Sunday’s sermon: For God So Loved the World …

love silhouette

Texts used – Matthew 10:26-33; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13





  • So many great stories include a thread of love woven throughout, don’t they?
    • Sometimes the whole story is about love
      • Romeo and Juliet
      • Beauty and the Beast
      • Doctor Zhivago
      • Just about anything written by Jane Austen
    • Sometimes the story is a different kind of story – not a “love story” per say – but includes within it a powerful tale of love all the same
      • The Sound of Music = not really a love story, but love plays a powerful role
      • The Hobbit trilogy (directed by Peter Jackson) = definitely not a love story as a whole but love story between an elf and a dwarf adds a heart-tugging element to such an epic quest narrative
      • Elements of love stories woven throughout the entire Marvel comic movie series (all 23 movies from the first Iron Man movie released in 2008 to Captain Marvel released just this year)
    • And while I don’t think The Greatest Showman can be categorized strictly as a love story, there is still two moving tales of love woven throughout the main storyline that add a powerful element to the main storyline.
      • Talk about one of them next week: love between Barnum and his wife, Charity
      • Today: story of Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler
        • Reminder: Carlyle is the upper-crust playwright that Barnum recruited to help produce his circus show
        • Anne Wheeler = one of a pair of sibling trapeze artists
        • From the moment Phillip Carlyle sees Anne Wheeler, he is smitten. It’s one of those movie moments when everything – the filming, the sound, everything – slows down just to emphasize how important it really is.
        • Clear pretty early on that Anne has feelings for Phillip, too
        • 2 problems
          • First: Phillip is part of the upper-class elite, Anne is a lowly street performer
          • Even more egregious in the 1850s: Phillip is white, Anne is black → Being born into a place of wealth and privilege, Phillip doesn’t understand the problem throughout much of the movie. He tries to convince Anne that it doesn’t matter, that he loves her no matter what, that they can be together despite what people think. But having experienced the real world with all its prejudice and ugliness and slammed doors, Anne is much more hesitant. She pulls back. She puts up walls. She tries to convince herself she doesn’t love Phillip because she’s “not supposed to.”
            • All plays out in our next song – [PLAY “Rewrite the Stars”[1]]

  • Okay, so do you remember when we said that The Greatest Showman was loosely based on the life of P.T. Barnum and the origins of his circus empire? Well, this whole storyline between Phillip Carlyle and Anne Wheeler falls under the “loosely” part of that description.[2]
    • There was no Phillip Carlyle in real life
    • There was no Anne Wheeler in real life (though there certainly were trapeze performers)
    • Unfortunately, the expansive inclusiveness portrayed by Barnum in the movie – including hiring black performers at a time when that was taboo – is also fictional → though he expressed anti-slavery convictions, many of Barnum’s actions displayed engrained racism
  • Be that as it may, this song still expresses a critical element of our relationship with God: the back-and-forth nature of God’s love for us and our love for God.
    • Easier to hear the 2 voices in this one → I hear …
      • God = Phillip Carlyle character
        • Expressing desire, longing, and devotion
        • Expressing trust and hope in the love held and harbored
        • Expressing disregard for what the outside world might think
      • We = Anne Wheeler character
        • Hinting at love but finding excuses
        • Hinting at hope but expecting problems and adversity
        • Hinting at desire but being turned away time and again by fear and hesitation
      • Give and take of this plays out quite dramatically in the movie – whole song is done in the circus ring while Anne is practicing some of her aerial work → The rest of the performance space is dark. Only the ring is lit. And while Phillip stands in the center of the ring, Anne is continuously swinging and spinning and flying around him just out of reach … until Phillip grabs hold of a rope himself and begins to spin and fly with her.
    • Friends, how often do we spend most of our conversation with God sounding so much like Anne – coming up with one reason after another why God won’t love us … shouldn’t love us … couldn’t possibly love us? How often do we erect a wall because it feel safer to hide behind that wall than to take a chance on the incredible love that God has to offer? How often do we let the thinking of the world around us – the people around us, the culture, the trends and the norms, the pull of everything else … how often do we let that convince us that God’s love cannot truly be a part of our lives? That we cannot give ourselves over to God’s love fully and unconditionally because something about it might not work? Too often, I think. Far, far too often. We sell ourselves short. We certainly sell God short. We forget just how much God loves us and the lengths to which God has gone to show us that love. So today, let me remind you.
  • [hold up Bible] This book? This familiar book right here? This is God’s declaration of love for us. → sort of like stories that we talked about at the beginning – many of the tales in here aren’t “love stories” per say, but there is a powerful thread of love woven throughout: God’s love for us
    • God’s love expressed in creation
    • God’s love displayed in the vibrant arc and promise of a rainbow
    • God’s love enacted in a burning bush and in plagues that led to Pharoah freeing the Hebrew slaves in Egypt
    • God’s love nourishing the people as they wandered through the wilderness for a generation
    • God’s love spoken time and time again through the prophets
    • God’s love proclaimed throughout the psalms
    • God’s love embodied in a tiny, vulnerable, lovesome baby in a manger … who grew to be a man with a lesson of love on his lips, healing in his touch, and a cross at his back
      • Familiar verse that so many know so well: God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.[3] → follow-up verse: God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him.[4]
        • Gr. “love” = (not surprisingly) agape love → selfless, giving, charitable, altruistic love – love that would do anything for the other
        • Gr. “judge” = connotations of separation → So God came down into this world in the person of Jesus Christ to embody a love so powerful, so connectional, so fundamental that through that love, we would no longer be separated from God. That is how much God desires us. That is how much God longs for us to say “yes” to God. That is how much God loves us.
    • Loves us enough to bear the cross for us
    • Loves us enough to endure the grave for us
    • Loves us enough to conquer death for us → truly rewriting the stars – reweaving the fabric of the world – so that we could spend eternity with God in glory and light and love: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
  • Today’s Gospel reading
    • Jesus reminding the disciples of the expansiveness and totality of that love – text: Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. Even the hairs on your head are all counted. Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.[5] → Let’s talk about the role of sparrows for a minute. What’s the deal with sparrows?
      • Sparrows = most sacrificed by the poor in the temple
        • Small and insignificant = affordable, even for those who have little to nothing
        • Abundant (no shortage of sparrows and other small birds) = expendable → no big deal if a few of them disappear, right?
        • So Jesus is saying to the disciples, “You see this tiny bird? This bird that is so unimportant that you probably wouldn’t even noticing it flitting about up in the sky? This bird that is so common, even those with nothing can afford to offer it in the temple as a sacrifice? God loves even this little bird enough to know when it falls to the ground … and God loves you infinitely more than this bird.”
  • Other NT passage = “love passage” from 1 Corinthians
    • Yes, this is the “wedding passage.” It’s appropriate for weddings because it speaks of the ideal, virtuous qualities of love: patience and kindness, empathy and compassion, humility, generosity, genuineness, and steadfast. – text: Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never fails. … Now faith, hope, and love remain – these three things – and the greatest of these is love.[6] → This is that agape love, too. This is the kind of love that cherishes and sustains, that nurtures and believes, that forgives and accepts, that unbinds and frees. This is the kind of love that moves mountains. This is the kind of love that can rewrite the stars. This is how God loves us.
      • Text: Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth.[7]
    • This is also the kind of love that can change us … but only if we let it. – text: If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don’t have love, I’m a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don’t have love, I’m nothing. If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I’ve done but I don’t have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever.[8] → Nothing about this love that God has for us will ever diminish us. It will not tear us down. It will not hurt us. It will not seek to get its own way in us. God stands before us offering us a love that is only ever going to enhance our lives, enliven our hearts, and nurture our worn and weary souls.
      • Purpose for coming to the table → table = place of forgiveness and grace and mercy and love overflowing
        • Table established in love – love of Jesus for his disciples, love of God for us
        • Table prepared in love – (say it every week) prepared by the love of human hands (those who help to serve) and the love of God for us
        • Table celebrated in love – reminding ourselves just how much God loves us and honoring that love in our actions
      • Love offered to us time and time again → How will you respond? Amen.

[1] “Rewrite the Stars” written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, © 2017 Sony/ATV Music.


[3] Jn 3:16.

[4] Jn 3:17.

[5] Mt 10:29-31.

[6] 1 Cor 13:7-8a, 13.

[7] 1 Cor 13:4-6.

[8] 1 Cor 13:1-3 (emphasis added).