Sermon from 30th Jan 2022 (Epiphany 4)

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (EHV)

1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and know all the mysteries and have all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I give up my body that I may be burned but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy. It does not brag. It is not arrogant. It does not behave indecently. It is not selfish. It is not irritable. It does not keep a record of wrongs. It does not rejoice over unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never comes to an end. But if there are prophetic gifts, they will be done away with; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, 10 but when that which is complete has come, that which is partial will be done away with. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see indirectly using a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I was fully known.

13 So now these three remain: faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

Dear heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit on us so we may be people who love as your Son, Jesus Christ, loves us. Amen.

I don’t know if you’ve realised this, but the Lutheran Church of Australia, of whom each congregation (and hence each of you) are voluntary members of, has a tag line: ‘Where love comes to life.’

Now, even though I love this church we’re a part of, I’m not sure if our church is truly a place where love comes to life because I’ve seen and heard of many very unloving words and actions among its members. I’m not even sure if the tag line is supposed to be descriptive, prescriptive, or aspirational. That is, I’m not sure if this is describing who we are as a church, what we’re supposed to do in our church, or what we’re hoping to become as a church.

But, since we have this tag line, let’s consider if we, as a church (and as individuals within each of our congregations), are a place or people ‘where love comes to life.’

Although, in this case, let’s not judge our love from any human understanding of love, but from God’s description of love, which St Paul so famously describes in our text for today.

In this case, as individual members of this church (where love supposedly comes to life), how would you rate yourself on the following:

  • How patient are you?  That is, how good are you at being willing to wait without complaint, even in times of suffering, and are always self-controlled and calm, even when people provoke or criticise you?
  • How kind are you? That is, how willing are you to be generous and caring to irritable and fussy people, or how much mercy and forgiveness do you show to those who don’t deserve it, even when you know they’ll never show you the same?

How are you going so far? Would anyone dare rate themselves as perfect in these attributes?

Now, while love is normally a positive action, it can also be defined by what it isn’t, for example:

  • How jealous do you get? For instance, do you desire what others have, and even work out ways you can get the same? Do you compare yourself to others on the mainland, or with others within the parish? Are you always happy for others when they’ve been blessed, even if you don’t get to share in their blessing?
  • How much do you boast about yourself, or get puffed up by your own sense of opinion or importance? Do you want people to notice you, compliment you, or thank you for your service? Or are you happy for others to get more attention than you?
  • How do you behave? Are there any times you behave disgracefully, dishonestly, or indecently? Or do you always behave with dignity, honesty, and honour, even when people aren’t watching?
  • Do you insist on your own way of doing things? In other words, do you seek first what’s good for you? Do you attempt to force others to agree with you or think less of them when they don’t? Or do you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness?
  • Are you easily irritated and snap at others at the drop of the hat? Does your stomach churn and blood pressure increase because you’re so upset at others? Or are you slow to get angry?
  • Do you find yourself dwelling on all the evil done against you and how unfair life is? Do you hold a grudge against others because of what they’ve done? Or are you willing to forgive and no longer let the incidents of the past hinder your relationships?
  • Do you delight in evil? Well, of course you don’t! Unless of course you have a laugh when you see people get hurt (including when you watch YouTube clips from ‘Fail Army’), or when people make jokes at another’s expense, or when you pass on rumours about others before checking the facts, or when you feel justified when others are caught out, or if you rejoiced when you didn’t get caught doing something wrong!

What about some other positive behaviours, such as:

  • Do you rejoice in truth, especially when the truth of your lack of love is exposed?
  • Do you willingly bear all things, including difficult situations within the body of Christ?
  • Do you believe all things without being naive?
  • Do you willingly endure all things, including times of suffering or trouble?

Ok, so how did you go? Are you someone who can honestly say ‘love always comes to life’ in all your thoughts, words, and actions?

What about collectively? Are we, as each congregation or parish, a place ‘where love always comes to life’, or do we fall short?

I’m guessing none of us have passed the high standards set by God in the ways we love, either as individuals or as Christian communities, and if you think you do, you’re fooling yourself!

So, if we’re not a place ‘where love comes to life’, what’s going wrong? Aren’t we trying hard enough? Should we try harder and write a set of policies which clearly sets out the expected behaviour of each person? Should we have a meeting and set out the facts so that we make sure those who did the wrongs things are brought to justice? And if anyone stuffs up, should we get rid of all those who don’t let their love come to life?

The truth is, by our own power we can never love perfectly, and if we ever wanted to get rid of everyone who doesn’t love us perfectly, well, there’ll be no-one left. You see, unfortunately…

  • Instead of hallowing God’s name, we often want our own names to be great.
  • Instead of seeking the kingdom of God and submitting to God’s order and reign, we often want to rule our own little kingdom where we get to be the boss, and so place high expectations on ourselves and each other.
  • Instead of seeking the will of God, we often want our own will to be done – and in our own time frame!
  • Instead of being content with the daily blessings God gives us, we often want more and more.
  • Instead of forgiving as God graciously and undeservedly forgives us, we often make our own forgiveness conditional on others doing the right thing first.
  • Instead of asking God to lead us not into temptation, we often eagerly place ourselves (and others), into situations where we’re tempted to act dishonestly, critically, rudely, irritably, and indecently.
  • Instead of looking to God to deliver us from evil, we often dwell on all the evil done to us, hold onto the hate building in our hearts, rejoice in our own attempts to get back at people, and encourage others to do the same.

This means we end up idolising ourselves and our own selfish desires, and we don’t always fear, love, or trust God above all things.

So, who will save us from all the evil of ‘unlove’ done to us (and by us)? Who will save us from the devil’s deceptions who loves to call evil ‘good’ and good ‘evil’? Who will save us from the death we deserve for not being people where ‘love comes to life’?

Well, thanks be to God for Jesus Christ!

Jesus, the incarnation of God’s perfect love, was the one who received the punishment you deserve for your lack of patience, your lack of mercy, your pride, your irritability, and your selfish behaviour. Because he took your punishment of suffering and death, he forgives you for not loving as you should.

You see, Jesus is the only one who is patient and kind. Jesus isn’t jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Jesus doesn’t demand his own way. Jesus isn’t irritable, and he keeps no record of being wronged. Jesus doesn’t rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever God’s truth wins out. Jesus never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

You want to know the only place ‘where love truly comes to life’? Well, it’s only in Jesus Christ, and it’s this Christ who patiently, faithfully, and eagerly loves you, whether you like it or not!

The only way we can be congregations or a parish ‘where love comes to life’ is when Jesus Christ, and his gracious love, is central to all we think and say and do.

It’s when we keep seeing the love of Christ fully demonstrated through his death for the forgiveness of sins for all the times we failed to love as expected, and rejoice in his resurrection, which gives us hope of life eternal with him, that we may learn to love others as he loves us.

So, this means each of our places of worship, is to be where we hear of our continuing failure to love as we should, as well as the place where we hear of his gracious and merciful love for you and me (and those we serve), again and again.

This means we’re to keep hearing his Word, especially his words of warning, promise, justice, mercy, love, and forgiveness.

We’re to be washed in his love as he baptises us in order to cleanse us from all our sin and graft us to himself to receive his love like a lifeblood.

We’re to taste his love as he nourishes us with his very own body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of our sins, and as a sign of steadfast love for his loveless people.

This means, here, as we empty ourselves of ourselves, and repent of all our selfish idolatry, pride, and envy, and look to Christ to fill us through his trustworthy Word and holy Sacraments with his faith, hope, and love, and as we share the love which only comes from Christ, that we may be the people ‘where love comes to life.’

Of course, this doesn’t always mean all your own loving actions, born out of the love of Christ for you, will always be readily accepted. Even Jesus wasn’t well accepted in his hometown.

Therefore, the hardest places to practice your love (as you’ve been loved by Christ), is in your own home and in your own church.

You see, they already know you too well. They’ve already seen you at your most impatient, unmerciful, jealous, proud, rude, indecent, irritable, self-seeking, and untrustworthy worst. You also know them very well and have probably also seen them at their worst (which makes it hard to love them)!

But no matter what you experience from them (or them from you), this is where God wants you to live out the love of Christ. You’re the vessel who has receive God’s love, and you’re the servant whom God has placed among them to share his love, patience, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion.

So, is this church a place ‘where love comes to life’? No, it isn’t! At least not to God’s exacting expectations, but it’s never been about us and our love. It should always be about Christ because he’s the only one where love truly comes to life.

So, even when we fail to love as we ought, this is the place where Christ’s love is proclaimed, and where Christ’s love is communicated in word, water, bread, wine, and in our humble service to each other as we learn to love like Christ loves us.

With the help of the Holy Spirit, may our parish, our congregations, and our homes, be places where Christ’s patient, merciful, humble, and sacrificial love comes to life.

And may the peace and love of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.