November 26, 2023. By Rev. Lamar Robinson
Confession is said to be good for the soul. So I will confess that when Paula invited me to bring the message today, I did not know it was Christ the King Sunday.
Actually, I was not acquainted with Christ the King Sunday. Must have missed that day in class, or been very sleepy. Good old Liturgy 101!
But, The Kingdom of God, that is super important, and it is excellent to have a special Sunday for a special emphasis. Still, I was sent scurrying around to find a good handle for it, so it would mean something special for us to think about it together. Then the “ah-ha ” moment. Did I get right? You get to decide!
And so, on this Christ the King Sunday when we seek to deepen our understanding of what the New Testament calls The Kingdom of God, we turn to the words of St Paul and his beautiful hymn to love, which surely expresses the essence of God’s Kingdom.
OK, here we go, with the major help of our special reader, Ada. Once upon a time Elaine and I traveled to Greece. It was a most interesting experience. It turned out to be a very spiritual experience also, although we went through a regular travel company and not with a
religiously connected group.
We knew we would be traveling to some of the places the Apostle Paul visited 2,000 years ago. It was exciting to stand on Mars Hill, on the Acropolis, where Paul had told the Athenians about their unknown God. In Ephesus, it was moving to walk the very stones on the very street where Paul had walked, stones now uncovered after having been buried for centuries by flood and earthquake.
But it was in the ancient city of Corinth, where Paul had lived and taught, where perhaps our most dramatic moment came. We stood in front of the ruins of the Roman governor’s office, the Rema, at the very spot where the Apostle Paul would have stood when he appeared before
the Roman governor (you can read about it in the book of Acts), and there our tour guide, a devout person of the Greek Orthodox Church, read to us a portion of a most famous letter Paul had written to the Corinth church.
And, in Biddeford Pool, Maine, on this Christ the King Sunday, we turn to
these words of St Paul and his beautiful poem on love.
IF I SPEAK IN THE TONGUES OF MEN AND OF ANGELS, BUT HAVE NOT LOVE, I AM A NOISY GONG OR A CLANGING SYMBOL.
What we say is important, but not nearly as much as what we mean and what we are. We recall the old saying that “what you are speaks so loudly we cannot hear what you say”. (I’ll bet your mother taught you that!)
Fine words mean little unless the motive behind them is secure and sincere. Sometimes politicians speak them, and we know it is just rhetoric. Sometimes parents speak them, but children know whether words are empty or backed by substance. Spouses speak words to each other, employers speak to employees and vice versa – put simply people speak to people – but what matters is often not so much what is said but how and why. Without that ingredient called love (and here we define it no further) words can make noise but not music. But spoken from the heart that cares, even halting speech without eloquence, can make music in the soul of the other. And sometimes no words at all are required – just a look or a hug, or friendly pat on the back.
AND IF I HAVE PROPHETIC POWERS AND UNDERSTAND ALL MYSTERIES AND ALL KNOWLEDGE.
Sometimes we are tempted to think knowledge is the key to life, education the cure for society’s ills, the ability to achieve the standard by which success is measured. But while knowledge is excellent and may certainly be in the service of truth, it has its limitations, and may be used for evil as well as for good. It alone can make us neither wise nor good. Achievements by themselves may mean nothing more than the ashes from the hearth. There is another ingredient which gives meaning to all of the good gifts. What is it?
AND IF I HAVE ALL FAITH, SO AS TO REMOVE MOUNTAINS, BUT HAVE NOT LOVE, I AM NOTHING.
Here Paul makes his stand, and distinguishes between the good and
the best. Surely faith is the first virtue, the greatest good? But, no! There is something that even faith needs to make it complete. Some of the staunchest enemies of Jesus were people of faith. They held strictly, even sacrificially to the standards of the ancient practices and beliefs through which the people had expressed their relationship to God for generation upon generation. But – they lacked a basic quality – love.
Their spiritual first cousins, the Puritans who came to these shores and who left a considerable legacy, were people of great faith. But – they were often short on love -and therefore their faith was incomplete. Even faith which is totally sincere and intense, is not the greatest spiritual good. It still needs something else, something taught by Jesus of Nazareth, and caught by his true followers everywhere.
IF I GIVE AWAY ALL THAT I HAVE, AND IF I GIVE MY BODY TO BE BURNED, BUT HAVE NOT LOVE, I AM NOTHING.
Here Paul builds his case to the level of a crescendo. What can one do more than give everything one has, and even give up one’s life? But one can go even that far and be a tragic failure unless there is within that which Paul calls love. We can give to the last measure and yet fall short if we are without love. And that is not true because Paul said it. Paul said it because it is true.
LOVE IS PATIENT AND KIND.
What need we add? One can love and still be impatient, but love strives to overcome the kind of impatience that hurts, that rejects, that tears down and bruises. Love is kind. No one loves perfectly, and sometimes unkindness creeps in. But love seeks to guard against it,
and seeks to grow in patience and kindness.
LOVE IS NOT JEALOUS OR BOASTFUL.
Needs no commentary – just one observation – that love centers not upon the self, but upon the other.
IT IS NOT ARROGANT OR RUDE.
One who loves, however imperfectly, may commit many mistakes in relating to others, but he or she will be working to overcome the barriers to wholesome relationships, and to show caring and respect.
LOVE DOES NOT INSIST ON ITS OWN WAY; IT IS NOT IRRITABLE OR RESENTFUL.
Love does not insist on its own way, but neither does it always yield to the desires of another. Sometimes, somehow, somewhere in between lies the answer of harmonious relationship or in the most difficult of circumstances, a creative coexistence. Whether the point of issue is between national governments, or spouses, or any two parties, a strict and stubborn insistence on one’s own way can be a dangerous road. It can have nothing to do with love, by any definition or in any form.
Let us add quickly, though, that love is not wishy-washy. One look at Paul’s life will tell you he did not intent that. But, surely he thought love is not rigid and unreasonably unbending either. Because it is not self-centered, it is wiling to meet the other half-way or better, in a satisfying solution to the issue at hand.
IT DOES NOT REJOICE AT WRONG, BUT REJOICES NI THE RIGHT.
Clear enough! Keep moving on.
LOVE BEARS ALL THNIGS, BELIEVES ALL THINGS, HOPES ALL THINGS, ENDURES ALL THINGS.
Here Paul’s rhapsody soars. This is poetry. It is also truth. There is nothing which love will not attempt. There are no oceans too broad to cross, no mountains too high to climb, no challenges too impossible for love to attempt. There is nothing in life too great for love to confront, and indeed, not even death is stronger than love.
LOVE NEVER ENDS. AS FOR PROPHECY, IT WILL PASS AWAY. AS FOR TONGUES, THEY WILL CEASE. AS FOR KNOWLEDGE, IT WILL PASS AWAY.
This is serious stuff! When the Apostle Paul says love never ends, I think it is more than eloquent speech or poetic exaggeration. He is stating a conviction as clear as the rising and setting of the sun, the changing of the seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides.
“All things pass”, we often say, but Paul protests that we speak too quickly and unthinkingly. “You can’t take it with you,” we claim, stating the seemingly obvious, but Paul seems to disagree. There is one thing not subject to the ordinarily assumed laws of life, because it itself is not ordinary. And that is love. For love never ends. Everything else goes. But Paul insists that even when life’s journey ends, the journey beyond may continue upon the road called love.
SO FAITH, HOPE, LOVE ABIDE, BUT THE GREATEST FO THESE IS LOVE.
And the greatest is love!
May we conclude with the words of another writer, who lived near
the end of the First Century A. D., and who also pointed to love as the heartbeat of the universe. From the First Epistle of John:
LET US LOVE ONE ANOTHER, FOR LOVE IS OF GOD, AND ONE WHO LOVES IS BORN OF GOD AND KNOWS GOD. ONE WHO DOES NOT LOVE DOES NOT KNOW GOD, FOR GOD IS LOVE.
WE KNOW AND BELIEVE THE LOVE GOD HAS FOR US. GOD IS LOVE,
AND THOSE WHO ABIDE IN LOVE ABIDE IN GOD, AND GOD ABIDES IN THEM.