The Episcopal Church of the Holy Innocents
And the Greatest of These is Love Sermon by the Rev. Daniel W. Hinkle E4C February 3, 2019
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.“
Many years ago, Mike Wallace interviewed the great French film star Jeanne Moreau. Apparently, Moreau “completely locked Wallace up into inarticulate bafflement” (Cornelius Plantinga). Wallace made the statement, “There’s a feeling in America that passion in a woman of a certain age is unseemly.” After a long pause, Moreau said, “They’re right.”
This astonished Wallace! Here was a famous French woman and veteran actress in R-rated films, downplaying passion? His obvious discomfiture revealed itself when he blurted out, “Passion is unseemly?” “Oh, come on,” Moreau replied. “Passion! When you get to sixty, you know about love. Love is not passion.” “But there’s nothing wrong with passion,” Wallace protested, his face a picture of disappointment. Moreau replied, “I would hate—I would hate to still be overcome with passion.” As though she were a wise grandmother talking to a teenaged boy, Moreau explained, “I have passion for life, but I know about love. Love and passion don’t go together. Passion is destructive. Passion is demanding. Passion is jealous. Passion goes up and down. Love is constant.”
As Wallace tried to recover, Moreau added, “Compassion. That’s what love is about. You give even more than you receive.” It was as if Wallace was talking from a “secular, sensualist perch, and Moreau from 1 Corinthians 13. He was talking about eros. She was talking about agape. And her preference for agape made Wallace ‘gasp and stammer’.”
Our second lesson for this morning is chapter 13 in St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Christians in Corinth and one of his most well known. We’re familiar with it because we’ve heard it read at many marriage liturgies. It’s one of the most beautiful passages in all the Bible.
The apostle wrote this letter largely to address the many divisions within the Greek Corinthian church that threaten to tear it apart. He spends only the first nine verses addressing the Corinthians and thanking God for the grace God has shown them. Then in verse 10 of the first chapter, Paul immediately appeals to his brothers and sisters to “agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” Most of the next nine chapters address those divisions that center on things like worship, speaking in tongues, marriage, and lawsuits among believers.
By chapter 12, Paul has addressed so many problems that we’re ready to hear some good news for a change. Thankfully, he spends much of chapter12 describing the “spiritual gifts” God so generously showers on Christ’s Church. There is, the apostle marvels, both a remarkable unity and diversity in the gifts God gives in order to advance “the common good” of the church.
When Paul begins his beautiful Hymn to Love with “I will show you a still more excellent way,” he’s using Epiphany language. By contrasting the sinful divisions of the Corinthian Church with the unity the Holy Spirit instills through the practice of love, Paul shines light on a better way to be the body of Christ. Every church goes through difficult times that can split it into various factions. The love that comes from the Spirit of God is the only thing that can bring healing under those circumstances.
Of course, as was true for the Corinthians, we, too, have a very murky understanding of love. We easily confuse it with things like lust, attraction, emotion or affection, what Mike Wallace and our culture call “passion.” Let’s see what Jeanne Moreau and Paul can teach us about the true nature of love.
Paul’s Hymn to Love may be divided into three stanzas. In the first stanza (v.1-3), he uses the formula, “If I … but have not love… nothing.” Paul mentions some of the impressive spiritual and religious things the Spirit empowers Christians to do. But he goes on to insist that all those great things benefit no one unless they’re wrapped in love. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (N.T. Wright “Paul For Everyone: 1 Corinthians” p. 173) Here’s one for preachers. “If I preach and teach like a combination of Jesus and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but don’t do so with deep love, I’m only a howling smoke detector.”
In the second stanza (v. 4-7), Paul tells his hearers what God’s gift of love is and is not. The love that he commends has a concrete shape rooted in action. Because this second stanza is at the heart of Paul’s Hymn to Love, it might be good to reflection together on a few of the characteristic of true love. First, we will ask how Jesus manifests each characteristic. Second, we will reflect on how we manifest the particular characteristic of love or do not. And third, we will reflect on how it might look if we did manifest love. (Bishop Wright suggestion)
Reflection 1st, 2nd, 3rd.
“Love is patient;” When was Jesus patient? When have we been patient? When have we not been so patient? How would it look if we were patient?
love is kind; Etc.
love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The third stanza of Paul’s Hymn to Love (v. 8-13) features love’s enduring and complete character in contrast with the exercise of the other gifts the Spirit generously gives God’s beloved children. We often use those other gifts “for the common good,” but only imperfectly, incompletely and for a time. The greatest and most enduring gift is love. That never ends. Amen?!