a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
February 11, 2024
1 Corinthians 13 NRSV
If I speak in the tongues of humans and of angels but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all my possessions and if I hand over my body so that I may boast[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part, 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12 For now we see only a reflection, as in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love remain, these three, and the greatest of these is love.
You might think I have set myself an impossible job. How am I going to bring together the “Big Game,” our own “Souper Bowl of Caring,” and this being the Sunday before St. Valentine’s Day? How can I bring all that together to say anything that matters about all of that in a few minutes today? Well, I am ready. First off I have my “game day jersey” on. No, it does not represent one of the teams in the Big Game, but it represents me and the team I love. [ Did you see how I tied love in there? ]. And secondly, I have the Apostle Paul and his spiritual expertise about love to talk about and reflect on its wisdom with you. So I feel ready! I want to talk about “Super Love!”
Now this being the Big Game Sunday [ you know we are not allowed to call it by that other name unless we are the NFL, right? That’s why I keep calling it the “Big Game,” and yes, I am being a bit silly about it, but its kinda fun this way. ] I think it is important to talk about the most important things. And I think love is the most important thing in the world. I also think many of us struggle at this “love thing” more than the Jaguars have failed to even make it to the big game. [ Three points for me scoring a “football” reference while talking about “love.” ] I believe love is the ultimate thing in life. Someone was interviewing Duane Thomas of the Dallas Cowboys many years ago when they were in the “Big Game,” and they asked him what he thought of the Super Bowl – oops – that game, being the “ultimate game.” He asked, “if it is the ultimate game, why do they play it again next year?” I agree. Despite our national obsession with this event, I think that while there are some similarities between the Big Game and love, love is the ultimate thing, and it is not a game.
And although I believe love is the ultimate thing, not football, let me make a couple of relevant comments to this. They will play the Big Game next year. In fact they will play a whole season – barring, you know, Armageddon or an alien invasion maybe – so there is another opportunity. I don’t have to give up on my love for the Jaguars. One of the most important truths about love that Paul makes is that love never quits, it never gives up, it never ends. If we start there, then we can begin to understand what it takes to make love “super.”
Now you may argue, “Bruce, love ends every day. There are divorces, there are break-ups, there are all kinds of ways love ends every day.” Granted. But Paul is talking about God’s love at the same time he is talking about the ideal of human love. So this is an important point as you hear Paul’s description of love. It is truly a “super love.” It is super first because it is God whose love is perfect, unending, and fully embodies all these qualities that Paul describes. So I will begin with the promise Paul makes that God’s love never ends, even though it is near the end of his description of what I call “Super Love.”
Ok, it’s halftime. I have finished the first half of this Super Sermon [ what? Too self-promoting? ] But no, I don’t have any beer commercials or famous rock stars you have never listened to before and can’t name a single song from. What, you think I’m kidding? Ok, right now, can anyone here name a single song you have heard by Usher?
Ok, halftime over. Now, start of the third quarter. This is where things get more serious because time is getting short. Many people focus on the poetic parts of Paul’s words on love. You know, “faith, hope, love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” Nice words. But let’s put our hands on the ground, get into our three-point stances and let’s dig in to the part before that where Paul describes the nitty-gritty plays that make up the playbook for winning at love.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable; it keeps no record of wrongs; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
All that sounds about as complicated as one of those playcalls that the NFL quarterbacks make in the huddle. Hard to get all that in one fell swoop. Let me simplify this a bit for your consideration.
One of the most powerful ways to implement that description that Paul gives I might sum up by saying, “love seeks to understand even more than it seeks to be understood.” What do I mean by that? I often share an illustration with couples having troubles. But it fits in every situation or relationship. It’s called “The one thing you didn’t know,” theory. There was a couple who were going out to celebrate the husband’s birthday. As they got in the car the husband said, “I want Italian food tonight, let’s go to Luigi’s.”
The wife, said, “Oh, no I had my heart set on Chinese food. Let’s go to Yu Ho Fooks.” Husband shook his head, “I really want Italian!” She comes back, “No, Chinese,” and the fight was on. Finally, the wife, in tears says, “You dope, I have 15 of our friends at the Chinese restaurant waiting to throw you a surprise birthday party!” The one fact he didn’t know. How many disagreements, disastrous arguments, divorces and even wars have been started because of one fact one side didn’t know that the other side did? When we start with the attitude that we want to understand the other person more than we want them to understand us, we have a much better chance of building a relationship of love. This fulfills about 3/4ths of what Paul is saying in that paragraph I quoted above. Love is patient, love is kind, love is not rude, it does not insist on its own way,” and a whole lot more.
Ok, we are in the fourth quarter and I am running out of time, so I want to call a time out. I want to extend that concept of understanding to include this. There has been a running argument on the webbernet or somewhere about whether Robin Williams, the brilliant comedian, once said something to the effect of, “Everyone you know is battling with something in their lives that makes everything difficult so try to understand their battle before you pick a fight because they don’t fully understand your battles.” Something like that. Whether he said it or not, it is a truth. And it goes back to what Paul said and what it takes to share a “Super Love” with others. Compassion for everyone you meet is a great way to demonstrate real Christ-like love to anyone, not just those closest to you. The fact that many of us are more compassionate with others than those closest to us is something that would require me to go into overtime, and I’m going to finish this sermon in regulation.
So here’s my final kick. This is for the win. A walk off point if you will. You and I will fail at this. Our love will fail to be loving at times. Every team but 2 fails every year to get to the ultimate game. Some teams have never been there [ cough, cough -Jaguars ]. But we have to keep playing. Because although our love fails, God’s love will not fail to give us another chance if we take it. We have to keep practicing to get better at love, no matter how long we have been playing the game. And we can’t retire as Christians from loving others. Football is built on conflict. Two teams beat the bloody heck out of each other for 60 minutes or more, but at the end most of the players recognize the “other team” as their brothers. The good sports shake hands, some hug, others exchange jerseys even.
God is always willing to keep helping us grow in love. Everything else is just a distraction. Paul said it best. We may be “Super Religious,” as in we can prophecy, speak in tongues, handle snakes even, but if we don’t have love we are worse than a marching band at halftime of the game whose saxophones are out of tune, their drummers can’t keep the beat, and the rest of the band gets lost and wanders off the field during their halftime show. Ask me about the time I witnessed a band do that sometime. Here’s my kick. Keep practicing to improve. Keep seeking to understand more than to be understood. Keep striving to know the one fact you don’t know about the other person’s struggle so you can love them as God loves them, and you.
As far as we are able to do this we will win at love, and that is the Ultimate Game. When we truly understand the power of God’s love we will know we cannot lose. I ask you to have faith in Paul when he says, “love never ends.” May the Power of God’s love help you win at life today, tomorrow, and forever. Blow the whistle, I’m done. Game over. AMEN.