Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

All you need is love


Readings

1 Corinthians 13.1-13
Luke 4.21-30

All you need is love…

So sang The Beatles.

When I was at high school, our RE teacher told us that The Beatles were right: all you need is love. My reaction at the time? I thought he was trying too hard to be trendy.

Now, I think he was right. All you need is love.

The Apostle Paul thought the same. Today, we read 1 Corinthians 13, which has been called the ‘love chapter’:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

How much plainer can Paul be? All you need is love. Love is the first thing, and love is the last. Let’s be clear though—for Paul, ‘love’ is doing loving things, not feeling all lovey and doing nothing. Love is patient, kind, it doesn’t insist on its own way, it doesn’t keep a record of wrongs. Imagine if people lived like that? Love in action reflects the nature of God.

All we need is love, but love has to grow in us. Love must be formed within our being as we develop. Paul speaks of seeing things in immature ways, as a child. But the time comes to put childish things away. A little child is cute doing little child things; but if an adult starts doing the same childish things, we wonder what is going on.

We’ve got to be careful here, though—it’s one thing to put away childish things, but quite another to put away childlike things. I’ve found that the most attractive Christians I’ve met have kept that childlike sense of wonder at the universe, that childlike trust in God, and that childlike wholeheartedness as they give themselves to the present moment. Are you like that? Am I?

Paul also speaks of our not seeing things clearly right now. ‘Now we see in a mirror, dimly,’ he says. Corinth made pretty good bronze mirrors in those days. But seeing in a mirror isn’t the same thing as a face to face meeting. We talked to our daughter on Skype the other day. It was lovely to see her image on the computer screen while she was in her kitchen in Europe, but it wasn’t anything like being in the same room as her. We need to be face to face in order to form relationships with one another.

There’s something about being face to face with someone you love, isn’t there? We’ve all seen pictures of a mother and child gazing at each other. It’s the image of two people who love each other, but the baby doesn’t yet know it. Love is being formed within the child as she gazes at her mum, and as she is gazed right back at by mum.

All you need is love, but love has to be formed. Babies are not especially patient, as any parent will tell you.

A baby learns to love through being loved. That’s a lesson we continue to learn through life. As we are loved, we learn to love. That’s why the scriptures say (1 John 4.19),

We love, because God first loved us.

We quote this in our baptism service. Baptism marks the beginning of a life immersed in the love of God, a life aimed at loving God and loving our neighbour as we love our very selves. Heck, it’s even about loving our enemies!

All you need is love. It’s the simplest, yet the hardest, lesson in life. Spiritual gifts are important, but they’re useless if they’re not offered in love. Faith is vital, hope is crucial, but they won’t be needed forever.

At the end of the ‘love chapter’, Paul reminds us that

…faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Right now, we need some things that will one day end. Things like faith and hope. We need faith in Jesus, who loved us and gave himself for us. We need to have hope that God will bring the kingdom, that justice will triumph, that all creation will acknowledge Jesus as Lord. We need faith and hope because we don’t yet see Jesus Christ face to face. When we do, there’ll be no need any more for faith and hope. But there will be love, love growing eternally in God’s presence.

All you need is love. The love that Jesus lived is love for all people. The people of his home town, Nazareth, didn’t get that. Jesus spoke of the love of God for a widow, a foreigner in the land of Sidon. And he reminded them that Elisha healed Naaman, a Syrian general, of leprosy.

They wanted God’s love to be confined to those who deserved it. To them.

But God’s rain falls on everyone, God’s sun shines on all people.

It’s vital that we realise this life of loving is one in which we don’t see clearly. It’s like looking in the darkness; sometimes things aren’t clear. Like Paul, we ‘know only in part’. We can’t tell why a child dies, or why an earthquake devastates an entire country. We can only trust, hope and love.

That’s why we need faith in the God who loves the creation he has made. It’s why we need hope that God is at work, and the kingdom of God will come in its fullness.

The best way to know God more fully is through love. Love of God, love of neighbour, love for ourselves, and even love of those who would hurt us. It’s simple. It’s demanding. It’s being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Soon, we’ll be in our series on spiritual practices. We need faith, hope and love to put these practices into practice. But if we do, we’ll find that we do know God better. And that our faith, hope and love grow.

All you need is love. We love, because God first loved us.

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