Faithlife Sermons

Advent Four: Love

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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.

Kids to the knowing place

The Wedding Sermon

I’ve done a lot of weddings in my career.
I had a professor say that he would rather do 1000 funerals than a single wedding.
And after dealing with a couple of bridezillas and groomzillas (they do exist!), I get it.
But I have a few secrets to the wedding game:

I let the couples pick…

I always let the couples pick the scriptures that I’ll be preaching from.
I think that it’s their service, and they ought to have some ownership over what God is speaking to them in that moment.
Plus it makes for an interesting challenge.
But for as often as I have lofty goals of couples going for deep dives and obscure Scriptures...

They always pick this

I think 98% of the weddings that I do, the couple chooses this scripture.
So much so, that this gets called “The Wedding verse” by some more jaded pastors.

And I just repeat the same sermon

I figure I’m only going to see this group once, so I just wrote one sermon that I keep repeating over and over again.
A sister of a bride I worked with before has asked me to officiate, so I might have to re-think that strategy.
But so I thought today, since we’re talking about our last candle in the wreath, the love candle, that I’d just amend the wedding sermon and maybe make it a little bit longer or more Christmas-y.
But

There’s something more...

There’s more to this verse than romantic love.
There’s more to this verse than weddings.
There’s more that this verse has to say about the coming of Christ.

The Four Loves

First, we have to sort out what we mean by the word “love.”

We only have one word for love

And we use it for everything!
I love the Penguins, and I love Sarah
I love all of you in the congregation, and I love Chipotle.
I love listening to the Beatles, and I love worshipping with McCrady Road/The Choir
That one little word “love” has to do so much heavy lifting.
And I think that opens it up to a lot of abuse.
When ever I hear someone that they are going to speak the truth in love, I get a little bit defensive.
Whenever someone says they are ready to dole out tough love, I question their motives.
Often the phrase “The most loving thing I can do...” is followed by something that to my eye doesn’t look at all like love.
So what is love?
Baby don’t hurt me.
You would have made that joke too.
The Greek writers of our scriptures had four words for love, each worth an extra little bit of discovery and discussion:

Storge

Sometimes referred to as “affection,” this is essentially a love of cute things.
When you see a box of puppies or kittens and you go “awe...”
That’s Storge.
Storge serves a very important function in our own evolution.
Every now and again I remember when the boys were just newborns.
I remember the sleepless nights.
I remember making bottles.
I remember doctors visits and the terror that comes every time a new parent comes across an illness they’d never seen before.
And often when I think back to that, I say to myself “It was a good thing they were cute!”
Storge can help us look past the difficulties of our lives.

Philia

Perhaps you can pick up on this one from the name of that city on the other side of our state with the horrible hockey team.
Philia is brotherly love, or better put, friendship.
You know that you’ve wandered in to this kind of love when
You have that one person or group of people that you always go on adventures with.
You have that one person or group of people where at some point in a conversation someone realizes what time it is with shock and horror.
You have that one person or group of people you turn to when things in your life start to fall apart.
There is usually a connective tissue to Philia, or at least to start it.
Maybe you met at a bowling league, or in a pottery class, or (here’s an idea) a church.
But that connective tissue isn’t enough all by itself to sustain a friendship.
It takes time and intentionality, doesn’t it?
As a side note, this is something we will come back to later, but...
I’ve been doing some reading and research on loneliness in American life.
It turns out we have a very serious Philia shortage in our culture today.
The number of people who claim to be experiencing loneliness was on the rise back in 2019, and then the Pandemic threw it in to overdrive.
There are so many needs in our culture that the church is unable to respond to.
This is one that we are uniquely qualified and built to respond to.
We can reach out with Philia to a weary and lonely culture around us.
But more on that later.

Eros

Eros is physical attraction, or romantic love.
At it’s most broken it’s where we get the word erotic.
Which honestly, the church doesn’t talk about much because it makes pastors blush.
But there’s so much to celebrate in our physical attractions.
God designed us to have our breath taken away by each other.
God designed us to appreciate beauty wherever we find it, including in each other.
God designed us to have romance in our lives.
Like anything, the way God designed it can go awry, but simply because those perversions exists isn’t reason enough to avoid the topic all together.

Agape

Agape is the word most frequently used for love in the Scriptures.
For a definition, it is best understood as a love that values the recipient above the giver.
Agape love is not something you can give away for free. It’s going to cost you something.
Agape is the love Paul is writing about here in 1 Corinthians.
Agape is the love Jesus Christ put on perfect display for us.
Agape is the love that we are being invited to share in together.
And, pretty unfortunately, Agape is probably the love we’re worst at.

Our Efforts at Agape

Let’s just take a couple here:

Agape is patient

I was talking to a friend who served as a volunteer on a church retreat last weekend, where they came across a rather challenging student.
He stole all the light bulbs from every light in their cabin.
He put a full roll of toilet paper in the toilet.
And he stole another kids wallet.
All of this was just on the first night!
There are people who try and test our patience, aren’t there?
People who know exactly what buttons to push.
People who know how to show up exactly when we are at our least energized.
People who require more patience than we are often able to provide.
I like to think of myself as a patient person, but man, isn’t this part of Agape love hard?
There are a lot of people that I don’t want to be patient with.
Love calls me to push beyond that part of myself.

Agape does not insist on it’s own way

Isn’t it true that most of us think that we see the world is the right way to see the world?
If more people cared about the stuff I care about, this would all be a lot easier, don’t you think?
If more people voted the way that I vote, all our problems would be solved.
If more people rooted for the Penguins...
But the truth is that this is a big world, and we’re just not able to insist on our own way all the time, are we?
Sometimes we have to make room for a larger conversation.
Sometimes we have to engage with folks we might disagree with.
Sometimes we might have to go along with their plan.
This isn’t to say that you become a doormat in the name of love.
We still have agency and the ability to stand up for ourselves.
But there’s a way to do that which doesn’t require it to be our way or the highway.

Agape rejoices in the truth

Whew boy our culture struggles with this, don’t we?
Our echo chambers are built deep.
We choose the news network that is most likely to tell us what we want to hear.
We curate our Twitter feeds to make sure that we don’t get challenging opinions.
We manage our friend groups so that we’re never made to feel uncomfortable.
Agape rejoices in the truth, even when it’s hard.
Agape love listens as that friend tells us how far off the path we’ve gotten, and celebrates the chance to get back on track.
Agape love allows outside and different viewpoints to sharpen us, correct us, and nurture us.
Agape love just simply isn’t afraid of truth. It embraces it, even at it’s own peril.
No matter how you slice this, no matter which of the definitions of Agape love that Paul offers us here in our passage today, we are (as the great rock band Switchfoot sang) Amateur lovers at best.
But thanks be to God, it’s not entirely up to us.

Christ’s Redemption of Agape

God is love

We know that Jesus is God, through our trinitarian theology, that Jesus and the Father are one.
And we also know from 1 John that God is love itself.
Knowing this, a reading of 1 Corinthians 13 with a slight change of words might help us understand Christ’s redemption of our failed attempts to love.

Christ is patient

I fall for the same sin traps over and over and over and over again.
Truth be told, for as much as I struggle with patience with youth group kids who steal light bulbs, I struggle with patience for myself even more.
I don’t think I’m alone with that.
Christ looks at my failures, my shortcomings, my inability to offer love, and meets me in patience as well.
Christ patiently forgives us our shortcomings.
Christ patiently corrects us back to the loving and healing path.
Christ patiently loves us in spite of our inability to love well.

Christ does not insist on his own way

Wouldn’t this be so much easier if Christ just made us all behave the way we were supposed to?
We wouldn’t have to worry about declining attendance numbers any more! That’s for sure!
But that’s not the way of love.
The way of love offers a choice, and celebrates the right choice.
The way of love never insists on its own way, and neither will Jesus with us.
Instead Jesus will do as he always does, patiently painting a picture of what the coming kingdom could look like, and inviting us to live into that kingdom in the here and now.

Christ rejoices in the truth

In fact, we read elsewhere that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.
Christ very patiently reflects the truth back to us, even if we only see it in a mirror dimly right now.
And it’s important to remember that Christ is all these things at the same time.
Some people want to use the “I am the truth” verse as a club to beat up people who disagree with them.
Christ does not take joy in the truth proving someone wrong.
Christ reflects the truth back to us with patience, kindness, humble, not irritable or resentfully.
And whew boy don’t we need that!
For all those times that I am certain I’m right, and it turns out I’m not, Christ rejoices in the truth.
For all those times I’m convinced the way I see the world is true, and it turns out I’m wrong, Christ rejoices in the truth.
When I think that I am as loving as I possibly can be, and it turns out that I have miles and miles to go, Christ rejoices in the truth.

A Complete and Healed Agape is coming

It is true that you and I are amateur lovers at best.
Even when we act out of the best of intentions, even when our hearts are as pure as we can muster, our sinful and imperfect attempts at love often hurt our neighbors.
Storge gets misplaced, Philia can be exploited, and Eros is a minefield of perversions.
And far too often, our own egos can wreck any attempt at Agape love that values the recipient above the giver.
Thanks be to God for the cross.
The cross is a shining example of what Agape love looks like, the Son of God showing up to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves at his own expense.
The cross is a reminder that all the hurt and pain and failure that have resulted from our imperfect loves are covered in the perfect love of Christ.
The cross is the pointing toward a hopeful future where a complete and healed Agape is coming, where we are reminded that at the end the tree of life is the healing balm for the nations.
We can hope in that love.
We can have faith in that love.
We find our peace in that love.
That love brings us tremendous joy.
And we continue walking toward the light.
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