Sunday, January 31, 2016

All We Need Is Love - 1 Cor 13

1 Cor 13:1-13; CPC Commerce, GA; January 31, 2016

My eldest daughter is truly captivated by stories--Fairy stories and mermaid stories are some of her favorite--and most are interwoven with themes of love. Last night’s was of an 11th century Irish farm boy who was out staring at the stars one evening when a band of jolly miniature marauders swept him up and carried him off to a party for the princess of France who was to marry a man she did not love. So, the farm boy and his miniature friends kidnap her, which they feel is better for her, and bring her back to Ireland.  And somehow this princess is grateful, and so she falls in love with the farm boy and they live happily ever after.
How romantic...I guess. quite strange really.

From an early age stories are what shape our lives and inspire our living.
On our visit to D.C. we visited the King Memorial on Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.  My girls were mesmerized by what the heard and saw of his story.
In the book shop we picked up a story about a little girl named Ruby--the first black girl to go to an all white public school in New the face of parents who protested her presence and even boycotted by not sending their own children to the school, Ruby, my daughter, asked me: Why didn’t they want her at their school?

Ruby, a real child of the 60s, attended day after day, and each day she prayed for those who did not want her there. Eventually they accepted her and returned to school.

Our lives and living is our own story unfolding.  How is your story being told? Is it a love story?

We are gathered here this morning because we have been inspired, even transformed by the story of one man, and his example of living. His was a life marked by service and sacrifice. His was a life motivated by love--love of God and love of neighbor. I hope you know who I’m talking about.

It was his life that inspired groups of people to establish a Church in his name.
It is the story of his faithful followers who have inspired others, generation after generation, to continue to gather and seek to follow his example over the centuries.
We call ourselves Christians--followers of Christ.  
SLIDE: And over time stories of Christians are told.
Some of these stories are stories of Francis and his love of nature and service to the poor;
stories of Theresa and her love for the outcast and orphans…
stories of Christian families in Nazi Germany who housed Jews in the face of persecution
Even today it can be easy to find stories of Christians whose lives are truly about loving service, I saw it when I dropped off our food donations at the food bank on Friday…

Stories are told of those who have done less than loving actions--stories of Crusades and Inquisitions.

And there are stories of those who claim to do things because of their Christian faith which has gained the church a reputation as being hypocritical, homophobic, judgmental, and irrelevant.

How is our story being told?
How are we following along the way of Jesus?
Is our story a love story?

The Apostle Paul in early churches he helped guide, saw how easy it can be for those who gather in Jesus’ name to lose our way.
It was happening even just one generation removed from the early disciples.  
Paul uses words to describe what is going on in that early church:
words like envy, because this is what the Corinthians had (3:3);  boasting, this is what Corinthians do (4:7; 5:6); Puffed up, the Corinthians are (4;6)[1]  
People grappling over positions of power and authority.  
People bickering over who was truly worthy to be admitted into their company.  
And so Paul writes one of the most well known and beloved passages from the Holy Scriptures, in which he describes the most excellent way!

Love, Love, Love---it’s easy, so say the Beatles.

Well, not so fast, Paul McCartney and John Lennon.  
the Apostle Paul is quick to fill in some blanks of what love is and what love isn’t:
Turns out, it may not be so easy….

Slide: Fill in the blank
Slide: Answers (leave for remainder of sermon)
What do we think about aspects of this definition?
Let’s take a second.    
And think about some of your experiences this past week:
Did you have moments of impatience or when you were less than kind?
Were you envious or boastful or arrogant or rude at all during the last week?
Did you insist at any point that you were right and someone else was wrong?
How bout this...did you ever get irritated, with anybody? How much time you got?  
we’re not finished :)
Did you ever resent having to do something related to church or work, or home or family?  
Did something unfortunate happen to someone and, deep down. you were glad?

Love love love---it’s easy :).

It’s embarrassing for me to do this kind of exercise…
Paul says, “Before love, I was so childish, so selfish, absorbed in my own needs, and wants and desires.”
I’m quite childish as Paul suggests...
And my relationships suffer as a result..

It’s because loving is so difficult the church gets so easily distracted.
Instead of love being what defines us, we make up rules to determine who the good church goers really are.
Instead of love being our doctrine, we establish right thinking in order to determine who truly knows God.
it’s easier to argue over who should and shouldn’t be ordained than to love;
It’s easier to say who should or shouldn’t be married than to love;
It’s easier to determine who is or who isn’t worthy of God’s salvation, than to love;
It’s easier to insist the bible is infallible and inerrant....than to be obedient to the rule of love

And so we live at odds with one another in our own communities, and at odds with others of different beliefs, be they other Christians or people of other religions. And hatred continues to cause so much turmoil around the world.  I suppose psychologist Carl Jung was right when he said that a great deal of institutional religion seems designed to prevent the faithful from having a spiritual experience.[3]  

And we wonder why people are less and less interested in church…

Love, love, love -- it’s easy…

Paul goes on to say of love: “But when I become spiritually mature….”
Do you see what Paul’s getting at here?
For Paul love is not simply the most excellent way that is way too difficult to attain;
but it is something that we can do, and that works, and can transform our own lives for the better, and transform the world for the better.  

And it happens when I take myself out of the center of my little world and put others there.”  

A deeply spiritual practice —a way of life... a way of love.

Every time we are tempted to speak unkindly of an annoying colleague, a bossy sibling, or even an enemy country, might we consider the way of love: and, in that moment, transcend our ego.  
The late Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “When we put ourselves at the opposite pole of our ego, we are in the place where God wants us.”][4]

And by getting to the place where God wants us—I can only imagine is an awesome place to be—I don't hate my enemies, I don't even need to;
I don’t need to get someone back for wrong doings;
I don't need to worry about someone who spoke badly of me, two weeks ago even two years ago…;
I don’t continue to replay harmful and hurtful scenarios over and over in our minds: was she right, was I right?[5]   
And there is no selecting or profiling who is and is not worthy of love, because everyone is.
That’s the spiritual maturity Paul is talking about..that is leaving behind the childish ways....

And it makes a great love story, really!

I’ll share two love stories based on some of these characteristics Paul attributes as ways of love---
In Mexico City, where I lived for two years, I worked in ministry with a guy named Rob.  
Rob was a Civil Engineer from Due West, South Carolina.  
He had this simple way of living out the “always believing” aspect love. When he encountered a stranger who shared a sad story and asked for some money...Rob chose to believe their story, and offer to help--
Part of Rob job was to chaperone and assist exchange students--College students can sometimes do some really foolish things, and they have creative imaginations: there were times they would make up stories, and Rob would always believe and always hope they were being honest with him--
yes, Rob was taken advantage of I’m sure by this practice, Some might call Rob “gullible”

but Rob felt like it was his responsibility to love them by believing them, and it was on their conscience if they were not being truthful.  
I have a hard time believing my four year old when she tells me she did wash her hands before supper!
Rob’s example of love surely left an impression....

Love, love love, it’s easy

Watchman Née tells a love story of some Christians in China:
Two brothers, both Christians, had a rice paddy. Rice paddies need to be irrigated. Their paddy was halfway up a hill; others were lower down. In the great heat of the day they drew water and filled their paddy. In the evening they went to sleep. But while they were sleeping, the farmer lower down the hill dug a hole in the irrigation channel surrounding the brothers' field and let all the water flow into his field. The next morning the brothers saw what had happened, but they said nothing. Again they filled the channels with water. The following day they saw that their field had been emptied again, but they still did not say anything. They were Christians and felt that they should endure in silence. This happened every day for a week. Some people suggested that they stand guard in their field at night to catch the thief and beat him. They did not say a word in response; they just endured because they were Christians.

Now, listen as there is a shift in the story:
According to the human concept, the brothers whose water was being stolen, should have been walking joyfully...because they were enduring in silence. But strangely enough, even though they drew water every day and remained silent while others stole it, they did not have peace in their hearts. So they went to see a brother with some experience in the Lord's work and said, "We do not understand why we have no peace after enduring for seven or eight days. Christians should endure [all things], but we do not have peace in our hearts."
The wise brother said, "You have not done enough, nor have you endured enough. You should first fill the field of the person who has stolen your water. Then you can fill your own field. Go and try this, then see whether you will have peace within."
The next day they got up earlier than usual and filled the field of the person who had stolen their water, before filling their own field. Strangely enough, they became more and more joyful as they filled that person's field. When they came to fill their own field, they had peace in their hearts. After two or three days of doing this, the person who had stolen their water came to apologize, saying, "If this is Christianity, I want to hear about it."

Love love love--it’s easy!
What is the story being told about your life, and about my life?
From this day, I pray we chose the most excellent way and see how the story is told:
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.
And on that day, we will be fully known, and loved for who we are just as we will fully know what life is meant to be when lived in love.

[1] Christopher R. Hutson’s article on 1 Cor 13, “exegetical perspective”. Feasting on the Word, ed. D. Bartlett, BB Taylor, WM/JK Press, p 307.
[2] As quoted by Richard Rohr in “Holding the Tension” audio series.
[3] Karen Armstrong, “Compassion’s Fruit,” AARP Magazine, March & April 2005, 60-62.
[4] As quoted by Karen Armstrong in  AARP
[5] Richard Rohr, Holding the Tension, Audio Disk 2

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