4 Epiphany

The Rev. Mary Grambsch

In this morning’s reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we get some of the most beautiful language found anywhere on love. This passage is often called “The Love Poem”, the one of the scripture passages that people know by heart.

“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 fails.”

The only problem with these beautiful, poetic words is that they are not always lived out in our lives. “Love never fails.” This scripture passage is the single most popular scripture reading for a wedding ceremony and yet in America today, the polls tell us that almost half of all marriages end in divorce. Paul writes that love never fails. Why then does it seem as if love, or at least love in marriages, fails about half the time?

One way to understand what Paul means is to look at what he means by the word “love”.  In The New Testament you will find three different words that mean “love.” There is eros or “erotic, sexual love,” and phileo or “brotherly love,” friendship is a phileo kind of love.   Finally, there is agape, which is a “self-giving love,”  Agape is the kind of love Paul is writing about when he says “love never fails.” It is this agape love  that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It is this self-giving agape love that God showers on us.  God’s love for us is completely unmerited; we can’t earn it or make ourselves worthy of it.  Our human love for one another is most often conditional; “I will love you if you love me” or “I will love you if you are beautiful or smart or rich.”  Any love that uses the word “if” is conditional and limited.  This kind of love begins with me and is about what I want, what I need, and if I change or you change, this love will die, for my love is changeable with my needs.

God’s agape love for us is truly unconditional and unchanging, it “never fails.”  God’s love for each of us is not dependent on what we look like, what our job is, how much money we have or anything else so changeable. God’s love for you does not depend on your lovability. God’s love for your friends does not depend on whether or not they have hurt you or disappointed you.  God does not stop loving just because you do.

How can we have the agape love that Paul writes about, the “love that never fails?”  We can fill our lives with agape, the love that is God’s love for us. Agape love starts with God, and God’s love for us. With this love of God and God’s love for us, we can then begin to see other people as God sees them. From this experience, we reach out in love to others with the love that begins, not with us, but with God.

Agape love is more than a feeling. Agape love is a decision, an act of will. Decide to see others as God sees them. Act on this decision rather than just whether you feel the emotions of love.

Do you want to experience that sort of agape love for your friends, your family, your spouse?  Do you want to experience that sort of agape love here at Our Savior?  Then the love you have for them cannot start with you and go out to others, it is too easily becomes conditional and changeable love. The love you have for others must start with God. Ask God to give you this gift. Pray for God to reveal to you the way God sees these other people in your life, especially the difficult people in your life. Seeing another person as God sees them is not always easy, but when we do, this love will never fail. This agape love is a gift from God, which is the still, as Paul says, “the more excellent way.”  AMEN