The Epistle – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
The Gospel – St. Luke 18:31-43
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
It is probably because Lent is to be taken so seriously by us that we have 4 weeks leading up to it.
There is Advent, which prepares us for Christmas. But other than that, we really usually just encounter the feast days as they come. Pentecost, Ascension.
They are roughly in order in our calendar …but with Lent, we have this prolonged month or so, of lessons from Scripture and “propers” sung by the choir which becomes a season where we get fair warning of what is to come…what is to be expected.
It is not to frighten us, but to certainly prepare us to make something of Lent so that it can and will have an impact on us and so that it will change us significantly…as God works in us at that time…
…so that Lent will not be wasted but taken advantage of and be edifying to us.
This is Quinquagesima. Quinquagesima means ‘fiftieth’ and so we are 50, or actually 49 days before Easter.
Lent will begin already in just a few days.
Prayer Book Commentator Melville Scott says of this day,
“On the third and last Sunday of Lenten preparation we are taught by our Church that a spirit of Christian love is the true spirit in which we should seek to spend this holy season.
Only then will Lent be marked by all needful self-denials, an increase of devotion, and new activities of Christian usefulness. Only then will Lenten discipline be preserved from the dangers of self-seeking and self-complacency.
We are apt to think of Lent as chill, cold, and unattractive, to enter upon it without any special object, and to mark it only by increased formalities.
Our Church teaches that it should rather be a season into which love should be the entrance, of which love should be the spirit,
and in which the increase of love should be our great object.
If we act successfully upon the teachings of our Church the season will be one even of happiness to ourselves, and, through us, to others.
Our acts of self-denial will be willing offerings.
Our devotion will issue in increased joy.
Our more intense activity will issue permanently in an after-life of increased usefulness.”
Throughout that lengthy quote, he hits on some important points about Lent.
“…a spirit of Christian love is the true spirit in which we should seek to spend this holy season.”
The great concept of love that is so oft repeated and yet never exhaustively heard or implemented by us.
If done rightly, Lent should be entered into by way of love, in self-denials…for a greater love for God and neighbor…
An increase of devotion out of a love for growing in Christian holiness and righteousness and a deeper life of following Christ.
And new activities of Christian usefulness….out of love, again, for God and neighbor.
How can we be joyfully useful to God?
How can we serve God by lovingly serving neighbor?
But all of these are not going to come to fruition if this thing of charity….love is not central to our Lenten devotions.
Because as the Collect prayer says today, …without these whosoever lives is counted as dead before God.
Anglican writer – “The days of bodily exercise are at hand: therefore, in the Service for the day we are reminded of the absolute nothingness both of faith and works, without that love which is the fulfilling of the law.
Love, charity is the bond of peace. It is the bond of all virtues. It is at the heart of all virtuous living. But if it is lacking, then all that we do is counted as dead.
In our Wednesday Bible study, we have spent a lot of time in the second and early part of the third chapter.
And in those chapters, there are short letters to various churches.
To the Church in Sardis, Christ tells John to write to them about their deadness.
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God.’” (ESV)
So, there is this threat of this Church dying spiritually.
They originally had and still have this reputation of being an alive Church full of alive people.
But Christ says that they are dead. …and what little remains of life in them is about to go out as well unless they recover what they first had.
We can see this as a real possibility in our own lives as well. Individually or as a Church.
Paul demonstrates this in a certain way in this well-known passage we hear this morning.
He is combating the errors of this Church on a number of levels.
And the context is him battling some who have infiltrated the Church and are portraying themselves as super apostles. ..and they are false teachers who appear to be superior to Paul by some.
The simplicity of the Gospel was not enough for them. They were placing an inordinate amount of importance on spiritual gifts which, when abused, were not at all beneficial to the people in the Church.
Further they seemed to denigrate his ministry, his message of Christ crucified and the strength of his message….not to mention they seemed to even use his lowly appearance to point to a weakness in him and his message.
So, he can turn to them and say, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but [don’t do it out of] love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Even if he gives all that he has away, and lays his life down….if its not done in the right way with the right intention and right heart, without love….then nothing is gained.
So, what he lists next is what any and all of us need to hear and keep in mind in our own lives as Christians….and something we can be more aware of during Lent.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Paul goes on to say that these supernatural things will pass away. Prophecies, tongues, …these will pass away…that special knowledge will pass away.
What will be left? He says, “Love never ends.”
St. John, in the section we get from him this morning in our Morning Prayer Office also can sort of pile onto this theme as well.
He says, calling our attention as well to the working out of love…
He says, “…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.  And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.  Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him,  but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him:  whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
Walking in love we can assume he means.
So, truthfulness, keeping His words and commands, abiding in Him.
All of these are also pointing us to this one thing John says…by keeping his word…whoever keeps His word….keeps His commandments the love of God is perfected in that person.
The love of God is what we seek. Not our own imperfect love that fails or depends on feelings or moods or emotional ups and downs, but really what it means is the love FOR God.
The love we are to exercise is not perfected here and now. It is not a finished perfection. It is, rather, the perfect love that God pours into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…so that we are then enabled to love Him…and live it out.
The love is a gift in-and-of itself. …and it results in the obedience we are called to in the first place.
We love Him because He first loved us…and still loves us.
This is probably why the Gospel is what it is today. Jesus takes His 12 Disciples with Him. He sets His face toward Jerusalem, knowing what is in store for Him there.
He knows what the Old Testament Prophets have written about Him. He knows that in Jerusalem He will be handed over to the Gentiles, Pontius Pilate being one…mocked, shamefully treated and spit upon and after flogging Him they will kill Him.
For the love of mankind, Christ went through that. For the example of love, He went through all of that.
And yet, despite His destination, He is on His way and He and the others encounter a man, a blind beggar.
He hears the crowd, finds that it is Jesus passing by and cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
An opportunity to turn aside from the climb up to Jerusalem and to show love toward this blind man. Have mercy on me. Show some love toward me.
“What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, let me recover my sight.”
“Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”  And immediately he recovered his sight and followed [Jesus], glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. (ESV)
Commentator - “How infinite is the difference which this last journey of Christ has made in our journey of life, for it has opened to us the pathway to the Jerusalem which is above! He Who flinched not on His way to the Cross will never fail us, but will bring us safe and by the right way to, the city of our inheritance.”
In this short Gospel lesson today we see Jesus making the Journey of Love, to the cross for us.
He makes the Sacrifice of Love, by laying down His life for us.
And He even stops along the way and performs a miracle of Love. Never overlooking the sidelined and marginalized.
So we have set before us much to consider as we approach Ash Wednesday and Lent. Let us make this a time of contemplating the perfect love that Christ has shown to us and let that be our guide for all we do, during Lent and always.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.