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Sermon for 4 Epiphany, Year C

Based on I Cor. 13:1-13

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“The Greatest Gift”

   Love—it’s the greatest gift of the Holy Spirit, says the apostle Paul, in his famous Love Chapter. How many times have we read that most popular of all chapters in the New Testament? How many times have we heard sermons preached on this chapter? How many times have we sung our Love songs; praising God for loving us all so much that he gave his life for us on the cross? How many times have we responded to God’s Love by attempting to love God in return—pledging our loyalty to Jesus our King of Love? Yet, sometimes I wonder how loving we really are as individuals and a congregation or a denomination or the universal church as a whole?

   Are we really any different than the congregation at Corinth? How much time and energy do we waste by fighting among ourselves about who is the greatest? How much time and energy do we waste by majoring in the minors, always criticizing everything and everyone, and becoming offended so easily? How much time and energy do we waste by dwelling on being jealous or envious of others and their gifts? How much time and energy do we waste on rejecting others and their love towards us? How much time and energy do we waste by focusing more on the lesser gifts—like the Corinthians—than on the greatest gift, God’s Love? Paul makes it abundantly clear that without love, we are nothing. How much love do we have in our lives? How much do we put that love into daily practice?

What if our lives were one big test of our love, would we pass or would we fail? What if God really did grade us on Christianity? What if our Creator were constantly keeping a ledger sheet that showed our successes and failures in living the faith? Paul assures us, however, that if there is love, there can be no such scorekeeping. Instead, love brings a willingness to rejoice in what is right and good. God is love. We are not here to condemn and judge others, and God finds no joy in our failures and shortcomings.1

   Yet, why is it that so many people are into scorekeeping? Why is it that so many people love—and even thrive on!—constantly keeping score, keeping a ledger sheet of others, especially their failures? Why is it that a lot of people love the wrong thing? Why is it that so many people love to hate? This love of hate is like a cancer in them, eating away at them. This love of hate is a poison, destroying the hearts, minds, and lives of so many people.

It was too easy, Abraham Joshua Heschel felt, to blame God for the Holocaust. The failure, he insisted, was essentially a human one. It was the depravity of human beings acting in defiance of faith that had given us the concentration camps. It was human beings, transgressing what he insisted was religion’s most essential teaching, the creation of every person in God’s image, who had brought about the unimaginable degradation of their fellow humans.

   But our task, Heschel insisted, was not that of reconstructing religion but of rebuilding humanity. If humanity had failed, the only thing to do was to be more human and to show others how to be more human. This could be done only by example, and is what Heschel provided.

   Heschel’s thought is a rejoining of the prophetic and Hasidic legacies. He liked to tell the Hasidic tale of Rabbi Raphael of Bershad who invited a group of his disciples to come share with him in a ride in his coach. “But there is not enough room!” a disciple cried out, “the rabbi will be crowded.”

   The rabbi replied, “Then we shall have to love each other more. If we love each other more, there will be room for us all.” Heschel understood that all of humanity rides in that coach, one that can be either the divine chariot of God or the crowded, sealed railway car on the way to the concentration camps. The choice, he insisted, is a human one, and we who have escaped the terrors of hell are here to help all our fellow humans make that choice.2

   I like Heschel’s story, because it describes one of the ways of loving as making enough room for everyone—for all people. God’s love is like that—reaching out to all people. God makes enough room for us all. When we love, we are called upon to do the same thing. That’s exactly what the apostle Paul teaches the congregation at Corinth, and us too. In our relationships with each other, we need to be loving by giving one another enough room How do we do this? Well, the best way is to follow Paul’s teaching in verses four to seven in our second lesson today.

   Paul says: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

   We need to remember to put these 15 characteristics of love into practice in our everyday living. There are always situations that challenge us and stretch us to make more room in love for other people different than ourselves. Even though it may be rather unpleasant for us to do so at times, nonetheless, I believe that in the long haul, we will receive blessing-upon-blessing.

   A small sign chiseled in Gaelic hangs over the front door of a chapel in the Scottish Highlands. Translated it says, “Come as you are, but don’t leave as you came.” When we come to Jesus, we can come as we are. But Jesus will not leave us the same. His transforming love changes us.3

   The change, the transforming power of his love makes it possible for us to share his love with others in the most inclusive of ways. No one is outside the boundaries of his love. There is room enough for every human being. A Love beyond measure, which stopped at nothing by going to the cross to make room enough for everyone. A love that refuses to give up on us, regardless of who we are or what we’ve done or failed to do. A love that refreshes and renews us every day. Now that’s worth living for, dying for and sharing with everyone!

 



1 Cited from: The Upper Room Devotional Online, Thursday, January 29, 1998 “Rejoice in Love,” by Joe Fort.

2  Internet site: Jewish Communication Network: A.J. Heschel, In Memoriam, “Heschel: A Memoir,” by Arthur Green.

3 Cited from: Clergy Talk, February 1998, p. 15.

 

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