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The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 3, 2013
The Epistle: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Sermon: "A Gift for Valentine's Day"
The Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
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. 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. 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.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 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. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 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. 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. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
A Gift for Valentine's Day
Today is Super Bowl Sunday! But, I’m not going to talk about that. In a week and half, though, there’s an even more important day coming. You might be thinking I’m speaking of Ash Wednesday, or the day before it, Shrove Tuesday. But no, I’m not going to talk about those either. The day I am going to talk about is the day after Ash Wednesday; Valentine’s Day. It’s appropriate that we talk about it, because, despite all the greeting card and jewelry industry hype, it is a Christian festival day. It is after all, Saint Valentine’s Day; named for the early Christian saint who is remembered in tradition for his sacrificial love for others. Since the theme of the day will be on love, it’s a good time now to start thinking about love in our lives.
A little boy wanted to spy on his big sister and her new boyfriend. He knew they liked to sit under a certain tree, so before the young suitor arrived, the boy climbed high up in the tree and hid himself. Soon he heard the amorous young couple down below. The fellow was trying to make his first advance and impress the girl at the same time. He looked up at the night sky and said with a loud voice, “Little star up above, should I kiss the girl I love?” Imagine his surprise when he heard a small voice from up above answer, “Sixteen-year-old down below, pucker-up and let her go!”
Love is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Every survey of what makes people happy shows that the happiest people are those who know themselves to be loved. Most of us understand this upside of love. Of course, most of us are aware of the downside too.
Like that fellow who confided to his best friend that life was now empty because the woman he loved had refused to marry him. “Don’t let that stop you.” Said his friend, “A woman’s ‘No’ can sometimes just mean ‘Not yet’. You should ask again.” She didn’t say ‘No’”, came the dejected reply. “She said phooey!”
But, upside or downside, there’s no disputing that love has great power in our lives. From our Epistle lesson this morning from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we have heard again what millions of people around the world have come to accept as the best description of love ever written. Such a portrait of love is drawn so convincingly in these few verses, that even non-Christians will quote it freely. I have actually known people to finally surrender their resistance to Christ after reading these few words; for in this verbal portrait of love they came to see the face of he who is love embodied, Jesus Christ.
What makes this description of love so different, so powerful? Look at the passage again as it’s printed in your bulletin. Let’s examine the “Love chapter of the Bible.” Look at the wording, especially beginning around verse four. Do you see what’s so different? This isn’t a proper definition as we might put it. There are few nouns. Love’s attributes are either verbs and adverbs, or adjectives that are themselves in turn defined by verbs and adverbs. That means that love is an action. Love is something that we do. There’s no sentimental mush and nonsensical gushiness here. The life of love is a call to action. Love here is not known so much by how much we feel it. Here, love in known more by how well we give it to and do it for each other. Love, real love, is therefore, dynamic; moving. Real love is action. No wonder that love is such a power in our lives. Out of all these calls to powerful active love, let’s pay close-up attention to three this morning.
And let’s look first at the first word that defines it: Love is patient. Patient, wherever it is used in the New Testament, always means patience with people; not patience with circumstances. St. Chrysostom, one of the early Church Fathers, once said that it is the word for that man or woman who is wronged and who easily has it in their power to avenge themselves, and yet who will not do it. It describes the person who is slow to anger.
When used of God it describes God’s parental love of you and me. As parents, even in the face of disobedience and belligerent rebellion, we find ourselves still compelled to love that child or young person of ours. (Of course, I’m not speaking of any personal experience like this with any of mine!) We love because we still hope and believe the best of them. And we trust that they shall pass through it and good will prevail and somehow we will be allowed to survive it as well. In dealing with others, no matter how hurtful, we are to be patient as we are with our offspring; as God is with you and me. It is simple truth that such patience is not weakness, but great strength. Love is patient.
Second, Love is Kind. There is so much Christianity that is good but unkind. There was no more pious and devoted man than Phillip the Second of Spain. Yet Phillip founded the Spanish inquisition. He really believed that he was serving God by massacring those who thought differently from him. Apart from that persecuting spirit, there is in so many devout people an attitude of criticism. Too many good people would side with the rulers and not with Jesus if they had to deal with the woman taken in adultery. No, real love is not goodness; real love is kindness. (Ok, that’s a noun, but its definition in the dictionary is still full of verbs!)
Do you want to know something loving that you could do almost immediately and following the service today and everyday for that matter? Hug each other! Virtually every study on the subject of hugging, and yes there have been several, has found that people who are hugged regularly, are less susceptible to disease, more hopeful, have fewer depressions, and are generally happier than people who are not hugged regularly. Two groups consistently pointed out in these studies as thriving on hugs, and needing them the most too, are young people and seniors; youngsters and oldsters. If the Apostle Paul were writing today, I’m sure he would have told the Thessalonians, rather than a kiss, to greet one another with a holy hug. So let your love be kind, and hug one another. Love is patient. Love is kind.
And one thing more: love abides. It survives all. It conquers all. It outlasts anything. It still stands when all else has faded away. One of the most amazing and moving stories that I have ever heard is this true love story. It’s a story of Thomas Moore, the 19th Century Irish poet. Shortly after his marriage, he was called away on business. It was some time before he returned home, and when he did, he found waiting for him at the front door of the house, not his beautiful bride, but the family doctor.
“Your wife is upstairs,” said the doctor, “but she has asked that you not come up.” Then Thomas Moore learned the terrible truth: his wife had contracted smallpox. The disease had left her once flawless skin pocked and scarred. She had taken one look at her reflection in the mirror and had commanded that the shutters be drawn and that her husband never see her again. Moore would not listen. He ran upstairs and threw open the door of his wife’s room. It was pitch black inside. Not a sound came from the darkness. Groping along the wall, Moore felt for the gas jets. A startled cry came from a black corner of the room. “No! Don’t light the lamps!” Moore hesitated, swayed by the pleading in the voice. “Go!” she begged. “Please go! I set you free. This is the greatest gift I can give you now.”
Moore did go, but, only as far as his study where he sat up most of the night, prayerfully writing; not a poem this time, but a song. He had never written a song before, but now it seemed more in keeping with the mood of his soul than simple poetry. He not only wrote the words, he wrote the music too. He worked on it through the night. As morning dawned and the first rays of sunlight began to play upon the windows, he returned to his wife’s room. He felt his way to a chair in the still shuttered room and sat down.
“Are you awake?” he asked.
“I am,” came a voice from the far side of the room. “But you must not ask to see me. You must not press me, Thomas.”
“I will sing to you then” he answered. And so, for the first time, Thomas Moore sang to his wife a song that still lives today:
“Believe me, if all those endearing young charms,
Which I gaze on so fondly today,
Were to change by tomorrow and flee from my arms,
Like fairy gifts fading away;
Thou wouldst be adored, as this moment thou art,
Let thy loveliness fade as it will…”
He heard a movement from the darkest corner where his wife in her loneliness had sat in silence, waiting. He continued:
“Let thy loveliness fade as it will,
And ‘round the dear ruin each wish of my heart
Would entwine itself verdantly still.”
The song ended. As his voice trailed off on the last note, Moore heard his bride rise. She crossed the room to the windows, reached up and slowly drew open the shutters, never to be a prisoner of the darkness again.
King Solomon said so long ago: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.” (The Song of Solomon 8:7a)
St. Valentine’s Day is coming. We have a week and a half to get ready. Read First Corinthians 13 a little at a time this week, and consider each of those powerful actions of love. Then give it as the best gift of all.