All you need is love – Epiphany 4 C –

In the midst of an extended plea for his friends in Corinth to recognize –

and at the same time, stop squabbling over –

the variety of gifts that seemed to them to be particular evidence of God’s favour,

Paul drops what my friend L D calls (in this month’s Presbyterian Record), “The Love Bomb.”

“…but I will show you a more excellent way.”, says Paul

worn out by their stubborn resistance to his long winded logic.

And what follows are some of the most treasured words in Scripture.

It’s simple, really – in spite of how difficult we try to make it.

Painfully simple.

Love God – serve one another in love – amen. Go home.

Paul knows a thousand different ways to say that – so do I, for that matter –

but Paul chooses this beautiful piece of prose…

which too often arrives without context (at a wedding) –

and serves no purpose other than to comfort the presider that,

in this slice of Scripture, in the midst of wedding chaos, God has arrived for a moment.

But it’s more than a moment with God for Paul.

With Paul, it’s always God – all the time God –

in sickness and in health, in joy and in sorrow,

in this life and in new life

it’s all about God.

Simple, really.

This morning, we have the words of Paul in their intended context

addressed to the gathered faithful, seeking God – following Christ.

But we are hampered by a reality that is not simple at all.

Our reality includes a knowledge of God,

and is filled with hope in God’s promises,

but it is complicated by unequal relationships

and rules we don’t understand,

and the mysterious presence of the Spirit,

whose gifts are strange and changeable.

In this complicated reality of ours,

love is frilly and fabulous –

love is hearts and flowers and quiet time spent in luxury.

Love is private (or secret) – love comes at great cost –

love is the most costly emotion, the most likely to let us down – love can’t be trusted.

We have taken the power from Paul’s words by our careless use of the word Love.

Paul is not often careless with words

and he had many choices do describe this most excellent way –

philia, arising from shared interest and duty–

storgé, that binds parent and child and draws kin together

eros – (yes, that’s exactly what it means) –

but Paul uses agapé, which is not without passion, but implies a burning drive for the good of others.

The KJV translates agape as charity, and moves us closer to the point,

but since we’ve also given charity a new place in our language, I say we reclaim Love.

A powerful thing, love – the most excellent way, according to Paul,

to organize ourselves as people of faith, and God knows we’re trying

but for Paul, Agape is not just about ignoring one another’s idiosyncrasies for the sake of our faith

Agape is a much more basic fact of life in Christ.

Love is…patient, kind, gracious, humble and polite;

love rejoices in success, love is always glad of the truth,

love is endlessly hopeful, endlessly enduring

Love is forever (and that’s a long time)

and Paul offers this, not as just another list of rules to follow to keep in someone’s good graces –

– that’s how we hear it at weddings –

but as a character sketch;

first, of God – then, of all who would call themselves God’s people –

and suddenly the words have their power again –

and Paul looks like a genius, because it can be that simple

in spite of how difficult we try to make it. Beautifully simple.

We know this love of which Paul speaks – we are surrounded – encouraged

guided – redeemed by God’s Agape in Christ.

That is our challenging, wonderful reality – even on the verge of another annual meeting

even as we wait for the wisdom to call a minister to our midst

even as the complications of life unfold around us,

God’s expectations are that simple -Christ’s example is simple

Love God – serve one another in love.


(St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church – Westville, NS)


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