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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
January 30 2022
1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13
Grace to you and peace, from God our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
We spend most of our lives becoming who we are as individuals, especially when we’re younger – we build our personalities, our stories, and our experiences. Over time, we take on roles and obligations that continue to shape who we become.
But if we’re not careful, we get trapped in all of that and we lose sight of who God wants us to be as people who follow Jesus – and the way God wants us to live in relationship with one another.
Today’s reading from 1 Corinthians is often read at weddings. But as we’ve been hearing for the last few weeks, that isn’t part of its original context. We know that the apostle Paul wasn’t talking to married couples when he wrote it, he was talking to a church.
And for the last few weeks, we’ve been hearing about how divided the church in Corinth was. That the people were continually fighting over who was better at doing what and who was more important than anyone else.
And Paul was angry at them – as their pastor, he expected better of them. And since he wasn’t able to tell them that in person, he wrote this letter, which is really a sermon, to remind them that God’s Spirit had given each of them a gift and was at work in them.
And that because God’s Spirit was at work in each of them, they were connected to God and to one another as one body. It didn’t mean they were going to get along or agree with each other all of the time.
But because they were one body, one community, the expectation was that they lift up and take care of one another. The life of the community relied on all of them working together. Because if they didn’t, their community – the body of Christ, would be destroyed.
Paul deepens that even further in this week’s reading, and explains that they could be as good as they wanted to be at whatever gift God’s Spirit gave them, but if they didn’t act out of love, it didn’t matter what they did because it’d be like making a bunch of noise.
And Paul’s talking specifically about God’s love – agape working through the people together with God’s Spirit. And he’s talking about what that love does for the sake of another person in the church. And it’s a lot.
Starting with the words “love is patient” and going through “love never ends”, “love” – agape – is the subject of 16 verbs in a row. The English language has one word for love and it covers a lot of things. You can express love for your spouse and for French fries with the same word. Right?
So reading this in English, it sounds sentimental – like what we might hear at a wedding – or even like a series of adjectives. But my second language is Spanish, and I know several of you speak more than one language. So when I read things in the Bible that only seem to have one meaning, I read them in Spanish to see if maybe there’s a different way of understanding them.
And in Spanish, and I’m sure in other modern languages, it’s a little closer to what Paul was getting at. And the way it reads is:
…to have love means to support, to be kind, to not have envy, to not be presumptuous or proud or rude or selfish; to not be angry or hold onto resentment. To have love is to sustain all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. Love never ceases to exist.
Reading it with that understanding makes it clear that there’s nothing sentimental or shallow about this kind of love. No sentimental feeling digs deep enough to be all of these things – or not be them, as is appropriate.
In this reading, Paul tells us that love is an action, a way of living that’s consciously chosen and always on the lookout for ways to express itself for the good of others.
That’s what Paul needed the church in Corinth to understand. He was reminding them of their foundation, and how that shaped not only what they were called to do but who they were called to be with one another.
More than that, though, Paul was also reminding them of what they were capable of doing. That loving one another in that way was 100% doable because it was God’s love at work in them.
This is still true today. God’s love is at work in us, anchoring us and holding us together as a community. Teaching us how to be with one another day in and day out, whether we’re getting along or disagreeing.
And as God’s people, we recognize that we need this love working through us. Because being in community isn’t always easy – even when it’s a community of faith. We know that we need something greater than ourselves at work to make it all happen, and that’s what God’s love does.
Having God’s love at work in us is a way of being, a way of living that treats others with dignity and respect even in the face of our differences. Because it recognizes each other’s value as a beloved child of God and member of the body of Christ.
And what that means is that any way of being or living that causes harm is not love. Whether the harm is physical, emotional, or sexual – if the way another person treats you causes you harm, it is not love. It’s abuse. No matter what the other person tells you.
The love God calls us to have for one another, the love at work in us, is always actively seeking ways to express itself for the good of others. That is what love does. It sounds exhausting, right, and like an incredibly heavy burden?
But it’s doable, we’re able to have this love for one another because it’s God’s love at work in us.
It’s easy to hear all of this and think that living this way is supposed to be a once-and-done thing. But it isn’t. It isn’t like we say, “Bam!” and we automatically love each other this way all the time. It’s not that easy. It’s a process that takes work, and sometimes it takes a lifetime to complete.
Think of it in terms of our mission statement – growing together in Christ to love and serve all people. The first word in that statement, “growing,” is an active verb tense. It’s something we’re in the process of doing, in our life together as a community.
That activity carries through the rest of the statement. Growing together, loving and serving one another in Christ, is an ongoing lifelong process. Living into that, making the choice to live that, is an expression of God’s love that lifts up the wellbeing of the community – the one in here, online, and outside of our campus.
We’ve been living that in new and tangible ways over the last couple of years, and we’ve learned that it anchors us and holds us together even in the uncertainty of a pandemic.
And it recognizes that it’s God’s love reminding us not only what we’re called to do and who we’re called to be, but also what we’re capable of doing. Reminding us that living this way, loving one another this way, is doable because it’s God’s love working through us. Thanks be to God! Amen.