I offered a sermon today on the subject of “Love”, with close reference to 1 Corinthians 13 and John 15: 9-17. It was the final part of our six-week sermon series on Jesus Shaped People. Here’s the text (with illustrations) if you want to have a read.
Jesus talked about love a LOT. It was the central lesson in everything he said or did. Love one another.
And it sounds so easy to do, doesn’t it? Just love one another. Simple!
But what does love really look like? I did an assembly with KS2 children this week and we looked at different expressions of love, and they gave their reactions (mainly saying “yuk!”).
Perhaps it’s this? People who hold hands in public may love each other very deeply, but this picture doesn’t really help us understand what love does.
Is it this? Drawing love hearts for someone? (They said yuk to this one too!)
Or it might be this. Sisters and brothers love each other – even though they may fight as they grow up… (they laughed at this one)
This is a kind of love isn’t it? We love nice things to eat, or we might say that we LOVE hot chocolate
But love looks like these things too. Helping someone to eat if they can’t do it themselves… Taking someone for a walk in the fresh air and sunshine in a wheelchair… Or like this… caring for our environment by picking up the litter…
There are lots of ways of showing and experiencing love.
Jesus teaches us that when we love one another, when we show love for one another in any of these ways, we are showing love for him.
All of these things represent something of love, and in our reading from 1 Corinthians today, we are reminded of what Paul says love is. We usually think about love in terms of our relationships with one another – our spouse, our children, our parents, our friends – but there’s more to it than that.
Paul does a great job of listing things that love is and isn’t, does or doesn’t do. There are seven things on each side: Love IS/DOES patient, kind, rejoices in the truth, protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres, and Love ISN’T/DOESN’T be boastful, proud, dishonour others, self-seeking, easily angered, keep a record of wrongs, delight in evil.
We’re familiar with these terms aren’t we, and they kind of speak for themselves.
In a loving relationship, being patient and kind, protective, hopeful and full of perseverance are kind of the bedrock aren’t they? Relationships that are easily angered, or where wrongs are recorded and brought out and dusted off in times of conflict, just… aren’t that good are they?
I don’t want to go through these so much today, because I think there’s a bigger question to be asked, and I want to focus on something quite specific today if I may.
If we are to be truly Jesus Shaped People – that is, modelled on the behaviour and attitude and values of Jesus Christ – then we have to work a bit harder than simply being patient or kind, and we need to be a bit more intentionally protective, hopeful, persevering when we love.
And the kind of love that Jesus calls us to demonstrate is radical… risky… and costly.
His life was a whole demonstration of radical love – showing the world that the established human ways aren’t the ways of the Kingdom. Last week we heard how he cured the man of the withered hand on the Sabbath against the “rules” – showing a love that was radical and overturned things.
His is a risky love too.
It risks rejection – “shake the dust off your feet” as he said to his disciples; it risks pain, loss, but it risks transformation too. We don’t like change do we? Generally I mean. And what is transformation, but a huge change? Yet, loving as Jesus asks us to, risks transforming the world.
And those risks come at a cost don’t they? When we love like Jesus loves – selflessly, trusting, hopeful – the cost to us can be huge. We give bits of ourself away when we put others first, when we go out of our way to serve them, to go out with litter pickers and clean up our environment, when we make choices about our lifestyle to help conserve resources.
My question to you is – what are you willing to risk in the name of love?
Love is patient – yes, it is, but didn’t Jesus lose his patience? That time with the money lenders in the Temple? What will push YOU to lose your patience in the name of love?
Love is kind – yes, it is, but it doesn’t allow bad behaviour to flourish in our community just because we want to be kind to one another. Anti-social behaviour that wrecks people’s peace; vandalism; noise pollution – all things that we can be tempted to turn a blind eye or ear to in the name of kindness. How much are you willing to risk in being kind to others?
Love rejoices in the truth – yes it really does! But how many of us shy away from speaking the truth because we want to be “nice”, or going back to the last point – “kind”. We talked about speaking truth to power last week didn’t we, challenging those structures in our society that keep people in oppressive systems, but we live in a society where “truth” is subjective. “My truth is the truth” and so on. How can we rejoice in that?? How do we as Christians speak up for THE truth, the truth of the love of God for his people and the reconciliation he offers through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? How much are you willing to risk in rejoicing publicly in THAT truth?
Love protects – yes, of course it does. As a mother hen protects her chicks, love protects. I don’t think there’s anyone here who doesn’t want to protect other people from harm, but how far are you willing to go to protect others? Taking in refugees – Syria, Ukraine; fostering children without families…? What are you willing to risk in order to protect others?
Love trusts – difficult one this one. Trust who? What? How? Trust another person not to hurt us? Trust between our nearest and dearest is almost a given, but trusting strangers is something else indeed. But Jesus’ love calls us to trust doesn’t it. How can we ever come together and build if we don’t trust each other? How much are you willing to risk in trusting and being trusted by people you don’t know?
Love hopes – we’re getting down to it now aren’t we? The hope we have in Jesus is the thing that underpins our whole Christian life. So let me ask you – I know we have the hope in the resurrection, but what else figures in your hopes today? Something for yourself? For someone else? How about hoping for something that isn’t a person? Maybe you’re hoping for something to happen, to change, to stop… What are you willing to risk in following it?
Which brings us to the last one that Paul talks about – love perseveres.
So far we’ve been thinking about the love that we are called on to show as Jesus Shaped People, but what about the love that God shows for us? All those qualities we have just listed – patience, kindness, rejoicing, trust, protects, hope – are exactly the qualities that he demonstrates towards us.
He is infinitely patient with us – individually and as a church community, a parish, a city
Kindness – he provides everything that we need, not because we deserve it but out of kindness.
Rejoicing – we are told aren’t we that whenever we do good stuff, the Lord rejoices with the angels and all the heavenly saints. There’s something to think about!
Trust – we are entrusted with the guardianship of the whole of creation. Everything!
Protection – I talked about that image of a mother hen earlier, and that is how we are protected by the Lord. He spreads his arms out and gathers us in, protects us from all manner of evils…
And hope – we all know that God’s hope for us is that we will return to him from the exile of sin.
But the last one of these qualities that Paul lists – perseverance – is the biggest one. We are tasked with persevering with love because God himself perseveres with us, no matter what.
Relentless doggedness in not giving up on us. Through all that we do, God’s love for us perseveres.
If we truly want to be Jesus Shaped People we need to model ourselves on the love that the Lord has for us, by trying to emulate these qualities in every aspect of our lives.
Because when we love one another, we make the world a better place; and Jesus asks us to love one another like he loves us, so that the world is a better place for all of us.