The Greatest is Indeed Love [I Corinthians 13:13]

Now these three remain, faith, hope and Love; but the greatest of these is Love. [I Corinthians 13:13]

Berthold von Schenk wrote in his book, The Presence [(New York: Ernst Kaufman, Inc., 1945), 41]:

Some may complain that all [the doctrine about God’s Love] is too theological, too dogmatic, and perhaps too abstract.  Is there not some spot on earth where this great truth can be focused, where we can reach out to this mystery which the angels desired to behold?  Can we not have it human, real, living?  It is possible.

Later he adds [p 45]:

What does Love always desire?  Love does not ask for gifts.  Love asks for Love.  “I don’t want your gifts” says the maid to the lover, “I want you.”  Why this?  Because Love must always give itself to and for the Beloved.  If Love were to give anything else but Love, it would not be real Love.  Now this little baby in Bethlehem is God.  It is Love, it is God giving Himself.
… When we realize that God is Love, Bethlehem must follow. …  Because God is Love, Love had to give itself.  It did give itself.  The Child in Bethlehem was born because God Loved the world.

The precious Birth in Bethlehem is the reality – the inevitable conclusion – of Love giving Itself.  The Cross is the inevitable conclusion of Love giving itself.  So also is Resurrection, so also is the Ascension, Pentecost, and even the Last Day.  What brings Jehovah of Covenant to earth, to humanity, to give Himself, is not a response or a reward to mankind’s agreeableness, but rather, immaterial to human reaction, He simply gives Himself even to death – this is what love is all about, this is what grace is all about.

This is what brought Jesus to the disciples that first Easter, in order to meet their grief and their need, as He declares to them, “Look at My hands and My feet.  It is I Myself!  Touch Me and see…” [Luke 24:39].  This is what made Jesus join two bewildered disciples, who were disillusioned by all the hubbub of that first Easter morning, as they returned home to Emmaus, as He opens the Scriptures to their understanding and then reveals Himself in “the Breaking of the Bread”; this is why Jesus came to doubting Thomas to permanently dispel his doubts.

This is the framework within which even Holy Communion must occur: here He again says, “It is I Myself!  Touch Me and see…”  It is here where Jesus opens up Scriptures to our understanding, not merely to give us stale, staid information, but rather as to the two at Emmaus, so that we realize just what is the Presence we stand before here in this church – the Resurrection, Jesus Himself, has come here because it is in the very nature of Love to give Himself.  We are here, because God must give Himself, and He does give Himself.

Effectively, powerfully, wonderfully God drives home the essential points of His Gospel – here is Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness, Life, Hope – put into an unmistakable presentation of His Love.  As when Jonathan cut Covenant with David because “he loved him as his own soul” [I Samuel 18:1,3], here at the Cross, at the Baptismal font, and at the Table of the Lord is the declaration all over again of how God has loved us as His own Soul, as His own Life and therefore comes this precious Covenant with each one of us.

The powerfulness of this Love should leave us breathless.  But then as we slowly regain our breath, we stand in utter amazement at St John’s words in his first letter [4:10]: “In this is Love, not that we Loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the ransom for our sins.”  In fact, St Paul says that we were “enemies” in Romans 5:5 when God – when Love – was so compelled to give Himself.  It can be enough to drive you to your knees and proclaim that “’Jesus Christ is Lord’ to the Glory of the Father” [Philippians 2:11].

So now should come the other half of the sermon, the part where I now tell you that you are to Love God, that Love must give of itself, and therefore you are to give of yourself to God.  But I cannot – I cannot exhort you to Love God.  This kind of Love does not come by command.  On one hand, our rebellious human nature won’t hear of it.  It is not going to jump up to Love the very God against Whom it has been fighting and rebelling all along.  This kind of Love is just not in us.
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St John again in his first letter tells us, “We Love” – or even, “We Love Him – because He first Loved us” [I, 4:19].  The sequence is important – our Love is a creation of that Love which had to give Itself.  Our Love is an outcome of the Love which had to come in Bethlehem, and die on the Cross, and rise from the dead.  Our Love is the result of the Love which has had to come, here today, to this table for your sake and mine.  Our Love is the response of the Love that sends us forth because “the Lord is indeed with you.”

We Love not because we decide in ourselves that this is what we ought to do.  The moment we turn our eyes inward to ourselves, then the foundations of our Love are lost. Unlike Jonathan and David, we will not Love “as our own soul, as our own life.”  Whatever it is which we try to drum up is merely a barrel empty of any content, of any forcefulness, of any depth.

What we are compelled to do is to keep our eyes on what is right in front of us, and it is here in Word and Sacrament as we see again the Love which was so vividly compelled to give itself for us, that echoing the two disciples from Emmaus, we also must say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” [v 32] – here in Word – and then in Sacrament where He becomes known to us also in the Breaking of the Bread here at His Table.

Now we are equipped, with our eye firmly fixed on this extraordinary self-giving Love to find ourselves in Love with Him.  No!  don’t now turn your eyes back to yourself!  Just keep your focus on this feast of Love compelled to give itself in Word and Sacrament spread before you, and let this Love then reflect back.

Yet if that is happening, we cannot escape that reality that this Love which is compelled to give Itself is not just for only us.  We are forced to also see that “for God so Loved the world” [John 3:16].  This Love for the world surrounds us, encompasses us, reaches deeply into us.  How is it possible for us to be focussed on such powerful self-giving Love and not find ourselves reflecting back a Love that so Loved the world?  How can we not find ourselves sharing not only the heart but also the very soul of God?

This is why St John again in his first letter declares, “… he who Loves God must Love his brother also” [I, 4:21].  When we don’t Love the world as God’s self-giving Love does, it means as St John and others point out, that there is something desperately wrong – somehow we have lost sight of the extraordinary Love which is so powerful displayed here before us.

Yet, it is true that we have too often taken our eyes off of the wonder and awesomeness of the Word and Sacrament and failed to heed the very presence of the Love that has come to give of Itself yet again to us.  How instinctively and sheepishly we might turn our eyes away in shame.  But that is the worst thing we could do!  Instead our eyes are driven back to the Altar to discover that this Love has come right here with extraordinary forgiveness, ransom, renewal, re-creation, new life for us right now.  Even when we fail, our eye must be fixed upon such amazing Love which would step across our sin and offer to us reconciliation within its constant outpouring of itself here today.

We are left then, simply and purely with amazement.  There really is no reason for us to ever turn away from this Love which was compelled to give Itself for the world, and in Holy Communion would pour Itself out for each one of us, one by one.  St Paul certainly knew what he was talking about when he said that the greatest is Love.  It is just as he said when he started out “the Love Chapter” of I Corinthians 13 – it is indeed the better way.  With our eye fixed on this self-giving Love, it is the better way in our relationship to God, it is the better way in our relationship to each other, and it is the better way in regard to the whole world.

So now come – come and as the Psalmist says, “taste and see that the Lord is good!” [34:8].  Come and catch sight of that Love which had to, and has to, and does give of itself – and will continue to do so even into all eternity.

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