February 3, 2019
The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
(1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13; Luke 4:21-30)
Is there's an app for that? Of course there is!
Think of any first-world problem you can imagine and, thanks to the genius of computer geeks holed up in their mom's basement somewhere, you now have the solution at your fingertips via millions of applications or "apps."
Need to get your "to do" tasks organized? You need the "To Do Reminder" app.
Are you always running late? You need the "Bounce" app, or the "Running Late" app that will text your friends to let them know you're a bit behind.
Need to track your daily walk around the block? Try the "Map My Walk" app.
Feel a compulsive need to take a picture of your lunch and share it to your disinterested friends? Of course, there's an app for that, too.
Some of these apps are about better productivity, while others are all about wasting time. All of them, however, have become an ever-present part of our lives.
Of course, none of these apps is a one-and-done deal. If you use enough of them, you know that an app is only as useful as the next update from the developer. We're constantly being reminded to download the next update, and we're also told what the app will do better when it's installed. Maybe it will make it less buggy. Maybe the update enhances the security features. Maybe the app has been remodeled with new graphics, or given it a cooler feature.
And sometimes, unless you update, the app will not work. While other times, you update only for the app or your phone to suddenly not work correctly – or what you view as “correct!”
Even if that is not the case, if you use apps, at some point, you must update. That's the way it works.
But while apps have made us better connected electronically, they haven't necessarily made us into better and more compassionate people. We might add a comment to a distant friend's Facebook post that offers sympathy for their illness, but, while we're typing, we ignore the distressed person sitting next to us on the bus.
We can Instagram a picture of our luscious lasagna dinner while walking past a hungry homeless person on the street. Somehow, getting the update should lead us to getting a clue, but for that we might need to go to a different source.
Paul was dealing with an app problem in Corinth - as in the "application of Christianity" that is. Even though they were first century Greco-Roman people living with nary a cell tower in sight, the Corinthians were acting like a bunch of selfie-taking narcissists instead of the church of Jesus Christ.
The list of problems in Corinth, in fact, was not unlike the ones we face in the 21st-century wireless world.
- They were as divided as two sets of social media trolls lobbing insults back and forth at one another (1:10-17).
- They were obsessed with celebrity teachers, always posting sound bites from their favorites (3:1-9).
- They seemed to have a relaxed view of sexual ethics, rather than clearing sordid affairs from their history (5:1-2).
- They might have used a legal app to draft lawsuits against one another (6:1-11).
- They may have Snapchatted pictures of food sacrificed to idols to those who were trying to eat kosher (8:1-13).
- The wealthier members of the community might have Instagrammed pictures of the Lord's Supper feast before their poorer neighbors got there and missed out on all the food (11:17-34).
The Corinthians were working all the angles, seeing their own reflections in the screen, and missing out on the richness of real Christian community.
So, Paul messages them that they need an update -- one that will not only make their community run more smoothly and in a more Christ like manner, but will also beef up their spiritual security and make the church more user-friendly to outsiders.
We'll call it "The agape update," AKA: “the love update.”
A few words here before we read the specs on this particular update. In the 21st-century world, we use one word to describe some widely ranging understandings of love. We might say, "I love this app" and, in the next sentence say, "I love my wife."
It's the same verb but with two very different meanings (at least, one would hope. If you love your wife in the same way you love a phone app, then we need to talk!). In the Greco-Roman world in general and the Greek language in particular, there were several different word choices for love that communicate its meaning more clearly in context. There's the word phileo, which is like the kind of friendship love you might have, maybe even with someone on the Facebook app. There's storge, which is the kind of parental love your mom might send to you when you post something cute on Pinterest. Then there's eros, which is the kind of romantic love one might look for on a dating app (or on some illicit apps that we won't discuss).
The word Paul uses here in 1 Corinthians 13, however, is the word agape, which is the kind of love that is less about typing your feelings in cute emoji’s than it is about upgrading to real, willful, sacrificial, unconditional, self-giving love.
In this famous chapter, which is popular among wedding planner sites, Paul lays out the details of that particular update, and how it turns the attention from taking selfies to taking action on behalf of others.
You may be gifted, but without the update, it doesn't really work
Paul has already noted in chapter 12 that the Corinthian church is gifted. But he says in 12:31, "Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way."
You're gifted, he says, but you need the one gift, that makes it all work. Without it, their community will crash like a "noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." You might have a ton of apps that give you the mysteries of the universe right at your fingertips, but if you don't have that agape, you're really just a person holding a box of silicon chips. You might even decide to give everything away, and make do with your old flip phone, but you won't gain anything if you don't have that agape.
In a community that embraces agape, however, that particular update changes everything. Instead of being at each other's throats, love makes them patient with one another and takes away the specter of jealousy. It pulls peoples' heads up from the minutiae of their own lives, and gives way to the needs of others without resentment, anger, judgmentalness or lack of trust. The agape update turns us away from the evil influences that can creep into our lives, and, instead, turn us toward the truth of the Gospel.
In short, this update is the one that enables the community of faith to bear, hope and endure all things for each other and for Christ. Indeed, once this update is installed, it will never fail.
Technology geeks know that when a new, upgraded operating system is installed on a phone, a tablet or a computer, the apps that the old system supported are often no longer useful. Paul says that once the agape update becomes widely downloaded in the church, other apps that were once so cool and hip, are now not so cool and hip.
The prophecy app, for example, pales in comparison to agape.
The knowledge of an app like Wikipedia? Not so necessary.
Even faith and hope, pale in comparison to the power of the agape app.
In fact, those apps will always be incomplete without the full update of agape type love. The self-obsessed way of the world makes people act like a bunch of spoiled kids, whereas the presence of agape leads the community to maturity, clarity and fulfillment for all. Faith and hope are great apps to have on hand at all times, but neither of them is as vital to the entire church operating system as agape.
How do I get this app?
It's interesting that Paul frames chapter 13 with two similar instructions. In 12:31 he says, "Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts," while in 14:1, he entreats the Corinthians to pursue love – for without love we are noisy gongs. The reality of agape is that it is really more an act of the will than it is a fleeting feeling. It's the kind of love that has to be chosen daily, prayed over, studied, practiced and constantly used in order to be effective. It's an app that's designed to be shared freely with others, and, when it is, it makes the whole community better reflect the presence of Christ.
As we know, most of the apps update automatically. Obviously, such is not the case with love. We have to be quite intentional about it. Truth is, the agape app is made available to us by the Holy Spirit. But it's totally on us to activate it and use it. And, it takes some practice, however, and a clear sense that we have the ability to share this love because Christ has shared it with us first through his sacrificial death on our behalf. As another love app designer named John put it, "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19). When we recognize how much we have been loved, it can increase our bandwidth for loving others in the model of Christ.
The Corinthians were in desperate need of this update, given their history of wrangling with one another. Paul's encouragement to download the agape app is no less important for us today when individuals, churches and denominations are in conflict with one another. In a world where many apps are places for trolls to gather, the church needs to be a people whose primary pursuit is love.
It's the best app ever!
Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13, N.T. Wright, British New Testament, Pauline Theologian and retired Anglican Bishop, tells of a practical joke Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart used to play on his father, Leopold -- who was also a musician. After a wild night out on the town with his friends, Wolfgang would stumble into the house, sit down at the piano and pound out a rising scale of notes. But he wouldn't finish the scale. He would just get up from the piano bench and go to bed.
Wolfgang knew the unfinished scale would drive his father crazy. Leopold would toss and turn in his bed, sleepless, until he had to get up, go to the piano and finish the scale his son had started.
"What we are concerned with here," Wright explains, "is the way in which Paul describes the call of love, and of life itself, as an unfinished scale, going ahead of us into God's future. The music of love, which will one day be completed, is therefore not just our duty. It is our destiny."
Let us go out and continue to work on this scale, and update our agape app!
Let us pray.
In today’s Gospel, we hear how the people of Nazareth were unwilling to listen to Jesus in the synagogue and rejected him. We pray today that we do not reject him but open up our hearts and minds to God’s message and make it an essential part of our daily lives. We pray to the Lord.
St Paul talks to us about the importance of Love; it is always patient and kind, never jealous, never rude or selfish; never boastful or conceited; always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope. We pray to the Lord for the grace to embrace true agape love in our lives in everything we do. We pray to the Lord.
We remember in our prayers our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who were killed this week in a bomb blast while attending Mass on Jolo Island in the Philippines. We pray that our loving Father receive them as martyrs and reward them with the joy of eternal life in His holy presence. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those who have died in road accidents, for the injured and for the emergency response services, and those who have died from exposure to the extreme cold during this week. We pray also for the bereaved families that they be consoled by the love and support of their caring communities. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those who are on our prayer list, that they find healing, comfort and love during their time of need and that the Lord will send abundant graces to them all this day. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father, we pray for your wisdom and for the hope your words hold out to us. God of love, you sent your only Son for our salvation and sent your Spirit to be with us forever. We turn to you now in our need, knowing that your love will never fail. Rain down your goodness across the universe and let us grow in your love – especially that of agape love, so that no matter who we meet and interact with each day, they may feel accepted, appreciated and loved. We ask all this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
God Love You +++
+ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Universal Catholic Church
San Diego, Ca