A sermon based upon I Corinthians 13:1-13 (page 1000 in the pew Bible)
by Rev. Dr. Paul A. Lance, Minister
First Congregational United Church of Christ
201 South Second Ave., Alpena, Michigan 49707
It was a special privilege for me to be able to preach about Love and Family last Sunday, on Mother’s Day, and to have my Mom -- Dodi Lance -- sitting front and center, with her grand-daughter Allison beside her. It was a lovely, happy Mother’s Day!
My Mom was always proud of her family -- her five kids -- even though we (as adults) have been scattered down-state, out-of-state, and even in Germany for decades. The joy she felt to have one of her boys back home these past three-&-a-half years cannot be taken from either of us, even in death.
I want you all to know that Dodi Lance went out with grace, from what the doctor told us last Monday. He told Dodi that her family was coming and would arrive shortly, to which my Mom smiled… and said: “That’s good.” Those were her last words. Said with a smile, “That’s good.” Positive, hopeful, forward-looking words, as the final curtain came down on a life well-lived and Dodi Lance danced off stage to her reward & our applause.
Thank you, one and all, who have sent such kind words, remembrances, and uplifting support to Patty & me (and our extended family) these past few days. Ron & Sky & Leslie & Ralph from Germany, look forward to being with you all on June 10; even as we were together yesterday to celebrate the life of Margie McConnell, another local artist and dear friend of this church. We are surrounded by people of grace and generosity, who share themselves and their talents without reservation. (!)
To gather as a congregation opens our lives not only to God, and the indwelling Spirit of Jesus, but also to one another. We realize we are in this thing called LIFE together!
We celebrate not only other people’s successes – such as this year’s graduating classes (congratulations!) and our long-time church members of 50 years & more (which included Dodi) – we also come alongside each other in our times of loss. As we said in our Call to Worship: when we come together to share our joys and concerns, “our burdens are divided, and our joys are multiplied.” That’s what a healthy church -- like a whole family -- is able to do for one another, through Christ who gives us strength. Our burdens are divided among the many, who help us carry them, while our joys are amplified, multiplied.
All that is possible only because there is love here. Love that makes us feel safe… Love that allows us to relax, and to center ourselves… We know that God knows us, and loves us unconditionally (as a good parent does). God’s love accepts us “as we are, warts & all” but doesn’t leave us where we are at when we come in, but stretches us to engage our minds with matters bigger than ourselves… To open ourselves to a life of Someone bigger than we are. As I said to the children a moment ago: “Love is more important than anything else in life!” It anchors us in security, safety, and strength, regardless of our situation. My Mother rested in peace, centered in her love of God and family, ready for the next daring adventure yet to come.
I believe that’s what the Apostle Paul was speaking about in his chapter about “love” in First Corinthians 13. The telling characteristics about love are (1) its hopefulness in hard times and (2) its endurance through difficult days. The fact that people who love one another seem somehow able to bear tragedy, believing that love is stronger than adversity, stronger even than death… makes all the difference in the world! Now and forever!
When we think about the definition of Love found in First Corinthians, Chapter 13, we admit to the importance of “Love” in every aspect of life. "If I have not love I am nothing...” Love is patient (that is, love allows for time to do its work). Change often comes slowly. (!) When we try to “push the river”, we usually only churn up cross-currents that set whole process back! Love trusts that TIME is our ally. (!) What is important enough to get going, is worth the time it takes to get it right. “Expediency” is most often a short-cut to egoism and to error. Love is patient.
And love is kind. (!) We know what that means, don’t we.
Love is not jealous. In fact (as I say to young couples contemplating marriage), jealousy is a poison; for it always "suspects the worst" in the other -- inflicting pain by suspicion, and masquerading in our society as a symptom of "deep love."
I say, “NO!” Jealousy is not a sign of love, but of hurt and fear. Jealousy kills love! It's a poison. You must address it the first moment it rears its ugly head. Couples must be open and honest with one another. Suspicion and jealousy undercuts love.
Love is not boastful (says the Apostle Paul), all puffed-up and proud. Love is not arrogant, nor rude (that is, love is not abusive toward the other!) Love respects personal "boundaries". Love has a true sense of one’s own worth, and is humble enough to admit we don’t have all the answers. To “boast” will only encourage the one who loves you to prick that over-inflated ego, and bring you back to earth, to reality, to one’s human limitations.
Love does not insist on its own way... but seeks the good of the other. True love makes your partner become your greatest "cheerleader." And, in that regard, as each person seeks the good of the other -- bringing out their best, affirming and encouraging and assisting the other -- the whole grows stronger.
Where are we thus far? Hopefulness, Endurance, Bearing burdens, and Believing… but, wait… there’s more!
St. Paul writes: Love is not irritable. (Which is to say, it does not have a "short fuse.") Flying off the handle is usually a sign of an ego-agenda getting in the way.
Love is not resentful. (That is, love keeps no record of wrongs.) Bringing up past mistakes... Piling up complaints until, like the proverbial "straw that breaks the camel's back" there is an explosion of emotion beyond the scope of the matter at hand... is not a symptom of love. To the contrary, it shows a building resentment. Love knows how to say: "I'm sorry" … and love takes seriously the concept: "You're forgiven." Don’t hold grudges!
The Apostle goes on to say: “Love does not rejoice at wrong, but delights in the truth.” Which is to say, love delights in "open" communication, "warts and all" honesty; not avoiding some uncomfortable truth that needs to be addressed.
Let’s recap: (1) Loving God, and trusting the Holy Spirit of Jesus that’s at work in us, is the foundation of any love of self and love of neighbor.
We gather every Sunday morning to recharge those batteries of faithful following of Jesus Christ. We love God, because we know that God first loves us, as demonstrated in Jesus’ life. We feel safe, secure, and stronger because we are partners with God in the salvation of the world, which God loves.
(2) We are enabled to love others because we believe that God knows us, and loves us unconditionally (as a good parent does). We are accepted “as we are, warts & all” but God’s Spirit doesn’t leave us where we are at, but stretches us to engage our hearts, & minds, & lives with matters bigger than ourselves…
(3) As we gather as a congregation, we open our lives not only to God, and the indwelling Spirit of Jesus, but also to one another. We recognize we are in this thing called LIFE together!
(4) Characteristics about love, according to St. Paul, are: its hopefulness in hard times and its endurance through difficult days. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things!” (I Cor. 13:7) “Love never ends.”
(5) Other dynamics of a healthy love are: Love is patient, and love is kind. Love is not jealous. Love is not boastful, all puffed-up and proud. Love is not arrogant, nor rude. Love does not insist upon its own way... but seeks the good of the other.
Love is not irritable (with a "short fuse.") Love is not resentful (keeping a record of wrongs). And Love does not rejoice at wrong, “but delights in the truth.” Which is to say: Love appreciates "open" communication between partners.
If that's the kind of love you have, you will discover (with the Apostle Paul, who wrote those words), that your Love is able to "bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things. (Such a) Love never ends!"
I think St. Paul was right! Of all the things of earth, I believe that experiences of love are ever-lasting. They make us who we are. All else passes away.
Among the cards of sympathy and condolence that Patty & I received since the death of my Mom, was this one from Shannon Knowlton, our advertising consultant at The Alpena News. It’s from a company called “I believe” with words by Brian Burns and George Harris:
“I believe that hope survives, Love prevails, tears cleanse, memories comfort, faith soothes, good thoughts reassure, and that our belief in a better place calms the heart.”
Christian LOVE stands out from the "norm" by being patient, not jealous; not boastful, nor resentful; delighting in open communication... Love hopes, and endures; love bears, and believes. Christian love, as taught by Jesus and modeled by his followers (including my Mother!) is more than just a set of social values. It is the only thing of eternal value. “Love never ends.”
I learned how to love from my Mom & Dad, who modeled it from Jesus Christ, and I’ve done my best to live it ever since. If I am successful, give glory to God, and give a bit of the credit to Dodi & Les Lance for doing their job so well. Any improvements since then are largely thanks to my wife, Patty, and any failures to love, it’s on me. I’ll take the blame.
Fortunately, forgiving is inherent in the process of true love, so I’ll get by trusting in the grace and good will of you all.
Thank you and Amen.