I Have Been Fully Known

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (MSG)

I Have Been Fully Known

This sermon was originally preached on February 3, 2019 at North Star United Methodist Church in Nikiski, AK. You can watch the video recording here. 

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (MSG)

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.

If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

 Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.

When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.

We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing God directly just as God knows us!

 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.

 

If this sounds like a familiar scripture, but haven’t heard it read like this before, you’re not alone. The translation we used today is from The Message translation, and we’re using it for several reasons.

Our traditional hearing that you may be familiar reads, “love is patient, love is kind”, and so on. We’ve probably heard it several times, read around February 14, found on anniversary gifts, and recited at weddings. It’s used a lot, and that’s because this love thing it talks about is very important. But sometimes, when we hear something, even something as powerful as this message, it can be easy for us to forget just how fundamental it is, as if we were reading it for the first time.

The other reason, is that this passage demands action at its core, and we can’t always see that by just reading into the more traditional version of the text. If we take this passage back to its original translation, the verb ‘is’ in “love is patient”, and all the other ones, is incredibly powerful. Is in English, really is a kind of filler word, a word that helps to build sentences when it needs a more generic verb. But at its core, the word ‘is’ really translates to ‘to be’, which are words that demand action.

Talking about love is great. We do it a lot in the church, and for good reason. Love is worthy of being celebrated, talked about, and pursued.

It’s also easy to forget the power of love. Love is bigger than a reason for a holiday. Love cannot be defined by a simple heart symbol. That is, because love is an action.

A man named Bob Goff wrote a book about the power of love, called Love Does. In it, he talks about the power of love when it’s an action. He says this: “Love is never stationary. In the end, love doesn’t just keep thinking about it or planning for it. Love does.”

So when we approach this scripture today, one that again, we’ve probably heard a lot before, we can see it in new ways when, instead of asking what love is, we can ask what it does.

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love takes pleasure in truth. Love trusts God. Love perseveres. Love does.

It does something to our minds, when we are able to appreciate beauty and goodness and joy in ways that help us to see the sacred. Love does good in our world, when we can channel love as an action, an action that will help others. Love does so much, when we can see it, and when we can recognize it as something we do and something we are.

I started watching a new show on Netflix, called Tidying Up. And when I say started watching, I mean that I started watching it and finished the series in the same weekend. Tidying Upis a show featuring Marie Kondo, a woman who has changed the cleaning and organizing game by introducing her method, the KonMari method, through her book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. A big part of her method involves people asking what items spark joy for them. It makes people look past things like reliability, or what you might use for this one occasion down the line, or what serves a purpose but you hate it. Marie Kondo instructs people, to pick up each item in your closet, or kitchen, or in your storage space, and ask if it sparks joy for them. If it does spark joy, meaning it gives them a physical, bodily reaction of goodness, then it stays. And if it doesn’t spark joy, she tells folks to thank the item for what it’s done for them, then pass it on.

The thing that struck me, is the idea of something sparking joy. It gave me this new perspective on stuff, and how the items we use every day can be more than just useful, more than just pretty or nice to have around to serve a purpose. Instead, they can cause our mind to change, giving us a sense of joy, of happiness that we wouldn’t experience without them. Our stuff then takes on a new dimension, and instead of just a thing we use, it becomes a thing that is actively influencing our brains and our body.

Love takes on the same quality, when we allow it to. Love is a verb, when it goes from something that simply is, something that sits on a shelf or is useful in some way, to something that radically changes our being, that moves us into new ways of thinking and doing.

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That love, that verb, that action, models the way God loves us. God’s love is busy. It’s all over the place, and there’s an overwhelming amount of it all around us. God’s love is active, never stopping, always changing the way it shows up.

God’s love acts, and in acting, it causes change. It causes us to be changed, as we let God’s love in, and through God’s love for us, God’s active and alive and full love, we are able to love, too.

In this passage today, if we picture love as a living and moving being, love is busy. Love is searching for places to act, places to spark joy, to be in the world. Love in this passage is reminding us that even if we do everything by the books, even if we follow the steps laid out for us to the T, without love, we are missing a key piece of the puzzle.

Our actions speak to us louder than our words, but if love is not part of that action, our scripture says, what are we doing? Love in this passage, is always finding a way to express itself for the good of others. Love is constant, and it’s also intentional, taking flight in the avenues of life that require it.

So I think it would be easy to walk away today thinking we need to love more. That’s a good takeaway, right? But in the spirit of love we read about today, the spirit of love as an action, a verb, I think we need to take it further.

Where are the areas of your life that love needs to act more? What thing are you doing, because it makes sense in your head, but is lacking a purpose, a drive, a why or a how? In what spaces, can love act bigger, louder, with more intention?

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In my own life, I tend to be a really methodical person. Rationally, I know that something is good, and often, I’ll do that thing because I know in my head it’s right. But sometimes, I will do something without a cause, without a purpose or an active component of it. I do it because it’s good on paper, but I leave love out of it. I don’t let love speak loudly, and because of that, it lacks drive, and it lacks the heart.

So for me, love can act more when I let my heart speak more loudly than the rational part of my brain. And part of that is looking at things differently, seeing things in a different light, reframing what love could be if I gave it space to be that.

I wonder, what we could do, how much more outreach, how much more evangelizing, how much differently we could dream, if we could adopt this reframing. If we could ask ourselves why we do the things we do, and if we are allowing love to be active in the areas we work and live, would we still be doing things the same way?

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My guess is that adopting this mentality, through the commission of our scripture, we will change. Just as an infant grows and leaves their infant ways, we are being invited to act in love, and to grow from doing things because we think we have to, to doing things with love as the action behind them. When we remember that we are granted the ability to love actively, with purpose, with truth, we remember God loves us that same way; actively, with purpose, and with truth.

So we are invited, to love actively, through our faith, and through our actions. When we allow love to act, we learn about the extent that God loves us, and we begin to see the areas that God’s love shows up. As we leave this place today, may we begin to look to our lives for those ways that love can be more active.

May we see each opportunity as more than an obligation, but as an opportunity to redefine love, moving from something that has qualities of patience, kindness, and so on, to something that shows patience, and that honors kindness. May we learn to step aside for long enough to let love act in our lives, allowing God’s love to work through our hearts and our mind.

When we read again, our list of actions that love does, I’m reminded of course, of the life of Jesus.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.

Jesus embodies love in ways we can only imagine. But still, Jesus also acted in love his whole life, and he still does now. From his miraculous birth to a virgin woman, to the ways he stood up to power, to his genuine care for all those who looked to him for guidance. And of course, perhaps the biggest and most powerful way we see the way Jesus loved, was through his death, an act that reminds us that his sacrifice was an act of love so that we also, could love.

Jesus’ passion for us, for humanity as a whole, is an act of love that we remember by recreating his last meal with his disciples, a meal that was rooted in active, full, and constant love.

As we begin our celebration of holy communion, may we remember that we are also called to act in love, following the example of Jesus. I invite you to turn to page 13 to begin our communion liturgy.

As a reminder, this table, like the love of Christ, is open for all. This is not my table, or yours, or even the United Methodist Church’s table. This is God’s table, and God invites all who love God, all who want to love God, all who are curious or are doubting or who have questions. So today, know that God’s active love is inviting you, me, and all of us to the table today.

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