The Epistle. I Corinthians 13. 1.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love hears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then shall I understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
You may have noticed that the line I just quoted from today’s Epistle was slightly different from the one we just heard chanted today. That’s because the one I read is from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. As beautiful as the King James language is, there are times when I think it might be slightly misleading for us, given the way our language has evolved; or devolved as the case may be. This is one of those times. You see, I think St. Paul was conveying a very important message about what our motivation in life should be, and I also think that the word “charity”, at least in our modern context, misses the mark. Paul’s message was not about “charity”, as in the giving of money, etc.; it was all about “love”.
Of course, love is a word that also tends to get tossed around rather haphazardly. It’s used in songs and clichés; “What the world needs now is love”, “All you need is love”, “Love makes the world go round”. But it’s a more complex idea than that. There are levels of love for us humans. I love golf; I love my dog; and of course I love my wife Catherine. But I don’t love them all the same, or in the same way.
Some people think that love is a feeling that we get, that we receive; the good feeling we get when we do something nice for people. But love is not about receiving at all. In this way, love does somewhat resemble our modern definition of “charity”; because love is about giving.
Look at St. Paul’s examples of “worldly” qualities. Prophecy, knowledge, faith; all these qualities were of great value in his time. Someone who displayed these abilities would likely be held in high esteem. But then Paul says that if one doesn’t have love, then all these great qualities would be worthless.
The same thing pertains today. If you build a successful business, but do not have love, that success is worthless. If you provide for your family, but do not have love, it means nothing. If you go to church every week, keep up on your pledge, serve on the Vestry, but don’t have love, you are that clanging cymbal. If I preach this message to you, and don’t have love, I am a fool.
It’s about giving. Some of you might know that I used to work at the world headquarters of the Amway Corporation in Grand Rapids Michigan. One of the founders of Amway, the late Jay VanAndel, once said that the greatest thing in life was not in the accumulation of wealth, but in the giving away of it. This multi-billionaire figured out that having all the money in the world is ultimately worthless. The greatest thing in his life was to create foundations for medical research; to build museums; to build a church; to revitalize a community; and to do it all without ever expecting, or wanting, anyone to say “thank you”. It was about giving. It was about love.
Maybe a billionaire is not a good example. I can hear some of you saying, “well, he had all that money, so he could make a difference”. Well, I’m sorry, but if that’s what you’re thinking, then you’re missing the point. We all can make a difference. We can make it through our lives, through our witness; through the example we can offer when we give. Why we do it is every bit as important as how. If we don’t act out of love, then the how is meaningless. Let me give you another, somewhat more simple, example.
In the Anglican Catholic Church, the Coffee Hour is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “Eighth Sacrament”. I don’t happen to think that this is really a joke. A sacrament is a grace of God. Our Coffee Hours are a forum for friends and family to come together and talk; to laugh and cry and joke and just share. The people who prepare the Coffee Hour are providing the environment for us to gather in these ways. This is giving. This is love. It’s not about how much food you serve, or how much the people served last week. It’s about why.
Love is about giving. More specifically, it’s about the giving of yourself. Even more specifically, it’s about the giving of yourself so that others may know peace, joy, comfort. It’s about the giving of yourself so that others may know the love of God. It’s about the giving of yourself so that God may be glorified. It’s about the full, complete giving of yourself, “ourselves, our souls and bodies”, to the point that it does not matter what other people think of you; what reward you may receive; or what good feeling you may get. That’s the kind of love that God gives to us; “so God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”!
God acted out of love. Jesus acted out of love. He loves us; He gives to us. And He doesn’t have to! All He asks is that we do likewise. Love for the sake of love alone. Give for the sake of giving alone. Bring others to God simply because of your love for Him and for His creation. Let everything you do, every thought, every action, every deed, be guided and motivated purely by love, by the desire to give.
This Wednesday, as we begin the season of Lent, we will receive ashes on our foreheads, in the sign of the cross. And as we do, we will be reminded of why we should be humble here on earth; “remember O man that thou art dust; and unto dust thou shalt return”; We will be reminded of the relative importance of our accomplishments here on earth; we will be reminded of our origins and our ending; we will be reminded of what is truly important.
This year, as we struggle trying to decide what to give up for Lent, we must remember that Christ gave up his life; we must remember that Our Lord endured this extreme act of humility because of his love for us. And so during this Lenten season, I suggest that instead of “giving something up”, you ask God to provide you the opportunity to give of yourself instead; to provide you with the opportunity to love. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Quinquagesima – 2015