Summary: First Sermon of a post-Easter series on love.

(Slide 1) A song from the 1950’s said that “Love is a many splendored thing.’ I would also suggest that love is a very resilient thing as the following situations reveal.

First, the resiliency of love reveals itself in the story of two newlyweds. Now prior to the marriage the groom was apprehensive about his foot order problem. His father recommended frequent foot washing and wearing socks to bed. He thought that to be a wonderful idea and would do so.

The bride-to-be was likewise apprehensive about her terrible morning breath. Her mother’s advice was to get straight out of bed in the morning, brush her teeth and not say a word until after she had done so. She thought this to be an excellent idea.

The loving couple was finally married in a beautiful ceremony. Not forgetting the advice each had received, he with his perpetual socks and she with her morning silence, they managed quite well. That is, until about six months later. Shortly before dawn, the husband woke with a start to find that one of his socks had come off. Fearful of the consequences, he frantically searched the bed. This, of course, woke his bride, who, without thinking, immediately asked, "What on earth are you doing?" "Oh, no!" he gasped in shock, "You’ve swallowed my sock!"

Second, we see the resiliency of (and hesitation to) love when it comes to family in a story Jonathan Busch tells about a minister who spoke to a Sunday School class about the things money can’t buy. “It can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love,” he told them. Driving his point home he said, “What would you do if I offered you $1,000 not to love your mother and father?” Stunned silence ensued. Finally, a small voice queried, “How much would you give me not to love my big sister?”

Finally we see the resiliency (and challenge) of love in a story Darrien Ethier shares about a dad and a six year old boy. According to Ethier this young man was usually very specific about the kind of presents he liked for his birthday. And, this time, as he prepared ask, the dad expected a very detailed request such as: "I’d like a baseball glove; you can find it at Toys ‘R ‘Us, aisle 6, below the batting helmets, or a Parcheesi board; the games are in alphabetical order in aisle 1; it’s between the Pac Man and Pay Day games."

But his son’s request for this birthday was different. He said, "Dad, I’d like a ball to play with for my birthday." Dad said "Great, what kind of ball?" "Oh, I want don’t know, either a football or a soccer ball."

"Well, which would you want more?" He said, "Wellll," and thought about it. Then he said. "If you have some time to play ball with me this year, I’d really like a football so we could throw it back and forth in the back yard. But if you’re gonna be real busy this year, maybe you just better get me a soccer ball, because I can play soccer with the rest of the kids in the neighborhood."

The dad thought about this and said, "Let me surprise you. How does that sound?" And the little boy smiled and said, "Oh that would be great Dad. I really love you."

Later the dad went in and shared this little encounter with his wife and together they agreed their son was not so much interested in the gift. He was interested in the giver.

This week I re-read the gospel accounts of the resurrection and I realized that Matthew’s account indicates that the ‘other’ Mary and Mary Magdalene seemed to present when the earthquake struck that caused the stone to roll away. The other accounts have the stone rolled away by the time Mary and company got there. However, all the gospel accounts agree that Jesus rose from the dead but that fear and confusion reigned in those first hours.

But as Jesus appeared to the twelve again and again in the days following His resurrection, Jesus eventually picked up where He left off with the disciples regarding the centrality of love in the Kingdom of God.

In what many call the Upper Room passage, just prior to His arrest and crucifixion, of John chapters 14 through 17, love is mentioned as follows:

In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments.”

In John 15:9 and 10 Jesus said, “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love.”

In John 16:27 Jesus said, “…for the Father himself loves you dearly because you love me and believe that I came from God.”

Then we read in John 21 verse 15 and following about Jesus getting face-to-face with Peter after His resurrection. And in this classic conversation, Jesus does not ask Peter about his commitment or his income or his plans or his vision or what he thinks. He asks Peter one thing, ‘Do you love me Peter?’

He also doesn’t ask just once, He asks three times! Do you love me Peter? Do you love me Peter? Do you love me Peter?

Biblical scholars indicate that each time Jesus uses a different form of the word ‘love’ as He moves the conversation toward a desire to see if Peter still has the kind of love for Him that He once professed to have.

This emphasis on love is also something that Jesus made clear when challenged to indentify the most important Commandment in the Law of Moses.

“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” That’s a very sweeping statement to make.

When people are asked about the most important Christian characteristic, love wins hands down. And when people are the most critical about Christians and the church it is due to the lack of love.

Love is central to faith… and life.

From now until the end of May, I am inviting us on a journey of study, practice, and commitment regarding love. And not just a romantic love but the love of God which is very much needed in our lives and the lives of those we love these days.

One important part of this series is going to be an effort to provide some workable (and, I hope, practical) aids for each of the six messages that are to follow. And to make that happen I am going to use one simple question that I am trying to work into my sermons from this point forward. So what? I am also going to be sharing some insights from Rick Warren and a series that he calls, “40 Days of Love.” But we definitely will be in the Bible.

(Slide 2) Our main text for this morning is 1 Corinthians 14:1

Let love be your highest goal, but also desire the special abilities the Spirit gives, especially the gift of prophecy.

My attention for this morning is drawn to the opening phrase, “let love be your highest goal.” This chapter follows chapter 13, known over the years as the Love Chapter. Paul concludes chapter 13 with these words, “There are three things that will endure—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

Then he completes this thought with the statement, “let love be your highest goal.”

Love is central to our faith. It is the most important quality; it is our defining characteristic.

We see the centrality of love in a brief walk through the Bible.

We see it in Leviticus, yes Leviticus. One of those Old Testament books that causes our eyes to glaze over.

To me Leviticus is best understood from a big picture lens of a God who is creating a new nation whose morals and values are vastly different from the contemporary culture of its day. Such morals and values are based on a relationship with one God who is moral and just and very, very different from the other deities of the day.

Love is a key aspect of this new nation. It is a governing aspect of God’s relationship with them and vice versa. It also central to their treatment of those who are different, the foreigners who surrounded them.

In Leviticus 19:18 we read, “Never seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Then further down in verses 33 and 34 we read, “Do not exploit the foreigners who live in your land. They should be treated like everyone else, and you must love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I, the Lord, am your God.”

Then over in Deuteronomy another one of those Old Testament books that often overwhelm us, there are many passages in which love is mentioned as a central value and practice:

There is Deuteronomy 10:12 and 13, “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires you to fear him, to live according to his will, to love and worship him with all your heart and soul, 13and to obey the Lord’s commands and laws that I am giving you today for your own good.”

Then in chapter 11 and verses 13 through 15 we read, “If you carefully obey all the commands I am giving you today, and if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and if you worship him, then he will send the rains in their proper seasons so you can harvest crops of grain, grapes for wine, and olives for oil. He will give you lush pastureland for your cattle to graze in, and you yourselves will have plenty to eat.”

The Old Testament prophets also mention the importance of loving God as a sign of obedience and faithfulness.

In Isaiah 55:3 we read “Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David.”

In Jeremiah 31:3 it says, “Long ago the Lord said to Israel: “I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”

So when Jesus says “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Jesus simplifies what had become a huge and overwhelming set of rules and rituals that no one could keep, let alone keep track of. This simplification focuses on the original intent of what God gave Moses centuries earlier… an agreement, a relationship based on love expressed in and through obedience. Love therefore becomes the central aspect of faith.

And John, writing toward the end of life, having witnessed the love of God in action, makes these simple words, “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God—for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

So, when all is said and done… love is central…love must come first… love must be cultivated… love must be chosen. Love, to echo Paul, must be our overarching goal as followers of Christ.

(Slide 3) So what?

‘If we don’t live a life of love,’ writes Rick Warren, ‘nothing we say, know, believe, give, or accomplish will matter.’

The retelling of a story about Jim Cymbala, pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, by Devon Hess illustrates Warren’s point.

On an Easter Sunday, Cymbala encounters a middle-aged looking man named David who seeks to speak with the weary pastor and who reveals he is 32. David is dirty and disheveled, like many people his church ministers to on a daily basis.

As David approached, Cymbala encounters the smell of a man who had not bathed in quite awhile. Thinking he wants money, Cymbala starts to pull out a money clip.

That is not what David wants. “David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, “I don’t want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I’m not going to make it. I’m going to die on the street.”

Cymbala begins to weep. He says, “I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me.” Soon David begins to weep and Cymbala embraces the dirty and desperate man.

Now, at this point we are probably moved and think what a wonderful story. It is a wonderful story but there is more to it.

And in this ‘more to it’ we see just how far the love of God can go when we are obedient to the Lord. Cymbala goes onto say, “Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: If you don’t love this smell, I can’t use you, because this is why I called you where you are. This is what you are about. You are about this smell.”

David is saved. He begins a process of learning the Bible and prayer. He is found a place to live and the church hires him to do maintenance work.

He gets medical care, dental care, and detox and gets his life going in God’s direction. He ends up becoming a preacher.

This brings me to my action point for this morning. (Slide 4) ‘Pick one person who needs some love and care to love on this week through one kind action.’ Let God lead you to that person and I would encourage you to pray about it today and wait on the Lord to show you.

I close with this, ‘We need to love, in Jesus’ name, like never before, let’s do it!’ Amen.

Sources: Opening stories and Cymbala story is from