The Gift of Love
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 (NRSV)
Friends, I want to you think for just a moment about the times when you tell someone that you love them. For many of us, it is a momentous occasion. In the beginning, when our children are born, we hold them in our arms and we tell them how much we love them. At the end, when a loved one is about to die, through tears we tell them that we love them, wishing we had said it more often. And at a turning point in a romantic relationship, when the relationship gets serious or the couple talks of marriage, they talk more about their love for one other. Love becomes an important word at times like those.
But I have to interject for just a minute because we have two amazing teachers here in Oldtown, two teachers that minister to our entire congregation on a weekly basis, teaching us and reminding us that we are loved. They teach by example as they show us that we don’t need to hold on to our love, saving it only for special occasions, but that we can share it freely. Friends, not a Sunday goes by when Steve Whitney and Kim Koepfler both remind us that we are loved. What amazing teachers and ministers they are for us. I want you to think about that for a minute.
Friends, I think we have all been to a wedding at some point and heard today’s scripture reading. After all, the scripture is about love, and weddings are about love. So, of course, it seems appropriate. And we want couples to remember the importance of being patient, and kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude, not insisting on their own way or being irritable or resentful or rejoicing in wrongdoing, but we want them to remember to rejoice in the truth.
But actually, when the Apostle Paul was sharing those words with the church in Corinth, he wasn’t talking about a wedding. He wasn’t talking about newlyweds who love everything about each other. Actually, he wasn’t talking about romantic love at all. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is about Christian love., and he was teaching them and us about the ways that we should treat everyone with patience and kindness, never being envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
So while many people look at today’s passage as an instruction for marriage, what Paul is really talking about is the “loving your neighbor” that Jesus always teaches us. We hear that love is patient and kind. It is never jealous, or boastful, and we think that is how a married couple should treat each other. But the truth is my friends, we are not only supposed to treat our spouse or our family and friends with that kind of love, but we are supposed to treat everyone with that kind of love! And I mean EVERYONE!
Just think of the times in scripture when Jesus tells us that we are called to love our neighbor. When Jesus says “neighbor,” he’s not simply talking about the person in the pew next to you or the person who lives next door to us. He is talking about everyone, the people that we pass on the street and in the grocery store, the people that we see on television and in the newspaper, the people that look like us and the people that look very different from us, the people that we agree with and the people that aggravate us beyond belief!
But the truth is, my friends, loving others can sometimes be hard work. I mean, it’s usually easy to do when we are dealing with our friends and people that we like. It’s easy to do when we agree with the other person and when they are nice to us, but what happens when someone hurts our feelings or argues with us, or disagrees with us politically, or posts something horrible about us on Twitter, or calls us names? What are we supposed to do then? Well, if we listen to Paul and to Jesus, we are supposed to love them.
Have you ever had someone upset you or say something to hurt you? Did someone ever do something that you didn’t agree with? I wonder, what did you do in return? Did you get angry with them and start a fight? Did you badmouth them to your friends or put a nasty post about them on Facebook? Did you treat them unfairly in return?
Friends, it is easy to judge others when they don’t do things like we do or don’t believe in the same things that we do, or when they say things or do things to upset us. But the truth is, we aren’t called to judge anyone. We are simply called to love them. Over and over again in scripture, we are told to love others, to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’re even told to love our enemies and those who persecute us. Over and over again, Jesus shows us how to love others through his own example, just like Steve and Kim do here in Oldtown. Remember, Jesus even loved the tax collectors and the prostitutes, the unclean and the unaccepted, and he calls us to do the same.
But friends, the problem that we all face, is that all our lives, society has taught us just the opposite. Society teaches us that everything should be even and fair. You hurt me and I hurt you in return. You say something mean about me and I say something horrible back. But Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.”
Friends, we always talk about the unconditional love of God here in Oldtown, and we find comfort in the fact that Jesus loves us even though we really mess things up sometimes. Think about this for just a minute. Jesus doesn’t say, I’ll only love you if you’re nice to me, or if you agree with me, or if you do things the way I want you to, or if you are worthy of my love. No, Jesus simply reaches out his arms and says, I love you just the way you are and there is nothing that you can do about it!
Friends, over the summer, I watched the movie, “Wont You Be My Neighbor.” It talked about the work that Mr. Rogers did with children through television. Mr. Rogers wasn’t afraid to talk about the difficult things or to admit that sometimes in life we face things that are scary or sad, or things that frustrate us or make us angry. He gave an entire generation permission to ask questions and to talk about their feelings, and he assured them that they were loved no matter what.
In case you didn’t know, Mr. Rogers was an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, and the work that he did through television with children was his ministry. Now, he didn’t preach sermons, and he didn’t invite the children to pray, but during each show, he offered a sacred and safe space where children were reminded that they matter, and that no matter what happens in the world around them that they are loved. He showed patience and kindness. He wasn’t envious or boastful, arrogant or rude. He was real and genuine, and he taught children about what it means to be loved just the way you are.
In the movie, it talked about the fact that if you took all the elements that make good a television show and do the opposite, you have Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. There were low production values, a simple set, and an unlikely star. Yet it worked because what Mr. Rogers was saying and doing was important. Mr. Rogers was a strong believer in the fact that, “Love is at the root of all relationships. love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear and experience is what we become.”
Friends, I’ve known for a while that we have needed to make a change to the way we do Sunday School here in Oldtown. We have been blessed over the years with amazing Sunday School superintendents and teachers, and I am thankful for the hard work and dedication that they have shared with us. But with busy families, people of all ages with differing abilities and needs, and the staffing requirements to keep our children and families safe, the old Sunday School model is just not working.
Now, I also know that change is not always easy. But after watching “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” I feel very strongly that our new Household Huddles are just what we need, a chance for everyone to be heard and appreciated, a chance for us not just to talk about loving one another, but actually working together to do it, a place and a time for our kids to know that they matter, a time for all of us to learn from and to teach each other, and a time for families to experience what it is like to truly listen to and support one another.
Now I know that this is going to take a little adjusting to, and some activities may not reach every age level, and we may need to show a little extra patience and kindness. Hey, our production value may be low, and we may have a simple set up. But I’ve heard that that has worked in the past! Folks, as long as love is the root of our relationships, I think we’re going to be okay.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember that you are loved just the way you are. And though it may not be easy, let’s all try to go out into the world loving everyone else the same exact way. And next week, I hope you’ll join us at our Household Huddle at 9am in Maxcy Hall, as we all experience a new way to love our neighbors as ourselves.
My friends, may it be so, thanks be to God! Amen!