FIRST LESSON: I Corinthians 13:1-13
GOSPEL LESSON Matthew 5:43-48 and I John 4:13-21
SERMON: “Growing the Gifts of the Spirit - Love”
In years past, I have done Lenten messages about things to give up for Lent. This year it’s time to take a look at what we receive from God as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the resurrection on Easter Sunday. As followers of Jesus Christ we are recipients of God’s Holy Spirit, and with that Spirit come gifts – fruit – that we are meant to grow. According to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Let’s begin with love – a very good place to start.
At this very moment in your life there are people who need you, need your help, need your support, need your love. For whatever reason, perhaps fear of rejection, perhaps being too busy, or simply being focused on our own needs rather than the needs of others, we human beings tend to hang back, afraid to touch, to talk with people, to listen with understanding, to give support and hope. But the fruit of the Spirit is Love!
What we are talking about here is “agape” the kind of love that Christ showed us and gives us through the Spirit.
“Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.” This “agape” is the love that comes to us from God and demonstrates that God’s Spirit is in us. The fruit of the Spirit is a selfless love.
There is an old Jewish folk tale about two brothers who farmed together. They shared equally in all of the work and split the profits exactly. Each had his own granary. One of the brothers was married and had a large family; the other brother was single.
One day the single brother thought to himself, “It is not fair that we divide the grain evenly. My brother has many mouths to feed, while I have but one. I know what I’ll do, I will take a sack of grain from my granary each evening and put it in my brother’s granary.” So, each night when it was dark, he carefully carried a sack of grain, placing it in his brother’s barn.
Now the married brother thought to himself, “It is not fair that we divide the grain evenly. I have many children to care for me in my old age, and my brother has none. I know what I’ll do, I will take a sack of grain from my granary each evening and put it in my brother’s granary.” And he did.
Each morning the two brothers were amazed to discover that though they had removed a sack of grain the night before, they had just as many.
One night the two brothers met each other halfway between their barns, each carrying a sack of grain. Then they understood the mystery. They embraced, and loved each other deeply.
The legend that says God looked down from heaven, saw the two brothers embracing, and said, “I declare this to be a holy place, for I have witnessed extraordinary love here.” It is also said that it was on that spot that Solomon built the first temple. Such self-giving love is the love of God that is the fruit of the Spirit.
“In this the love of God was manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation (sacrifice) for our sins.”
It seems to be human nature that when someone does us wrong, we hold on to it. Oh, maybe if they apologize, if they “make it up to us.” But God loves us with a love so great that God sent his Son so that by his life, sacrificial death and resurrection we might be forgiven. The fruit of the Spirit is a forgiving love.
It is said that once St. Francis of Assisi and Brother Leo were staying together and found that they had no book with the liturgy to say their morning prayers. Francis decided to improvise and so said to Brother Leo, “I will say like this, ‘Oh, Brother Francis, you have done so much evil and sin in the world that you deserve hell.’ You, Brother Leo, shall answer: “it is true that you deserve the depths of hell.’ It is very important that you repeat this phrase without changing a word.”
Brother Leo, who was as simple and pure as a man could be replied, “All right, father. Begin in the name of the Lord.”
St. Francis began, “Oh, Brother Francis, you have done so many evil deeds and sins in the world that you deserve hell.”
And Brother Leo answered: “God will perform so much good through you that you will go to paradise.”
St. Francis was quite upset. “Don’t say that, Brother Leo! Answer exactly like this, ‘You certainly deserve to be placed among the damned.’ “
“I will do as you say,” Brother Leo replied.
Then, beating his breast, St. Francis cried, “Oh, my Lord, I have committed so many evil deeds and sins against you that I deserve to be utterly damned.”
Brother Leo answered: “Oh, Brother Francis, God will make you such that you will be remarkably blessed among the blessed.”
“Why don’t you answer as I have told you?” St. Francis scolded. “Under holy obedience I command you to say, ‘You are not worthy of finding mercy.’ “
“Go ahead, father,” Leo said meekly. “This time I will say just what you tell me.”
Kneeling down and lifting up his head, St. Francis prayed sadly, “Oh, Brother Francis, do you think God will have mercy on you, for you have committed so many sins?’ But Brother Leo answered, “God the Father, whose mercy is infinitely greater than your sins, will be merciful to you and grant you grace.”
St. Francis was angry and said to Brother Leo, “Why have you dared to go against my wishes and to answer the opposite of what I told you?”
Then Brother replied gently and humbly, “God knows, dear father, that each time I resolved in my heart to answer as you told me, but God makes me speak as pleases him and not as pleases me. Dear father, try as I do, the only words that God gives me are ones of grace and loving forgiveness. I can’t say anything else because God is speaking through my mouth.”
When God speaks through our mouth, the fruit of the Spirit is a forgiving love.
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” The fruit of the Spirit is a selfless love, a forgiving love and an everlasting love. When we say that God abides in us, we are saying that God “remains” in us forever. God does not come and go, here one minute, gone the next. The gift of God’s Spirit is not a temporary loan, but an eternal gift.
Sometimes the Bible is challenging to understand. Sometimes it is absolutely clear, and we like what it says. And sometimes it is clear, but we’re not so sure we like it. Part of the last few verses of today’s reading from I John is like that:
20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
The fruit of the Spirit is love – and we are called to grow that fruit, to be loving (agape) even towards those who seem unlovable to us. Paul gives us a litany of wonderful things we may have, the ability to speak in tongues, the ability to prophesy, to have great faith or be generous, and tells us that if we are without love these abilities are a big fat zero.
It was a dark and stormy night.
You could hear the thunder in the distance. Bats flapped their wings in the darkness of the night.
There the castle stood. Inside the castle, a faint light shown… from a laboratory.
This was the laboratory of the one and only, the maddest scientist of them all…the laboratory of the infamous Dr. Christianstein!
A rat ran across the granite floor as a daunting figure appeared in the light. It was Dr. Christianstein himself with his white lab coat stained with the evidence of his notorious experiments.
His eyes were glowing with mad delight as he gazed upon the table in the middle of the room, covered with a white sheet.
Under the sheet lay a human-like form. Suddenly, Dr. Christianstein shouted: “Igor, come quickly! We have much to do!”
In a moment Igor appeared, a hunchback with tattered clothes, a candle in one hand and a big cardboard box in the other.
“Yes master…here is everything you ordered. All is ready!”
“Very good. Bring all the materials to the table Igor. Now we begin….the experiment!
Thunder was heard in the distance while Igor dragged the box towards the table.
“Tonight I will conduct the greatest experiment of my career. Doctor Christianstein raised his fist towards the sky: “I shall achieve what no man has achieved before. Tonight I create spiritual life! This shall be my greatest hour for I shall create…. Christianstein!”
“They say that I am mad Igor. But Christianstein shall be the greatest specimen of spiritual life the world has ever seen! He shall have everything Igor, EVERYTHING!”
“The moment has arrived. Igor, my gloves!.”
“Give me the voice of a great evangelist Igor!”
“Yes master” and he handed him a jar from the box.
“The courage of Stephen!” Igor produced a dusty vial.
“The patience of Job!” the doctor commanded and he given an ancient-looking flask.
“Now the hypodermic and the serums I distilled!”
Igor’s hands trembled as he presented a long, steel syringe and bottles filled with different colored fluids.
“Double doses of daily prayer and Bible reading,” murmured Dr. Christianstein while he withdrew liquid from one of the bottles and injected it into the lifeless figure’s arm.
“Then faithful church attendance…generous giving … temperance…volunteer work…ability to resist temptation… witnessing…”
The doctor paused for a moment, then filled the syringe with fluid from the final container.
“And last-but not least-a triple injection of …orthodoxy!
The mad doctor consulted his list once more.
“Examine the box Igor. Have we forgotten anything?”
“Oh no master…Everything must be in place!”
“Excellent! This is the moment the world has waited for. This is the moment for….Christianstein!”
The doctor dashed to the nearest wall where an electrical control panel waited.
“A million volts of lightning will bring my creation to life. Now stand back Igor while I throw the power switch…and prepare to meet the perfect Christian…CHRISTIANSTEIN!”
Doctor Christianstein threw the massive switch as booming thunder shook the castle.
The figure began to tremble.
“Doctor! shouted Igor…it’s….moving!
“Yes, yes, my creation lives!
The creature called “CHRISTIANSTEIN” sat up slowly. Then, stiffly, it climbed from the table and stood to its full height.
“Oh, my creation…..Speak to me, speak to me!”
The figure looked down at the doctor and frowned. Finally it began to speak in a low and hostile growl:
“If I speak in the language of angels but have not love…”
“LOVE?” asked the doctor, examining in perplexity his list once again.
Slowly the creature lifted his hands towards the doctor who was still consulting his list.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can understand all mysteries and all knowledge and if I have faith that can move mountains and have not love….”
“LOVE?” Igor, what is he talking about?”
“I, I don’t know master! answered Igor as he hid himself under the table.
“If I give all my possessions to the poor and give my body to the flames to be burned and have not love…” Suddenly the figure, growling, picked up the doctor by his coat off of his feet….”I gain nothing!”
“Nothing?” said the doctor.
“Aaarrggghhh!” the creature bellowed throwing the doctor to the ground and reaching for his throat.
“Igor you fool! I knew that we forgot something! And such a small thing!” While the doctor fled for his life with the creature CHRISTIANSTIEN in hot pursuit.
A few minutes passed before Igor finally had enough courage to come out from under the table. Finally, looking this way and that, he whispered:
“I, I think….we have created a monster!”1
1Ray Navarro on sermoncentral.com