4th Sunday after the Epiphany, year C, 2016 (preached 1/31/16)
first reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
second reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
gospel reading: Luke 4:21-30
Our second reading for today is so famous that if we’re not careful we could daydream right through it.
The LOVE chapter. It’s become a standard reading at weddings as counsel on how spouses should treat one another.
But St. Paul wasn’t writing this “love chapter” to newlywed couples. He was writing this to a broken community – a community that was broken, fighting, fractured. The Corinthians were in trouble. Paul was telling them how to work through their disagreements and jostling for power so they didn’t destroy themselves.
This reading isn’t about romantic love at all. It’s about a state of being. It’s about how we live our lives. This kind of love isn’t directed at an individual, it’s something we have in ourselves that flows out of us. For while I’ve said over and over that “love” is a verb, “love” is also a quality that we exude.
And love isn’t something we can manufacture ourselves. When the pastor preached at my wedding, (not on this reading – we chose something different), he was clear to tell my husband and I that any kind of love we think we can “make” is a pitiful kind of love.
REAL love doesn’t come from us at all, it only flows through us to others. Real love comes from God.
- In 1 John 4:7 we read, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”
- The gospel of John tells us the reason Jesus was born among us was love. “For God so loved the world…”
- And Jesus gives us the new command to carry this love that comes from God through him – to one another. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must also love one another” (John 13:34).
And not only that, but this – Jesus also calls us to love our enemies! We like to forget this inconvenient teaching, but it’s part of the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5:44,46 – “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… For if you love those who lo e you what reward to you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” The Corinthians were certainly dealing with enemies outside of, and even within, their community.
So, like I said, this chapter has very little to do with romantic love, and everything to do with how we conduct ourselves – our demeanor, our personality. It is meant for each one of us as believers. St. Paul wrote this for you and me and all who follow Jesus. It speaks the truth about how we are to BE in the world as believers, and part of that is how we treat one another.
And St. Paul is wise here, because he not only tells us what love looks like, he tells us what love does NOT look like. First, what love IS: it is
- rejoicing in truth
- hopes, and
- endures all things.
- It is also eternal because it “never ends.”
What love is NOT: it is not
- or rejoicing in wrongdoing.
This is hard work. Love is hard work. It is a commitment that goes beyond hugs and kisses, candy hearts and Hallmark cards.
- Try being patient with a three year old whose new mantra is “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy, Mommy…”
- Try not being irritable when you’ve had a horrible night’s sleep and a full day of things to do ahead of you.
- Try not being envious of your neighbor as they fly off on their next vacation while you’re just trying to pay your monthly bills.
- Try being kind when you have to spend the next two hours with someone who grates on your last nerve.
THIS is what St. Paul is talking about. This is how you and I are called to live and conduct ourselves with our loved ones and NOT loved ones.
Actually it’s impossible. Jesus is the ideal for 1 Corinthians 13, you and I are just poor imitations. It’s a perfect example of Lutheran theology’s “saint and sinner.” We try, we fail, we try again, we fail, we try again, and so on and so on – with our only fuel for going on being God’s forgiveness – God’s love.
So why love? Why work so hard to let the love that is in us flow out? Why try at something when we know we’ll never be perfect at it? Because, although we know we’ll never love perfectly, love gives our lives meaning, purpose and shape. It DEFINES us.
It defines us because love is the eternal thing that binds us to God and one another.
All the trappings with which we surround ourselves, even the gifts that God has given us to serve – these are only temporary comforts, successes and talents.
St. Paul opens and closes this chapter with reminding us that our earthly power and success and talent are just just noisy and clumsy without love, and that one day all those things will pass away, just like us. All our earthly gifts will end. Love will not. It is only love that carries on – the love from God through Jesus to you and me, and from you and me to each other.
So why love? Because there is really no other way for us to BE.
It’s work, and it’s painful sometimes – to love does mean to grieve – but the alternative is living death.
Creation came from love, Jesus came from love – Jesus IS love – and Jesus calls us to love. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
Love is the hardest, but as St. Paul wrote, it’s also the “greatest.”