“Jesus, Love, and the Neighbor” / Quinquagesima 2017 / 1 Cor. 13:1-13; Luke 18:31-43Pr. Christopher Gillespie
26. February 2016
1 Cor. 13:1-13; Luke 18:31-43
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
We really don’t know what love is. When the high schooler says, “I’m in love,” their heart is enflamed with hormonally driven lust. When we say, “I love chocolate,” it’s just another word for craving for sweets. You can probably come up with many more examples. “Love” is often just a cover word for some passion, craving, or desire, or what the Greeks called eros.
St. Paul is careful to define love for the Christian. The love that God has for us in Christ is the love we show for one another. Love is not passive emotion from the gut… love is active in word and deed from the heart. You cannot say you love if you also do not serve. If you say you love but you fail to speak or act in love, then you do not love at all. That does not always mean you act or speak immediately. Love is patient. Sometimes the best course is to do nothing and listen. And actions or words done in haste might be done or said with anger. Love is kind. Think carefully about how you speak and what you do.
St. Paul gives a whole list of adjectives to describe our active love. It is not envious or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. To love is to not insist on your own way. Nor is love to be irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. Therefore, to love is to live in humble self-sacrifice for the neighbor. To love is reject oneself completely for the benefit of those all those around you.
Let’s be honest now. None of us… not the lifelong member, not the infant in the cradle, not even the pastor in the pulpit has loved as God defines love. We have fallen short of love, every one of us and in every thought, word, or deed. All our attempts to love are incomplete, imperfect, insufficient. And the evidence of the lovelessness of humanity is all around us. Every broken marriage, estranged sibling, friendship ended, is evidence of a lack of love. All anger, hatred, greed, envy, lust, jealousy… and their actions of murder, theft, and adultery are a result of lack of love.
Love is active and love is defined by God by the holy Law. The first table or first three words show us our lack of faith toward God. The second table or those seven words show us our lack of love for neighbor. Today, when you had opportunity to consider your life according to those Ten Commandments before Confession, did you think of your sin as a lack of active love? Love is not a feeling alone… true love thinks, speaks, and does.
And worse than our lack of love for neighbor is a lack of love for God. When Luther explained the First Commandment, “You shall have no other Gods before my face,” he said, “We should fear, love, and trust in God before everything else.” Fear, love, and trust is the definition of faith. You cannot say you believe in God and fail to fear and love Him.
Just like our love for neighbor, so also with love for God. Love is active. To love God is to set aside everything and everyone that would distract you from God’s promises. To love God is to pray and praise Him at all times, calling upon His name. To love God is to not forsake the congregation He has given you, but to gladly hear preaching, receive His sacrament regularly, and learn the Word in study. God defines love for you. There is no question what love of God looks like.
So, why do we grasp onto idols that seek to tear us away from God? What do we neglect to pray, praise, and call on God’s name in trouble? Why do we neglect the support and needs of the congregation, absent ourselves from the Christian congregation, and flat out refuse to attend Bible Study?
Its simple: as natural-born sinners, we cannot love. Try as we might, our wills are utterly opposed to God and His Word. Read Romans chapter three. And worse than that, we are so curved in ourselves that we cannot and will not love our neighbor. Yes, yes, I know… we all put on a pretty good show of love. But we do so by minimums, obligations, duties, and threats. We respond to the demand of the law with more law. What we call love is always insufficient, imperfect, and broken, because no guilt-trip, no shaming, no exhortation produces what God demands.
There is only one who has loved and done so perfectly and completely so as to end every other definition of love. Jesus says He is love. Therefore, the Holy Gospel today defines “love” definitively. Jesus today predicts His suffering and passion, His crucifixion and death, and His resurrection. And Jesus says that there is no greater love than this: that one man lay down His life for His friends. Therefore, love is Jesus Christ crucified.
What’s the difference between the love known in Christ Jesus and the what we so often call love? Love is active and love is given! Yes, we lack love but God in Christ gives us His love so that we may love in others in His love. Love is received so that love is given.
Love is to be delivered over to the Gentiles. Love patiently suffers the scorn and shame of enemies and friends alike. Love is kind to those who persecute you. Love is mocked and shamefully treated. Love is spit upon. Love is flogged and killed. Love is crucified. Love gives His life for His friends. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love obeys the Father even unto death. Love dies for the sins of the whole world. Jesus is love. Whenever you hear love in the Holy Scriptures, you hear Jesus.
Love is yours in your Holy Baptism into Jesus. Love is yours in the forgiveness of sins. Love is yours in the Word of God preached, clearly distinguishing threats from promises. Love is yours in the precious body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you and given for you to eat and drink. Love is the peace of God which passes all understanding. Love is the blessing of God’s abiding presence throughout this day and every day. Love is the confession that you can die in peace, with sins forgiven and eternal life yours. Love is in the gifts of Christ for you. Love is Jesus given for you.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us love one another as God in Christ has loved us. Let Jesus love you in the living and active gifts He gives. Every thoughtless word, every word misspoken, everything done in anger, is covered in the love of Jesus’s blood. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love forgives, strengthens, encourages because love is Christ crucified for you.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church