Over my three Sundays with you at Westminster, I have focused on the three great virtues – faith, hope and love – that Paul famously describes in 1 Corinthains Chapter 13.
In terms of faith, I suggested that even if we have faith the size of a mustard seed … we have faith enough. Faith enough to stand up for human dignity and justice – faith enough to want to do what is right – faith enough to want to have the life that God has promised us.
Last week, I turned to hope, and suggested that hope is what motivates us to move forward in our faith. Hope is what stirs us to action to make this world a better place – to strive to make a difference rather than accepting the world as it is. Hope is what brings light to a dark world.
This week, I want to conclude by turning to what Paul refers to as the greatest of the three – love. Love, and especially love for one another, is at the heart of this chapter. Paul writes that, “if I do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal … if I do not have love, I am nothing.”
There are four different words for love in the New Testament.
Eros refers to the love inspired by attraction, passion and desire.
Phileõ refers to affinity, fondness, or friendship. Or maybe it just means a love for the Phillies! Julie and I were at the Phillies on Wednesday evening for Michael Lorenzen’s ‘No Hitter’! A few Phillies supporting folk have suggested that perhaps I should now go every week! Or that maybe even the Phillies should fly me over for the Play Offs!
Storgē refers to the natural affection, almost instinctual love, that you have for a child or a spouse. Let me tell you a storgē love story …
Julie and I were on vacation a number of years ago in the north of England, close to Hadrian’s Wall – a wall built by the Romans to keep those fierce Scots at bay! We went to a place called Housesteads, which is the best preserved Roman fort along Hadrian’s Wall. Suddenly, it started to rain very heavily and so we dashed back to the Visitor Centre for shelter and a cup of coffee.
As we sat down with our coffee a couple of girls aged around 6 or 7 were playing with toys in the shop along with their little brother, who must have been about 4 years old. The kindly man behind the counter pointed out a large basket to the girls and said that they could use the stuff in the basket to dress up. The girls needed no further prompting. On went the grey wool togas, belts, helmets, shields and swords … and within a minute the girls had transformed themselves into Roman soldiers. Their little brother was still trying to terrorize his sisters with a plastic spider, but to no avail … the girls were now mighty Roman warriors!
Realizing that he was missing out on something, the little boy started to get dressed up too, just like his sisters. In no time at all he had the same garb on –toga, helmet, shield and of course, his trusty sword – which he began to wave around his head in the way that only little boys can. At this moment, in his eyes, he was a mighty and fearsome Roman soldier …
The only problem was that we could all see something different! For, as he waved and shook his sword around at all and sundry … his pants had fallen down round his ankles!!
Dad gallantly stepped into the fray… he bent down, dodged the whirling sword, and pulled his pants back up to his waist. Warrior status restored!! That is storgē love – an instinctual, familial love.
The word that Paul uses for love in 1st Corinthians is agapē.
Agapē love is the love that longs for the well-being of the beloved. It is also the word for love used in John 3:16 “God so loved (agapē) the world …” This word for love, agapē, appears more that 300 times in the New Testament – and this agapē love is the giving, and forgiving, love which desires goodness for the beloved. This is the kind of agapē love God gives to us, and therefore is the kind of love we should have for one another. This agapē love is more than a feeling … it is an action. It is a love that seeks not its own good, but the good of the one who is loved. And this agapē love is eternal. Verse 8 reads, “Love (agapē) will never come to an end.” Everything else will fade or fall away … but “faith, hope and love [will] abide.”
There is a beautiful irony here too about this agapē love, the love for the good of the other, this love that will abide, endure, remain. The irony is that the one thing that lasts for ever … is the love that is given away!
It was Thomas Merton who once defined the Kingdom of God as follows … ‘the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of those who love’. Once again, this is why we pray, “Thy kingdom come …” Love is the heart of the Kingdom, the heart of the great commandment Jesus gives us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Saint Augustine puts it beautifully. He wrote, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there were two brothers who lived on adjoining farms. They had worked alongside and in co-operation with each other for close to 40 years, but then they fell out with one another. Like so many of our own fallings out, it began with a small misunderstanding … it grew into a major difference … and finally it exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks and weeks of silence.
One morning, there was a knock on the older brother’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work,” he said. “Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with?”
“Yes,” said the older brother, “I do have a job for you. Do you see that farm over there? That’s my younger brother’s farm! Last week, there was just a field between us, but he took his bulldozer and dug a trench right between us. Well, I’m going to go one better. See that pile of old timber? I want you to build an 8 foot high fence between us. Then I won’t need to see his place, or his face, anymore.” The carpenter said, “Leave it to me, and I’ll do a good job for you.”
The older brother had some business to attend to in town and so he left for the day. At sunset, when he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. There was no fence as he had requested. Instead, the carpenter had built a bridge that stretched from one side of the trench to the other.
And as he looked, he saw his younger brother coming toward them, his hand outstretched. “I’m humbled,” he said, “after all I’ve said and done, you still love me enough to build a bridge.” The two brothers met in the middle, and embraced.
As we strive to live our faith in an ever more turbulent world – a world where the simple words “Left” and “Right” can cause such antipathy – I think it is good to remember that we are called to be bridge builders. Love always wins!
We need to remember that we are called to be a people that live in love … and live in God – a people who strive to build bridges when there is separation, division and misunderstanding.
“All you need is love”, the song goes, but we know that it isn’t always as “easy” as John Lennon suggests. But, by being bridge builders – by being people of faith, hope and love – we can make a difference.
No matter the jealous and the boastful of this world – the arrogant and the rude, the selfish and the irritable – love will endure, love will remain, love always wins!
We love – because the patient and kind God who first loved us … is still loving us. Loving us with a love that will never come to an end. A love that will not let us go. A love divine, all loves excelling. Love always wins.
Faith, hope and love … or love, hope and faith?!
Friends, over these past three weeks I have looked at faith, hope and love. As Paul suggests, these three remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.
Love comes first. It is the pinnacle. Love is the tie that binds. Love is the basis for everything. Love is the starting point.
Love opens our mind to hope. Love shows us that there is a better way.
And when love opens our hearts and minds to hope – then hope in turn gives us faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” the writer of Hebrews tells us.
Faith is what empowers us, gives us vision, and leads us to positive action and change – in our world, our city, our neighborhood, and our lives.
Faith, hope and love are like muscles … the more we exercise them, the more they grow stronger.
Friends, you have shown Julie and I so much love in recent weeks – so much warmth, kindness and hospitality. So to you, the good people of Westminster Presbyterian, I say this … keep on loving!
Love your neighbor – known and unknown.
Love your Pastors! In Greg, Sudie and Jill you have a wonderful ministry team here … support them, encourage them and uphold them.
And above all else … love one another.
Friends, it has been the greatest privilege to be with you over these last three weeks. I suggested on my first Sunday here that, “Strangers are those neighbors we have yet to meet!” Well, we are most certainly neighbors now! The garden ‘Pond’ that lies between us is easily crossed, and to quote Arnold Schwarzenegger … “I’ll be back!” And, who knows, maybe we’ll see you on the other side of the Pond in Scotland some day!
Thank you … and “may the Lord bless you and keep you!”
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