Immanuel Lutheran Church
The Spirit of Love
Pastor Marla Amborn
Immanuel Lutheran Church
June 10, 2018
1 Corinthians 13:4-13 and 1 John 4:7-21
Do you love me? It is a question that tugs at our heartstrings. Asking that question makes us vulnerable. What if the answer is No or something noncommittal? It is not the kind of question we ask lightly. It is not the kind of question we ask unless we really want to know. It is not the kind of question we ask without opening ourselves up to possible hurt.
Maybe you have seen Fiddler on the Roof. This musical came out in the 1960s and has been popular as a movie and stage play ever since. It is set in the early 1900s in Russia, and focuses on a Jewish family. Tevye, his wife, Golde, and their daughters face questions about love and marriage, tradition and change, and how to faithfully navigate it all.
Tevye is rooted in tradition. But his traditions are being challenged. The world is changing all around him. Tevye and Golde are products of an arranged marriage. The first time they saw each other was on their wedding day. It is now 25 years later, and their daughters are of age to be married. But they have different ideas. The daughters want to marry for love. Each daughter rejects the tradition of arranged marriage in favor of choosing her own husband for love.
This creates some conflict in the family. And it also raises a question for Tevye. If it is so important to love your spouse, does his wife love him? Their parents had told them theyd learn to love each other. Do they love each other? Does he love Golde? Does she love him? It is a question that makes him vulnerable. But he has the courage to ask it.
Golde isnt sure how to answer such a question. She has not been raised to think about love in this way. So, she lists all the things many things she has done for him throughout their marriage:
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?
But Tevye persists. He really wants to know - Does she love him? So, he asks her again. She rattles off another long list of things she has done for him over the past 25 years which ends with:
If that's not love, what is?
Tevye responds Then you love me?
She says, I suppose I do,
He replies, And I suppose I love you too.
Its tender and sweet. And it makes a good point. Love shows itself in action. Golde wasnt doing all that cooking and cleaning as a maid, she was doing it out of love for her husband and family.
In our culture people think of love as a feeling. Yes, it is a feeling. But it is more than a feeling. That feeling is useless unless it shows itself in action. It is through our actions that people know they are loved.
Today we focus on love as a Fruit of the Spirit. In Pauls list of the Fruits of the Spirit, love is the very first fruit. There is good reason for that. All the other fruits spring from this one. Love is the essential foundation on which a Christian life is built. The fruits of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control all depend on love as their underpinning.
I imagine that is why Jesus commanded his disciples to love. He said the most essential thing is to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Gods very nature is love. As Gods children, we are to love with godly love. We are to love in ways that are unselfish and even self-sacrificing.
In that most famous of passages, John 3:16, Jesus says, For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son God loved, so God gave. God acted on love in a self-sacrificing way. Because he loves us, God sacrificed his son so that we might have eternal life.
As Gods children, we are commanded to also love in that self-sacrificing way. Thats a tall order. Some people can be very difficult to love. What do you do then? How do you love someone that seems unlovable?
Paul gives us some clues to that in our reading from 1 Corinthians 13. He lists the characteristics of love. Im going to ask you to pull out your bulletin and look at that first lesson from 1 Corinthians 13. Lets read aloud together verses 4 7 at the bottom of the page.
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.
If we want to know how to love the person that seems unlovable, acting toward them in the way Paul describes here is a good start. Be patient with them. Be kind to them. Dont be envious of them. Or irritable with them. Or rude. Dont insist on your own way. But bear with them through the hard stuff. Believe in them. Hope the best for them. Endure with them, even when it is tough.
Love and forgiveness go hand in hand. There is another old movie, Love Story, that promoted the idea Love means never having to say youre sorry. I dont know what prompted that, but I believe that idea is misguided. Loving requires that we do say Im sorry when we do something to hurt someone. And love requires that we forgive others when they hurt us. As God loved, God forgave. Since God has loved and forgiven us; we are to love and forgive others.
How do we do that? The reason we talk about love as a Fruit of the Spirit is because it is the Spirits work in our life that brings forth this fruit. Gods love comes into us and works through us to love and forgive those who we find hard to love and forgive on our own.
The most powerful example I know of related to this is the story of Corrie ten Boom. Corrie was a Christian woman who lived in Holland during WWII. She and her family helped many Jewish people escape Hitlers army and make it safely to freedom. For their kindness, Corrie and her whole family paid a terrible price. They were taken to a concentration camp where all the family members but Corrie were killed. After the war, she wrote a book, called The Hiding Place telling her story. Then she went on a book tour, talking of love and forgiveness.
Following one of her talks, as she was shaking hands with members of the audience, one of the SS guards form the concentration camp who had been particularly cruel to her and her sister, came to shake hands with her. She saw him and froze. Her stomach churned as memories flashed back to the cruel things he had done to them.
When he got to her, the man said he was so relieved to know that she could forgive even him. She knew she should reach out her hand to shake his, but her hand seemed like it was glued to her side.
She quickly prayed for Gods forgiveness to flow through her to this man, because she knew she couldnt forgive him on her own. It did. After her silent prayer, she was genuinely able to tell him she forgave him, and she reached out her hand and took his.
It was a poignant moment for both of them, only possible with Gods help. It taught her that God can work in her life to bring love and forgiveness that was just not possible under her own power.
People hurt one another. Each of us has been hurt by others, and weve all hurt other people. Yet, Jesus commanded us to love one another, even to love our enemies. Jesus commanded us to pray for those who persecute us.
When we pray for those who have hurt us, God changes us. God works in our lives to bring his love to others through us. God gives us power to forgive. That doesnt mean we forget. That doesnt mean we should put ourselves in situations that are unsafe where we might be hurt again. But it does mean that he relieves us of the burden that we bear when we dont forgive.
Nelson Mandela once said that holding onto resentment is like drinking poison and expecting that it will hurt your enemy. It only eats you up inside. Letting go of our grievances and reaching out in love and forgiveness opens up new possibilities for the people we find hard to love. And it also opens up new possibilities for us.
As Lutherans we talk a lot about grace. I love grace! We are saved by Gods amazing grace, not by anything we did to earn our salvation. What a gift!!! But that doesnt relieve us of all responsibility for our actions. In our second lesson John writes Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God, everyone who loved is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Loving one another shows the world that we are Gods people. Loving one another is a witness to our faith. Observers should be able to notice a difference in how Christians treat people compared with how non-Christians act. As the song goes, Theyll know we are Christians by our love. Love is a core part of what it means to live out our Christian faith.
A little later John goes on to say We love because he first loved us. Our response to Gods love is that we are to love others. As he writes: Those who say I love God, and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister who they have seen cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sister also.
The apostle, John, who wrote this didnt start out as a very loving guy. He and his brother James had the joint nickname Sons of Thunder! At one point, when they entered a Samaritan village and werent received with the welcome they had hoped for, John suggested that they call down fire from heaven to destroy the whole village! Not the most loving response!
But over the years, Gods Holy Spirit was at work in Johns life. His attitudes changed. His behavior changed. He became a vehicle for Gods love to be made known to others. The Gospel of John and the and the three epistles John wrote really focus on love.
As Christians, the Holy Spirit is also at work in our lives. The Fruit of the Spirit is the result of the Spirits work, shaping and molding us to become more and more like Jesus. We can resist the Spirits work and stubbornly stick with our old ways. Or we can cooperate with the Spirit, even seek the Spirits work in our hearts and souls.
If youre open to Gods shaping work in your life, you can invite him to bring forth fruit in your life. As we pray, pray along with me to welcome the Holy Spirits work shaping you in love.
God, I pray that this day as I live in your love, I may grow to please you more and more. Make me more like Christ. Fill me with your love and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Amen.