The Love of God

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
First Lesson: Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Second Lesson: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Gospel: Luke 4:21-30

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

holy-crossHave you ever seen those short, black and white, “Coffee with Jesus” comic strips on Facebook? Do you know the ones I’m talking about? If you’re on Facebook regularly and you’re friends with at least a few other Episcopalians, you might’ve come across these at some point. They feature a modern-day Jesus with dark, long hair and a beard. He’s usually pictured wearing some sort of business suit and holding a cup of coffee while he has a casual conversation with one or two other characters.

These “Coffee with Jesus” comic strips are usually light-hearted and funny, but they also tend to be very thought-provoking, using humor and sarcasm to illustrate deep, theological points about God and our relationship with God.

A few days ago, I came across a new “Coffee with Jesus,” entitled, “Jesus Isn’t Your Mascot.” In the short comic strip, Jesus is having a chat with a friendly priest named Joe. Joe says to Jesus, “I want my people to be rooted, in touch, involved Jesus. I’m seeing a lot of…how do I put this…superficiality.” Jesus replies, “Let’s do a football-themed sermon for Super Bowl Sunday, Joe. ‘Jesus Isn’t Your Mascot.’” Joe then begins to rattle off some potential one-liners that he might use in a football-themed sermon, saying, “‘He’s the quarterback, coach, recruiter, and GM! He’s the Greatest of All Time!’” Continuing the one-liners, Jesus says to Joe, “‘And he wants you on the team and in the game.’ Man, this thing is writing itself.”

See what I mean? Funny but also thought-provoking.

“Jesus isn’t your mascot.” That’s a great line, isn’t it? I think what the writers of the comic strip were trying to convey is that Jesus wants us to be more than just fans watching the game from the sidelines. Jesus wants us to be “all in,” committed to the work of building up God’s Kingdom. He wants us to be active participants in our faith, living our lives each day according to his commandments. It’s one thing for us to say that we love Jesus; it’s another thing entirely for us to demonstrate our love for Jesus by loving others the same way he loves us.

In our readings for today, we heard that beautiful and poetic passage from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians that many of us know so well, especially those of us who’ve been to our fair share of church weddings. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

I really do love this passage from 1 Corinthians, and I’m so thankful that it shows up in our Sunday lectionary. Not only does it hold a special meaning for me and for all who decide to have it read during their wedding ceremonies, but it also speaks to us about the love of God and the particular kind of love that God calls us share with our brothers and sisters.

In the Greek-speaking world of the first century, there were actually several words that could be used to describe the different forms of love. There were four in particular. The first type of love was storge, or family love. You might describe this kind of love as the love that siblings share with each other or the love that children have for their parents. The second type of love was eros, or romantic love. This is the love shared between two people when they claim to be “in love” with each other. The third type of love was philia, also known as brotherly love. You might think of this as the kind of love that two close friends would share, the kind of love that produces deep bonds of affection. The last type of love was agape, or Godly love. Agape love is the kind of love that Jesus demonstrated when he washed the feet of his disciples on the night before his death, the kind of love he demonstrated when he laid down his life for us on the hard wood of the cross. It’s the kind of love that doesn’t come naturally because it requires us to give up ourselves for the “other,” to sacrifice our own well being so that others may live. It’s the kind of love that is self-giving, not self-serving. The author of John’s Gospel used the word agape when he wrote these words of Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believed in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

I’m sorry if this disappoints you, but in our lesson this morning from 1 Corinthians, Paul isn’t writing about romantic love, like we might assume based upon its popularity during wedding seson. And, he isn’t writing about family love or brotherly love, either. He’s writing about agape love. He’s writing about the unconditional, sacrificial love of God that all of us are called to share with the world, a love that has the power to tear down any walls that might divide us. With that kind of love in mind, listen to the passage again, and consider what it means for those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus and pattern our lives on his teaching. “Agape is patient; agape is kind; agape is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Agape does not insist on its own way; agape is not irritable or resentful; agape does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Agape bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Agape never ends.”

In his book, The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis describes agape love (or charity, as he preferred to call it) asthe highest level of love known to humanity – a selfless love, a love that is passionately committed to the well being of the “other.” Agape love doesn’t discriminate, and it seeks nothing in return. It’s a love that knows no boundaries or limits, a love that is open to every person. No questions asked.

Jesus isn’t our mascot, but he is the example that we strive to imitate, our master teacher. He is “the way, the truth, and the life,” and through his ministry and example, we know what it means to be loved unconditionally by God. Jesus wants us “on the team” and “in the game.” He doesn’t want us to passively sit back and watch as others do all the work for us. He wants us, all of us, here and now, to join him in bringing agape love, the unconditional, self-giving love of God, to this broken world in which we live.

My friends, I leave you this morning with the text to the ancient, Latin hymn, Ubi caritas, which we traditionally sing during Holy Week. May its words be a prayer for all of us as we strive to be instruments of God’s love. May they inspire us and give us strength.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
As we are gathered into one body,
Beware, lest we be divided in mind.
Let evil impulses stop, let controversy cease,
And may Christ our God be in our midst.
Where charity and love are, God is there.
And may we with the saints also,
See Thy face in glory, O Christ our God:
The joy that is immense and good,
Unto the ages through infinite ages. Amen.

Click here to listen to an audio recording of this sermon.

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