is he talking about?
Okay – who remembers my sermon from last week? What did I talk about?
The Body of Christ.
This is one of the instances in this sermon series looking at different parts of 1 Corinthians where I intentionally had us read two passages, chronologically, without skipping anything in between. Because it is imperative to our understanding of Paul’s explanation of love that we see it as a continuation of his explanation of the Body of Christ. As soon as Paul finishes his dialogue on the Body of Christ in chapter 12, he leads directly into this passage on love.
Understanding these two passages as one linear passage instead of two separate ones gives us a really good insight into what Paul is thinking and that is that the Body of Christ works because love is so powerful.
I spoke last week about the fact that Paul’s words about the Body of Christ acts as an assurance that we do not all have to agree on everything or view the world the same way in order for us to be united in the Body of Christ. This is especially poignant for us, as a congregation. We are very diverse politically, generationally and geographically. We believe different things and come to church for different reasons. This church means some different to each one of us. Paul’s words assure us that it is okay if we disagree with the people sitting to the left and to the right of us; but that we are all still united in Christ, called to come together and proclaim the Gospel despite the differences that often threaten to divide us.
You may be wondering, however, how? How do we come together and stand united in Christ when some of our beliefs are so different? How do we overcome this diversity and do what God is calling us to do, as the church?
Today, Paul gives us the answer – love. We are able to come together as the Body of Christ because God’s love is so powerful. We are able to work together, despite our differences, because God’s love works as an agent of transformation within us. We are able to be who God is calling us to be and do what God is calling us to do because God’s love is what motivates us and propels us forward.
Paul talks about love as if it is a noun, not a verb. Love is something that already exists in the world; it is not something that we necessarily have to create, but that we have to uncover. I think it is one of our responsibilities, as the church, to uncover this love – to show the world that God’s love is real, to demonstrate the bold and radical truth that love can conquer evil and to create a space for love to show us what it is capable of.
I think it is important to remember when we read this passage is the time frame Paul is writing in. He is part of the first generation of evangelists; not that much time has passed since the resurrection. This idea of the end time – the return of Christ – is relevant, because they thought it was happening soon; but in other ways, it was also unsettling for people, because they just do not know what the future is going to hold.
And Paul references it, here in this passage.
In verse 12, he says: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” In other words, right now we cannot see fully the glory of God, but one day we will meet Jesus and everything will make sense. “Now I know only part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In other words, right now we only understand a part, but one day we will understand completely.
The reason Paul brings up the end time here is actually to strengthen his argument about just how powerful love is. Because it is permanent – “Love never ends.” Everything else is temporary, but love will never end.
“As for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.” Remember back to the chapter leading up to this passage on love where Paul talks about the Body of Christ. Prophecies, tongues, knowledge – these are all spiritual gifts God appoints to us, but, Paul says, these are all temporary, but love never ends.
I was thinking about this idea of temporary and permanence this week, particularly as we are pouring so much time into chocolate festivals and cabarets and Mardi Gras Sundays. Are these temporary? Technically – yes. And here’s the thing – it’s not that they don’t matter, because they do; they matter to us and to the people who experience the Gospel through them. But our legacies are what we leave behind; love is what we take with us when see God face to face, when fully know and understand what this love means.
When Paul talks about temporary versus permanence, I do not think he means that our stuff and our lives and our gifts don’t matter, I think he just means that love is stronger than all of it.
I used to read this passage of scripture as a charge – as a charge to love in a way that is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant and not rude. But now I am kind of reading it as a promise.
A promise that love is what God says that it is.
A promise that love is real.
A promise that love is powerful.
A promise that love will never end.
A promise that, even in those very human moments of imperfection and conflict and uncertainty, love is still there.
And so as we do the hard work that is proclaiming the Gospel and serving our community and nurturing our local church, we do so assured of this promise that love is already here.
Today, as we read these words that, in many ways, are very familiar to us, I invite you to be reassured of this same promise. This promise that love is real; that our lives and our relationships and our spiritual gifts work because of this love. Hold fast to this truth that this love is already here among us, waiting for us to uncover it and use it and show it to the world. Remember that this love will never end.
Don’t hope that love wins – believe that love wins.
I still think this passage is beautiful to read at weddings – but I do not think we should limit its capacity to transform our lives in other ways and places. I think we should let it speak to us in all of our moments – the extraordinary and the ordinary. I think we should remember that love not just something that is celebrated on February 14th every year, but something that is promised to us always – in life and beyond life.
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
Thanks be to God!