February 1, 2015 | The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

by the Rev. Robert C. Laird

Living, as I do, with two small children,
I have been afforded dozens of opportunities
in the last few months
to watch the latest Disney princess movie, “Frozen,”
the ending of which is going to get spoiled this morning.
The movie came out 15 months ago,
so I feel like you’ve had enough time to see it
if you were going to.

And though it’s dangerous to digress in one’s second paragraph,
I will say that “Frozen” goes a long way toward
addressing the many flaws that princess movies have had;
in the end, a princess saves herself and her sister, the queen,
and the male love interest (who isn’t a prince)
is watching the whole thing happen on the sidelines.
Princess Anna doesn’t need any man to save her.
In this preacher’s opinion, this represents progress.

Anyway, the action of the film is motivated
by Elsa trying to run away from everyone,
because her power to command ice and freeze things
has run amok, and she is afraid of hurting people accidently,
particularly her younger sister, Anna.

Elsa has frozen Arendelle, her country,
and doesn’t know how to un-freeze things.

Anna ends up with ice in her heart,
and only an act of true love can save her
(we are led to think that the solution will be
a true love’s kiss… Again, the idea being
that only a man can save Princess Anna…barf…).

Elsa has no idea how to save Anna,
or how to thaw the eternal winter
she has set off across the land.

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

 

By now, several of you must be wondering
how this can have anything to do with
any of the readings we heard today…
We’ll get there soon enough,
but first, let’s talk about love.

Paul writes today to the church at Corinth,
that knowledge makes people arrogant,
but loves builds people up.

He’s writing specifically to address
a problem with the wealthy and sophisticated
members of the Corinthian church
had been eating at dining rooms in a spa temple
dedicated to Asclepius, a Greek god of healing.

For the sophisticated, wealthy folks
who could afford to eat there,
they justified themselves by saying,
“But Asclepius isn’t real, so what’s the big deal?
There is no God but God.”

Paul thinks this is a valid point, and a smart one;
since Asclepius isn’t real,
it’s fine to eat that food.
And the folks who are eating that food
know that’s why they’re eating it,
so it doesn’t do them any harm.

But, Paul asks, what about the folks who are new to the church,
the folks who aren’t so sophisticated,
the folks who used to believe in Asclepius,
and who now see members of the church
eating in the dining rooms there,
and are tempted to eat there themselves,
and risk falling away from the Church,
away from the life-giving relationship they have with Jesus,
whose authority we see on display in the Gospel today?

Jesus casts a demon out of a man just by talking to him;
that’s how powerful Jesus’ words are,
how life-giving a relationship with him is.

So to challenge the faith of someone
whose faith isn’t yet strong,
simply by eating food that had been offered to idols,
that’s against God’s hope for us as disciples.

What difference does being right about how to believe make,
when your “being right” causes someone else to stumble?

Knowledge, Paul says, makes people arrogant;
if you think you know something,
you don’t know as much as you should know.

Instead, Paul suggests,
you should be focused on love.

You can know all kinds of things,
but you can never know enough things.

Instead, you need to experience love,
both giving love and receiving love,
in order to know and be known by God.

That point, that love is more important than knowledge,
even comes through in “Frozen.”
In the end, when Elsa is under attack on all sides,
Anna puts herself in harm’s way,
and saves her sister just as Anna turns to ice,
the ice in her heart finally freezing her solid,
sacrificing herself to save the sister she loved.

That sacrifice was the act of true love that saved Anna,
who thawed out and was restored once her sister was safe,
her love for Elsa, her sister, having saved her.

Elsa didn’t know how to under the perpetual winter;
she didn’t have the knowledge she needed
to undo the damage she caused;
it was love that showed her how,
taught her to do something
that no knowledge could.

Elsa was saved by Anna’s act of true love,
and through that love,
taught Elsa how to end the eternal winter.

Like I say, not your average Disney princess movie.
Good job, Disney!
And the music is fabulous. Seriously. Watch it.

And just as love is deeper than knowledge in Disney movies,
it’s also deeper than knowledge in discipleship,
for you, and me, and everyone.

The foundation of our relationship with God,
and God’s relationship with us,
is not rooted in our heads;
you can read everything that every theologian ever wrote,
and acquire all the knowledge that anyone ever had,
but it’s not enough.

Our relationship with God is rooted in our hearts,
in the love that we have for God.

Our relationship with the Divine
lies in the choice to love, and to be loved by,
Jesus, who is the Holy One of God,
which even the unclean spirits in Mark’s Gospel
seem to have figured out.

And loving is a choice,
particularly the kind of love that Jesus and Paul
talks about all the time in the New Testament.

We use the verb “falling” to describe how we come to love
our spouses and partners,
and centuries of romantic literature
have peddled the trope of “love as destiny;”
The Immortal Bard, William Shakespeare did it,
and countless (lesser) playwrights, screenwriters,
and novelists have followed suit.

But ultimately, love is a decision,
a choice that we make, and continue to make,
even when we don’t exactly feel like it,
or when it bores us, or when it hurts.

And unlike the emotional affection we may feel for someone,
which we don’t have control over,
truly loving, in the way that Jesus and Paul talk about loving,
is a choice—the greatest choice we make in our lives.

Love is actually one of the main themes
of this letter to the Church in Corinth;
and today’s reading isn’t the part that is best known.
The thirteenth chapter is often read at weddings:
“Love is patient, love is kind,
it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, is isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude…”
And since love is a choice that we make, every day,
and not just a state that we happen to find ourselves in,
because we happened to “fall in love,”
it’s a calling, a way of life, and a vocation.

But regardless of where you read about love in the Bible,
love is the foundation of our relationship with God,
and our relationship with each other.

And just like the other loving relationships in our lives,
whether they’re with a husband or wife,
with our parents, or children, or siblings;
or our families of choice,
the people we consider our family,
even though we may not be legally or technically related,
our relationship with God in Christ
requires cultivating, and nurturing, and feeding.

Our relationship with God is nurtured
the same way that our other relationships are:
through communication, and shared experiences.

This is one of the reasons that worship is so important
to our understanding of what it means
to live a Christian life:
if we don’t gather to worship,
to share in the bread, and wine, and Word, and song,
then we can’t be sustained for the road ahead.

We need all of those things:
bread and wine, to feed our bodies and souls;
Word and song to remind us of where we’re headed,
and our relationships with others,
to accompany us on our journey.

When we come to this table,
we fill our souls for the work of the week,
following Jesus each day,
working for peace, love, and justice each day.

We also nurture our relationship through prayer:
our individual prayer, each day,
whether it’s in the formal language of the Daily Office,
asking God’s blessing on the food we eat,
or just telling God what we’re grateful for
in the moments when we feel that gratitude
welling up inside us.

Our individual prayer, each day,
is a vital part of our loving relationship with God,
and as Paul says in our reading today,
loving God is how God knows us.

Prayer and worship are the two best ways
for us to nurture our loving relationship,
to be filled by God’s love,
and to give love back to God,
from what God has given us.

Being here today,
to receive the bread that gives life to the world,
is a significant part of that,
and I thank you for being here
to be a part of this community.

In the words of the poem by George Herbert,
“Sev’n whole dayes, not one in seven, I will praise thee;”
Each day, we should offer praise and thanks to God,
even if it’s just saying “Thank you, God” before a meal,
or saying the Lord’s prayer at a stoplight.

If you’d like to have a resource to take with you,
please take a Book of Common Prayer
from the shelf by the door when you leave today;
there are lots of different devotional resources in it,
and I’d be more than happy to show them to you
following the service today,
or on the phone or by email this week.

This week, share your love with God,
because love is the foundation of that relationship.

As Paul tells the church at Corinth,
as Elsa learned from her sister Anna,
and as Jesus shows us over and over again
in his life and ministry,
loving is how we practice our faith,
sharing the love that God gives to us,
and giving it back to God.

We can’t ever know God, really;
as Paul says, if we think we know something,
we don’t yet know as much as we should know;
but if we love God,
then we are known by God.

Here’s to a church and a world known by God,
that is known for its love,
in Jesus’ name.