Deut. 6:4-7; 26:1-2,11 & 1 Cor 13 1st Lent & Valentine’s Day
Elizabeth M. Deibert 14 February 2016
Before I read three passages that command us to love, and beautifully describe what loves looks like, I want us all to be reminded that this is not just the day of love, but the season of love. Yes, Lent is the forty-day season of love. It is not just the journey to the cross, a time to be sorry for sins, to make sacrifice to demonstrate our commitment to Christ, but a time to rejoice that God’s love goes all the way for us and never forsakes. A time to be drawn into Christ’s love that our lives may be transformed into that type of love. How do you know someone loves you? When they accept you for who you are. When they do something really kind and generous for you - something unexpected or undeserved. When they listen to you, show respect for your feelings. When they support you when you are having a difficult time. When they give you space to think, rather than bugging you with suggestions or worse, criticisms all the time. When they respect you for who you are. When they do the dirty, hard work for you. When they clean the house or sit with you in the hospital or run errands for you.
These commands to love God and one another come to us in the context of knowing we are loved with an everlasting love. Hear first the Shema, Hebrew word meaning “hear”. Our love of God is a central theme in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy means second law. It is presented as Moses’ message before the people enter the land of promise, but most scholars believe it was actually written much later, as a way of helping the Israelites understand their history, demanding their loyalty as their people were dominated by Assyrian culture.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7 Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. (NRS)
First we heard the command to love God with all that we are. Now we move to the command to be generous in love toward others. In loving God, the people of God are challenged to love the neighbor by sharing the bountiful blessings God gives us with the strangers and aliens who reside among us.
Deuteronomy 26:1-2; 11
When you have come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the LORD your God is giving you…You shall set it down before the LORD your God and bow down before the LORD your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house. (NRS)
Scripture like this always beckons us to consider the shape and spirit of immigration conversations and policies. These verses make us think about how God intends those who are blessed to be a blessing. They challenge us to remember that divine generosity always involves a larger family than we would prefer. To include is to love.
And now we move to that amazingly beautiful poem about love, written to a congregation not a couple in love. But speaking of couples in love, I am always curious to watch them try to choose another passage for their wedding ceremony. When our daughters Emily and Catherine were planning with fiances’ they each said, “Oh we don’t want to be cliché’ and choose the passage that everyone else reads at their weddings.” But then they read all the passages that are possible, and admitted, “Well, now we understand why this is the classic.” It is hard to improve on these words – whether you are talking about the love of a marriage or the love of friends or the love of parents and children and siblings or the love of church family members.
If you were here two weeks ago, you heard how the verses right before this reminded the Corinthians that each member is valuable, no matter their role or perspective or gifts. And then Paul says, I will tell you of a more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (NRS)
(singing) All you need is love. All you need is love. All you need is love, love. Love is all you need. (sing it with me) Jesus Christ is love. Abba God is love. Holy Spirit: love, love.
Love is all you need. Love is all you need. Love is all you need.
Just in case these poetic words of 1 Corinthians rolled past without your serious consideration of their meaning, because they are so familiar, let me say it a little differently.
You can have all the eloquence in the world, all the intellectual and spiritual power in the world, all the faith in the world to work amazing miracles. You can have all the money in the world, and be willing to give it away (something most people are not willing to do), and you can even be willing to give your own body away to be killed, but without love, none of the above is worth anything. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.
What is love? Love is patient, kind, happy with the truth, willing to bear, to believe, to hope, and to endure. What is not love? Being envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, determined to have it your way, irritable, resentful, satisfied with wrong-doing.
So what about the person who does not know he or she has been rude, does not see her irritability, or his determination to have it his way? Well, someone who loves that person needs to speak the truth in love. Sometimes love is courageous enough to say what someone does not want to hear. Love is hard work.
What about the relationship where someone is being repetitively rude, uncaring, and satisfied with wrong? Should the other bear all things and believe all things and endure all things? No! You can hand over your body, mind, and soul to be burned and burned and burned yet again, but that is not love, that is blind and meaningless sacrifice, because no love is growing from all that rubbish.
The very nature of love is that it is mutually caring and forgiving. So yes, we forgive wrong-doing more often than we want, but we do not allow wrong-doing to routinely dehumanize anyone. That’s not love. Love is not just kind and patient. Love is tough. Love cannot always please a person who is making bad choices. Love must sometime disappoint or make a person angry or frustrated because love values what is right and good and true.
When we are children, we are naturally self-absorbed and unable to see or interpret the needs of others, but as we grow up, we begin to see and know. Sometimes mental illness, addictions, or the lust or selfishness of our hearts can blind us to reality, but love still invites us to see what is true and right and holy. Love does not enable us to continue hurting another person. Love speaks up with patience and kindness, with respect and clarity of vision and a desire for the healing and wholeness of every person involved.
The goal of love is help every person move toward maturity, toward seeing face-to-face, toward knowing and being fully known, with a trust that endures. God has this unending love for each of you. Unlike human beings, God can take all the crap we dish out, all the gross mistakes we make, and all the un-love in our hearts and minds, and keep forgiving and calling forth the best from us. God keeps assisting us, guiding us to find our way to mature love, the kind of love Christ demonstrated, that did not judge people for their mistakes or their weakness, but empowered them to grow in faith, hope, and love. Please join me in working hard this Lent to renew love both by the way we receive it and by the way we give it. Both receiving it and giving it are acts of vulnerability. And you know you have to have some love to give it away? If you begin each day with love messages from God, if you reflect on how completely you are accepted and forgiven. If you pray unceasingly, “God fill me up with the abundance of your love,” and put away all the self-destructive thoughts in your head, negative thoughts about yourself, then you will have more love to give to others.
Faith, hope, and love – these three but all you really need is love. Hear these folks reflect on the challenge and despair they feel about love when seeing it from a worldly point of view and the blessing of love when you see all that God in Jesus Christ is doing.