Sermon for Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Feb. 3, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: 1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13
Sermon Theme: “So Let’s Be Ridiculous!”
(Sources: Emphasis online illustrations; Brokhof Preaching Workbook; Concordia Journal, Winter 2013; original ideas)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Teilhard de Chardin ( ) must have been reading 1 Corinthians 13 when he wrote: “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love. Then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
Here’s what Paul said in that text, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Those are pretty strong words by the Apostle Paul, but strong words were needed considering what was going on in the Corinthian congregation. There were members in the congregation at Corinth who acted as though they had no need for others, thus helping to destroy the unity of the body of Christ. In the Chapter that follows our text, some were acting as if their personal “manifestation of the Spirit” was for their own benefit and not for the “building up the church.” Essentially the problem in the Corinth church was self-serving behavior caused by self-important attitudes and self-referential thinking.
Of course, as I see it, the first thing that has to happen is for the Corinthians and for us today to understand what is really meant by the word “love.” The Corinthians should have understood this better than we do because Paul was writing in Greek and they were fluent in Greek. You see, the Greek language has five words for love, whereas English has only one.
In Greek, there is “filia,” the love friends have for each other; “storge,” the love family members have for each other; “eros,” romantic and/or sexual love, “philanthropia,” love of community, and “agape,” total unconditional, sacrificial love. In our text, Paul uses the Greek word “agape,” a love so profound you would be willing to die for the other person.
Many pastors use this text from Corinthians at weddings, to communicate to the couple about to be married that they must have “agape” for each other, not just “eros.” If “agape” is absent from their hearts, then the marriage will probably not last. And certainly “filia” and “storge” overlap and would be components also.
In articles I have read, some scholars believe that the word “agape” did not come into the Greek language until the time of Jesus, as that type of unconditional, sacrificial, Christ-like love was rarely seen before the coming of Christianity. Christ was willing to die for us to redeem us from our sins, a very outlandish concept to the world.
OK, so we make it clear we are talking about “agape” here. The next bit of confusion about “love” is whether it’s an emotion or a result of rational thinking. Most people tend to think of love as emotion, as opposed to idea or reason or will.
One pastor said that when his daughter was three, she defined love as “something you do that is ridiculous.” Strangely enough, her childish definition is close to the scriptural meaning of love.
You remember when Jesus was asked to elaborate on the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus told a story of a Samaritan who helped a Jewish victim of a mugging. This despised foreigner from Samaria spent time and money to save the life of a Judean stranger. We are not told in the story how this Samaritan felt. No emotion is named, no sentiment identified, no feelings given. Instead, what the story says is that love is something we do that may even seem ridiculous, like helping someone who basically thought of you as an enemy.
It seems to me that act of loving someone is both an act of rational thinking as well as of emotions and feelings. The bottom line is that “love” is something you do. Paul says in our text, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Love is something you do.
Elizabeth Barrett wrote the world’s most famous love sonnet when she wrote to Robert, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.” Now this is “eros,” the romantic rather than sexual aspect of eros. At this point in their courting, they had never actually met each other, except through reading each other’s poetry. At this point in their life, their love was somewhat artificial, though later, as they married and spent their life together, their love did become agape. Love is something you do, not just something you think.
There are so many wonderful stories about our missionaries, not just Lutheran missionaries, but all Christian missionaries, as they work the mission field.
One was a missionary to the Fulnio Indians in Brazil. At first he was known as “the White Man,” which was definitely not a compliment since the Fulnio Indians had had some really bad experiences with earlier mission workers.
But then as he shared medicine, love, and caring, be became known as “the Respectable White Man,” now quite a compliment. Well, he continued to reach out to the native people, caring for them and helping them, and he became known as “the White Indian.”
One day, this missionary treated and washed the dirty, blood-caked foot of an injured boy and as the word of that kind care spread, he was thereafter known as “The Man God sent us.”
It’s interesting that the King James Version of the Bible uses the word “charity” rather than “love” in translating “agape” in this passage, a very suggestive word choice. Without a doubt, agape is love in action.
As a sinful human being, I cannot create this kind of love – agape – in myself. As a pastor, I cannot create this kind of love in you, my parishioners; I cannot force you to show it no matter how many times I preach on this topic nor how loud I preach it. In fact, many Christians run when they hear a sermon promoting agape, — “I ain’t helping no foreigners!”
Agape happens only when the Spirit kills the Old Adam in us and our new man rises to love God and neighbor. And by the Spirit of Christ, this does indeed happen!
It’s like the pastor’s three year old daughter said, “It’s something you do that’s ridiculous!” So let’s be ridiculous. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.