Why Are We Here: Part IV – To love. Sermon for 8 February 2015

“Love is patient, love is kind… It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Where have you heard that before?

If you said “at a wedding” you are not alone. You’ve probably heard it at countless weddings, and maybe even your own. And it’s not bad advice. If you want a marriage to last you need to have patience, and kindness, and all the other good stuff this passage tells you about.

But here’s the secret about this text. As much as we hear it at weddings, as much as it gets engraved on everything from engagement rings to wedding invitations, it was not written about marriage. It wasn’t even written about romantic love at all. So, if you worried that maybe this was a pre-Valentine’s Day sermon on love this morning, don’t. Because this is a sermon on a whole other kind of love.

10494762_877906185595314_459548515296640538_nTo explain you have to go back to the source, and back to where this comes from, which is a letter sent by the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth, a church he himself had founded and built up before moving on in his ministry. And he is writing to them to about a whole bunch of things that Paul thought they were doing wrong. And in particular he is worried that they are fighting amongst themselves and getting away from the beliefs that he taught them, especially the ones about God’s love and about loving one another. And so he writes them this letter that includes these famous words on what love is and what it is not.

But we read this today, especially in English, and without the rest of the letter or the context, it sounds like it is talking about romantic love. And so, it sounds like the sort of thing you want to read at a wedding, or to describe the way you feel about someone.

But, the trouble is too often we keep this text confined to weddings. That’s too bad because this text is about something even bigger than the love we share in marriage. This text is about being loved by God, and loving God.

Here’s why I say that. In English, we really only have one word for “love”. We love our spouses. We love our parents. We love our friends. We love our kids. We love God.

But in the language Paul was writing in, Greek, there’s more than one word. There’s “eros”, which is about romantic love. And there’s “philos”, which is about brotherly love, like in the word “Philadelphia”. And there’s “storge” which is about familial love.

But then there’s this fourth word for love: “agape”. And agape is unlike any of the other kinds of love out there. Because agape is the kind of love that God has for us. And it’s about the way that we in turn are called on to love God.

Now, you don’t have to remember any of that Greek I just talked about, but remember this: when Paul wrote this letter, it was that last kind of love that he kept writing about: agape love. And agape gets a little lost in translation. Because it’s not the kind of love you celebrate with red hearts on Valentine’s Day. It’s not even the kind when you tell your family and friends you love them. Because it’s a kind of love that is even more demanding, and more incredible, than that.

The first thing about agape love is that it is not earned. God’s agape love is for us, and it remains whether we love back or not. It’s selfless. It’s grace-filled. It’s generous. And it’s so hard that probably the only one who has ever really done it consistently is God.

And if you want to know more, just read the text again: Agape is patient. Agape is kind. Agape bears all things, agape believes all things, agape hopes all things, agape endures all things…And now faith, hope, and agape abide, these three; and the greatest of these is agape.”

That is God’s love letter to you. That is God saying how much God loves you, and also how God loves you. God’s love is agape love, and it doesn’t get any better than that.

For the past four weeks, ending this morning, we’ve been asking the question “Why are WE here?” or “What does it mean to be the church together?” And we’ve talked about how we are here because God has brought us here, we are here to learn, and we are here to change. And today we are talking about the last reason: we are here to be loved, and we are here to love.

And it is my hope that everything we do as a church is done because of agape love, both God’s for us and ours for God.

So, the first thing I think we are called to do as a church is to acknowledge that God loves us, and that God loves everyone. And in return, we are called to love God back with that same kind of fierce love. Because when we are loving at our highest level, it is agape love. And though we may not ever get it exactly right, because sometimes love is hard work, we keep trying.

And part of the way we love God is by sharing God’s love with others. And we start here, with one another. We are all called to do the work of loving each other with agape love. We are called to support each other in hard times, to rejoice in good times, to faithfully work together to overcome challenges, and to find ways to be the church together for years to come.

And sometimes that will be easy. But sometimes it will be hard. And when it is, that is when we have to go back to the first things and remind one another, first, that we are all loved by God, and, second, that the best way we can love God back is by being loving to one another.

That doesn’t mean we will always agree. That doesn’t mean the path is always clear. That doesn’t mean it’s easy. But it does mean that when we hit an impasse, we have to go back to God, and to love, and then try again.

We try to model that for the kids each week. They are starting a new unit on this same text today, but this is something we try to do every week when they come up front. Each time they do we talk to them about something related to faith, and to be honest I have no idea how much they retain and how much they don’t. A lot has to do with age, and we get a large age range up here. I’m sure some of the older ones went away last week understanding the analogy between church and being a team, and some of the younger ones went away still wondering why the pastor was throwing a football in the sanctuary.

And that’s okay. Because the most important thing I want them to learn on Sunday morning is just this: God loves them, and their church loves them. If they leave here not knowing that, then we have failed. But if they leave this sanctuary on Sundays only knowing that, then we have done something right.

That doesn’t stop when you get to be too old to come up here, by the way. If you are leaving church not knowing that God loves you, and that this church does too, then we are failing you too. But if you are leaving church each Sunday and all you know about your faith is that, then sometimes that’s enough.

And it’s also enough to take the next step, which is this: to love the world.

I talk a lot about how we are not here for ourselves. We are here for all of God’s creation. We are here for mission. We are here to serve. And we are here because the best way for us to love God, is to love others.

To put it more succinctly, first we are loved, then we learn how to love, and then, we love outside of ourselves.

And when our agape love has no walls, when it has no boundaries, nothing is impossible with God. We can serve our town, and we can serve our world. We can do big things. We can live in faith and not in fear. And we can change lives. And we can do all of these things simply because God has loved us first.

And so, maybe this isn’t exactly God’s Valentine to us. But what if this text is as close as we get? What if this text is about how Christians are supposed to love God, love each other, and love the world? What if this is the playbook on how we are supposed to do it? And what if maybe, just maybe, these are our marching orders:

“Love is patient, love is kind… It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things…And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

Love is that easy, and it’s that hard. But we know how to do it. We know how to do it because we were loved first. Our only challenge is to not be loved last. Don’t let God’s agape love end with you. Pass it on to a world so desperately in need of a love that can change everything. And if you do, then you can do so with the knowledge that you are truly be loving God back. Amen.

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