Sermon for Quinquagesima, AD 2021

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Everyone has heard of Valentine’s Day, despite not being a government holiday, though depending on your relationship status and expectations of your significant other it can be a day look forward to with joy, fear and dread, or simple acknowledgement. Saint Valentine seems to be generally known, as the day is often called “St. Valentine’s Day” References to various legends about him saving Christian married couples or writing notes from prison fill various children’s books. Yet despite being one of the most well-known saints by name, we actually know very little about him. We know he was a pastor, and he died by martyrdom about the year 270. That’s it. All the other love stuff accumulated later, but his love for Christ, enough to die confessing His faith, was there from the very beginning. For Christian love is something that last forever. It never fails. It endures all things.
           
This love that would lead to martyrdom is the one that early Christians recognized as something worth remembering. For Christian love is nothing less than the work of the very love of Christ in the person. When the early Christians recognized saints, they recognized the work of Christ. There is no greater love than one who would lay down his life for his friends. The death of the martyr fully displays that sacrificial love. So despite wicked practices that would creep in, such as praying to the saints, recognizing those who have lived and died for Christ is a meet, right, and salutary thing, for it recognizes the love of Christ in the world.
           
Love is something that can be difficult to understand. The creed of our current culture is “love is love.” Taken at face value, this is an inherent truth, a logical proof, A equals A, something to which everyone can agree. Yet the meaning behind it is that love has no inherent meaning. “Love is love” is really saying “whatever someone wishes to call love is as validly love as any other kind.” Exposing the real meaning shows how false it is. For who would say that love for pizza or for the White Sox is equivalent to love for one’s own child? Just because something is called love doesn’t make it the same. Even if we kept to romantic love – is love of a husband for his wife the same as the love of a husband for a mistress? Are those equally commendable? Therefore it is not simply a matter of “love” as defined by anyone but the standard to which love is held. When we look God’s standard as revealed in the scriptures it is a man and a woman in public marriage for life, and romantic pursuits beyond that are not rightly love.
           
While some of you may have had 1 Corinthians 13 read a your wedding, this passage is not really about romantic love, although it very much applies to marriage. For all our marriages as dim weak images point to the true marriage of Jesus Christ to the church, the bride He bought with His own blood. Active love, the work of sacrifice and service that Jesus Christ does for His bride is imitated in Christian marriage and sustains it. This Christian love is also the oil that keeps the joints working the body of Christ, the Church.
           
This is the love St. Paul writes about in our epistle reading, as he speaks to the church in Corinth. While many times we may idealize the early church as if it was a perfect time when people lived in harmony, we find from Paul’s letters that the people in these churches were sinners just as we are, and had at times worse problems than we do. This problem in Corinth could be summarized in a lack of love, which showed in many different ways.
           
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

St. Paul’s description of love begins with patience and ends with endurance, and this is the most fundamental concerning how Christians should act in love for each other. We know what love is – the Ten Commandments define it. The Lord says, love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and second, love your neighbor as yourself. This is the summary of the Law. It is not a replacement for the Ten Commandments but puts it all into two statements. Therefore, as we are following the Ten Commandments, these descriptions of love written by Paul describe how that needs to work out among Christians. As Jesus Christ fulfilled the Ten Commandments for us, He is also the ultimate example of this kind of love.
           
As Christ was patient with sinners, including us, so we must also be patient with other sinner-saints in the church. Not everyone is the same place. Some may be struggling financially and need help from other Christians. Mothers and fathers may struggle with small children more than others. Forgiveness of others may be difficult for some for a time. All these things and more require patience as we serve one another as the commandments instruct us.
           
This is not to say that we sweep sin under the rug. Wherever there is public sin, it must be addressed. This was Paul’s message to Corinth as well, when they had a man living in grievous sin in their church. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. We must abandon the worldly kind of love that lets people publicly sin without consequence or rebuke. This difficult road of Christian love bears all things, but does not rejoice or support wrongdoing. Yet as Jesus tells us we must remove the speck from our own eye, and look to our own repentance first, to see clearly to assist our brothers.
           
In a way our life in this world has blinded us to this kind of love, as blind as the man near Jericho. Christian love is not something that comes naturally to our sinful souls, so we must continually look to Jesus, read his words in scripture, and knowing these call out like the blind man, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Without Christ, Christian love is only an ideal, it is unattainable. United with Christ in baptism, being strengthened by the word and supper, it is real. It is Christ working through us. As Luke writes in the beginning of the book of Acts, the works of Jesus in His gospel were only what he “began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). In the time of Acts, and today, Jesus continues to do, to work and teach through those Christians he has called to be his own. And given this great gift, should we not bear patiently with one another?
           
For while we were sinners, Christ was “delivered over to the Gentiles…mocked and shamefully treated and spit upon.” He was flogged and killed for our sins. He took the greatest punishment for our lack of love. The wrath of God come upon him, and He paid for all our sins, even though He had done no wrong. And on the third day, he rose.
           
His resurrection means that you will rise also. It means your resurrection has already begun in your baptism, as the Holy Spirit has made you new. It means you have been given all the benefits of Christ, that the Father sees you as if you lived perfectly in love as Christ did. So when you call out to Him for mercy to see your sin and the way to love, He will answer. When friends, family and fellow church members may be difficult, He will hear your prayers for them. He wants to help you live in patience and love. For this love is the eternal fruit of the Church.
           
All other great works may cease and pass away, but not love. Love and the works of love abide into eternity and will be everything we do in the resurrection. We already see that dimly now. We see the people helping and working in our congregation, serving each other. Coming in to help make copies, cleaning, writing notes, calling, or making meals for others. These are dim images in the mirror of the coming age of comfort and peace with Christ. Unlike St. Valentine, many of these works and the people who do them remain unknown to others. But they are known to God, and before Christ every saint, every believer in Christ is important. For their works will shine forever as the moon reflects the sun, reflections of the light of Christ’s face. And it is before Christ’s face where these believers will be in the age to come, basking in Christ’s love, which will never end or fail. Amen.

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