As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, God’s busy love, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday 31 January, 2016. The Reading was 1 Corinthians 13.
Words for Snow, Words for Love
Did you know that it is said that the Inuit people, or Eskimo as they’re sometimes commonly known, supposedly have 50 words for snow. 50! You know, I come from Perth, and we don’t really get snow there. Occasionally there would be a small patch about the size of a dinner plate on Bluff Knoll, and it would make the news. For us, if it’s white and came from the sky, it’s snow. But for the Inuit’s, because they live their whole lives in the snow, their language developed a lot of different designations for what type of snow it is. Apparently, they have words that mean “powder snow”, “drifting snow”, “snow that falls quickly” and “snow that falls slowly”. They have words for “snow that doesn’t reach the ground” and the “First snow of the year”. But I don’t trust my source, because it also claims that the word for “snow which has melted” is “wa-ter”. So I may be a little bit misled in my claim.
The passage that we heard today is one that has often been misleading. Who’s heard it used at a wedding? The connection to Romantic Love is one that everyone seems to have heard, but is actually one that is incorrect. And when we read this passage, thinking about Romantic Love, we actually lose the meaning of what Paul was actually talking about. It’s not the love that we have for our husband or wife. It’s not the love we have for a sports team, or a really good burger. The love that Paul is talking about is one that is shown through a genuine and selfless concern for the well-being of others, and Paul includes it as the greatest of all the spiritual gifts.
We can get distracted with Spiritual gifts
Paul was a fantastic writer, one who knew how to construct an argument. And as such, we can’t remove a passage from his letters without looking at the context around it. IN the chapter before, chapter 12, Paul is instructing the Corinthians about the gifts that come from the spirit. These are the things that the Holy Spirit gives to the believers, and that are vital to the health of a community. He says to them “There are varieties of gifts, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” Some of these gifts are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, discernment, speaking in tongues, interpretation, and more. He goes on to describe how each of these gifts are unique, and vital, but how none are more important than the other. Not all can be apostles, not all can be teachers, not all can work miracles or speak in tongues. But Paul writes “But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you still a more excellent way.” With this verse, Paul links his teaching on spiritual gifts to his teaching on Love.
For Paul, while all the spiritual gifts are important, he knows that not everyone will possess them all. No one person can speak in tongues, and interpret in the same breath. You might only have a couple of the gifts. Or maybe even only one. And Paul’s argument is that it is ok. Not everyone can have everything. But all people can strive for the greater gift, the more excellent way, the way that should be the base of everything we do. Every spiritual gift that we have and use, if not grounded in this greater gift, is lacking. And the beauty of this is that everyone can show love, because we have all been loved before.
We can get drawn into God’s busy love
As you read through Paul’s description of love, you could start to think that it’s a bit placid. The language is almost a bit flowery. But the reality of it is that again, we’ve lost something in the translation. Though this passage, Paul doesn’t use adjectives to describe what Love is, he uses verbs – doing words – to show what is doing. It would be better for us to read this part as “Love is showing patience, love is acting with kindness, love is not envying, love is not boasting, or being arrogant or rude… Love is bearing with all things, believing in all things, hoping in all things, enduring in all things. Love is never-ending.”
When we read love like this, we see that love isn’t static, but is busy. Love is an active thing that never ceases to work, always searching for a way to express itself for the good of others.
It is this sort of Love that God shows us. God is forever showing patience to us, waiting for us as long as it takes for us to get the message. God is forever acting with kindness towards us. God is forever bearing all of our mistakes, forever believing in what we can be, forever hoping for us, forever enduring with us through our tough times. This is the sort of love that God shows us – a love that isn’t static, a love that isn’t given once, but is busy, and is forever acting for the best for us.
As God’s busy love is shown in us, so our busy love is shown in others
And because God has shown us this busy love, in response we need to go and show our busy love to others. In the first letter of John, we read “Let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Because God shows us this busy love, so we should show busy love to others.
We need to show this busy love to those that are around us – praying for each other, caring for each other, being patient with each other when we make mistakes, and encouraging each other onward with Christ. But we also need to show that love to others in our community. To pray for those who don’t know Christ. To show love to them – caring for them, helping them out when they need it, showing love in all things.
When we are actively showing God’s busy love to those around us, others will see what God is doing in our community. Later in John’s letter, he writes “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” When we show God’s busy love to others around us, we allow others to see God in us.
Often we get confused because God’s love for us is so big, and we feel like we need to show similarly big love – but all we need to do is to show love. God will take it and make it’s impact what it needs to be.
Embrace God’s busy love, and show it to others
Paul finishes this part with these words: “And now faith, hope and love remain, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” These three things, Faith, Hope and Love, are of central value to the church. It is, if you will, a brief summary of what we as a church are – we are people of faith, we are people of hope, we are people of love. We have faith in what we cannot see – but one day, faith will become sight. We have hope for what will happen, and one day hope will end in fulfilment. But Love will still remain, because God’s love will never fall, never fail, never falter. This love that you and I are drawn into, is a love that remakes us from what we were, into what we can be, in God.
God is calling you to show his busy love in your world, in your community, to those that you meet. But he is also wanting to show you his busy love. The love that he has for you which is showing patience to you, acting with kindness to you, bearing all things, hoping all things, believing all things and enduring all things with and for you.
If you haven’t ever accepted God’s love, he’s here waiting for you. He’s waited this long for you, and his patience will never end. He loves you and wants to be here with you. You’re welcome to come and seek him out.
Or maybe you’ve had someone placed on your heart and you need some help as to how you can show them God’s love.
Or maybe it’s something different that you feel you need some prayer about today. This place of prayer is open for all. As we sing, feel free to come and spend some time in prayer, seeking out how you can show God’s love, or how God can show his love in you.