This past Sunday our Epistle Reading was the oft-recited passage from 1 Corinthians 13 on love. Through this passage, we are, in no uncertain terms, exhorted to see love as the pivotal, all-encompassing, unchanging motive, purpose, and foundation of our interactions with others. This is not qualified or minimized; it is an absolute.
What St. Paul is driving at in this passage is for us to understand that we cannot do anything in life apart from love and expect it to be honoring to God. We can look spiritual on the outside, with prophetic power, the ability to understand and explain the mysteries of God, have faith that makes us heroes amongst our peers, have a generosity that renders us poor so that others can be uplifted, and even be self-sacrificing enough to give up our own lives for another, but if there is no love there then such prophecy, such knowledge, such faith, such generosity, and such sacrifice is not just minimized, but is utterly and completely reduced to zero. This passage should not be viewed only as an indictment against our own challenges to live out this life of love; it is even more to be an encouragement that the icon of love himself has come to provide us the freedom of fullness of life that comes when we know that the fickleness we see around us is not permanent nor does it need to control us.
In the past week in western New York, we have experienced the fickleness of the weather. We've seen a polar vortex bring temperatures to below zero, with snow piling up, only to see the thermometer top out near 60 degrees, with blue sky and the smell of spring in the air, only to have the rain come and the temperature drop again to freezing. We live in a world that constantly reminds us that there is very little that we can consider to be a guarantee from one day to the next. In fact, our world and society seems to be in a transition period that makes uncertainty the order of the day.
The blessing for us is that this love that is to be the foundation of our own interactions with others is also the foundation of God's interaction with us. Jesus describes himself as the incarnation of love itself. This means that whatever we learn about love from 1 Corinthians 13 we are actually learning about Christ also. This means that God is patient and kind, He does not envy or boast, is not arrogant or rude. He does not insist on his own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God never ends. So now, faith, hope and God abide, but the greatest of these is God.
The love of God is the antidote to the poison of the transience and uncertainty of life around us. We need not fear tomorrow because God and His love never end. We need not fear what the darkness of the world may do or promote, because God and His love never end. Everything we think we know, think we believe, think we stand firm upon may pass away; our families may fail us, our political leaders may betray us, or religious institutions may crumble to dust, these all may pass away, but God and His love never end.
This is where the freedom to have hope and peace resides. This is why, between faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these three is love, for our faith and our hope can only truly thrive when we surrender to the reality that God is not harsh, angry, vengeful, fickle, or cruel, but that He is the embodiment of all that love is. There's an old hymn with the lyric, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus love and righteousness," but according to 1 Corinthians 13, we are better off saying, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus love." Everything else builds on this, everything else rests on this, everything else depends on this. Love is the beginning and end of our relationship with God and with others; it is never to be diminished, reduced, or considered a secondary consideration, but is always where we start.
May this day and all your days begin with the hope and faith and peace that comes from knowing the love of God in your life.
(as published in St. Luke’s weekly email newsletter, 2/7/19)