Becoming loving persons

1 Corinthians 13

Sunday Sermon

The Rev. Dr. Mary Abrams
Deacon

January 31, 2016

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in Your sight, Oh Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

Love. It’s a word we love to say. I love my husband. I love my son. I love Josey my German Shepherd and Annie my Bassett Hound. I love my friends. I love my two church families. I love walking on the beach. I love ginger snaps and coffee flavor ice cream. I love rainbows, butterflies,and sunbeams. Well you get the picture. We use the word love a lot.

Popular culture tells us that “Love is a many splendored thing” and “All you need is love” and its “Love that makes the world go round.” We have movies about love; Love Story. The Love Bug, Love and War. And TV shows like I love Lucy, The love Boat and Everybody Loves Raymond.

We find the word love over 500 times in the Bible. Jesus said that the most important commandments were to love God and to love your neighbor. The Bible says that God is Love. It says that God loved the world so much that God gave us Jesus to die for the world. Our reading today, says that love is the most essential and eternal of all God's gifts.

I think we can all agree that love is essential and important. But what is love? Both the church and the world speak of love but they often seem to be speaking of different things. My love for my friends is not the same as my love for my husband. My love for my husband is not the same as my love for my parents or my pets or coffee flavored ice cream. But we use the same word. The problem is that in English we only have the one word “love” But in Greek we have four different words for what we call “love." One Greek word for love is “storge.” Storge is an affectionate love, the type of love one might have for family or a spouse. It is a naturally occurring, unforced type of love.

Another Greek word for love “eros.” Eros is passionate or sexual love. It is where we get the word erotic. While eros is important within a marriage relationship it can also be abused or mistaken for storge love. Eros is a selfish love. It literally means I love you because you have something I want. I love you because your body gives me pleasure. Or I love you because when loving you I gain power or status. This is the shallowest kind of love. Neither eros and storge are found in the Bible.

“Phileo” is the third kind of love. It is brotherly love like the name of the city Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. It is most often exhibited in a close friendship. Best friends will display this generous and affectionate love for each other as each seeks to make the other happy. Phileo is also a desire or enjoyment of an activity or a thing.

The last one is “Agape.” Agape means goodwill for all human beings. It is an abundant, overflowing love that seeks nothing in return. It is love not attached to self-interest or ego. Agape has nothing to do with whether or not we like our fellow human beings, and is not to be confused with sentimentality. When we love others at this level, we love people not because we like them, but because we promised at our baptism to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Agape love is unconditional love, God love, self sacrificial love. It is the opposite of eros. Eros is love for sake of the self, whereas agape is love for the sake of the other.

Agape is the love that is demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Jesus commanded his followers “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Agape is love in action, not feeling. Jesus tells us to love our enemy. We find that impossible to do if we do not understand that Jesus was talking about Agape love. Since phileo love involves feelings of warmth and affection toward another person, we do not have phileo love toward our enemies. However, God commands us to have agape love toward everyone. This includes those whose personalities clash with ours, those who hurt us and treat us badly, and even those who are hostile toward our us. God tells us to care for others so when we take action that benefits another that is agape love. We can love our enemy by doing what is right by them without having to have good feelings for them. God gave his son to die for us. Did that make God feel good? No, it broke God’s heart but God put aside the feelings and took action to save the world. God demonstrated Agape love. Jesus died on the cross because he loved us. It didn’t make him feel good, he didn’t like it but he did it out of love Agape love defined by his action. Agape love isn’t a feeling of compassion for others. It is to act as if the person in front of you is you. No matter who they are, no matter what they do. Agape love drives us on to forgiveness, to justice, to mercy, and to act with grace.

Last week we read I Corinthians chapter 12. In that chapter Paul presents the problem of spiritual pride. The kind of pride that divides Christians—the kind of pride that says, “I am more important than you are.” The problem in the church at Corinth had to do with spiritual gifts. Some people said, “I am a prophet; therefore, I am better than you.” Others said, “I'm a teacher; therefore, I am better than you.” Still others said, “I speak in tongues; therefore, I am better than you.”

The people of Corinth were arguing about whose gift was the best. In the thirteenth chapter the one we read today, Paul gives us the answer to the problem. He tells us of a spiritual gift better than all other gifts-Love and here he is talking about Agape love.

He says,

“If I speak in tongues but don't have love, I am just noise.

If I have the gift of prophecy and know everything or if I have so much faith that I can move mountains. but don’t have love I am nothing. I am nobody.

If I give away everything that I have to feed the poor or sacrifice my body but don’t have love I have gained nothing.

Paul isn't telling us that faith is not important. He isn't telling us that feeding the hungry is not important. He isn't telling us that the person who suffers persecution for his or her faith isn't doing something important. They are all important. But he is telling us that nothing that we do is important if we do not do it in love.

You can be a Christian without speaking in tongues. You can be a Christian without the gift of prophecy. You can be a Christian without the gift of teaching. But you cannot be a Christian without the gift of love.

That does not mean that everyone who loves is a Christian. Far from it. There are millions of mothers who love their children but are not Christian. There are millions of kind and generous people who would resent being called Christians. Not every person who loves is a Christian, but every Christian loves.

Now, I ask you to think of yourself as you hear the words that Paul says next when he describes what love looks like. Are Paul’s words true for you? Do they accurately describe you? Can you say of yourself:

“I am patient; I am kind

I am not envious or proud.

I do not insist on getting own way.

I am not easily provoked....

I bear all things; I believe all things;

I hope all things; I endure all things.”

If you think that describes you, I invite you to check it out. Ask your husband or your wife—or your children or co worker. Say to them, “Check me out on this. Have I got it right?” Then say:

“I am patient; I am kind;

I am not envious or proud.

I do not insist on getting own way.

I am not easily provoked....

I bear all things; I believe all things;

I hope all things; I endure all things.”

What do you think they will say?

The sad fact for me is that I am not always patient. I sometimes insist on having my own way. I am sometimes irritable when I don't get it. I am not proud of that. Those are things I need to work on. They are like poison in my soul. I want to get rid of them.

God is calling us to love everyone as we love ourselves, not just the “deserving poor,” not just people whose sexual orientation, skin color, clothing style or anything else about them matches mine. It is not just an accident that when Jesus was asked about who his neighbor was he chose to tell a story about a Samaritan. There was no one whom the Jews of the time despised more than the citizens of Samaria.

Love is a difficult path. It is so much easier to respond to hate with hate, to respond to lies with clever, angry sound bites, to respond to ignorance with sarcasm, to respond to injustice with cynicism and hopelessness. To love requires courage and self-discipline.

So today we are all challenged with the greatest challenge of all. We are challenged to become patient and kind. To not to be envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. We are challenged to not to insist on your own way and not to be irritable or resentful when we don’t get it. We are challenged to love.

We are challenged to love our spouse. To love our neighbor. To love your co-workers and we are challenged to love our enemies.

Without love, our world is not the world we dream of. Without love, we live in a world of noise and hurry and crowds. Without love, we live in a world of climb and push and shove. Without love, we live in a world of frustration, fear, intimidation and violence.

Most of us wish that our spouse would change so that we could live in world of our dreams. We wish that our neighbor would change so that we would not live in a world of noise and hurry and crowds. We wish that our co-workers would change so that we might not live in a world of climb and push and shove. We wish that our enemies would change so that we might not live in a world of fear, intimidation and violence.

But God doesn't offer to change our spouse, our neighbors, or our enemies. God offers to change us. God calls on us to become loving persons. When we do, we will find ourselves living in the world of our dreams and we will find God waiting with open arms to receive us.

And, strangely enough, we will find our spouse, our neighbors, and our enemies changed too. If you really want another person to change, nothing works so well as relating to that person in love, agape love.