Sermon: Love Wins

Today I want to wrestle with just one tiny snippet from 1 John. It’s from 1 John 5:4, and it reads
“whatever is born of God conquers the world.” Whatever is born of God conquers the world.

What’s born of God? We talked about this last week. Love. God is love. God’s essence is love.
God exudes love. So, in the context of 1 John, it’d be fair to read this as “love conquers the
world,” or as we’re prone to simplify it these days, “Love wins.” Love wins.

If you’re looking for it, you can find this kind of thing all through the New Testament. So, I want
to look at another place where it comes up. It’s from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. 1
Corinthians 13. We often use this passage in weddings. But Paul wasn’t writing about romantic
love. He was writing about love within a community, and how that love shapes us for interaction
with the world, and most of all how love will never, can never be defeated. Love wins. Listen…

1 Corinthians 13 (CEB)

Love: the universal spiritual gift

13 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.

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.Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10 but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11 When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I’ve put an end to childish things. 12 Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 13 Now faith, hope, and love remain—these three things—and the greatest of these is love.

Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love
never fails. Whatever is born of God conquers the world. Love wins.

I really want to believe that. In the face of so much suffering and meanness, in the face of wars
that never end, in a country with more than 2,000,000 incarcerated, I desperately want to
believe that love will win.

But… how? Are we just kidding ourselves? In what way can we say love will win that isn’t just
wishful thinking or an evasion of reality?

My friend Jenny whom some of you have met worked for several years as the pastor for
pastoral care in a very large congregation. She performed an average of 60 funerals a year.
She baptized dozens of babies. Again and again, she prayed with people as they longed for
God’s power in their lives. As they prayed for healing, for cures, for answers, as they didn’t get
what they prayed for so desperately. What does it mean to say love wins in those situations?

Her perspective, over time and hard won in suffering, has become that the miracle always
comes. Or, in our language today, love always wins.

Let me share two stories she has told me:
One is about a classmate of hers from seminary named Jerusha. Jerusha had a four year old
daughter, Meesha. Meesha started having trouble seeing one day. Fast forward past months of
hospitalizations and tests and complicated vocabulary, and we get to the bad day: the day
Meesha was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive brain tumor in its fourth stage. As her
doctors prepared her daughter for surgery and chemo and radiation, Jerusha prayed. Friends
and family back in India prayed around the clock. The seminary community remembered her in
prayer every time we gathered in worship. Her preschool friends cut out crosses, and their
teachers printed scripture across them. Every day, Jerusha took a picture of her little girl, posted
a brief update online, and closed with these words, “Surely your prayers are working! Praise
God.” On good days and bad days, the same words. Nine months later: “Surely your prayers
are working. According to her doctors today, Meesha has no cancer in her body.” A year after
that: “Surely your prayers are working. Today, Meesha is one year cancer free.” The updates
keep coming. She’s not officially in the clear yet, but so far, the cancer has not returned.
Jerusha is absolutely convinced: her daughter is alive today because of a miracle.

Love endures all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never
fails. Whatever is born of God conquers the world. Love wins.

But what about when it doesn’t work out that way?

Her senior year of college, her friend Emily disappeared. Her car disappeared, too, so at first no
one was too worried. But when the weekend came and went, and Emily didn’t return, everyone
worried. Before long, the FBI was coordinating the investigation. Prayer services on campus were scheduled around the clock. Students and staff who had never darkened the door of the
chapel before, joined in. They prayed expectantly and we prayed desperately. They prayed
loudly and they prayed silently. They prayed for good news, but when the news finally came, it
was the worst kind. Our friend had been found; she was a victim of kidnapping and gun
violence. Emily had hoped to be an Episcopal priest. She had volunteered with a prison
ministry. So when their daughter’s killer was taken to trial, her parents addressed him in court.
They forgave him, they said, not because they wanted to, but because Emily would have
wanted them to. And when he was sentenced to die by lethal injection, they were the first to
publicly protest, because their daughter had adamantly opposed the death penalty. For the last
13 years, they have been petitioning on his behalf so that he might live.

Love endures all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. Love never
fails. Whatever is born of God conquers the world. Love wins.

Of course, that’s not the same thing as saying, it turns out how we’d like, and everyone lives
happily ever after. I wish that were true, but it’s not. Jenny’s two stories are night-and- day
different. Jerusha will tell anyone who will listen that her daughter got a miracle. Emily’s parents
received heartbreak.

And yet, I am convinced that in both of these love won. Both of these sets of parents stared
death in the face and did not let it win. Love won.

As we advocate for the common good and seek our city’s flourishing, as we work for justice and
seek to walk with mercy, as we rejoice and weep and suffer and die, as we live and as we
breathe, this remains true: Love wins.

Or, as we hear it one other place in the New Testament: “For I am convinced that neither death,
nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height,
nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in
Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is what we mean when we say, Love wins.