Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Sermon: 1 Corinthians 13:7 How deep is your love?

Ed and Floreen Hale recently died within hours of each other after 60 years of marriage. Ed, an engineer, had met Floreen and asked her parents for her hand in marriage. They refused, because she was recovering from a car crash in which her husband of three months had died. But Ed persisted, making a promise to carry his beloved in his arms every day.

They married in 1953, settling in Batavia, New York, where they began their family, having two children. He cared for her, spoiling her. Five years ago, he was diagnosed with kidney disease, getting regular dialysis, but still he took his wife out every day.

Two months ago, they were both seriously ill in separate hospitals, 35 miles apart. Ed wanted to be with his wife, so the hospitals cooperated, under the prompting of social workers. He made the journey, to a private room where their two beds were pushed beside other. Floreen died the next morning, holding Ed’s hand; with Ed dying the very next day. He had kept his promise of 60 years, his love being demonstrated by his actions.

It’s a moving story, and it helps us to see that the extent of our love is seen by our deeds. As the Bee Gees once asked - How deep is your love?

It’s the question Paul was asking the Corinthians. The church is meant to be the community of love, but their actions in Corinth were far from loving. When it came to worship, they wanted things their way, so that they would enjoy it; but they weren’t concerned about anyone else and what they might like. So there was a big emphasis on their spiritual gifts and the performance of them, but little teaching that would encourage and build up the whole body of believers.

It was also the same in their dealings with outsiders and with people in the church they regarded as weak. Things that they had no problem with, would cause other people to stumble. Things like eating meat dedicated to idols - could you eat it or not? Now that might not be a struggle today, but there are issues that can cause some people to stumble.

Paul confronts the Corinthians with the demands of love, as he asks them: How deep is your love? Through these weeks we’ve been seeing how Paul points to a portrait of love, asking the Corinthians how they measure up. Tonight we come to verse 7, where love is seen in all sorts of ways.

‘Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’ Love might bear all things, but the Corinthians wouldn’t. Instead, they were caught up with their own agenda and preferences. Could they really put up with things that they didn’t like, if it would help and benefit someone else?

That is the way of love, the way of Jesus. Because as Paul writes of love bearing and believing and hoping and enduring all things, he is pointing to Jesus, and how he did the very same. His love is seen in his deeds, as he endured all things, horrible things, to win our salvation.

We have taken just a small sample of material, in our reading from Matthew. Over Holy Week we’ll be looking in greater detail at Matthew’s passion, but in our verses tonight, just look at what Jesus endured for our sake.

He has already endured the betrayal of a close friend; the desertion of his disciples; the denial of his closest friend. He has been arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, endured a trial in the high priest’s house, where he was slapped, beaten, and spat on. He has been taken to Pilate, accused falsely, rejected by his people and the crowd, and sentenced to crucifixion.

In verse 27, Jesus is given to the Roman soldiers, who gather a battalion before him - 600 men. He is mocked, his clothes removed, a scarlet robe thrown on him, and a crown of thorns driven into his head. The King of the universe, the one who sustains everything by the word of his power, the one who formed these people and gave them breath; and he endures this mockery. He doesn’t answer, doesn’t respond. He doesn’t retaliate.

Now I don’t know about you, but I would have tried to do something. Even in less harrowing circumstances, I would try to fight my way out. Yet here, Jesus endures it, driven by his love for us and for all rebels.

Some didn’t even make it on the way of the cross, such was the fearsome flogging. But Jesus begins by carrying his cross. And then, he was crucified. That’s all we’re told, but imagine for a moment the nails in the hands and the feet. the weight of the body pulling, causing excruciating pain. That’s a word from the cross - ‘out of the cross’ is excruciating. Even on the cross, he endures more abuse, more mockery.

But as if that were bad enough, there is also the abandonment. Jesus cries out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ He experienced the God-forsakenness that we deserved. He endured the full penalty for our sins, such was his love for us. Had he not done so, we would have been lost, left outside of God’s kingdom forever.

But Jesus did it. He paid it. He endured it all, in order to bring us safely through, in order to give us hope and a future. The writer to the Hebrews tells us what was going on: ‘looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Heb 12:2)

Mr Motivator used to be on the TV, doing keep fit routines on breakfast programmes. He wanted to get you motivated to go through the unpleasantness of exercise in order to attain the goal of looking trim. The motive here for Jesus was the joy that was set before him - the joy of having us as his inheritance, sharing eternal life with us at the throne of his Father. He endured the horror in order to bring about a better future for us.

And that’s what Paul says love does. It bears and believes and hopes and endures all things, so that we can serve others and bring them to a better future.

To set the needs of others ahead of our own; to put our own agendas into last place; to give and serve is to follow the way of love.

How can you follow Jesus, and put up with things, so that someone else can benefit? Perhaps you have time to give to call with a neighbour; or to help with an organisation? Perhaps you’ll decide to not buy a cup of coffee and instead send the money to a mission organisation. Or when you chat over tea and coffee at church, you resolve to ask other people how they are, rather than only talking about yourself.

Paul calls us to look at Jesus to see what love looks like; and to follow in his footsteps. He gave up his plans and preferences to serve and save us. May we follow as we serve others, for their good, and for Christ’s glory. Amen.

This sermon was preached in the 'A Portrait of Love' Lent Midweek series in Aghavea Parish Church on Wednesday 2nd April 2014.

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