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LOVE is the Word

January 31, 2016

Love

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Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany                     Trinity Lutheran Church

31 January 2016                                                      Murdock, NE

 

+Jesu Juva +

 

1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13

 

Better hang on to your hats. Fasten your seatbelts. St. Paul dares to preach about … L-O-V-E. Yes, that’s right: LOVE. Can Lutherans do that? We’d better. And I will today for you, for your being repented, for your being faith-ed, and for your willingness to live a life of LOVE that flows from being one of Jesus’ hangers on.

 

So, LOVE is the big word today. Now, I give you fair warning. How St. Paul preaches LOVE will blow your minds. After all, you’ve so tortured and twisted that word. Really, you have! Why do you think TV trash like “The Bachelor” or “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” are so popular? Even among you Lutherans? It is because you are totally confused about the word “love.”

 

You hear the word “love” and the default thinking is “love yourself” and bash in the teeth of anyone who gets in your way of loving yourself. Or you automatically think of the lust of cheap Romance novels, fond feelings or warm fuzzies.

 

You say that you’re “falling in love.” Emphasis on FALLING — as if LOVE is an out of control experience like when you fall off a cliff or a ladder. You speak of falling in love as if you’ve lost total control of both your mind and better judgment! (Like on “The Bachelor”!)

 

You speak of “making love” but that usually excludes the sacred activity that is only to be enjoyed between a husband (a man) and wife (a woman) in the estate of holy marriage.

 

You are very quick to apply Jesus word of love and forgiveness to yourselves. However, how quick are you to love one another as Jesus has loved you? Hmmm?

 

Well, LOVE is a very important biblical teaching. Even more: LOVE talk is law talk. “Love,” the Bible says, “is the fulfilling of the law,” (Romans 13:8-10). The law (Ten Commandments) demands that you love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and that you love your neighbor as yourself. Love of God and love of neighbor are the two great commandments on which hang all the teachings of the Bible. The law judges not only the works of your hands, but also the orientation of your hearts; not only your actions but also your attitudes. It judges your motives. It probes the innermost recesses of your hearts.

 

So, here’s the bottom line. St. Paul says that if you “have not love” your greatest works amount to nothing! And then he illustrates.

 

Do you speak in tongues of men and even angels? Are you eloquent in your witness? Winsome with your words? Do you have the right words for every occasion? Are you able to put into words the deepest longings and desires of others? Do you comfort, inspire, cheer on, motivate others? Are you able to express the loftiest doctrines with precision and clarity? You do? But if you have not LOVE, all those words amount the nothing more than clanging, clattering noise. Nothing.

 

Do you have deep insight, prophetic powers, the ability to penetrate the deepest mysteries of the universe? Do You possess great knowledge and learning? Are you wise in the ways of the world? In the ways of God? Are you known as a philosopher, a thinker, a theologian? If you have not LOVE, you are nothing.

 

Do you have faith that can move mountains? Without love, even faith comes under judgment! Without love faith is empty. St. James calls it “dead,” (James 2:26). St. John puts it this way: “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen,” (1 John 4:20). Faith without love is as dead as love is without faith. It is faith without God, for “God is love.” You may not trade faith for love, and plead “faith alone” while stabbing the brother in the back. That is a distortion of both faith and love. God will have none of that!

 

Do you have impressive works? Generous works of charity? Do you give richly of your time, treasures and talents? Do you sacrifice you own blood, sweat and tears for the cause of Christ and his kingdom? Without LOVE you gain nothing. Even if you offer your body for burning – and what greater act of devotion could there be than to die as a martyr burned at the stake? – and yet have loved only yourself and your martyr’s death, then the law would condemn even your martyrdom as nothing!

 

Shocked aren’t you? You speak. You have knowledge. You believe. You do lots of things. You sacrifice. And God wants even more from you: LOVE! In fact, that’s all God wants. He wants your undivided LOVE!

 

And you aren’t able to give it. Why? Because you’re in love with yourselves. Your hearts are turned inward and away from God and others. True LOVE is directed toward God and the neighbor. Self-love is directed inward. Curved in on the self and the self’s needs. Self-love is the opposite of the LOVE St. Paul preaches in the text.

 

True love is — are you ready for this? – “patient and kind.” LOVE waits. It’s even willing to wait a long time – patiently to the very end. Love that cannot wait is not true love but self-love. LOVE never forces its own way. Never hurries things along. Never manipulates things to get its own way. LOVE has nothing to lose because it doesn’t seek to gain. That’s how LOVE can wait patiently and kindly.

 

True LOVE always returns kindness even when it is met with hatred and hostility. LOVE turns the other cheek to those who strike it. LOVE offers the shirt off its back as well as its coat. It goes the extra mile for the other. It blesses those who curse. It returns good for evil. It prays for the enemy.

 

True LOVE never looks at itself. It doesn’t do the comparison job. “It does not envy, does not boast, is not proud or rude.” Love rejoices in the prosperity and success of others. “Love is not self-seeking.” That’s why it seeks the good of others.

 

True LOVE “isn’t easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” How cheated and impoverished you are when you allow yourselves to become bitter because of what others do to you. How many marriages could be saved if only husband and wife would throw away the scorebook or record book of wrongs and forgive each other in the name of Jesus? How many conflicts in this congregation would simply disappear if you refused to put the worst construction on your brother or sister in Christ? How different your homes, offices and neighborhoods would be if you would stop keeping a record of wrongs to justify your anger! LOVE does not hold grudges. Instead, every day it faces the other with new LOVE and a fresh beginning.

 

Now, don’t misunderstand what St. Paul is saying. LOVE is not indifferent to right and wrong. Listen: “It does not delight in wrong but rejoices in the truth.” LOVE grieves over the sin of others. LOVE risks loss to rescue others from their sin. The parent that indulges the sin of the child doesn’t love the child. The congregation that lets the sin of her members go unchecked doesn’t love her members. The Christian that closes her eyes to the sin of a sister or brother, does not love. The church that refuses to speak the truth, no matter how unpopular and costly the truth might be, does not love, no matter how “loving” the church may otherwise appear.

 

True LOVE rejoices in the TRUTH. Even when the truth is hard! Love and truth run together in the same channel. “Speak the truth in love,” St. Paul says to the Ephesians. And LOVE in the truth. LOVE would just as soon deal with the thief as a thief, the adulterer as an adulterer, the murderer as a murderer, the sinner as a sinner, as our Lord Jesus did, than deal with a phony face, a pious façade that hides the truth. LOVE wants to get the truth out in the open so that the truth can be seen as it is. So that it can be loved without limits or conditions.

 

LOVE “bears all things.” LOVE puts up with everything. Yes, that’s right, I said it! It bears all! Only LOVE puts up with things the way they are. “Love covers a multitude of sins.” This is how LOVE can reach beyond all barriers, even to the very margins of society, to the criminal in prison, to the gangster or prostitute on the street corner, to those imprisoned by sexual sin or drugs, even to those that openly hate Jesus and His church. LOVE BEARS ALL THINGS.

 

LOVE “believes all things.” Love knows that in the end it will be vindicated by Jesus who is perfect love. Now, of course, what St. Paul says is considered to be quite foolish by the unbelieving world. The talk goes like this: “Why should we believe anything these days?” “Haven’t we been deceived, disappointed and betrayed enough?” “If LOVE believes all things, then you’ll get cheated. You’ll get taken for a ride. Duped!” However, to believe all things is the only way that LOVE can be completely free to love without conditions, without limits, without distinctions.

 

Love “hopes all things.” Why? Because in Jesus the past is forgiven. And because love hopes all things it is also able to “endure all things.” Love endures suffering, hardship, persecution – all for the sake of the beloved. The cross is the heart of love. The cross is stamped across the entire chapter here. Love points to the cross and flows from it. This love lays down its life, not only for the friend, but also for the enemy.

 

Who loves in this way? God does! He made this love known to you by sending His Son. “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins,” (1 John 5:10). Jesus is God’s concrete love reaching down to you.

 

Brothers and sisters, Jesus, LOVE incarnate, bore all things. He bore all your suffering, sin and death. Jesus believed all things, hoped all things, endured all things, even to a Good Friday death on the cross. He did not insist on His own way. He went the way of the Father – bitter suffering and death. Jesus was patient and kind even to those that hated Him. He wasn’t envious, boastful or proud. He was not easily angered. He kept no record of wrongs done against Him. He did not delight in wrong but rejoiced in the truth. He is the Truth. JESUS IS THE LOVE OF GOD THAT OVERCOMES ALL HATRED, REBELLION, SIN, DEATH AND THE WORLD.

 

Jesus is the LOVE that has been poured into your hearts by the Holy Spirit in holy baptism. Jesus is the LOVE that never fails and will never end. Speaking will end. Knowledge will end. Everything you have and cling to in this life will end. But, Jesus, the Baby of Bethlehem, the preacher of Nazareth, the rejected man on the cross is God’s LOVE to and for you. Given freely, completely, selflessly. It will not end.

 

Three gifts of God now remain to keep you, twisted together like a three-stranded cord – faith, hope and love. Faith in Good Friday Jesus by which you stand before God justified – saved. Hope in Jesus by which you have the courage to meet every day until the last of your days because Jesus will raise your body on the Last Day. Love that endures forever.

 

As you leave the divine service today, you will walk out into a world that desperately wants to believe something, that needs hope, that longs for LOVE and doesn’t know where to find such things. You know. LOVE is in your midst. He’s Jesus. You can say to the world what God says to you: Believe in Jesus. Hope in Jesus. Love in Jesus. And be loved by Him.

 

In the Name of Jesus.

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