January 31, 2016
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Anthem: Take My Hand, Precious LordSenior Choir
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Three things will last, even when all other things fall away, even when all the structures and institutions fail, even when we learn so much more about ourselves and life that the old ways of doing things no longer work. Three things are eternal and will live even when other things no longer give life: Faith. And Hope. And Love.
The word radical, like the words awesome and terrible, no longer means what it used to. Originally, radical means “from the roots.” From the very core, from the bottom up. First it was a mathematical term, then it got applied to politics back in the 1700s.
But I want to go back to the roots of the word that means “from the roots.” I propose that all love is radical. Why? Because it affects us to core of our being, and it changes us in ways far deeper than the superficial day to day changes of life.
Much has been made of the ancient Greek’s ways of defining love, and this is appropriate, given the Greek in which the New Testament was written. In ancient Greece, there were generally four ways of describing love: There is Eros, Storge, Philia, and Agape.
Eros is the root of our word erotic, and it has to do with love in the form of desire. But it is about more than a sexual love. It is the love that draws us out of ourselves. For some, it is found in art, in music, in poetry, in beauty, in math. I am not a mathematician, but I have some friends who can find a transfixing beauty in mathematical formulas and ideas that beautifully and eloquently model the world.
It is the moment when something takes our breath away and draws us out of our worries and anxieties and into a connection larger than ourselves.
That said, it is often this form of love that gets us in trouble if we do not have maturity and good boundaries. This kind of love can lead us to offer the world great works of art and music and theater. But it can also have us burn our bridges and sacrifice relationships tragically.
Storge is the word that they used for family love. This is the natural love a parent has for a child and a child for a parent. This is not an untroubled love. How often is it those who are closest to us that drive us the most crazy?
Philia we know from the city of Philadelphia, the city of “brotherly love.” This is the love that we find in our friendships. This is the connection that is grown by working and playing side by side. We find it in the kitchen during funeral luncheons and on the ball field among teammates.
But the love that is mentioned in our passage from First Corinthians is Agape. In some translations it is written as “charity.” It is a love that expects nothing to be reciprocated. It is the love that does not expect anything in return.
God’s love is often spoken of with Agape in the New Testament. God loves us, knowing that it is unreasonable to expect us to be able to offer that love back to God in anywhere near the same measure. It is the love that is given simply because we love.
Now, the word charity here needs a little explanation. Flint, Michigan. When churches and celebrities and others send water to Flint, that is charity. And charity is necessary.
But we need to be careful to remember that God is not simply about charity. God is also a God of justice. Charity is sending water to those in need. Justice is honestly working out all the political and economic and social reasons that this has occurred, and changing them! Justice is figuring out something good to do with all the tons of plastic from the bottles being sent. Justice is loving our neighbor as ourselves such that they are not at risk of lead poisoning.
Our problem with Flint is the problem that they had in the synagogue when Jesus spoke. Our passage this morning says,
Then he began to say to them,
“Today this scripture has been
fulfilled in your hearing.”
What scripture? He has just finished reading from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring
good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
And this passage is beautiful. Until Jesus starts pointing out the community that is supposed to be living by this word has often failed to take care of the orphans and widows and lepers and the least of these among them. Until Jesus points out that God sent God’s prophets out to outsiders and not the insiders.
Then the crowd turns. They want to get rid of Jesus. They want to stone him, to throw him off the cliff. They want to sacrifice the messenger because he dares to challenge their comfort in their security in God’s covenant.
God’s love is given in ways that we can never pay back. But we are called to offer that same love to those who it is hardest for us to offer it to, and to challenge and change the systems which deny the humanity of the least of these in our midst.
Dorothy Day puts it in radical terms, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” I am deeply troubled by this, but that does not make it any less true.
Maybe a part of the problem is that we have been missing a key element of the Gospel. Maybe we have forgotten that we are to love one who is the most difficult to love, and that is ourselves. Because once we learn how very, very, very deeply we are loved, we can start to love others the way we need to.
Once we figure out how loved we are, warts and all, we no longer need to defend and justify and rationalize and explain, and we can just get on with the work of loving others as Christ loves us.
For it is this same love that God gives to each of us, loving us to the core of our being. The difference between us and those people we deem to be saints is that they managed to forget this love a little less often than we do.
Or as Mother Theresa said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.”
Thanks be to God.