Sermon Text: Love Chapter
Performing a funeral is a true honor.
Some people are surprised by that. But it’s a great thing to honor someone’s life and to be helpful to a family in their grief.
Last weekend I had the honor of performing a funeral. And this one came kind of close to home. The service was not for a member of St. Mark’s. But it was for a man named Sammy with autism, like my daughter has. Sammy was almost the same age as my daughter. And he lived in a group home run by the same agency which runs my daughter’s home. All this made performing the funeral very special, but also extra difficult.
During the service, I allowed time for anyone who wished to share a story or a memory about Sammy. A couple of family members did so, as you’d expect. Staff caregivers who took care of this man spoke lovingly of him as well.
But what really struck me is that three people with disabilities spoke about him. A couple of them have autism, like Sammy, and like my girl. What struck me was the love in their voices as they spoke of him. One of them talked about how Sammy taught him that having autism is not shameful. It’s okay to be different.
And he also told the parents that Sammy loved them, even though he could not say it. Sammy was pretty much non-verbal, but this housemate saw Sammy’s behavior and mood shift when a visit from Mom or Dad was coming. Sammy became excited. He loved his folks, though he could not speak the words.
You know, some people think intelligence is what makes us human. I don’t agree. All my years of knowing people with profound disabilities has taught me something else — love is what makes us human.
What is it with kids like Sammy, and like my Marie? They can give us all kinds of challenges and problems, but their hearts are so pure. They evoke such love in the people around them — their families, their friends, and the caregivers who work with them. They make our hearts bigger.
They may not express love in conventional ways, but when you know them, you can see the love. Intelligence is not what makes us human. Love is what makes us human.
Today we heard what are maybe the most famous words ever written by the apostle Paul, who wrote a lot of pretty famous words. 1 Corinthians 13 is called “the love chapter.” It’s often read at weddings, because it’s about love being patient and kind, and being the most important quality of all. But it’s not really about marriage.
The words may apply at weddings, but that is not what they are about. Paul is writing to a messed-up, divided, dysfunctional church family. Among their many problems, some of them are hooked on flashy, miraculous spiritual gifts. They think that because they have a gift of prophecy or healing or speaking in tongues, then they are pretty great. They view themselves as spiritual superstars.
Paul says they’ve got it all wrong. Sure, those manifestations of spiritual power are pretty good. But they are not the best thing. Paul says love is the highest gift and the most important quality.
And he’s not talking about the kind of love in pop songs. Pop songs and movies, really, are about lust, or at least physical attraction in the romance department. In the Greek language Paul used to write to the Greek Corinthians, the word “eros” covers this pop music and romantic movie love. We get our word “erotic” from that Greek word.
But in this text, Paul uses the Greek word “agape.” Agape love is not just for you boyfriend or girlfriend or spouse. Agape love is the compassionate care we hope to offer to everyone. Agape love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.
Love like this is crucial to a good marriage, sure, but it’s crucial to all good relationships. And it’s crucial to the practice of Christianity.
Sammy had autism and Parkinson’s disease. My Marie has autism and severe cognitive deficits. Neither of them could understand much theology. Neither of them would be much interested in theology. Neither of them would know much Bible. But both of them have demonstrated loving hearts. Both of them, for all their problems, have shown compassion. Both of them know how to love. It’s not intelligence that makes us human....it’s love.
Don’t you wish public Christians would avoid spreading messages of anger and judgment? Don’t you wish famous Christians would stop condemning people they don’t like? Don’t you wish Christians in the public eye would not be such bad advertisements for the love of Christ?
And come Judgment Day, if there is going to be a quiz on Bible doctrine, my daughter is not going to make it. And if my daughter is not going to make it, I don’t want to make it either.
The only quiz on Judgment Day is going to be about love. That’s what Jesus says in his parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew chapter 25. Jesus says, “You gave me something to eat...you gave me something to drink...you visited me when I needed it.” Those facing this judgment ask, “When did we do that?” He says, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.”
It’s not our intelligence that makes us human. It’s not our doctrine that gets God to accept us. It’s all about love...compassionate, generous, giving love.
And that kind of love is not a feeling...it’s action. It’s caring. It’s taking care.
Now, it’s not me saying this on my own. I learned this from people with disabilities. I learned this from Jesus. I learned this from Paul.
“And now, faith, hope, and love abide, these three. And the greatest of these is love.”