Sunday, November 26, 2023
God Is… I Am
1 John 4:7-9 & 1 Corinthians 13:1-8a
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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God is love. I am designed to live out of God’s love, in Jesus Christ, for me and for others.

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 is the scripture passage that is most commonly read at weddings. At so many weddings. So much so that I once officiated a wedding where the couple was adamant that this passage of scripture would not be read at their wedding. According to them, it’s a passage that’s been “overdone” and “cliche.” I have to agree with them. I’m not saying please don’t ever read it at weddings, but if you do please mention Jesus. Paul, who wrote this passage, was referring to Jesus, but when it’s usually read at weddings it is separated from Jesus and places the focus on the beautiful couple rather than on Jesus himself. The love of the couple at the altar is glorified instead of the love of God as seen in Jesus Christ. That is what has made this passage “cliche.” The focus is no longer on God but on us. It’s actually a pretty common mistake when reading scripture.  

Whenever a couple asks me to marry them I am upfront with them about how I will conduct a Christian service. This means Jesus will not only be mentioned, but he will be at the center. I’ve only gotten pushback once in the dozens of weddings I’ve officiated. The weddings when I have based the homily on 1 Corinthians 13, I ask those in the congregation which of the married couples out there have been perfectly patient, kind, never rude, never irritable, or never resentful of their partner? I then remind them to remember that they’re in a church so no lying. Of course, no one raises their hand.

The more I think about it, perhaps this passage shouldn’t be read at weddings because it’s a picture of how the new couple will ultimately fail at love. It’s actually a picture of how we all fail at love. The only person who has ever loved perfectly and completely is Jesus.

In fact, one way to better understand this passage is to insert Jesus in place of “love” in verses 4-7. It would read this way:

4 Jesus is patient; Jesus is kind; Jesus is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way; he is not irritable; he keeps no record of wrongs; 6 he does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. 7 He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

While Jesus is the only human who loves perfectly, this doesn’t mean we are off the hook. What Paul is telling the church in Corinth and to the church, i.e. us today, is that we are to love this way. Not that we will love perfectly, but we can’t even attempt to love in the way that love is described in 1 Corinthians 13 without the help of Jesus himself.

When we are in God’s word we need to allow scripture to interpret scripture. A good example of this is that the first passage that Dale read for us from 1 John 4 helps us to better understand 1 Corinthians 13. It states in 1 John 4:8 simply this: “God is love.” How do we know this? God’s love was revealed to us in this way: “God sent his only son into the world so that we might live through him.” v. 9. “That we might live through him.” God’s love for us is shown in who Jesus is and what Jesus said and did. In how Jesus built relationships with others. How he didn’t try to force anyone to follow him.

Instead, he chose to remain humble to the point of death on the cross. But because he is God the cross and death could not hold him. He rose from the dead. In and by his new life we are able to receive new life, which includes the power to better love others.

How Jesus loves isn’t just a model for us in how we are to love others. Jesus is the power that enables us to love others period.

A smartphone is not very smart when it runs out of power. It needs to be charged to do all the things we need it to do. A smartphone when it’s not charged is not very useful. It’s pretty useless. Similarly, we can only love when we are empowered in Christ’s love. Also, while a half-charged smartphone still does what it’s supposed to do, it does not do so at its full capacity. The apps take longer to load etc. Much like in our passage from Corinthians where Paul gives examples of what things look like when they are not done out of love. If love isn’t your motivation when you make music you are simply making noise. Even prophetic powers can still be done, but they mean nothing when they are done apart from love.

So what does it look like to be empowered by Christ’s love? First of all, we must all ask ourselves the question: “Do we know we are loved by Jesus Christ?” Your and my first reaction is to say “of course I know God loves me.” Then why is praying out loud so hard? Why is saying “no” to activities that we know suck the life out of us so difficult? Why do we then believe the little voice that whispers to us: “You are going to fail. You can’t do this. Or you can’t possibly be forgiven. You don’t deserve anything good.” 

That small yet powerful critical voice tends to overpower the voice of Jesus who tells us who we really are. That voice comes from a place of fear. We’re afraid we won’t say the right things or not say it well in the presence of others and in the presence of God when we pray out loud. We stay in situations where the life is sucked out of us because deep down we don’t think we deserve better. Or we’re afraid to find out that we do indeed deserve better. According to 1 John 4:18: “Perfect love casts out fear.” God is love. God casts out fear. But we have to first come to terms with our fear.

When I got engaged to Matt it was what was supposed to be, at that point in my 27 years of life, the most joyful time of my life thus far. It turned out to be anything but joyful. I had never been so anxious in my life. It wasn’t just the usual stress of planning for a wedding and staying within a budget, figuring out what style of bridesmaid dress would be most flattering on all 6 of my bridesmaids, whether or not we were going to have dinner or heavy appetizers. What our families thought about us having a destination wedding as it was going to be in Princeton not Seattle or Minnesota where our families lived. Wow, I’m getting anxious just thinking about all of that. 

But what made me truly anxious was the idea of marriage itself. Not because I didn’t believe that Matt loved me or his commitment to me. I, however, did not grow up with the greatest model of marriage. My parents were good people who did their best to love each other and their girls. For that I will forever be grateful. This does not mean they did not make mistakes that impacted how I lived my life or how I approached relationships. For one thing, my parent’s marriage did not last. My dad was not faithful to my mom. My greatest fear was Matt being unfaithful to me even though the evidence was clearly there (and still is) that he would not. But my fear was more about me than about him. I was plagued with that still small voice of fear that whispered: “Kristine, are you enough for Matt to want to stay?” And I couldn’t confidently answer that question with “yes.”

For a time, fear overpowered love in my life.

Luckily, God put into my life people who helped me face my fear. I had a trusted group of girlfriends who listened, asked great questions, and prayed with and for me. They blatantly, but lovingly pointed out when I was acting out of fear rather than reality. I was working at a church where the pastor, my co-workers, and adults within the congregation also came alongside me and helped me to focus on Jesus. Who Jesus says I am rather than my fear of who I am not. In Jesus, I am worthy of love, forgiveness, and grace even when I think I am not. By the grace of God that allowed me to finally believe I am indeed worthy of love because Jesus says I am, I was able to not let my fear and anxiety get in the way of starting a new life with the love of my life. 

It was hard. It was scary and it was painful. It was a process. A journey that I had started years before I met Matt. But it was a journey that I needed to start and it began with naming my fear. In more ways than one, I’m still on that journey. I bet you are too. We constantly have to battle that small yet powerful voice of fear that tells us we aren’t worthy. We’re imposters. That we’re going to fail. It’s a voice that is the opposite of patience, kindness, and the truth. We were not created to listen to the voice of fear, for it is not of God. Again love drives out fear. God drives out fear. We first have to name our fears to accept the love that drives it out. We can’t even do this without God’s help. We need Jesus to help us name our fears. We need Jesus to accept his love for us. We need Jesus to love ourselves and others better. We were designed to live out of God’s love. We. Are. Loved. 

That’s who we are because that’s who God is. God is love.