Today’s Gospel reading is a continuation of last week’s reading. So I chose to have last week’s reading read again this week along with the appointed reading for the day. So instead of starting at verse 21 as the lectionary lays it out – I chose to start today’s reading at verse 14. So if the reading sounded familiar to you who were here last week – that’s the reason why.
Remember now, Jesus is in Nazareth – the town he grew up in. So he is well known by the folks here. In this longer reading you’ll notice that at first his home town folks like what he has to say. They like what he has to say about what his purpose is – what his vision for his mission and ministry are all about. He lays it all out for them. He lets them know that his message is Good News – and his ministry is all about grace.
– in other words God’s undeserved love and favor.
– It’s about compassion.
– It’s about
caring for the hungry and the thirsty, and for those in prison.
– Its’ a ministry that calls men and women to live their lives differently.
But here’s the thing that changes things. He goes on to tell them – in essence – that his ministry – his word of God’s love and grace and forgiveness – is for all people. Not just the people of Nazareth. Not just for the Jewish nation. But for all people – including Gentiles – people outside of the Jewish faith.
Now up until that point – he has them in the palm of his hand. After that – well, they are so outraged at even the hint – of a possibility – that God might be even on the side of Gentiles – even the hated Romans – that they grab him to take him to throw him over the side of a cliff that is just outside the town limits. But somehow – don’t know how, but somehow – Jesus passes through them and goes on his way. He can do this because – well, after all – He is Jesus.
The townspeople don’t like what they hear – and they have their own special way of dealing with things they don’t want to hear. Wouldn’t be our choice, I’m sure – but still. Throwing people off a cliff because you disagree with them – or they disagree with you – or they say something to offend you – is probably not our first choice. You might feel like doing that – but I am sure that’s not your first choice. So may I suggest to you that there is a better way? What the Apostles Paul in I Corinthians calls, “… a still more excellent way.”?
One of our readings today is from I Corinthians, chapter 13. And it is called the love chapter. Now – most of you are familiar with the words in this passage because – I suspect – many of you had this read at your weddings – or you have been at weddings where this passage – or portions of it – have been read. Listen! Here is the basic message of this chapter, and I want you to think about this. You can be the best Christian you can possibly be – say all the right things – do all the right things – and say and do them all in the right way – but if you do not have love – then you’ve missed the whole point of what it means to be a Christian.
So let’s talk about that today. I think that’s better than talking about throwing Jesus off the side of a cliff. So let’s talk about love life. When you see those two words together – you can see them in two ways. When I say, “Love life,” – it can be a reflection of my attitude towards life itself. “Luvvve life.” I love life. The second way, “Love life,” usually refers to the romantic side of things – between a man and a woman.
Now I know Valentine’s Day is just less than two weeks away – but today – when I use the phrase “love life” I want us to think about the love life that we as disciples of Jesus Christ are to have for God – for other believers – and for the non-believer as well. That’s our love life. So let me say it again – you can be the best Christian you can possibly be – say all the right things – do all the right things – and say and do them all in the right way – but if you do not have love – love for God and for others – no matter who those others might be – then you’ve missed the whole point of what it means to be a Christian.
And that’s why I really – love – this 13th chapter of First Corinthians. Now, I want you to see that St. Paul – the author of this letter to the Corinthians – is putting some meat on the teaching of Jesus when Jesus taught us that the Ten Commandments – can be summed up this way: “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.” So you don’t forget that – not only is it our mission statement – but let me put it into that sing-songy way that will help you remember. “Love God – and love your neighbor as yourself.” (snap your fingers, and repeat several times.) Do it with me. Yeah. You know those words. You remember what Jesus has to say about how important loving God and loving each other really are. So Jesus tells us to love and love our neighbor, and Paul tells us what that love looks like.
That’s why I really like – I really love – about what Paul has to say about love especially in verses 4-8. Listen:
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; – do I need to repeat that one? – it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends.
Folks – I’m going to go out on a limb here and say – if you say you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ – but if you’re not also committed to a life of love, you’ve missed the whole message of the gospel. Being a Christian is more than just going to church on Saturday/Sunday. Being a Christian is more than just hoping to go to heaven some day. Being a Christian is both of those things – but if we don’t have love – as Jesus describes it – as Paul describes it – then our church going and our hopes for heaven – may very well mean nothing – IF we don’t also have love for God and for each other.
Elsewhere Jesus says that people will know that you are truly my disciples if you have love for one another. You know what that tells me? Love is the central task of the Christian. It’s what we do. Love is a verb. It’s more than just a feeling. It’s a verb. It’s what we do. If this is how people will know that we are followers of Jesus, then true – genuine love – for God and for others – is the central Christian task.
“Pastor Ray Pritchard gives us a wonderful way of grasping what Paul is saying. Suppose you multiply 1,000,000 X 1000, says Pritchard. You end up with one billion, don’t you? What comes after a billion? A trillion. What comes after that? A quadrillion. After that is a number called a quintillion, which is one followed by 18 zeroes.
“Now, says Pritchard, let’s do it the way children might do it. Let’s start with the biggest number in the world times the biggest number in the world. Now whatever that number is, let’s multiply it by zero. What do you get? Zero. It doesn’t matter what you start with. If you multiply that number by zero, the answer will always be zero.
Now, here’s the point. “Pritchard says: ‘God is saying that life without love is zero. You can pile up all the good deeds, all the education, all the spiritual gifts, and all the noble works that you like. Without love, it still equals zero. You can be smart, beautiful, strong, wealthy, educated, multi-lingual, rich and famous but without love it still equals zero.’”
So before you feel like throwing someone off a cliff, let me ask you – how’s your love life? Is there somebody in your life that you need to say, “I’m sorry,” to? Or are you waiting for somebody to apologize to you? Are you willing to be the one to take that first step?
Are you having a disagreement with someone? Heck – let’s call it a feud. What can you do – to the extent that it depends on you – to show love to that other person? Now I know – I know, I know, I know – that some people are just difficult to love. I know that. And if you’re in an abusive situation – get out. No one needs to stay in an abusive situation. That is not love! And if reconciliation is all but impossible – let me suggest that you can still pray for them. Maybe even find a way to speak well of them. Because – you know – that you can’t stay angry at someone for too long – if you’re praying for them – or saying kind things about them.
And when I say pray for them – I don’t mean, “Lord – help them to see things my way.” No. Just pray for them. And while you’re at it, pray that the Lord will give you – would give all of us – a heart that remembers that,
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never ends.
Folks – let me repeat – if you’re not committed to a life of love, you’ve missed the whole message of the gospel. If you’re having trouble with that – just look to Jesus. He gave us the greatest example of what it means to love. Remember? “God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son . . .” (John 3:16).
Elsewhere – in 1John 4:19 – we are told that “We love because He first loved us.” How will people know that we are genuine disciples of Jesus Christ? By our love. So how’s your love life? Just remember,
“And now faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” Amen