This sermon was preached with Covenant Presbyterian Church in Southfield, MI and was focused upon
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 A written manuscript is below.
“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
‘Love’. It’s a simple word, and we use it all the time. . . But ‘love’: Maybe it’s not such a simple concept. And then there’s this passage – familiar, familiar, familiar – read at a million-and-one weddings, but maybe it’s not so simple and straightforward either. There’s much to hear again — to hear anew. There’s much to challenge us. There’s much to invite us to sit back and reflect, much to move us to gratitude. And there’s much to invite our questioning: I mean, what is love, anyway
I wonder, do we ever really ask ourselves that? It’s definitely a worthwhile question. When’s the last time you’ve asked yourself that question? What is love? And other than that Night at the Roxbury song with the same name, when’s the last time you’ve heard anyone ask it? My hunch is that we might not verbalize the question very often — even to ourselves — but I bet we’re asking it with our lives all the time. And we can ask it this morning too: What is love?
So how do we begin to ask that question? I guess we could try to ask ourselves as objective investigators. We could try to take a step back from love, this object of our study, and pull out a couple of dictionaries or a Wikipedia article to try to come up with a definition. But I have a feeling that we’d step away unsatisfied. Because the truth is that there’s much more at stake about love than a definition. We aren’t simply objective observers. We don’t even want to be! We don’t want to be removed from love in some way; we want to be immersed, surrounded, caught-up, nurtured, and found in love. We don’t want to be researchers. We want to be participants.
But just for the heck of it, did you know that there actually is a Wikipedia entry for love? Who knew? Here it is: “Love is any of a number of emotions and experiences related to a sense of strong affection and attachment. The word love can refer to a variety of feelings, states, and attitudes, raging from generic pleasure (i.e. “I loved that meal”) to intense interpersonal attraction (i.e. “I love my boyfriend”). This diversity of uses and meanings, combined with the complexity of the feelings involved, makes love unusually difficult to consistently define, even when compared to other emotional states. An abstract concept of love usually refers to a deep, ineffable feeling of tenderly caring for another person. Even this limited conception of love, however, encompasses a wealth of different feelings, from the passionate desire and intimacy of romantic love to the nonsexual closeness of familial and platonic love to the profound oneness or devotion of religious love. Love in its various forms acts as a major facilitator of interpersonal relationships, and owing to its central psychological importance, is one of the most common themes in the creative arts.” Well, there ya go. Good ol’ Wikipedia.
As Wikipedia states, love is unusually difficult to consistently define.
And you know what? I’m glad.
How boring would life be if love was stuck on paper — if it was narrowed down into some stale, crusty, written-in-stone definition? If we confined love to paper — to some dictionary definition — do you know what we’d do? I feel confident that we’d find a way to keep the definition entirely too narrow. We’d nail it down into some paradigm, and then we’d chastise all the other wonderful, creative, imaginative, out-of-the-box expressions of love that wouldn’t meet that definition to a tee.
I’m glad that love can’t be buckled down like that.
I’m glad that love is unusually difficult to consistently define.
I’ll tell you one thing I love about this beautiful passage that the apostle Paul wrote millennia ago to a church in Corinth. Our translation this morning reads: Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is x, y, and z, but in the original Greek test, without fail, every single description of love is a verb. Think about that! That kind of love isn’t narrowed down to an ‘is’ kind of definition. That kind of love acts. Here’s a stab at what a verb-filled translation might sound like:
“Love lives long-hearted in adversity. Love practices kindness. Love envies not. Love boasts not. Love swells-up not. Love does not act unbecomely, does not seek the self, does not provoke to anger, does not calculate evil, does not rejoice upon the injustice, but rejoices together with the truth. It covers all things, entrusts all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never perishes.”
That kind of love is active! It can’t be narrowed down to some definition on paper! It’s active – in here, living in this community; out there, transforming our world; beyond us, swirling about and working in ways we can’t begin to comprehend! We’re not love research scientists. Thank God! Love is verb-like. We’re participants.
We’re also recipients. The scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are honestly asking different questions than Wikipedia. Our scriptures aren’t ultimately asking, what is love, but Who is Love? Who is Love? Who is God, this One-Who-Loves, this One who is Love — and how does this Loving-One love us? Who are we when we are found in this Who – this Who, who loves? Love is active. And love is personal! Or to get away from the ‘is’ entirely – love acts in and through a personal, grace-filled God — Who does immerse, Who does surround, Who does catch, Who does nurture, Who does find us. We’re held fast and secure in the One Who is Love. We’re recipients. And we’re participants — acting on that love toward others, spreading its influence.
And this God, this One Who Loves, reveals love to us in a myriad of ways that are beyond definition. How have you experienced love in your life? What are the tangible forms it has taken? Who did God use to reveal it to you? How did you realize it? How are you still realizing it? For that matter, how did love act for you — this week? How is love acting for you right now in this moment?
Love is active. It shows up in specific forms — in particular actions. Isn’t that how we’ve all come to know love? Just think about children. How do they begin to understand love? Someone once sent me an e-mail that has circled around a bit. I’ve read it several times over the years, but it’s always fresh because it speaks of love so well. The e-mail gives responses of children who were asked our question, “What is love?” Here is how love has acted for them:
Billy, age 4, says, “When someone loves you, the way they same your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.”
Karl, age 5, says: “Love is when you go out to eat and give someone most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”
Danny, age 7, says: “Love is when my Mommy makes coffee for my Daddy, and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.”
Noelle, age 7, says: “Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it everyday.”
Bobby, age 7, says, “Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen.”
Mary Ann, age 4, says “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” And some answers are just plain funny. . .
Karen, age 7, says “When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.”
And Emily, age 8, says: “Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and talk more. My Mommy and Daddy are like that. They look gross when they kiss.”
What are the concrete expressions of love that have come to hold you up? And where can you find them in the coming days? Who knows? They tend to emerge — to act — sometimes when we aren’t looking for them. Love might be found right here today in the God Loves You Food Ministry when someone is handed some produce that will support a family throughout the week. It will certainly be found in the wisdom of the recipients who come here, who have so much to teach us. Love might be found as you get to know one of PPC’s Young Adults today, as you learn names, as you invite them into your lives. Love might be the laughter that happens over coffee as we gather on the patio in just a little while.
Where will love find us? Who will it act in patience? In kindness? In relationship?
This week, let’s look everywhere for it. And let’s live in gratitude that it’s finding us, even now.