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Home is the Way – Opening Our Doors to Love

Date: 30/01/2022/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Last Sunday, I spoke about what it means to Come Home.  

Home is where we learn how to love and be loved more deeply and authentically.  

Home is where we create and hold space for each other to grow.  

Home is where we take care of one another. 

When we have truly come home, it is a two-way relationship.  

Not only do we feel comfortable and accepted, we also help others feel safe, comfortable and accepted. There is a mutuality in the relationship.  

Just like in the relationship God had with Abraham, and in the relationship God has with us. 

We talked about love and I mentioned 1 Cor 13 in passing, and explained how the verse “Love never fails” actually means love never ceases or collapses or comes to an end. God’s covenantal love for us will never collapse, disappear or come to an end. And because of that, we can also learn how to uphold love in our covenants with one another in community.  

“Yes, I might fail you from time to time, but with God’s help, my love will not collapse or disappear or come to an end. My love will stay even when things get difficult between us.”   

So today, I wanted to follow up and expand on that by looking at 1 Cor 13 in more detail.  

As you may know, the book of 1 Cor is actually an epistle that Paul wrote to the church or group of believers in Corinth. So an epistle is basically a letter. The only difference is that an epistle is meant to be read publicly to a group of people. So to understand the famous love passage of 1 Cor 13 better, we need to understand why Paul was writing them this letter in the first place. What was he trying to address?  

The city  of Corinth was known to be a place that is open to new ideas and tolerant of diversity. By New Testament times, Corinth had come to be known for its lavish lifestyles. It was also famous for its theaters, temples, brothels, and casinos. There was a Roman slang at that time. When someone says. “You’re acting like a Corinthian”, it means….. 

 Question 1 (Multiple Choice) 

The expression “to act like a Corinthian” was Roman slang for someone who is: 

  1. Pious and faithful 
  1. Rich and pompous 
  1. Modern and open 
  1. Sexually promiscuous  

Throughout the Roman empire, the expression “to act like a Corinthian” was slang for engaging in sexual promiscuity.  

And if you read the first twelve chapters of Paul’s epistle, you will realize that for the church in Corinth, sexual promiscuity was just one of their many issues.  

Firstly, the church was divided and split into factions.  People were pitting their favourite religious teachers against each other. Everyone was vying for power and prominence. Church members were taking each other to court. Those who spoke in tongues believed they were superior to those who didn’t. One of the congregants was sleeping with his stepmother and boasting about it.  

Worshippers were fighting over everything — from food to circumcision to celibacy to head coverings for women. Communion was becoming more like a time for drunkenness and gluttony, and the poor in the church were going hungry. 

In other words, the Corinthian church was a mess. We usually hear Paul’s poetic “love chapter” quoted at weddings. And it is really beautiful… but it has nothing to do with romance. The love sermon in 1 Cor 13 was not written for a romantic wedding. It was written to a church that was divided and fighting amongst themselves. Paul wasn’t writing to people who loved one another; he was writing to people who couldn’t stand the sight of each other.  

So if you can put yourself in Paul’s shoes for a moment, you’re hearing news from this church that you personally planted, and these people are people you know and care about, and they are hurting one another in self-destructive ways. And now you’re writing this letter to them to lovingly persuade them to get their act together before they destroy themselves.  

So with that as a background, let’s read 1 Corinthians 13.  

1 Corinthians 13 (NRSV) 

If I speak in the tongues of mortals 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 or resentful; 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 in a mirror, dimly,[b] 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 abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. 

The subject of love is a tricky one because none of us are experts in love. Often we love poorly and incompletely, and I think one of the reasons why is because many of us have not had good role models of love in our lives. And we try our best to learn how to love and be loved better as we grow older. I think being in community really challenges us to grow in the ways we love and allow ourselves to be loved.   

Richard Rohr has a way of assessing our spiritual health… namely what do we do with pain? Do we transmit it or do we transform it? You may have heard this saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” That’s what I mean by transmitting pain. When we don’t transform our pain, we will inadvertently transmit it and pass it on.     

Because the mirror in which we see ourselves as God sees us gets dimmer and dimmer when the pain we carry is transmitted and not transformed.  As our own sin and brokenness begins to be a lens through which we view ourselves and others, the mirror grows dimmer.  

That’s what Paul means when he says, “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. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, 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.” Sometimes we may be old in biological age but we may still act like a child and reason like a child. We act in immature ways, not dealing with our own pain but masking it with arrogance, impatience, unkindness, envy, selfishness. And we end up hurting ourselves and one another.   

And I think what Paul was saying to this church which he planted and loved: please stop hurting each other. Stop transmitting your hurt and sin. Essentially, they have forgotten who they were, and Paul was trying to remind them.     

And he was trying to remind them who they were by telling them about love. Not the emotion of Love. Not the sentiment of Love. Not the romance of Love. But Paul writes of Love as origin. Love as source. Love as God, and God as Love. This Love is actually not about feelings. It’s about the truth of who we are through the eyes of a God who knows us fully.  

   

  • Love – Ahava & God is Love  

A few days ago, Miak and I met with Rabbi Beni from the United Hebrew Congregation and we had a very meaningful time getting to know each other. Rabbi Beni and his wife, who is also a rabbi, took over from Rabbi Nathan after he left, and it was the first time we were meeting Rabbi Beni.  

During our time together, he shared something very interesting with us.  

The Hebrew word for love — ahava (אהבה), which is made up of three basic Hebrew letters:  aleph (א), hey (ה), and bet (ב). 

The Jews have a practice of assigning a numerical value to letters of the alphabet. So ahavah is 13, comprising of Aleph = 1, Hei = 5, Bet = 2, Hei = 5 which equals 13.  The name of God YHWH  יהוה has a numerical value of 26. 

So God is not just love.  

God = Love x 2 

For love to take place, there needs to be more than one person. There needs to be mutuality. When two people ahavaheach other, you have two ahavahs which is 13 + 13 and that equals 26, which is similar to the numerical value for God.  

Isn’t that amazing? Wherever there is love, there is God. This love is patient and kind, it isn’t rude or boastful, and it is self-giving. The love Paul describes is robust and dynamic — it’s best described with action verbs. Love is not an emotion. It’s not something we wait around for, or fall into. Love acts and gives of itself patiently and kindly. Love acts against the impulses of envy, irritation, and arrogance. Love rejoices, love refrains, love endures. When we love, we give of ourselves.   

In fact, from the three root letters of a-hav-a, we get the root word, hav (הב), which means to give. 

This Hebrew word contains a tremendous truth: giving is fundamental to loving. 

  

The essence of ahava involves action. 

Love is not something that simply happens to us but something that we create through our actions when we give of ourselves to others.  

True ahava or true love, is more concerned about giving than receiving.  Being the center of someone’s attention isn’t love. And love isn’t about getting some feeling or fix. Ahava is about giving our devotion and time. Giving is the vehicle of love. God so loved the world that God GAVE…   

Meaningful relationships have mutual giving. “Ahava” is not an emotion but an action. It is not something that happens to you but a condition that you create when you give. You don’t “fall” in love – you give love! 

Since we have no control over other people, love does not begin with others; we need to begin with ourselves. 

And we begin by realizing the source of this love is found in the gaze of God as God looks upon us naked and whole. Because this type of love is characterized by the giver, not the receiver. 

No longer do we need to strive and do all kinds of things to make ourselves more lovable. In the face-to-face Gaze of God the Lover, we are fully known and truly loved.  

Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “The truth of who you are is found in the eyes of God, not the eyes of the world. It is the love of God who created this world and called it good. It is the love of a God who brought the Israelites out of slavery, who walked among us as Jesus of Nazareth, it is the love of the God who knit you together in your mother’s womb that gets to tell you who you are. Nothing else.  

Not the media, not a family who wishes you were different, and not even yourself. Only the God who knows and loves you fully can tell you who you are.”  

And this is true of everyone, no matter who we are or what we have done.  

Perhaps Paul is telling us to be the face of love for each other. When we know that we are loved by God in the fullness of God’s knowledge of us, we are free to live in this love. Free to share the love of Christ in a hurting world. Free to see ourselves and others as God sees us. Not because we are good, but because we are loved.  

Question 2 (Word Cloud) 

What is the truth of who you are in the eyes of God?  

  • Opening our doors to love requires vulnerability and trust.  

The definition of trust by Charles Feltman, a recognized expert on this topic: 

“Trust is defined as choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” 

Whatever you choose to make vulnerable to the other’s actions, you do so because you believe that their actions will support it or, at the very least, will not harm it. 

We all know that trust is not built on the once-off big events but in the many small moments when we show up for one another. Moments when we show the other person patience, kindness, humility and generosity of spirit – all the attributes of love.  
 
It takes time and an accumulation of many of these small moments to build trust. But trust can be easily dismantled in a moment due to an insensitive word or action, or it could be destroyed by an act of betrayal. Trust is fragile and needs to be nurtured day by day, action by action, one conscious choice at a time. So we need to be thoughtful of our words and actions, and choose well.  

There will be times we make mistakes and trust is broken. And that is painful. As a community, we commit to staying and we try to clarify and work things out. Sometimes when we feel hurt and it’s difficult for us to articulate that hurt to the person who caused it, it may be helpful to invite someone to mediate in the process of mending and healing. And that’s why we are here for each other.  

Trust when broken, needs conscious reflection and action on both sides to repair the relationship. 

One thing that is essential to trust and vulnerability is having healthy boundaries. It would take a whole other sermon to talk fully about healthy boundaries. But today, I just want to focus on one aspect in relation to love and how we see one another, especially with regards to wholeness.      

  • Healthy boundaries – what is wholeness and how do we treat someone who doesn’t look “whole”? 

I recently read a book by Sharon Betcher. Betcher suffered a freak accident at age 37, after which she lost one of her legs. She later wrote a book to address the social and spiritual exclusion of those who are disabled, where they are often seen as broken and not treated as a whole human, even by Christians. And perhaps especially by Christians, because sometimes Christians have a certain image and understanding of healing and wholeness.  

As described by Betcher, ”I fell into social class, gender-sex oblivion..I was not expected to be wise, interesting, funny, beautiful…I am on public display: always seen, always overlooked. The toxicity of social staring wearies and wears down the psyche…” 

She says there is a need to have a theology of the Spirit that highlights the marginalized perspectives of those living with a disability.  

I think we need to reflect and ask ourselves what we understand by wholeness and brokenness. For example, how would you react if someone comes into church and they are in a wheelchair or if they are missing some fingers? Would you look at them in pity or shock? Would you relate to them differently? 

We are constantly learning to love better and to use the right language. For example, Miak was sharing with me that he used the words “wheelchair bound” with one of our newcomers who uses a wheelchair to get around, and that person very kindly explained to Miak that he would prefer if we use the term “wheelchair user” instead of “wheelchair bound” because the wheelchair is what helps him to get around.  

So we are constantly learning how to see each other through God’s eyes. Basically, our principle is not letting anyone feel “less than” because of the language we use, or the pity in our eyes, or even the way we pray for another person.  

I hope we recognize that we are all whole in Christ.  

And the ultimate goal is for us to be formed into the likeness of Christ as we understand what it means that we are one body.  

Paul says that the church is “the body of Christ” and the individual members are like various body parts: hands, feet, ears, eyes (12:12–27). The parts are quite different from one another, but all are needed and important. Whether we like it or not, we are all connected to one another. When one part of the body suffers, the whole body is affected.  

That is why learning to love is so important. Love is an action and is based on the giving of ourselves to others, after we realize the truth of who we are in the eyes of God. We become the face of love to one another.   

  

Question 3 (Open) 

How will you practise ahava (love) in our context today? 

I wonder what the Christians in Corinth did after receiving Paul’s letter. Did the people in the rival factions start coming together to have honest, empathic, restorative conversations? Did those with the most admired spiritual gifts take a step back to make room for those whose gifts tended to be devalued? Did the members learn to honour their marriages, and practise how to give of themselves in love? Did the congregation come together to take care of the poorest members of the church – the slaves, the widows, the orphans?  

I wonder what would such intentional and active love look like in our context today?  

How will you choose to give of yourself in love?  

Will you learn to transform your hurt instead of transmitting it?  

Will you see the truth of who you are, and who others are through God’s eyes?  

Will you choose to trust one another, and commit to working things out when trust is broken?  

Will you honour healthy boundaries and respect the dignity of every person as we seek to grow in love?  

Monica Coleman writes, “Living a holistic and authentic Christian life entails caring more about the quality and tenor of the relationships between individuals. Wholeness is found not in whom we love, but in how we love.”  

Monica A. Coleman, Making A Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology 

Wholeness is found in how we love. I pray this may be true of the body of Christ here at FCC.  

Amen.