SERMON ~ 01/30/2022 ~ “Agape”

READINGS: 01/30/2022 ~ Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany ~ Known in Some Traditions as the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time ~ Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 71:1-6; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Luke 4:21-30 ~ VIDEO LINK OF THE COMPLETE SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcyZ1FWIW3w.

Agape

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and can endure all things. Love never ends.” — 1 Corinthians 13:7-8a

You may be tired of me saying I spent 23 years at one church in the New York Conference. But that is true; I did. Now, just like churches, conferences have annual meetings. I was, in fact, at one point on the Board of the New York Conference.

A couple of years before I came back to Maine someone approached me at one of those annual meetings and they told me they felt I was an institution in the Conference. I had no desire to be an institution of any kind, so I was actually a little upset by that accusation. But I kept my cool.

I responded with a smile and said, “Change is good for institutions. It must be time for me to leave.” A couple years later I did just that, I left. (Slight pause.)

At the first Conference board meeting I attended, the General Counsel of the United Church of Christ at National Church level offered a short course on the ethical standards expected not just of church boards but of all non-profit boards. Many points were made; lawyers do that.

What stuck in my brain from that talk? As is true of many non-profit boards, members of the Conference Board come from specific segments of a broad constituency. I was elected as a representative of the Susquehanna Association, the Association to which my church belonged. The Conference board at least in the New York Conference is structured that way— constituencies are taken into account.

However, the ethical standard for a board member of any non-profit says, once on a board, that constituency, that specific affiliation, from which you come is a moot point. Each individual board member is responsible for representing the whole.

Back then I was also on the Church and Ministry Committee of the Susquehanna Association. And even though I’ve been back in Maine a fairly short time I am already serving on the Church and Ministry Committee of the Cumberland Association.

On those Committees I did and now do my best to represent the whole. As a member of those boards that’s what I was supposed to do and what I am supposed to do.

To be clear, representing the whole does not mean you fail to bring your own sensitivity, sensibility, insights and intelligence to what is being considered. It means you strive to represent the whole to the best of your ability. That… is the ethical standard. (Slight pause.)

These words are found in 1 Corinthians: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and can endure all things. Love never ends.” (Slight pause.)

As was mentioned when this reading was introduced, there are six words in Greek for love. We speakers of English are confined to just one word.

Here is the list of those Greek words with a brief explanation of each. Eros is a physical expression of love; Philia— friendship sometimes referred to as brotherly or sisterly love; Ludus— playful love; Pragma— longstanding love; Philautia— love of self but this indicates vanity and is not about a protective love of self.

Last we have Agape. Agape is unconditional, altruistic, universal, inclusive love. (Slight pause.)

It is fairly well known that, in this passage, Paul addresses Agape. And yes, as a community we should be aware that we need to have a special affinity for one another. As a community we need to be aware that we are bonded in and by Agape, this unconditional, altruistic, universal, inclusive love for one another.

But the very meaning of the word should also instruct us about the greater impact, the effect of Agape love. Agape love should not and does not end in this place, with those we know.

The very meaning of the word should instruct us that we, this community of faith, having bonded here in this place, at this time, in and by unconditional, altruistic, universal, inclusive love— we need to move beyond this place, this time. (Slight pause.)

You may not be aware of this. In terms of our polity each member of this church is a member of a another church group. We are all members of the Cumberland Association and yet another church group the Maine Conference. So, therefore yes, you guessed it: we are members of yet another church group, the United Church of Christ at the National level.

In terms of our polity your Agape love, as it relates to the church community, this unconditional, altruistic, universal, inclusive love, does not end with this local community, this church. Agape love, your unconditional, altruistic, universal, inclusive love extends to the Conference, to the Association, to the church at the national level. Indeed, broadening this is an outgrowth of the universality of Agape love.

But there is more. Agape love invites us to look at things with the eyes of another one of those Greek words for love— Philia is love for all our brothers and sisters, for all humanity. But Philia is not just love for all humanity. Philia extends to love for all of God’s creation. (Slight pause.)

I need to add one thing. We Congregationalists have another name for Agape. We call it covenant love. And covenant love understood well is demanding.

You see, what covenant love invites us to… is growth. Covenant love invites us to… learning. Covenant love invites us to… engagement. Covenant love invites us to see new horizons constantly.

Covenant loves invites us to the idea that as we move forward, we remember the past but understand it is past. Last, perhaps the most important aspect of covenant love is that it invites us to hold one another’s humanity and well being as precious. (Slight pause.)

We all know and can probably recite by heart Paul’s famous words. (Quote:) “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and can endure all things. Love never ends.” The challenge for us is can we meet the standard proposed by Paul, the standard proposed by Paul, the standard proposed by agape love? Amen.

01/30/2022
South Freeport Congregational Church United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “I have said this from the pulpit here already. I want to repeat it. The Bible does not tell us about faith, hope and charity. Agape translates into Latin as Caritas. Caritas was then translated into the Anglo-Saxon language tree as charity. But when that translation happened the underlying word was still Agape, unconditional, altruistic, universal, inclusive love, not charity, not giving something to someone. And I hope I have just illustrated that Paul’s challenge is much more demanding than mere charity.”

BENEDICTION: Let us, above all, surround ourselves with the perfect love of God, a love which binds everything together in harmony. And may we love God so much, that we love nothing else too much. May we be so in awe of God, that we are in awe of no one else and nothing else. Amen.

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