A Still More Excellent Way

A Still More Excellent Way

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

The story is told of a couple who have been married for many years… let’s call them Ole and Lena. It seems that Lena has been keeping something to herself for a long time, and she’s been getting more and more frustrated with Ole. Finally, she says to him one night over dessert, “Ole, you never tell me you love me. It’s really been bothering me. Frankly, I’m feeling pretty hurt and maybe a little bit angry.” Ole puts his fork down, swallows his bite of cake, and says, “Lena, I told you that I loved you on our wedding day. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” And he picks up his fork and takes another bite.

You may have heard the story before. And I couldn’t resist opening this sermon on “the love chapter” with it. Just like many couples can’t resist using 1 Corinthians 13 as a lesson, read and preached on, at their wedding. I did… twice!

It is a lovely reading for a wedding because it reminds all who are gathered that the love that sustains a marriage relationship is not primarily a feeling; however, St. Paul was not talking about a marriage relationship when he penned these words.

As we heard last Sunday, the young church in Corinth was having a great deal of difficulty getting along; they were having a tough time staying together. Some of the divisions stemmed from groups following different apostles. Some arose from disagreements about how to navigate various aspects of pagan life in Corinth. Paul makes it clear that there should be no divisions among the Corinthians.

2000 years later, we have very similar struggles, as Pastor John pointed out last week. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Our lesson today, the famous “love chapter,” comes from much later in Paul’s letter. He has spent many chapters on detailed instructions for their life together. In chapter 12, and again in chapter 14, he writes of the gifts of the Spirit, and specifically how each part of the body (the church) has its unique gift, which the body needs. In chapter 14, he will return to the subject of gifts, specifically speaking in tongues and prophesying. But sandwiched between these two chapters on gifts of the Spirit is a whole chapter dedicated to the importance of love. And Paul is most definitely not talking about a romantic feeling – or any kind of feeling, actually.

Love, the feeling, is fickle and not able to sustain a relationship. Ask anyone who has been married for a long time: Did the feeling of love get you through the tough times? And I’ll bet that 9 out of 10 of them say no. Maybe 10 out of 10.

Feelings of love come and go. The love that sustains and grows relationships (whether romantic, friendship, familial, work, or church) is something much deeper than a feeling.

Fred Rogers, the Presbyterian minister whose ministry with children played out with song and story and the land of make-believe, said this about love: “Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

Love isn’t comfortable. It isn’t cozy. And if our lives are full of things that add to our comfort, if the only people we love are those who are easy to love, or who look like us, or who think like us, or who love us back, then we’re not following the instructions handed down through the ages in 1 Corinthians 13. Love like this is meant to be self-sacrificial, following our sacrificing Savior. Love like this is meant to keep us from getting too comfortable. Love like this is busy and active, always looking for ways to express itself in service to others.

Many of us, myself included, have spent a lifetime hearing these familiar words and feeling comforted by them.

Today we are called to hear them as challenge.

But don’t despair. The One who has given us the will to strive to act in love will be with us and will give us the strength and grace we need. In fact, through Jesus and his sacrifice, God already sees us as having the gift of this kind of love. God looks on us and sees us as being all of those things described by Paul in verses 4-7.

Today, we are going to do a rather unique “turn and talk.” Each of you has received/will receive a half-sheet of paper with 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 printed on it, with a slight twist. Everywhere that the text says love (or “it,” referring to love), there is a blank space in the text. I invite you to pair up with someone near you (pairs are best, but if necessary we can have a couple of groups of three). You will take turns reading the text to your partner, inserting their name in the blank space. For example, my partner would say, “Pam is patient; Pam is kind…”

Okay, go!!
[When people seem done, double check that each person has heard the text read to them with their name.] For those reading this at home, I have included what is being said between partners in the sanctuary at the end of this sermon.

Take another moment now to talk with your partner about how that felt. How did it feel to say it? How did it feel to hear it?

Love as Paul describes it in this chapter is much like Fred Rogers described it: as a struggle, an active striving. Many times, we will fall short. But each time, Jesus is right there with us, ready to help us to grow in this kind of world-changing love.

May we all have ears to listen, and may we all grow in love each and every day, through the power of the Spirit.

_________ is patient; _________ is kind; _________ is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. ________ does not insist on her/his own way; _________ is not irritable or resentful; ________ does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. _________ bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

“A Still More Excellent Way” is/was a sermon preacher by Pastor Pam Schaefer Dawson on the weekend of May 5, 2024 — the 6th Sunday of the Easter Season.  The text upon which it is based is 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20240505