14.02.2010: Prof. Dr. Jindrich Halama über 1 Kor 13,1-13 (englisch)
Predigt in englischer Sprache im zweisprachigen Universitäts-gottesdienst am Sonntag Estomihi, den 14.02.2010,
in der Peterskirche Heidelberg
über 1 Kor 13,1-13
Prediger: Prof. Dr. Jindrich Halama
1 Cor 13 (New International Version)
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, dear friends.
The hymn in praise of love is the best known text of the apostle Paul. Many of us know it by heart – we may have learnt it in a confirmation class. But do we understand it? I had to ask this question myself when I read carefully the well known text – and came to the closing sentence: ...and now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
Why these three? The apostle speaks about spiritual gifts the whole preceding chapter and will continue in the next one – prophecy, tongues, knowledge... There are a number of different gifts that exist in the church – but they all belong to our imperfect, limited human lives. They will cease, they will pass away, they will be overcome like everything that is imperfect – when perfection comes.
As long as we live in this world perfection is beyond our reach. We experience it once and again that we have no tools, no skills, no capacities to make things perfect, to restore completely what has been broken, damaged, lost. I was deeply moved when I saw a doctor, a physician in Haiti some days ago – desperately telling the reporter: people are dying all around and we cannot help them. Tragedy is part of our human condition – even the best and most promising ceases and passes away. And even the spiritual gifts will pass away. How can we live with our weakness and imperfection? What do we have to help us, to support us, to keep us from breaking down?
I think this is the point why Paul says: and now these three remain: faith, hope and love. In the end, these are all we have to struggle for a meaningful life. All other gifts may or may not be present in our community. All other gifts may or may not help us in our needs. But faith, hope and love remain. And love is the greatest of them. Because love always trusts and hopes, as Paul says a few verses earlier. Love is closest to perfection – in the epistle to Colossians (2:14) is love called “the bond of perfectness”.
Maybe we should be careful about the meaning of the word “love”, we may think. Not everything that is called love in our society and culture can be considered to be close to perfection. The same problem was probably before the New Testament authors – and they decided to use an unusual word for love – AGAPE. To make sure that it would be distinguished from the traditional Greek understanding of love.
The view of the Greek philosophy was that one should love such things and persons that deserved it best. The better something was the more it was worth loving. A really noble relationship required noble aims, noble objects.
And now the gospel comes with the message that God loves us, imperfect, weak creatures, all of us in some or other respect guilty. What is so noble about us? Do we deserve to be loved? We may call it a U-turn in understanding of love that the Christian message brings. Love is not a relationship that we would use to ascend to perfection, not the Platonic desire for the perfect. On the contrary: Christian love is a relationship of sympathy aiming at helping those in need, forgiving those who are guilty and strengthening the weak and falling.
And that is Paul’s picture of love in this chapter: love is patient, kind, is not proud, not self-seeking, it keeps no record of wrongs (forgiving), it protects, trusts, hopes... The inspiration of this Christian concept of love is God’s love for us. Love that could and can be recognized in the life of Christ Jesus.
Paul describes some characteristic features of Christian love, some ways how it is expressed in the life of Christians. Certainly other features could be named, other ways in which love works but it is not so much important. Because this is neither a lesson to learn, nor an exercise to practice. It is a witness of a gift offered to all who are willing to accept.
To recognize and experience God’s love brings safety and peace to our life. We know that our lives are protected, therefore we need not be afraid. Nothing can separate us from the love of God – says Paul in another of his letters. If this is true, and we believe it is, love can constantly be part of our lives. Experiencing God’s love we cannot do anything else but practice it. In the midst of our limited, imperfect existence, in the midst of our imperfect world full of violence, disasters, indifference and fear – waiting for the coming of perfection.
We have faith, hope and love to help us. They may not seem powerful enough – today as in Corinth twenty centuries ago – but they remain, thanks God, and they will remain.
To help us to reflect – imperfectly, as in a mirror – but still, reflect God’s love in this world.