The Real Thing

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Our Sunday morning service was filled good spirit and amazing members of the Calvary community. The theme was Love:

“Oh, you mean love . . . The reason you haven’t felt it is because it doesn’t exist. ~ Don Draper, Mad Men

Was Don right? Rev. John Weems explored the First Corinthians “love” passage so often used at weddings to explore the true meaning of love.

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

1 Corinthians 13:1-8a

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

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; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.


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Our second reading today comes from the gospel according to Don Draper, the protagonist in the critically acclaimed series Mad Men in the pilot episode:

“The reason you haven’t felt love is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love was invented by guys like me, to sell nylons. You’re born alone and you die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on top of you to make you forget those facts. But I never forget. I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.”

While I wouldn’t be standing here if I completely agreed with Don’s world-view, the writers of Mad Men are on to something valid. The English word for love has been overused to the point in which the meaning is very ambiguous at best.

“Love. It’s what makes a Subaru, a Subaru.”

Olay skin cream reminds us to “Love the skin you’re in.”

“Everybody knows somebody who loves a Honda.”

McDonald’s recently extended their “I’m Lovin’ It” tagline to encourage people to “Pay With Lovin.’” I do not recommend that anyone pay for a Big Mac with lovin.’

Do you remember one of the first times you tried to understand the concept of love?

For me, it was when my parents valiantly attempted to have “the talk” with me, while driving in our 1978 Chevrolet Blazer.

I have to give my parents credit for making the effort to facilitate the conversation, talking about the importance of finding someone I truly loved and committed to for life. Their words had an impact, although the elementary school version of me probably didn’t retain much information after cringing and giggling upon hearing their repeated use of the phrase “making love.”

To those of you sitting in church today with your children, I apologize for putting you in an awkward situation. My e-mail address is

The reality is that we don’t really get to choose the precise time to have the talk with young people, and “the talk” isn’t just something for kids. Even for those who carefully limit and monitor exposure to media, advertisements on MUNI buses and numerous other sources feature images that require more than one talk.

It’s nearly impossible to even watch a Giants or Warriors game without questions about the people in the two bathtubs in the commercial for one ED product or the guy trying to get his truck unstuck from the mud in the ad promoting the other, “because this is the age of knowing how to make things happen.”

None of these commercials are really about love.

Today we conclude our series on the Fruit of the Spirit, with an exploration of a Greek word we aren’t capable of translating in the English language – agape. The word translated as love in today’s Scripture lesson—the First Corinthians passage so often read at weddings.

As poignant as Paul’s words to the Corinthians were and are, they have also been overused to the point that we can easily tune them out. In Paul’s time, there were multiple words for different aspects of what we would call love, philia for brotherly love, eros, for erotic love, and so on.

The King James Version of the Bible translated agape, as charity: “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth no; charity vaunteth no itself, is not puffed up.” (1 Cor. 13:4). “Charity never faileth.” (1 Cor. 13:8)

Frederick Buechner, a prolific author I highly recommend checking out whether you’re new to faith or have been around church your whole life, explains that the word “charity” was perfectly acceptable in seventeenth-century usage, is unacceptable in our time because it “all too often suggests a cheerless and demeaning handout.”[1]

Buechner stresses that “agape love is not to be confused with eros love,” “love for what we need to fill our emptiness, love for what is lovely and lovable. It is Dante’s love for Beatrice was well as Cleopatra’s for Anthony.” Buechner compares eros love to the little figure in a William Blake picture in which a little human figure has a ladder trying to get to the moon, saying, “I Want! I Want!”


Eros love is never satisfied because it always wants.

“Not so with agape,” Buechner explains. “Agape does not want. It gives. It is not empty. It is full to overflowing . . . Agape is kind—never jealous, boastful, rude. It does not love because, but simply loves—the way the rain falls or the sun shines. It ‘bears all things,’ up to and including even its own crucifixion. And it has extraordinary power.”

Intellectually, we know that the eros love is not sustainable.

So why do we keep chasing it?

In the classic 1957 book, The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard exposed the ways that marketing experts were using motivational depth research to manipulate consumers’ decisions about everything from purchasing Jell-O to voting for political candidates. He shared the “Eight Hidden Needs,” targeted by advertisers, such as emotional security, ego gratification, immortality, and “love objects.”[2]

Though a fictitious character, Don Draper represents many of the hidden persuaders that continue to have an impact on our lives today.

Part of the reason the show was relatable to so many people was that though the characters were cynical and aware of how people were influenced, they continually searched for some form of happiness, if only for a moment.

No one searched more than Don Draper.

He searched in relationship after relationship, bottle after bottle, through cars, money, more bottles, and still more very short-term relationships, usually while in a supposedly long-term relationship.

I’ll try to avoid being a total spoiler for those who haven’t yet seen the finale as some of you have shared that you’re catching up. Maybe Don ends up on the moon. Maybe he ends up with D.B. Cooper, or possibly just dies an unceremonious death. I’m not going to say.

Since numerous media outlets including The New Yorker and CNBC ran prominent stories about the finale, I do want to discuss one song featured in the episode.

A very real man named Bill Backer was a creative director with the McCann-Erickson advertising agency. He was flying to London to meet two songwriters, Billy Davis and Roger Cook. They were charged with creating jingles to go with Coca-Cola’s new campaign, “It’s The Real Thing.”

As Backer approached Heathrow, the airport was too fogged in and the plane had to land at a smaller airport Shannon, Ireland. Tensions flared as people had to fight for limited hotel and even floor space on which to sleep.

The next day, Backer says he noticed that some of the most irate passengers were now laughing and relaxing while drinking bottles of Coke. He wrote, “I’d like to buy the world a coke” on a napkin and worked with his writing partners:

I’d like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love,
Grow apple trees and honey bees, and snow white turtle doves.
I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony,
I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.

The song was a total flop. Coca-Cola bottlers didn’t want to spend money to put it on the air. People weren’t responding to hearing about the real thing.

It wasn’t until Backer sold a vision of what became the “hilltop” ad featuring people of many ethnicities singing the ad—a vision of global harmony—that it became one of the most memorable ads of all time.

The ad tapped into a vision of unity that people emotionally drained by war in 1971 were yearning for.

People didn’t respond to just hearing about it, they wanted to see it.

People in schools and offices and neighborhoods all across this city and this country know that talk is cheap. We intellectually know that there is nothing we can buy will fulfill us for long, but we keep searching. Searching for agape. Searching for the real thing.

[1] Vance Packard, The Hidden Persuaders, Reissue ed. (Brooklyn, NY: Ig Publishing, 2007), 86-94.

[2] Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark: a Life in Sermons, Reprint ed. (HarperCollins, 2007), 219.


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