St. David’s North Austin Medical Center Sermon for 07262020 is entitled The Way of αγάπη Love, and uses 1 Corinthians 13 as the Scripture. Can we replace fear with love? Does selfless, αγάπη love/perfect love – where we think of other’s needs - make us better humans? The Bible thinks so, and Ch David Little participates to find out if it works for us in crisis
The Way of αγάπη Love
1 Cor 13:1-8a; 13
NAMC Sermon 07262020
David E. Little
We all have been in this pandemic for too long, and it seems like there is no end in sight – at least for our human eyes and hearts. Fear is an emotion that often creeps up when darkness or hopelessness enters the mind and soul. And with that fear comes isolation, aloneness, and distance from the ones who can walk alongside you in the darkness and bring hope and companionship in your journey together.
In the Christian Bible, in the letters of John, the Elder points out that love is the counter to fear. Listen to his words, that were echoed in the song you just heard:
1 John 4:18 English Standard Version (ESV)
18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
But what does “perfect love” mean? In this sermon, we will try to answer the question. Come along with me, then, and let’s see what the answer is – together.
Has anybody seen the movie Frozen? It is a 2013 animated Disney movie, inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's 1844 fairy tale "The Snow Queen". In it, two princesses who were sisters, get torn apart because the older princess, Elsa, has magical snow or ice powers that she cannot control. Anna, the younger princess, doesn’t know about Elsa’s powers because while hurt by the ice, she magically forgot the episode. Elsa is protected and alone, and fearful of the power she cannot control. Then, when the King and Queen got lost at sea, the Ice Princess Elsa comes to the throne, only to be haunted by the powers she still can’t control.
The real story – amidst all the magic and fairy tale – is the love that exists (or doesn’t) between the characters. You see, Elsa decides she can’t be queen with the powers she cannot control and runs into the wilderness. She leaves behind an endless winter, however, and Anna goes and searches for her. She finds her – amidst the snow and ice – and tells her she finally understands the distance they had when they were kids. She says “Please – can we do this together – we will find a way!”
But her sister Elsa is free – or so she thinks – in the ice castle that she made until Anna tells her of the winter Elsa has put on the land. Hence, out of her frustration, Elsa angrily throws ice everywhere – and hits Anna. The only thing that can save Anna then is her true love.
Amid freezing to death, Anna is heartbroken, and says “I don’t know what love is….” To which Olaf (a magical snowman built by Elsa) says: “Love is putting someone else’s needs before yours.”
In the end, Anna is near Elsa on the ice-covered lake, but Elsa is in danger of being killed by a villain who is trying to be king. So, Anna does the only thing perfect or αγάπη love can do – she stands between Elsa and the would-be king, and freezes. Elsa, seeing Anna’s love, then throws her arms around Anna – and Anna comes back to life – true love’s embrace. Then, Elsa is filled with love, and she can control the ice inside of her – with love!
The importance of the film, however, is not the magic, or the drama, but what can happen if perfect or αγάπη love is everywhere – paradise, where each person’s giftings are used for the right reasons with love.
So, does love in your heart lessen or cast out fear?
God is Love
In the past, we have seen that no matter what faith, in religious language, God is Love. Whether it is αγάπη (Greek – Christianity), hésed (Hebrew – Jews), rahma (Arabic – Islam), or prema or prem (Hindu); these are just some of the examples of a God who loves. This is true whether you have Abrahamic Religions, such as Bahά’i, Christian, Latter Day Saints, Unificationism, Islam, Ahmadiyya, or Jewish; , or so-called Indian religions, like Buddhist, Hindu, and Sikhism. Even polytheistic religions – where they believe in many Gods – have angels or similar beings that represent love.
But what about human love? Is it the same – and is it interrelated with divine love?
Let’s look at the Christian faith as truth to Christians and an example to others.
In the New Testament, there are several letters, mostly from Paul – who was converted to “The Way” of Jesus from Judaism.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (which is actually his 2nd letter to them, but 1st in the Bible) seems to say a lot about love. In Chapter 13, it is all about love – what it is, and what is isn’t. You heard it when Jake read the Scripture before, but let me unpack a little of what is going on in context that made Paul write the letter.
17 years after his conversion, Paul went to Corinth as part of his messianic journeys. Corinth was a colony in Rome (the highest note given a city), was on a trade route, was populated by a largely Roman upper class, and was wealthy and religiously diverse. It had a reputation for being “new money” and largely superficial or materially cultural in its view. It was called “Sin City.” Even the Christian church, started by Paul, engaged in partisan strife, but was made up of largely poor people.
Paul wrote 1st Corinthians about three years after he started the church there, and he was in Ephesus. Again, this is actually the 2nd letter he wrote to the Church in Corinth, although history has lost the first one. 1 Corinthians was written after some ongoing Corinthian confusion regarding immorality that Paul mentioned in the lost letter.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8a; 13 English Standard Version (ESV)
The Way of Love
13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 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 have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends…
13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:3 Some manuscripts deliver up my body [to death] that I may boast
1 Corinthians 13:5 Greek irritable and does not count up wrongdoing
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Love is the pinnacle of the faithful life.
Look at the whole letter of 1st Corinthians and see the way that Paul weaves the way Corinthians thought and acted into not αγάπη love. Αγάπη love is love in relationships – both vertical and horizontal.
The Greek word Paul uses for love throughout this chapter is very important. The word agape is not a common term in ancient Greek. The more common Greek term is eros (sexual desire), which is the root of the term erotic. Paul's use of agape for love indicates his concern and intention to communicate a deeper meaning of the term for the Corinthians. Following all that Paul has previously written in his letter to these believers, his understanding of the term love comes solely from God.
It is almost as if Paul in his letter to the Corinthians is comparing eros to agape and saying agape is superior and even divine.
The Way of love for Paul is selfless, divine love – meaning it’s from outside (or in the Holy Spirit for Christians inside) yourself, but not yourself – the “other” love. It never asks: “What’s in this for me?” but always “What’s best for you?”
But the way of love is a hard road, with lots of humility, meekness, and compassion. However, to be loved in this way is wonderful; you get to be your whole self, because αγάπη love allows that of you.
The way of love is communal, and always relates to another. It is everlasting; knows no bounds, has no limits, as Paul says, “all things.” The phrase “the greatest of these [faith, hope, and love] is love” is the life Christians lead (hopefully) but it all flows down from love.
Real time example of αγάπη love
Back in the early part of this pandemic, we at North Austin Medical Center had some COVID+ patients in the hospital. Not as much as today, because most of the COVID+ patients were going to Central Texas hospitals that were COVID central. Much of what is happening today is because of the spike in COVID+ cases, and all hospitals are having to deal with the patients that come into their doors, generally without transferring to another facility.
Anyway, it was early on, and fear was palpable. The virus was new, medical people were still trying to figure out the disease process; how to treat the Coronavirus that infected the patient; and how contagious it was.
The patients that were infected were mostly in the ICU. Doctors, nurses, and the other medical staff were – and are – heroes. One of the issues is restrictions. Because of the contagiousness of COVID-19 – and a new and unknown virus that it is – there was fear that people had to deal with – especially those that were around the patient with COVID-19 – and restrictions that had family members and friends mostly absent.
That is where the story meets with perfect or αγάπη love. One patient – HIPAA prevents me saying the name – was isolated in ICU and alone. You wouldn’t believe how alone someone is – when they’re strapped to a breathing machine, fighting just to stay alive, and no family or friends to talk to or be with. We can “zoom” in the family, and that’s what we did – but there’s no touching or being with the patient. And fear in the patient grows astronomically. Even medical staff personnel have gowns, gloves, masks, and facemask or goggles when treating the patient. Can you imagine that? Where you need hope and reassurance and are treated like an object. Distance is almost mandated… and that’s where love entered the picture.
Because a nurse reached out and held the patient’s hand for a time and talked to the person. There was only – I assume - the thought “What would help the patient?” in her mind – or maybe, she didn’t think at all – she just did perfect love. In the moment, where logic and reason said stay away – she came close and was relational, and that made all the difference. The fear, the isolation, the aloneness, went away – all because the – what I call - “service heart” that the nurse had was filled with αγάπη love.
Anna, that is perfect love!
Bring it to the Audience
So, what does αγάπη love look like for you? We each have our own way of extending love – selfless or perfect love, as the Elder said. In work? In family? With our enemy? Or in crisis?
Perfect love, αγάπη love is divine love – something you cannot get alone. You have to be in touch with the spirit to fully become selfless love. The great thing is – at least in my faith – we are all becoming new, a little at a time. So, be patient – with yourself and with others. And with divine help try to be or act with perfect love. Drive out your own fear, and fear in general, and replace it with relational love.
Maybe, as Paul says, be:
Continuous through a spouse’s depression;
Suffering long through the journey of hopelessness;
Kind when all you get back is barbs of hate;
Rejoice with the truth when lies are all around and the truth is hard to accept;
In all things that are not love, you cover quietly in love;
Believes all things, when darkness is all around;
Hopes all things, when the world seems fallen and broken; and
Endures all things, when despair is palpable.
In the end, as you will hear Brandon Heath sing in a minute, Love Never fails.