Feb
25

God’s Love

Love is Kind

Feb. 3/2013, Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians 12:31b—13:13, Riverbend Lutheran Church, Edmonton, AB

EDIT: Audio version can be found here.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Amen.

As some of you may know, I am an adult convert to both Christianity and Lutheranism. I became a Christian primarily due to the outreach that was done by tiny congregation of fairly radical Charismatic-Pentecostals in Estevan, Saskatchewan. And they spoke in tongues.

They believed that the ability to speak in tongues, which for them meant a type of ecstatic utterance that they claimed was a special, non-human language only spoken by angels, was the basic evidence that every “true” Christian would show if they were really saved.

I was a brand new Christian, I was quickly devouring the Bible and every piece of Christian literature that I could get my hands on, but I was barely familiar with even the most basic Christian teachings. And so, I did what most new Christians have always do throughout time, I trusted the Christian community around me to guide me. However, I didn’t speak in tongues.

They spoke in tongues during the service, they spoke in tongues at Bible study, they spoke in tongues at congregational meetings, and they spoke in tongues in coffee shops where we met to talk about Jesus. However, I didn’t.

Their attention turned to me, and some started to act a little suspicious about my conversion. So they laid hands on me and asked God to grant me the gift of tongues while they spoke in tongues, They fasted for me while praying to God in tongues that I would be given tongues, and they started to question me, asking whether I was stopping it on purpose, and then showing me how easily they spoke in tongues. However, I still didn’t.

Then one day the Pastor of the congregation and a few other leaders were talking to me and laid it out explicitly for me: I might be a Christian, I might even be saved, they weren’t quite sure, but if I didn’t start speaking in tongues, and soon, I could never know if I was going to Heaven.

I had been reading a lot about this stuff, so I asked a few questions, “But isn’t the angelic language in Scripture actually Hebrew? Isn’t tongues just speaking in other languages known by the people you are talking to so you can tell them about Jesus? Doesn’t it seem that Paul in Corinthians says tongues isn’t that important anyways?

Their response? “Quinn, this is part of the problem, all you seem to want to do is read the Bible, and that is giving you a head-faith, you need to get spirit-led, you need to have a heart-faith.”

I was terrified. As a brand new Christian I was being told by the Pastor of my Church that my salvation, my very soul, was at stake. And so I spoke in tongues. But deep down, I knew I was a fraud. I knew it wasn’t real. You could have tortured me – nothing could have gotten me to admit that at the time – but I was a fake. And this experience led to me leaving that congregation, and nearly leaving Christianity behind forever, thinking myself a spiritual failure in the eyes of the other Christians and of God Himself.

St. Paul was dealing with something similar in Corinth when he wrote this letter. There were some within the congregation there that were bragging about the spiritual gifts that they were showing off during the service. It had become disruptive. It had become divisive. It had become a way for some in the congregation to lord their own supposed “holiness” over everyone else. But this is not how a people of love act, is it?

Now I know that many of you who are married had some of our reading for today read at your wedding. It speaks about love and in the English translations we use, seems to be perfect for that occasion as a husband and his wife celebrate their love for one another. However, and I want to be careful here, it maybe didn’t quite mean what you think it meant. You see, the word for “love” used here in our reading is “agape.” It is not exactly the kind of love that man and wife have for each other, that kind of love tends to produce babies. And it is not even the kind of love that friends and family have for each other. It is something entirely different.

Now, let me say here that a man and his wife can and indeed should have this kind of love for each other, but I think the best way to think of it is that while the other two types of love that I mentioned have as their source ourselves, “agape” has as its source Jesus Christ – God Himself.

So, that means that this section of our reading that has at its heart this beautiful discourse on love is really a discourse on how God first loves us. And only then, how we are to love one another because God has empowered us as Christians to do these things and reaches out in love towards each other through each one of us.

This is why St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “Love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” When we serve each other, when we work mercy in the lives of other human beings, God is effectively using our hands and hearts to serve His beloved children. And, when we reach out and help, when we say a kind word, when we shovel a walkway, when we drop money into a mailbox of someone we suspect needs it, we are loving both our neighbour, and our God.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

When we understand this love as the love that God gives us, and the love that He then allows us to show to others, it changes things a little, doesn’t it? With that in mind, thinking about God’s own love for each and every one of you, let’s continue onto that famous passage:

Love is patient and kind; 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 at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.”

Be this way for one another, for God has been this way and is this way for you. And let me be absolutely clear; you will mess up. You will move between knowing that your love for others has failed in what you have done and what you have failed to do and lying to yourself by thinking that you have shown perfect love to other, or at least, “good enough” love. This is why Jesus gives us Baptism – to forgive this sin. This is why Jesus gives us Confession and Absolution at the beginning of every Divine Service – to forgive your sin. This is why Jesus gives us His Holy Supper from His altar – to forgive every sin.

He has forgiven you. He is forgiving you. He will forgive you. From the cross it was all done already.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Amen.

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