We pay a lot of lipservice to love, it motivates, inspires, challenges and changes us. In today’s sermon we hear a vision from St. Paul of a particular kind of love, charity, that is supposed to define those who have received Jesus’s mercy. Preached in the Parish of the North Peace January 30, 2022.
13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship of the flames but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Paul is writing this to the church in Corinth in the Apostolic age. In an age where the testimony of fishermen gathered masses from nations and tribes together, when mysteries of heaven were proclaimed in the language of heaven and yet at times understood by mortal men – so rawly had Jesus torn the veil between heaven and earth. Mysteries were revealed, faith was mighty, and martyrs were bold and known. Paul tells these bold men and women whose lives were touched by miracles that all of this they were privy to, all they were participating in is worth nothing if it does not produce in them this greatest fruit of the spirit: charity.
I often here people complain “oh every other language has multiple words for love which has so many different meanings in different contexts, but we have to shove all of them into the word love” False. We have multiple words for love in our language, we have through neglect only in the last century left many of them on the shelf and let them become dusty. Most translations of this passage until the 1950s used the word charity instead of love for this passage, that’s the kind of love that is being described here – charity. It is not romance, it is not eros the love proper between a husband and wife. It is not familiarity – another word for love the kind you have for your neighbours who you are used to seeing or your country-the love of one’s own. It is not the need-love of an infant who needs his mother, or the gift-love of a father who cares for his daughter. It is not friendship. All these are blessings for which we should be most grateful. It is charity that this chapter describes. By this selfless love God calls us sinners to become saints. It is the selfless love we are called to have pouring forth from us in gratitude for the God who first loved us. It is the root of all justice and holiness. It is how God is made known in our lives. It is, ought to be, the essence of our lives if we call ourselves Christian. For whatever we gain from church-going all of it is worth nothing if it doesn’t fill us with charity, if it doesn’t send us out charitable. What does that look like?
4 Love is patient,
We are made, as the Holy Spirit burns us, refines us, capable of waiting. Capable of waiting on the sinners who are our fellow pilgrims, capable of waiting on the promises of God, capable of not demanding results now. To be patient is to have charity.
love is kind.
Tangible concern for others, kindness, refraining from rudeness, choosing not to insult or tear down but rather to build up, this is charity.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
Romantic love and need-love are both a little envious and probably should be – while recognizing your spouse will not always be your spouse and has an eternal destiny apart from you, -while recognizing in due season your parents are humans with a reality independent of you. But charity does not get angry when God has mercy on someone new, when another Christian joins the community, when good works are done for or by someone else. If it is charity driving what we do it isn’t about boasting or winning, its about pouring forth what is overflowing within us.
5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
The love we are to have as we grow into being saints is a love that builds others up and does not tear them down, which means we honor them. If they have wronged us we ought to deal with that privately and not publicly, out of a desire for a reconciliation that honours Jesus. Charity is not easily angered, it has round shoulders, and – this one is harder for me than I thought it would be when I was a teenager – it keeps no record of wrong. Forgive, keep short accounts, let people go as you have been let go by Jesus. Do not recite the list of why or how you have been hurt, tell the person once, and forgive, they do it again forgive again, seven times seventy times.
6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Especially in these dark days this is so important. Do not delight in evil. Be careful who you celebrate with and what you are celebrating. Rejoice in the truth, for the truth shall set you free. Watch your tongue, watch your heart for lies and interrupt them. Be zealous for what is right and true and rejoice in that. Charity prefers an ugly truth to a beautiful lie.
7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Charity is a love that protects the weak, is faithful to the one who is faithful, hopeful in trials and perseveres in trials. This is where I need more charity, through this season of authoritarianism I keep getting called back to the prayer Anglicans offer during plagues, it goes something like “Enlarge our charity that we may relieve those who are distressed, and above all bless this your visitation to the welfare of your church and people.” We as Anglicans envision plagues as originating in God and being sent for the good of the church, they ought to call us to repent and out of worldly things – into charity and heavenly things. I too often these past two years have failed to be hungry for love, I too seldom have looked for the good that God is visiting upon us in these divisive days. It hasn’t felt good, our attendance has been down, our rituals have been corrupted and inconsistent, the faith of the young has been shredded. But I am assured by wiser saints than I that God is good all the time, and all the time God is good, and he means something for our sanctification, for our loveliness, for our charity to be produced out of this season.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
So desire charity that you may offer it freely and joyfully. Where we lack it we need to ask for it, it is the shape of our resurrected bodies, it is our destiny, may these days in earth prepare us with love, Love Jesus shows us by revealing himself and in the sacraments, charity he makes us into by grace.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.