03 February 2019, 10:28
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
© Stacey Steck
Who’s getting married this morning? I mean, we’ve just heard the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, so somebody has to be getting married? It’s almost Valentine’s Day. Anyone want to propose right now? I got rings! We can move straight to the vows. No takers? Not even for renewal of vows?
I’ve preached on this famous “love passage” many times, but never on a Sunday. That’s ironic since the Apostle Paul’s great treatise on love isn’t about Saturday love, a couple in love, but Sunday love, a God in love. Of course, it does have applications to marital love, and parental love, and love between friends or family members, but mostly it’s about how we are to respond to God in love because of the way that God has responded to us in love. It’s about how God treats us, and how we must treat one another, with patience and kindness, in ways that are not envious or boastful or rude or insisting on our own way or being irritable or resentful, by rejoicing in the truth rather than in wrongdoing, by bearing all things, and believing all things, and hoping all things, and enduring all things.
There are some interesting facts out there about the thirteenth chapter of first Corinthians, like the fact that it is one of the greatest examples of an encomium in Greek language literature. An encomium is a speech or piece of writing that praises someone or something highly, as Paul does the virtue of love. This thirteenth chapter is also brilliantly connected to the rest of the book in ways so clever even the best scholars are still uncovering them. It has inspired great art, like El Greco’s Modena Triptych, and was read at the funeral of Princess Diana. It has given us wonderful, memorable images and phrases, like “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels and have not love” and “When I was a child, I spoke like a child,” and “For now we see through a glass darkly.” It’s a masterpiece for so many reasons. But does any of that really matter?
The story is told of the Dutch diamond collector who was seeking for a very rare diamond. A dealer in New York by the name of Mr. Winston heard of this inquiry and contacted him letting him know that he believed he possessed the diamond he was looking for. The diamond collector arrived, and Mr. Winston had his salesman present the diamond. The salesman described all the technical aspects of the diamond, however within minutes, the diamond collector rose his hand and said that this was not what he was looking for.
Watching from a distance, Mr. Winston hurriedly intercepted him as he was walking out and he asked him if he could present the diamond again. The collector agreed. Mr. Winston pulled out the same diamond and started describing his admiration for this particular diamond. Within minutes they were signing papers, and he purchased the diamond. After the gentleman had left, the salesman who had failed to close the deal asked Mr. Winston, “What just happened? Why was it so easy for him to say no to me a little while ago, while with you he purchased the diamond?
Mr. Winston answered, “My friend, you are the best salesman in the business. You know more about diamonds than anyone, including myself, and I pay you a good salary for your knowledge and expertise. But I would gladly pay you twice as much if I could put into you something I have which you lack. You see, you know diamonds, but I love them.”
There are probably a lot of things I could say that would help you know First Corinthians 13 better, to understand it in its original Greco-Roman context, to see how it connects with the other writings of Paul, to understand its internal logic. And all of those things would be a blessing to you. But sharing those things would just make me a noisy gong, or a clanging symbol, wouldn’t they. They wouldn’t make you love any better the God who loves you. And so this morning, I just want to tell you a few more little stories about Sunday love, God’s love, for you to take home with you and ponder a little, and see how that kind of love might work itself out in your life.
It was 1898 and Ben had left the East Coast 8 years before to head out West in hopes of making his fortune. Well, he wasn’t rich, but he had accumulated over 300 acres of good land and built a comfortable farm house on it. He raised wheat, corn, and all of his vegetables. He had managed to build his herd of cattle to over 200 head. Having accomplished all of this in only 8 years, he decided that it was now time.
So the ad that he placed in the New York newspaper said, “Wanted: A good woman willing to be a pen pal. Marriage is a possibility for the right woman.” Before long, he began receiving letters from Molly. Their correspondence soon turned into love for each other. Now, here he stood in the Kansas City train station waiting to finally meet her. When the train arrived, there were a lot of women getting off. Suddenly, he yelled, “Molly, over here!” She looked his way, walked over to him, smiled and held out her hand. He took it for a moment, then let it go.
She said, “How did you know who I was?”
He then reached into the back pocket of his overalls and said, “From these here letters.”
“But there are no pictures in them.”
He looked down at the stack of letters and said, “Oh yes there are! There are lots of pictures in your words.” You see, he had spent hours reading every word—looking for every little clue that would tell him who Molly really was. He had fallen in love with her words—words that had painted her portrait.
Yes, it’s true, that’s a Saturday love kind of story, but the same is true for Sunday love. You see, as we comb through the words of the Apostle Paul, as we take the time to look deeply into the eyes of those we care for, as we pray our hopeful little prayers for our children or grandchildren, the portrait of God’s Sunday love comes into focus.
The story is told of a woman who left her husband. The husband called the police and filed a “missing persons report.” A few weeks later the police found her a few counties over. They asked him if he wanted them to take him to her. By now the husband had realized how poorly he had treated his wife, and felt badly about it. He decided to write his wife, which he did for months, but she never came home. Finally, Christmas came, and he went to see her in the run-down hotel where she was staying. He asked her to come home and she did. On the way home he said, “I’ve written you for months, why did you come home so easily?” She replied, “Because those were just letters, this time you came in person.”
Friends, Sunday love is possible because God has come in person to us, not just in words on a page but in risking life and limb, in taking risks for us. And that presence is revealed to us once again in the breaking of the bread, and the sharing of the cup, a feast of love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never ends.”
On a hot summer day in south Florida a little boy decided to go for a swim in the old swimming hole behind his house. In a hurry to dive into the cool water, he ran out the back door, leaving behind shoes, socks, and shirt as he went. He flew into the water, not realizing that as he swam toward the middle of the lake, an alligator was swimming toward the shore.
His mother, still in the house, was looking out the window and saw the two as they got closer and closer together. In terror, she came flying out of the house and ran toward the water, yelling to her son as loudly as she could. Hearing her voice, the little boy became alarmed and made a U-turn to swim to his mother.
But it was too late. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him. From the dock, the mother grabbed her little boy by the arms just as the alligator snatched his legs. That began an incredible tug-of-war between the two. The alligator was much stronger than the mother, but the mother was much too passionate to let go. As grace would have it, a farmer happened to drive by, heard her screams, raced from his truck, took aim and shot the alligator. Remarkably, after weeks and weeks in the hospital, the little boy survived.
His legs were deeply scarred by the vicious attack of the animal. And, on his arms, were deep scratches where his mother’s fingernails dug into his flesh in her effort to hang on to the son she loved. A newspaper reporter came to interview the boy after he had recovered enough from the trauma, and asked if he would show him his scars. The boy lifted his pant legs; and then, with obvious pride, he said to the reporter, “But look at my arms. I have great scars on my arms, too. I have them because my mom wouldn’t let go.”
“And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love,” Sunday love, that just will not let us go. Amen.