Love Is . . .

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The “love” passage from First Corinthians is such a common reading at weddings, memorials, and movies, that we can easily tune it out. Rev. John Weems re-examines the deep meaning of the words from the Apostle Paul.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

1 Corinthians 13: 4-5

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…

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The cover of your bulletin features a heart highlighting the following words: Love never fails. Does that ring true to you? Or does it feel like love frequently fails? Relationships crumble and people disappoint us. How can we boldly say, “Love never fails?”

Today I’ll seek to reframe “love” as we know it in response to that question.

Our Scripture reading is an intentionally concise excerpt from the First Corinthians “love” passage. For those who are new, we are in a “Love Is/Love Is Not,” series in worship.

The Greeks wisely had distinct words for love, including philia (brotherly or sisterly love), eros (erotic or romantic feelings, sometimes represented in those commercials with the people in two bathtubs for no apparent reason) and storge (fondness through familiarity).[1] If you would like to better understand the nuances, I recommend looking at The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. Our subject today is the selfless agape love of God in Christ. While Paul wrote First Corinthians in Greek, the source of the love of which he wrote would have spoken a different language.

Arlene Jech, one of our Deacons here at Calvary and our resident Aramaic scholar, sent some illuminating material concerning the meaning of love in Jesus’ language. “Hooba, ‘love’ in Aramaic refers to something for which one feels the kind of love expressed in both words and actions. The root of the word in Aramaic literally means ‘to set on fire.’”[2] The authors describe that in this hooba, “The human sings spiritual songs with harmonious tunes that are understood by people of all races and creeds.”  

With the understanding of love in the language of Jesus, I invite us to re-read 1 Cor. 13:4-5: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful . . .”

I found an undiscovered alternative footnote for First Corinthians that goes on to say that love does not put itself first or country above God; it does not pick fights with allies for no discernable reason or provoke enemies to justify a response; love does not discriminate against neighbors based upon nationality or religion or gender or sexual orientation; love does not tweet seeking to humiliate anyone who disagrees. Finally, love does not really care about the ratings of The Apprentice.[3]

Through conversations with several Calvary people in recent weeks, I know that many in our community are exhausted. We have compassion fatigue, justice fatigue, news fatigue, and good old-fashioned fatigue. Three people in the last week have told me they experienced panic attacks. Others are actively avoiding social media and most news, but then feeling guilty for disengaging. Therapists are reporting that business is good—too good.

Beyond political leaders, people are struggling to feel love for some family members and close friends.

I hear you. I see you. I’m with you.

While I strive to take actions beyond the walls of the church in Christ’s name, today my primary hope is to invite you to think of love in a different way.

Agape is not primarily a feeling.

Hooba is not something we celebrate on Valentine’s Day.

Remember the root word literally means, “to set on fire.”

God’s deep love is not something we start or can fake.

We participate, but God initiates. God ignites the flame for this sort of love. Perhaps instead of emotionally flogging ourselves for feeling overwhelmed and not taking enough actions and sometimes getting frustrated and losing our cool, we seek remember that we follow the God of the universe. I believe in free will and will not accept evil as the status quo and I take heart knowing that our Creator can move mountains and change hearts.

UC Berkeley astronomers have shared research revealing the discovery of what could be at least 40 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way galaxy.[4] The data from the Kepler spacecraft found that billions of planets like ours orbit around suns at a distance that is not too hot, and not too cold for liquid water to exist. This situation is what astronomers refer to as the “Goldilocks zone” because it is just right for the possibility of life to exist.

While this is a fascinating and humbling reminder of just how small we are in the broader scheme of things, it made me think about how we reach our Goldilocks zone of faith? How do we find that zone where we are confident enough to live our faith, but not so comfortable that we become complacent?

How is God shaping us to be truly loving and ignite that fire?

Jennifer Miller, one of the Calvary Elders, sent an inspiring message on the subject:

“I’ve always thought of love as something that doesn’t just exist but as something that develops over time, that grows and takes many shapes. As I was reflecting on this the word “evolve” came to mind. Love evolves over time I think. I wrote the word “evolve” on a piece of paper and wouldn’t you know, staring at me was the word love, hidden in the word evolve. It is backwards, but there it is. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe love doesn’t always start in a nice proper progression, but starts messy, sometimes looks backwards, but eventually transforms into something that looks and feels like a blessing, a gift, acceptance, respect, a warm connection.”

When Jesus walked on earth, he spoke truth to power, fed masses, trained leaders, and faced the darkness of evil on a daily basis. Even Jesus as God with us had to step away to pray and took time to allow his heavenly parent to shape and restore him.

I do not have a perfect list of three easy tips to avoid fear that doomsday is upon us, but I could not stand before you if I did not believe that God will see us through this time as our Redeemer has through so many other times in history.

One spiritual practice I do recommend is not letting the voices of the world be the first sounds you hear each day. Before you check messages, turn on the television or radio, or look at any form of media, consider centering yourself in meditative prayer, Scripture, or music that makes you feel closer to the Divine.

As we prepare to come partake in Communion, remember that some at the Lord’s table thought that darkness would prevail. I pray that you will receive today’s feast as reassurance that Light gets the last word.

Valerie Kaur, a Sikh woman who is a lawyer, activist, mother and voice of justice who frequently stands with Dr. William J. Barber II, a pastor and head of the North Carolina NAACP. Ms. Kaur gave a riveting speech last year in which she offered a line that continues to inspire me: “Maybe this darkness is not the darkness of the tomb, but the darkness of the womb.”

What love and good is God birthing through us right now? Amen.

[1] See also C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves.

[2] Rocco A. Errico and George M. Lamsa, Aramaic Light On Romans through 2 Corinthians: a Commentary Based On Aramaic, the Language of Jesus, and Ancient Near Eastern Customs (Smyrna, GA: Noohra Foundation, 2004), 200.

[3] No such footnote exists except in my heart and mind.

[4] Dennis Overbye, “Far-Off Planets Like the Earth Dot the Galaxy,” New York Times, November 5, 2013.


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