Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Healing Power of Love: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 - Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

1If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; 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. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (NRSV)
Prayer by bigbirdz on flickr. CC BY 2.0
“If you love something, set it free.
If it comes back, it will always be yours.
If it doesn’t come back, it was never yours to begin with.
But, if it sits in your living room, messes up your stuff,
eats your food, uses your phone, takes your money,
and doesn’t appear to realize that you had set it free…
You either married it or gave birth to it.”

I include this classic Hallmark Card joke in every wedding sermon. And I can tell you from experience that it only takes some unwashed dishes, a pair of shoes left in the middle of the living room, or an offensive odor to stretch the love of a husband and wife to the limit.

But that’s peanuts when compared to the demands love will make of you, whether you’re married or not.

The pediatrician is telling you that your child is going to require a lifetime of care…

You’re moving your spouse or aging parent into a nursing home—because they require a higher degree of care than you can possibly give.

You’re telling your adult child that they can no longer live in your home because they’re abusing drugs or alcohol—and you will not enable their dysfunction.

You’re deciding, with imperfect information, whether or not it’s time to discontinue life support.

These are just a few of the occasions when love will demand more of you than you could ever imagine yourself giving. This degree of love doesn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Instead, it leaves you exhausted and at your wits’ end. The person you’re caring for makes you out to be the villain. People second-guess your decisions and question whether you really have their best interests at heart. You’re feeling guilty and questioning whether or not you could’ve done something to bring about a more favorable outcome.

I’m not sure the Beatles knew what they were talking about when they sang, “all you need is love.” Is love really the answer, when you hate the answer it gives?

One of the most important truths the Apostle Paul teaches us about love is that it is humanly impossible to attain love’s highest ideals. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things—but can you?  No amount of love can fix all things or satisfy all things. It cannot stop someone from making bad decisions. It cannot vanquish all foes. And it certainly cannot prevent someone from dying.

Love, in its purest form, originates in God. But in the same way as our knowledge of God’s love is incomplete; so is the power of human of love. It can only go so far. Yet love is not powerless.
The cross is the focal point of divine love. There, Jesus suffers your rejection of God and the evil you commit against the neighbor—and pronounces you forgiven. There, Jesus takes on your pain and your suffering; dying not just for you but with you. He goes into the grave with you so that God can raise you from the dead with him. Through all the pains and sorrows of life, Jesus never lets go.

Prayer is where healing love begins. In prayer, Jesus empowers and guides you to embody God’s love. The reality of his love leaps from the pages of Scripture and into real life when love leads you to God’s suffering children. You will find strength, courage, and wisdom through the Holy Spirit. You and the person you love will be transformed and healed together. God’s love raises you up and empowers your spiritual gifts together with the Body of Christ to live into a vision of life as it will be when we see Jesus face-to-face. In Christ, we find the grace to love beyond what our human strength and will can accomplish.

At the same time, God’s love will help you to accept your limitations. You can’t solve everything, fix everything, or be everything. Only Jesus can raise the dead. Sometimes, love is letting go—which nobody wants to do. If your unwillingness to let go holds your loved one back from flourishing, prolongs their suffering, or enables their continued dysfunction, then you’re not abiding in love. If your unwillingness to let go is killing you day after day, then you’re not abiding in love. When that moment comes, you hold onto Jesus for them. Trusting that Jesus never lets them go, you’re putting them into good hands.

Without question, living in love is both the hardest and most beautiful way of life. Love carries all of us into tomorrow with hope—and the assurance that no matter what the new day brings, it will be alright because someone will be waiting for you. After all, “there is no reason to live if there is nobody to live for.” If it’s not the people who embody Jesus’ love, it will be Jesus himself.

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