5/1/16 – Letters on Love – 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Posted on May 31, 2016 | Posted by Pastor Daniel
Pastor Daniel’s sermon for May 1, 2016 on 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
So there was this woman back in the day named Chloe. She lived in the diverse cosmopolitan city of Corinth. Chloe was part of this new church, this new thing called church that was centered on Jesus who had died and risen 20 or 30 years earlier. Paul had started the Corinthian church a few years back, but he had since moved on.
Chloe, well, we don’t know much about her. Pretty much nothing, actually, except that she sent a letter or message to Paul this one time. Some speculate that she was a powerful woman, with slaves and the like. Perhaps. Others think that she was married to a leader of the church or was a leader herself. Highly possible. But we don’t really know.
So, I prefer to think of her as a Confirmation student in Corinth. An eighth grader, who really liked things back in sixth grade when Paul was there, but is a little worried about the church, now. So, she sends him a letter.
I miss you! Confirmation is such a drag without you here. Seriously, the games are boring and the boys are gross. This one kid, he eats like 8 pieces of pizza every night and then he starts in on the cookies like he’s parents starve him all week or something. Ugh, Jordan.
But really, it’s more than that. It’s more than just Confirmation. The whole church is sort of on edge these days. Everyone’s fighting and my dad goes to these long meetings at night and then he comes home and talks about them with my mom until well after bed time. Dad even said I shouldn’t hang out with Crispus because something about how his dad thinks the church should be run, but mom said that’s crazy and I should hang out with who I want.
And it is crazy! How did this happen? I mean, it wasn’t even that long ago that you were here. And these people, they’re still really into it. We get together all the time, and we sing and eat together. The message, the desire to know more about Jesus and live how he would have us live and share his love with everyone – that’s all still here. It’s just getting covered up by all this other stuff.
And we have all the same people here, too. Really cool and interesting people. We’re not like those hick Galatians. We’ve got these really ardent Jews who know the Bible back and forth. We’ve got compassionate Romans, faithful Africans, and really smart people from right here in town. And some of them are good leaders, and others are good at interpreting scripture, and some can connect the message to life, and some even speak in tongues. It’s awesome how talented this place is.
But, I think that might be where some of this fighting started, too. The adults don’t think we’re listening, but we are. We hear them argue over whether the really smart ones in the group are best, or the really faithful ones, or the kind ones. And of course, each one wants their talent, their passion to be the main focus of the church.
And so these factions start to develop, these groups who whisper with one another after church and sneer at people from another side, even though they just shared the peace with each other not more than twenty minutes earlier. And once these factions get started, it’s like they can find anything to fight over. They fight about who gets to eat first. They fight over whether you were the best leader we ever had, or if Apollos was. They fight over whether we can go to the town carnival. Every side has to stake a claim on everything and then defend it – even if the argument is stupid! Why do adults have to argue over such stupid stuff?
I think what I’m getting to, Paul, is that it’s like we don’t know how to live together. We’ve tried ordering ourselves based on who has the most important spiritual gifts. We’ve tried ordering ourselves based on who was the best leader. We’ve even tried ordering based on wealth! But it’s not working. And, I’m starting to wonder if the whole thing will collapse. We can be as devout and as talented as anyone, but if all we do is fight, what’s the point? We need you, Paul. How should – how can we live together? I’m afraid if we can’t figure that out, if we can’t figure out how to live together, how to be a community, well then I’m not sure any of the rest matters. Please write back soon. Your friend, Chloe.
It is good to hear from you, and congratulations on your upcoming Confirmation! Sorry class hasn’t been as fun recently, though I’m a bit surprised. Rumor has it that Apollos taught you some game called dodgeball after I left. They say it’s so fun people will be playing it for centuries. And don’t worry about the boys, they grow out of that gross stage. Usually.
I’m deeply saddened to hear about the fighting at church. And I think you probably hit the nail on the head – the hardest part is living together. I’ve been all over the world and this may be the most challenging thing about church – being in a community, and yet, as you said, it’s also the most important.
But there is a way. A way for a group of folks to be a community. A way for the church to really live out the gospel, together. A way that is better than what’s happening now. There is a way to live together. It is the way of love.
When you think of love, Chloe, you might be thinking of an emotion, a feeling you have toward that kid in class who sits two rows in front of you, or a feeling towards your parents when they hug you after a long day, or a feeling towards a beautiful one month old baby daughter who makes it worth waking up in the middle of the night just by smiling at you – to come up with a purely hypothetical example.
But there is also something more active about love. From that emotion, or maybe from something else, there is this strange decision we make, one that flies in the face of all logic, of all social expectations – a decision to care for another ahead of yourself. It’s this strange impulse we have within ourselves. That impulse, and acting on it – that’s love.
The impulse itself can be quite fleeting. There one moment and gone the next. And yet, though fleeting, it’s also oddly enduring. You can’t quite shake it. You can choose to not act upon this selfless impulse. But it will always nag at you.
It is, of course, not the only impulse we can choose to act upon. We also experience other, more self-serving, impulses. For example, there is this inner drive for more. We call that greed. This need we each feel to get more and more. More than we may need, but that doesn’t seem to matter. There is the impulse of power. This feeling within us to control another. And there is the impulse of fear, which, when acted upon, may be more focused on the self than any other.
My suspicion is that these impulses which are so hard to ignore might be at the root of the fighting there in Corinth. Living together is hard. But ignoring the siren call of greed, power, or fear. Ignoring the impulse to put yourself first, that makes living in this world together even harder. Which is why we need love. Love challenges these others. Love presents an alternative to grasping at more, grasping at power, or being grasped by fear.
And here’s the thing. The big thing. The thing that is really a gift from God: Love, not so much that emotion or even the impulse to be selfless, but love as in acting on that impulse, love as in being selfless and caring for one another. Love is a way. A way to be the church. A way to be a community. Love is a way to live together.
It sounds crazy, I know. Because, love feels so weak. Too weak. It feels like giving up and giving in. Like becoming a doormat for all those around you. But, it isn’t. Don’t be a doormat. Don’t just submit to whatever someone else says. Don’t do that. But do love. Put another ahead of yourself. Put their needs, their faith, their .. them first. Put them first.
I know it sounds like it won’t work. I know it sounds too frilly, too vulnerable, too easy to exploit. I know that the calls of power and greed and fear and so many other ways of living together are loud and enticing. But, here’s why I believe love can be the way, really the only way. See, this way of love was put to the test. It was put up on that cross. And all those other ways – greed, power, fear – they all killed love. But love rose again. Love was not beaten. Love, the way, persists. And if we’re going to reflect the one who died on that cross and rose again, well then love, the way, well, it’s really the only way to live together, to be in this world together.
There in Corinth, the way of love might not look a whole lot different than way things are right now, but it would feel different. All those great gifts would still be used and celebrated, but used and celebrated for the good of each other. All that discussion over who to listen to and what to do next would still happen, and your parents might still go to meetings at night, but it would all be geared towards caring for each other and this world. Love would provide a reason, a purpose to all the rest of this. I know it sounds weak. I know it sounds impossible. But, Chloe, I assure you, it isn’t. Through Christ, God has made a way, a way out of love. Your friend, Paul
Or, at least that’s how I imagined Paul’s first draft of his letter went. In his final draft, a draft sent not to Chloe, but to the whole church in Corinth, Paul said it quite eloquently.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have 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 do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” Amen.