Sermon preached by Rev. Timothy C. Ahrens at The First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Columbus, Ohio, Epiphany 6, February 11, 2001, dedicated to all thirteen of the pilgrims of faith joining me on the trip to Israel, especially my son Luke and wife Susan, and always to the glory of God!

"A Letter of Love"

I Corinthians 13; Luke 6:20-26

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Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and our salvation. Amen.

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Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, by the will of God, and other brother Timothy, to the church of God that is in Columbus, to those whom God has sanctified and called to be saints, together with others anywhere, who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, grace to you and peace from God the father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

For many years I have longed to see you. I have heard so much about you and what you are doing. News has reached me about your love of music, your compassion for the poor, your vision for the city, and yes, of course, your Cathedral of Grace. In all these things, I am with you in thought and in prayer. I all these things, I take delight in you. A word of caution. Having witnessed the Athenians in their temples and having noted how they love their structures more than they love God, be on guard not to worship what you see, but rather our immortal, invisible, wise, one true and glorious God!

As you may know, word has reached me of your struggles in Christian community as well as your successes. Why is it that bad news (even in the church) is never a friend to any of us? This news has touched me deeply. I remember your forebears in faith, your children, your mothers and fathers, your grandparents, and those preceding them for generations. Like those before you, I know that you have the power and capacity to work things out. I believe that you will work together for good as those who know the Lord.

In fact, those who have shared such news also tell me that you have been healing well from previous pain and divisions and you are moving with joy and determination into this new millennium for Christ. Remember, just as he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, the Evil One is always looking for new opportunities to tear apart the work of God in Christ in each generation. Through prayer, discernment, and trusting in the Holy Spirit, I know you will prevail for Christ.

Always remember, God needs you as Christ's hands and feet, as Christ's heart and soul in the battle against injustice and poverty. You are the greatest hope of this generation. So live into hope and act with justice on behalf of all people.

Years ago, my brothers and sisters in Christ in Corinth, were almost destroyed from the inside out. Divisions, dissensions, troubles, and travails assaulted them like a cancer from within. They were at the point of splitting in many directions. But, God prevailed. God showed them a more perfect way - the way of love. They responded well to the words of love and encouragement I send through our correspondence. I called them to be loving, to be accountable, to be responsible with the earthen vessel given by God - our bodies, our souls, our communities of faith. I offer you the same.

Never take for granted what God has given you today - life, breath, the ability to love and be loved. All around us and just outside the walls of your church, there are people who have been unloved and deeply need and desire the power and sustenance of love. In your work and walk with Christ, let justice and mercy embrace. Let love be patient and kind. Let love be genuine and let is be unconditional.

Although many people have reflected on my writings across 1950 years, I feel your own American prophet and preacher, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. caught the essence of my writings when he rewrote sections of the 13th chapter of my letter to the Corinthian Church with these words in 1963. He addressed his letter to American Christians. He said:

American Christians, you may master the intricacies of the English language and you may possess the eloquence of articulate speech; but even though you speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, and have not love you are like sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

You may have the gift of scientific prediction and understand the behavior of molecules, you may be able to break into the storehouse of nature and bring forth many new insights, you may ascend to the heights of academic achievement, so that you have all knowledge, and you may boast of your great institutions of learning and the boundless extent of your degrees, but, devoid of love, all these mean absolutely nothing.

But even more, Americans, you may give your goods to feed the poor, you may bestow great gifts of charity and you may tower in philanthropy, but if you have not love your charity means nothing. You may even give your body to be burned, and to die the death of a martyr, and your spilled blood may be a symbol of honor for generations yet unborn, and thousands may praise you as one of history's supreme heroes, but even so, if you have not love, your blood is spilled in vain. You must come to see that a man may be self-centered in his self-denial and self-righteous in his self-sacrifice. His generosity may feed his ego and his piety his pride. Without love, benevolence becomes egotism and martyrdom becomes spiritual pride.

Martin concludes: The greatest of all virtues is love. Here we find the true meaning of the Christian faith and of the cross. (The Cross of Christ) is a telescope through which we look into the long vista of eternity and see the love of God breaking into time. Out of the hugeness of his generosity God allowed his only begotten Son to die that we might live. By uniting yourselves with Christ and your brothers (and sisters) through love you will be able to matriculate in the university of eternal life. In a world depending on force, coercive tyranny, and bloody violence, you are challenged to follow the way of love. You will then discover that unarmed love is the most powerful force in the all the world. ("Paul's Letter to American Christians," found in Strength to Love, by Martin Luther King, Jr., Fortress Press: Philadelphia, PA, 1963; this was from the 5th printing, 1986, pp. 145-146).

For now, I must say goodbye. Please extend my warmest greetings to the entire household of faith. Be of good comfort in all things. Hold fast to that which is good. Strengthen the faint hearted, support the weak, be of one mind in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Although I doubt I will meet you in this lifetime, I will meet you in God's eternity! And how I look forward to our unity eternally! "And now unto Him who is able to keep us from falling, and lifts us from the dark valley of despair to the bright mountain of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy," (Ibid., p. 146) even Christ Jesus our Savior, to Christ be honor and glory now and forever! And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ abide with each of you, now and forevermore. In Christ's love, I am your servant. Paul. Amen.

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