Sermon for January 31, 2016

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

January 31, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13

Sermon Theme:  “Love Makes Peanut Butter Taste Better”

(Sources:  Anderson’s Cycle C Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Original ideas; Online Cartoons about Charlie Brown Falls in Love; “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown,” Wikipedia)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

          It always struck me as funny that the very young characters in the Peanuts’ comic strips often thought about and talked about being in love.

Over the years, Lucy Van Pelt was in love with Schroeder, the kid who never stopped playing the piano.  Sally Brown thought she was in love with Lucy’s brother, Linus.  And while Peppermint Patty is in love with Charlie Brown, Charlie is smitten by the Little Red-Haired Girl, who was identified in TV specials as “Heather.”

Because the Little Red-Haired Girl doesn’t seem to notice Charlie, he is often lovelorn.  In one cartoon strip, Charlie is sitting on a bench eating his lunch, a peanut butter sandwich; he looks up and says aloud, “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love.”

In another strip, Schroeder, head bent over the keys, is playing the piano while Lucy stands and looks lovingly at him.  She then gets on top of the piano, but Schroeder still doesn’t notice her.  Finally, still on top of the piano, she sticks her face up to his, almost nose to nose, and says lovingly, “You fascinate me.”

Schroeder jumps up with a gasp and pulls the piano out from under Lucy, causing her to fall to the floor.  Lying on the floor on her back, looking straight up, she exclaims, “Never fall in love with a musician!”

Today’s sermon text from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians has been used as a text for at least half the wedding homilies ever written, and you’ve probably seen quotations from the text on the front of many wedding bulletins.  It contains the best known words about love in the whole Bible.

While the words of the text work fine for wedding sermons, Paul’s reason for writing them was totally different.  Paul had just enumerated all the problems within the Corinthian church.  They were far-ranging, from Christian suing Christian, to Christian soliciting prostitutes, to Christian one-upmanship, to Christian eating habits in public, and other difficult interpersonal problems.

Paul’s reason for writing to the Corinthians from Ephesus was, as he said, “to show you a still more excellent way.”  The more excellent way is the way of love.  Paul defines the nature of love in very down-to-earth psycho-social ways that the average person could understand.

Pastors use the text for weddings to show that “romantic” love is not enough, — it must include unconditional, Christ-like love, which is known as “agape.”  In fact, Paul uses the Greek word “agape” in the text.

Snoopy is the one character in Peanuts who loves everybody, and probably comes closest to agape.  He is faithful, he doesn’t double-cross anyone, and he loves birds as well as people.  One cartoon strip shows Snoopy hugging a huge red heart and saying, “There are moments in life when you miss someone so much that you just want to pick them from your dreams and hug them for real.”

For a Christian, whether the relationship is a romantic one, or with a friend or relative, it must involve agape.  God is love.  Christ is love Incarnate.  The love of God through Christ is agape, — total unconditional love, a love that is self-sacrificial and absolute.

One of my favorite poems by William Blake is about a clod of clay and a pebble in a brook.  The clod of clay says, “Love seeketh not itself to please, nor for itself hath any care, and builds a heaven in hell’s despair.”

In contrast, the pebble in the brook says, “Love seeketh only self to please to bind another to its delight, joys in another’s loss of ease, and builds a hell in heaven’s despite.”

The clod of clay sacrifices itself, as feet walk on it and smash it, whereas the pebble does not yield to anything, actually hurting the foot that walks on it, and acquiring moss for itself.

Sacrificial and acquisitive.  True Christian-love is sacrificial, never acquisitive.  Self-centered love is acquisitive, taking rather than giving.  Like William Blake, the Apostle Paul tells us in the text what love is and what it is not.

Paul says, “Love is patient and kind . . . it rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never ends.”

But, Paul says, “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 in wrongdoing.”

Paul wants us to ask ourselves, “How well am I reflecting God’s incarnate love in my relationships?”  As we ponder on that, we realize we are more like the pebble than the clod, more into taking than into giving.  Oh, we all like hearing these famous words of Paul’s, because we all like for other people to act that way toward us.  And, in our self-deception, we often think we are wonderful Christians regularly showing agape in our lives.

My wife’s grandmother in her last years was hard-of-hearing, wasn’t always able to chew her food properly, and was slower than Aunt Sybil (if that’s possible).  She liked going out to eat, and her son, my father-in-law, took her out with us to Guido’s regularly.  Often she couldn’t hear you or the waiter, and you had to repeat things in a loud voice.  What she would say in responding would often embarrass me, the new-comer to the family.  I would look at my wife with an “I-don’t-know-this-woman” look.

“Mother Davis, Cut your fish,” my mother-in-law would say to her.  Once she replied, “Why are people so impatient with me?”  Love is patient.  Love is kind.

My own mother, in her last years, was extremely annoying, both in her old-age behaviors, and in her growing needs as a terminally ill person.  I often resented having to spend time taking care of her.  Even though I tried not to be, I was grouchy and irritable toward her and to the rest of my family.  No doubt I was like the person described by two women during their weekly coffee klatsch.

One of them asked the other, “Did you wake up grouchy this morning?”

“No,” she replied, “I let him sleep.”

Love is not irritable or resentful.  Love bears all things.

If, like me, you feel you fall far short of God’s requirements for Christian love, please take comfort, as I do, in knowing that Jesus, having been one of us, knows how imperfect we are.  Imperfect not only in love, but also in the other fruits and gifts of the Spirit, such as faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, hospitality, generosity, etc.  We fall far short of God the Father’s expectations of us.  But through Jesus, Love Incarnate, who sacrificed His life for us, we are forgiven, redeemed and judged by what He did for us.

All of us fail to completely understand ourselves or why we do the things that we do, or why we don’t do the things we should do; and we also have trouble understanding other people’s behaviors and attitudes as they relate to our lives.  And, to some degree, we fail to understand God and His thoughts and His ways.

Paul speaks to this concern of ours in the final verses of our sermon text.  Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

Many aspects of our own behavior and that of others puzzle us, — why, for example, we can be mean and impatient toward people we love, and why they can be harsh, mean and unloving toward us.  And why God, for example, can allow our loved ones to suffer and to impose their suffering on us, and the guilt that goes with this.  Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly.”

Well, the word “dimly” is the English translation of the original Greek from which we get the word “enigma.”  An enigma is something baffling or puzzling, — a mystery.  Our ways, the ways of others, and the ways of God remain rather enigmatic to us now, but faith allows us to live with the enigmatic by being assured that someday we will see God face to face, and all mysteries will be revealed.  Yes,

Charlie Brown, love makes peanut butter taste better, because God is love.  Amen.