Love in Focus

Sunday, June 23, 2019
Intern Eric Nelson

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen

“Love is patient, love is kind.”

Were any of you brought back to memories of a wedding as we read this passage from 1 Corinthians?

These are wonderful things to remember in a marriage or any relationship, but that wasn’t the focus as Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians.

This is a great place to begin our six-week series on expecting the unexpected. We’re looking again at familiar texts and stories in the Bible and seeking the message God is bringing to us that we may have missed before. So, if this isn’t just a reading for wedding, what is the message to God’s people?

The words Paul writes to the Corinthians were coming to a diverse community of believers who had become divisive in their differences.

This early Corinthian church had married and unmarried people, children, and widows. It had many Gentiles who had come into the Christian faith, and also some Jews. Some of that smaller portion who grew up in the Jewish faith, were those who held greater power in the church as former synagogue leaders. Similarly, most of this church community was of the lower class, but you also had a couple of members with resources able to support the entire church community. Within this church you have both slaves and free people. There is great diversity of people and power.

And of course, in this diverse group there is quite a variety of spiritual gifts. Just before this, in chapter 12, Paul speaks of the many members of the body of Christ like the parts of our human body. Each part has a different function and are needed to be the body together.

This is quite a diverse group!

These are the people Paul is speaking to about this love in community.

They must have a lot of love for each other in the midst of all those differences, huh?

  1. Paul’s words are a call to action for this struggling Christian community.

This was a letter, so we don’t have Paul’s voice inflection to go with it, but I imagine him scolding them at this point. “Love is patient! Love is kind!”

They needed redirection in what love for their neighbors looked like.

Nearly two thousand years later, our diverse Christian church still needs this reminder. We are called to action to put love in focus as we see our neighbor. We are not just thinking of love for those closest to us. We are talking about love for all God’s diverse people.

When we talk about diversity in the church, many people immediately think of race. As we look at today’s world, we know that is still a significant part of our struggle, but what about the different gifts and abilities of each person in the body of Christ? Our diversity spans across every aspect of our identities along with the perspectives and gifts we bring.

Do we make space to see all these gifts in the church community? Are there some gifts we elevate above others? How do we view gifts of knowledge, prophecy, and speaking in tongues that Paul speaks of? Do we elevate a gift like knowledge above others to the point where it might exclude another?

It doesn’t stop with those spiritual gifts. What else has potential to divide God’s church? Social class? Age? Family status? Mental and physical ability? Gender? Politics?

Many things have the potential to divide us, but that is not God’s vision for the church. I see a lot of love across barriers in this beautiful Christian community of Augustana Lutheran Church, but we know we have more work to do. We know how it seems easier to love those we know and understand. We extend welcome, but do we extend love?

We are each more than just welcome in God’s church, we belong in God’s church as a unique member.

Yet, we know the difficulty of understanding someone who is different from us. We are not called to full understanding of our neighbor. Now we see dimly, but one day we will see face-to-face. Our neighbor is also created in God’s image and we see that dimly. One day we will see that fully as we continue to love each person created uniquely in God’s image.

Love in focus puts God and our neighbor in focus.

The word, “love,” that Paul speaks of is “agape” in Greek. Agape is closely associated to an early church practice of agape feasts. This was a shared meal together in the faith community, separate from communion, but similar in how community gathered together united for this meal.

Unfortunately, these agape feasts and communions were also an issue for the church in Corinth. Some would go hungry while others would stuff themselves and become drunk. Even that meal, meant to be loving community together, became a point of furthered division.

How do we find unity when we are divided? How do we sit and work with someone we just don’t understand?

LOVE. After Paul speaks of those diverse gifts in the body of Christ in chapter 12, he points to a still more excellent way. This more excellent way is love that transcends our differences.

We hear those remarkable stories of truce in the midst of war. We hear of Christmas carols sung as both sides cease fighting. We hear of a Turkish soldier helping an injured Allied troop back to his trench unharmed during a cease fire and a touching moment of shared humanity as they exchanged cigarettes and snacks with a break to the fighting. Unfortunately, we know how these stories continue. The fighting goes on. Love is not just to make it through some time together.

Love is not a fleeting truce as we gather. Love is deeper than this.

I recently read about a group called the Parent’s Circle. This is a grassroots organization for Palestinians and Israelis who have lost family and friends in the conflict. They could have chosen revenge, but instead realized the only way forward was to talk to each other. This does not make light of any conflict, but instead acknowledges that loving community, even with your enemies, is the way forward. One father in the group said, “Our blood is the same color. Our tears are just as bitter.” They see their shared humanity in this and they choose life instead of death. Peace is at stake for everyone in that group. They are united in this peace and love that surpasses every difference they could name.

They look at the Separation Wall on the West Bank and one father says this, “No wall, no matter how high, can stop two kinds of people, one determined suicide bomber and the one determined peacemaker.”

Did you catch what he was saying? He was saying love and peace were also greater than that physical boundary. Love and peace are greater!

This is what Paul is speaking of when he says the greatest gift is love. This is what he is leading into at the end of chapter twelve when he says he will show a still more excellent way. LOVE. Love is greater.

I can’t imagine the Palestinian and Israeli fathers agree or understand each other in all things, but they have love in focus. They have love that unifies, not to cancel out differences but to bridge the gaps we create in our lack of seeing each person as God sees us: created in God’s very image. Love lets us seek to see the divine in each person. In love, we see God face-to-face.

This work is not our own.

1 John says, “We love because he first loved us.” This is the type of love Paul is focused on. This love acknowledges that we don’t see everything clearly, but we look to the love of Christ. Now we see dimly. We do not fully understand our neighbor or our God, but love will remain and one day we will see fully. As we keep love in focus, we seek to see our neighbor created and beloved of God. In love our Christian community can go past merely saying all are welcome here and instead say, God created this community with you in mind and you belong here. We can seek to see each person as God sees them with clear vision and true love in focus.

Chuck Hoffman of Holden Village says, “Love alone holds the strength to redeem our relationships and focus on what unites us rather than what divides us.”

This is God’s vision for the church.

God loves you and sees you clearly.

God gives you gifts to be shared.

God calls you to lift up the gifts of others.

God calls you to keep love in focus despite all that we see dimly, knowing  that love will never end and one day we will see ourselves, our neighbors, and all of God’s creation fully as the beautiful masterpiece God forms us to be in perfect love together.

Go and love!

Thanks be to God. Amen

Past Sermons