Sermon February 3, 2019

Scripture Passage: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13

God’s Love: The Greatest Force

Good morning! Today’s scripture is one of my favorites! Most people think that this is a familiar scripture and that they already understand its meaning. However, I think there are still profound insights each of us can always gain from looking at it, more closely. Also, it is quite a tall order on the subject of love and none of us can ever fully satisfy it, this side of a Heaven. However, though we cannot fully satisfy Paul’s call to agape or godly love, we can certainly strive toward it!

Well, every day in the nursing world, we are to strive toward reflecting this agape love to our patients. Today, I have two touching stories to share with you, about how God’s love and grace worked through me by the Spirit, to reach two residents with lots of special needs at my facility. The first resident, whom I will call John, is blind or vision-impaired and has some serious medical conditions on top of that. As might be expected, John is very particular and meticulous about his needs and how he wants things done. I think this is understandable, given his loss of vision and loss of control. As a result, John is not satisfied with many Certified Nurse Assistants, CNAs. So, one night, Anthony, my colleague, asked me to help him change John’s brief, because he was having a hard time, getting along with John. I took a deep breath, braced myself and went in to meet John. As Anthony said, John was very meticulous! However, before long, I also realized how kind and caring John is. Behind all the blindness, medical conditions and meticulousness, was a deeply compassionate man of faith! By the end of my assisting Anthony, John must have sensed the Spirit and God’s love working through me, because not only did he not complain about my care for him, but he requested me to be assigned to him for future shifts! I was so blown away and humbled by this! I immediately prayed and gave God the credit and thanks, for channeling that agape-like love, which today’s passage speaks of, to reach John. I really didn’t think that what I had done for John was anything unusual, because I was just doing what I always do for every resident. But, I think the key to my care, was that it was authentic-people always pick up on it right away, if we are not authentic. However, once people are convinced that we authentically care about them, not just the medical tasks that need to be done, but about the person behind all the medical conditions, they open up to us and receive our care with trust and enthusiasm.

Paul, in today’s passage is also speaking about authentically caring for others. I think it’s interesting and intentional that Paul describes first, all the things which love is not. Then, he proceeds to describe all the things love is. This is a rhetorical form of writing, which Paul often used. One of the interesting insights about this passage is Paul’s description of all the things, which ‘love is not’. If we understand what the Corinthian church was like, we would understand that all that Paul says ‘love is not’, are the very things that the Corinthian members are! All the things, which Paul describes, which love should be, they are not! Ouch! For the Corinthians, who were sitting in the congregation listening to this letter, they would have felt ashamed and guilty, not affirmed or delighted! Those conflicted Corinthians were arrogant, impatient, pretentious and rude! It was a very sad, divisive congregation. They had lots and lots to learn about what it means to be authentic, humble, patient and kind. The Corinthians needed to experience God’s pure love channeling through someone, like Paul or his ministry colleagues, like how John was thankfully able to experience a glimpse of God’s love channeling through me. I think that once they experienced this kind of authentic love in others, it would have a transforming effect, because that kind of love is contagious, and I believe it is the most powerful force in the universe! My email signature line used to be: “Love is the most powerful force in the universe, and prayer is the channel to the greatest source of that love-God.” That signature line was greatly influenced by today’s passage and my own experiences of agape love through people God put in my path. Sadly, not too many of the Corinthians had experienced much of this kind of authentic love yet, but Paul goes on to encourage them to aspire to it, because it will be an enduring and eternal love or force, which will stay with them, forever. Paul says that while faith and hope are essential, love is still the greatest of them all-the most powerful force.

So, the next time I took care of John and was able to share more of this most powerful force with him, all thanks be to God, we quickly established a good rapport, and he felt so comfortable with me and the fact that I was also a pastor, that he shared a very touching story with me! John told me that he was never one to feel comfortable showing affection to others, especially to his father. However, something moved John to give his father a hug and tell him, “I love you” before he left home as a young adult. John said his father was so thrilled and moved by this, that he asked him, “Why didn’t you do this before?!” It was an emotional, ‘light-bulb’ moment for John, and he felt bad that, informed by a culture which tells boys and men that they should not express their affection, he had not said, “I love you, Dad” a long time before. I was so grateful that because John sensed God’s authentic love through me, that he opened up to share this touching story. I told him it’d likely show up in a sermon, and voila!

Another very touching story, which I’ll just share briefly is about a resident, whom I’ll call Tommy. Tommy has a condition, which impairs his cognitive function, and he often gets hostile and hits the nursing staff, especially if we try to keep food away from him, as he tries to hoard food. When I first heard about Tommy, I was so afraid he’d hit me, that I avoided making eye contact with him or talking with him. Then, one day Tommy noticed the dogs on my scrubs, and he came over to me, and said, “Kitty...Kitty...what’s up, Kitty?” It was the gentlest and kindest voice I’d ever heard! I was so touched by this experience of Tommy, and again, blown away. I immediately gave God thanks and praise, because that kind of transformation, could not have happened by my own ability. It was the pure, agape love that Paul speaks of, which the Spirit somehow was able to channel through me to Tommy, which changed him from a scary, violent guy into the gentlest, kindest guy. Now, I’m no longer afraid of Tommy and I always stop to say, “Hi, Tommy, what’s up Tommy?”

So, who are the Johns and Tommys in your lives, who badly need to experience God’s agape love, like those ornery Corinthians?! I’m sure you did not need to pause for more than a few seconds before someone came to mind. I’m sure that these folks have a variety of traits, like the ones Paul describes, arrogance, impatience, pretentiousness, rudeness, etc. My guess is that it takes a stretch of imagination for you to see them as patient, kind, genuine and humble. Well, I hope that you’ve been inspired by my stories today, of how God’s love, when we humbly allow it to flow through us, can actually transform, even the most needy or hostile people. I’m grateful to be one of those, whom God has worked on for a long, long time, as I first came to know God as a little girl, 7 years old, like the Psalmist in today’s psalm. I also believe that God began calling me at a young age, to be a pastor, like God called Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1, as a little boy. So, God with all these years of working on me, with love and grace, enables me now to let some of that love channel through to others. Wherever you are in your faith journey, may you allow God to channel some of God’s pure love through you. When you do, you’ll be amazed at how it transforms others, as the most powerful force, which lasts, forever! Amen.

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