May 17, 2020

“Love Never Ends”
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi
May 17, 2020 (Easter 6)
 

How are you doing?  If you’re like me, you’re probably starting to feel antsy.  You want to get out, see and interact with people.  You want to go shopping.  Wearing face masks is uncomfortable and inconvenient.  This sheltering in place has been challenging, and not knowing when it will end is crazy-making, isn’t it?  We’d all like our lives to go back to “normal” don’t we?
 

But do we really want things to go back to the way they were before?  Maybe not.  I often read a blog called Journey with Jesus and I’ve occasionally quoted its two bloggers in my messages.  In a recent post, Daniel Clendenin shared some surprising results of a British survey of 4,343 people by the Royal Society of the Arts and the Ford Foundation.  People were asked about how the pandemic has impacted their lives.
 

In the survey, “only 9% (!) of Britons reported that they wanted life to return to ‘normal’ once the pandemic lockdown is over. That means over 90% are experiencing significant goodness and beauty amidst all the horror.
 

“For many people the pandemic has been a wake up call to things that really matter: over half of the respondents (54%) reported that they hope to make changes in their lives, and that they hope the entire country will learn positive things from the hard times. Others said that they were experiencing more gratitude — 42% of participants said they value food and other essentials more since the pandemic.
 

“More people are cooking (38%), spending less money (61%), and enjoying the experience of cleaner air (51%). About 40% of people reported a greater sense of community with family and friends. Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA, said that while it was right that the immediate emergency was the priority, "we must use this time to imagine a better future."
Source:  Daniel Clendenin, https://www.journeywithjesus.net/the-eighth-day/current-column?id=2633
 

This better future, the changes people want to make, the lessons folks are learning, returning to what is essential all feel to me like a grasping for things that are eternal and a desire for love.
 

And this is what the Apostle Paul was trying to communicate to the young Christians in our reading from 1 Corinthians.  As he addressed their conflicts and the issues that were threatening their unity, he urged them to focus on the most important, essential and eternal things:  faith, hope and love.  He focuses on love because it is the greatest of these lasting things.  And as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world and all our lives to a halt, it seems a good time to evaluate and re-orient our lives going forward.
 

While we aren’t experiencing divisive conflict like the Corinthian church, the halt to our activities and sheltering have become a good opportunity for honest introspection.  Is it possible that we had been living as Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3?  Were we making lots of noise, moving mountains, giving lots of money away, sacrificing our bodies…but having little effect because we lacked love?
 

We have been forced to slow down, face our busyness and endless motion.  We may have observed that we have been spending money to accumulate things to fill the holes in our lives that are bottomless.  The pandemic has forced us all to focus on what’s most important:  health, safety, and care for each other and our neighbors in the wider world.
 

Could the Spirit be moving us to learn again what it means to love?
 

Paul’s definition of love is not the sweet, romantic love that we celebrate at weddings.  When I read this passage at weddings, I think of it as a challenge to the bride and groom, because loving in the way described is not easy.  Without being too much of a party-pooper, I try to paint a realistic picture of the demands of married life.  Paul’s definition of love is not based on emotions that come and go depending on circumstances.  Instead, he puts the emphasis on behaviors that actively seek the best for others.  Love is a decision to do and be for others.  Love is hard work.
 

Steve Thomason, a pastor in Minnesota dug into the Greek, then wrote this translation of verses 4-8:
 

Love puts up with us even when we blow it, it is the most excellent way of goodness and kindness that gives us a chance, because it has a low boiling point.
 

It doesn’t toot its own horn or puff itself up. It doesn’t force itself on others, it doesn’t seek after its own desires. It is other-oriented.
 

It doesn’t get all riled up over silly things or keep a list of offenses to use against you. It doesn’t get excited about the wrongs we’ve done, instead gets very excited when we dwell in the truth.
 

In all things love protects us, believes in us, has hope that we will make it to the end, and always waits up for us, no matter how long it takes us to get there.
 

In the end, love will never let us down or give up on us.
https://www.stevethomason.net/2016/04/25/love-devo-1-corinthians-13/  Accessed 5-16-2020
 

If God wants us to love like this, it’s a lot, isn’t it?  But if we orient our lives toward love, we will be transformed into the people God created us to be.  With God’s help we would become the church as God intended, and our Spirit-inspired love would be eternal.
 

Paul was trying to help the church at Corinth to become the people God intended them to be.  He addressed the misuse of spiritual gifts in the church.  A hierarchy of spiritual gifts had been created, where some who had the showier gifts were celebrated and others went unnoticed and unappreciated.  Paul said that in the grand scheme of creation and the kingdom of God, spiritual gifts are temporary.  In the end, “when completeness comes,” as it says in verse 9, all the temporary things will disappear.  We will be face to face with God.  We will know God and will be known by God at the deepest level of our souls.  Spiritual gifts will no longer be necessary because all will see and know God.  And what will remain is faith, hope and love.
 

Because love is the greatest thing we can be and do, because it never ends, because it is eternal, let love be our goal, our standard, the one thing against which we evaluate all that we do together as a church and as people of God.
 

Last week I read a news story about Celia Marcos, a nurse in a hospital in California who responded to an emergency in which a patient with COVID-19 had stopped breathing.  She ran into the room without an N95 mask and was part of a team that resuscitated him.  A few days later she became sick and two weeks later she died.  She died loving the patient.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2020-05-10/nurse-death-n95-covid-19-patients-coronavirus-hollywood-presbyterian  Accessed 5-16-2020.
 

There are numerous stories of this kind of selfless love during this pandemic.  This is the same kind of love that Jesus showed us.  This is the kind of love that we are all called to embody.
 

We may not be on the front line of fighting the pandemic.  But we can certainly embody the love of Christ.  Start with those in your own household.  How can you love them by seeking the best for them?  Look for opportunities to love those serving you:  the store clerks or the restaurant workers where you’re getting take-out meals or the Bite Squad or UPS delivery persons.  How can you bless your neighbors who are walking past your house?  And you can love by praying.  Keep praying.
 

In the blog post I mentioned earlier, Paul Romer is quoted as saying “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”  I agree—it would be sad if we came out of this pandemic and returned to our previous lives not having reflected on our lives, and not having been changed.  Wouldn’t it be great if, during this crisis, we learned how to be better lovers of God and our neighbors?  Because love never ends, it will live on beyond the pandemic, beyond our lives into eternity.  Let it be so.  Amen.