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Abiding Love

February 25, 2017

Topic: Quinquagesima Verse: 1 Corinthians 13:13

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Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
February 26, 2017
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Quinquagesima
Abiding Love

So faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13

In today's Gospel Jesus invites us to follow him to Jerusalem. He is well aware of the difficulties that lie ahead and warns us to expect hard times; to put away the vices of the flesh; and to learn those virtues which he perfectly embodied for us. He is our Righteousness, but he is also our standard. Without his virtue ours means nothing, and without a standard no one would know how he is progressing; and so the best blueprint for Christian virtue is First Corinthians chapter thirteen where the true pen (Jer. 8:8) of St. Paul teaches us what real love is.

We are God's children, God in his love made us so. We are born from above by water and the Spirit. By faith renounce the devil with all his wicked works, and all wicked ways and so we don’t want him to rule us. Yes we have temptations, even the Son of Man had those, but when we fail it is because of weakness, not because we don't care.

During Lent Mother Church gathers us to herself and helps us to grow stronger. She teaches us to confess our sins, and to believe the words of absolution. She ministers to us with Christian education, training in righteousness, and instills the three eternal virtues in us: faith, hope and love.

Don’t think of these virtues as works but rather as dispositions of the soul! They might be admired, and even thinly imitated by the culture. But they can only be given to a person by Divine Revelation. You might have the body of an athlete, the mental breadth of Aristotle and the perspective of Leonardo da Vinci, but without the love of Christ all that excellence serves the Prince of this World, who consumes you and leaves nothing but bitterness.

Has that been happening to you? Do you have the idea that all of your talents and virtues are being wasted? Old Adam gets in the way, but don’t be discouraged because we can never exhaust the store of remission and healing that the blood of Christ secured for us. Our love falters but His is constant, it bears all things and endures forever.

There are other virtues, natural ones, that serve us only in this life such as moderation, courage and honesty. But the three that St. Paul praises so highly come from the Holy Spirit and are the sole possession of the Baptized. Faith needs good promises to believe. Hope needs the revelation of heaven as its resting place, and love can only be born of love received. Other virtues are temporary but these three abide and work together for our good.

By faith we mean far more than just saying the Creed, the devil knows the Creed, too. But faith means confidence that Jesus came to seek and save the lost; and that the divine blood He shed on the cross was for us men and for our salvation. The Lord did not die to be a martyr for a cause, but to be the eternal sacrifice for the sins of all, and that includes us. But the Gospel is not an ideology to be debated and comtemplated; and so faith means seeking Christ where He wants to be found. Not in mysticism, Eastern Religion or “reverence for nature” but in holy worship. In Sacred Scripture which is the voice of God heard in the church; and Sacraments by which we have true society with our Lord and God. Now through veils and symbols of bread and wine; but then face to face. This is our standard for faith, and there is nothing better than that.

By hope we don’t mean wishing but rather waiting, waiting for God to bring our lives to their proper fulfillment. He loves you and will do this for you. Wherever you find yourself today always remember that God will bring your life to the proper fulfillment. We do not hope for what we see, but for God Himself, for His gifts, His fellowship, His presence in our lives, and being with Him in “everlasting Righteousness, Innocence and Blessedness.” That is the standard for hope.

Then there is love which is always busy, and not reducible to words alone. There is erotic love which, within the bounds of marriage, is part of God's Providence. There is the love of a friend, based on common interests which is also a blessing. But these still fall short of what St. Paul is describing. He is calling us to that divine love which the Bible calls agape. It is this love that led the Father to give His Son, and the Son to lay down His life for us. This love sacrifices for others. It is the kind of love that the culture, for all of its preachy causes, can never understand. It desires to bless others regardless of their “quality of life” or the cost to one's self. It is not a feeling or emotion or an act of the human will because no one can choose to exert agape except he has first received it from God. This kind of love hates evil but loves all creatures great and small. It abhors the smothering and destructive “love” of societal saviors with which our world is awash! It doesn’t patronize people, or consider itself better than others, but goes to work wherever it can without command, recognition or reward. By that standard we need to examine our love.

The highest good is the Cross of Jesus without which there can be neither faith, hope nor love. There will always be a temptation to set ourselves up as the highest good, that is a sin against the First Commandment, having yourself as your own god. The flesh doesn't want to hear this but doesn't it come up all too often? Shall I perform my God-given vocation today or shall I tickle myself? Shall I give my first fruits to the Church, or shall I buy myself another toy? Love of self must always be overcome before genuine love can grow. It comes hard at first but it gets easier as we recognize the great debt that has been forgiven us.

May our annual Lenten journey to Calvary help us to adorn our new and contrite hearts with spiritual virtues, the greatest of which is love. Amen.