Sunday, February 3, 2013

Reflections of God’s Love

A Sermon Presented to

St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church

February 2, 2013

On this most testosterone-filled of Sundays, I felt it only appropriate to bring balance into the day by reflecting on I Corinthians 13, entitled in some Bibles as “The Gift of Love.”

1 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. 2And 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. 3If 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.

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 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. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When 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. 12For 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. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Sometimes, a preacher takes on the role of a teacher, presenting a congregation with historical and textual insight, giving a fresh perspective, or enlightening the mystery behind a passage.

Other times, a preacher’s role is just to remind the church of truth that has already been established.  I believe that in this 13th chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he wanted to do just that—he wanted to remind the church in Corinth of the truth that already was.

Paul’s letter until now is full of direction, insight, and even admonition for the church.  He talks about immorality and divisions within the Corinthian church and he reminds them of expectations established long ago. 

In the 12th chapter, presented to us last Sunday, Paul discusses the variety of gifts within the body of the church—all necessary and all important.  But at the end of the 12th chapter, Paul sets us up for a return to the beginning, the beginning of our faith, before the establishment of the church and before the telling of prophecies.  Paul says, “before we discuss further how this body of believers will specifically run, let me remind you of your foundation.  ‘I will show you a still more excellent way’ to be a body of believers.  Let me remind you of we already know, of what you already know.” 

What do we already know?  Let’s start at the end of chapter 13: “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”  

Our foundation is not rooted by our faith or our hope.  Surely, these are a part of our solid ground—even essential pieces—but love is the firmament, the very beginning, the root of creation.  Paul sends us back to Genesis so that we might remember this:  we are created because of love.

God is patient: God is kind.  God does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth.  God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  God never ends.

We are created in God’s image.  We know this too from Genesis and Paul reminds us in verse 12:  “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, [that which] we will see face to face.”  When we look in a mirror now, in the present, we all have the possibility to see God in our reflection.   

What do we see in ourselves that is God-like?  If God is Love and we are created in the image of God, then we are love.  We are creations that are capable of reflecting the image of love back to God and back to humanity.  Be reminded of the truth of which you are capable:

You are patient; you are kind; you are not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.  You do not insist on your own way; you are not irritable or resentful; you do not rejoice in wrongdoing, but you do rejoice in truth.

Isn’t this freeing?  Say it over and over, again and again:  I am patient, I am kind.  Let love win in you and let love be your reflection.  Love frees us all from fear, from sin, from the burden of being un-loving.

When we look in the mirror and we stare at ourselves, it is easy to get lost in our un-holiness and our un-godliness or to get caught up in our human nature and beauty.  The things we so easily see in ourselves make it therefore hard to see God in our own image.  But our humanness is not something to be ashamed of—we carry the image of love, dim though it may be, with us every day.  And when we grab onto this image, when we choose to be of love and when we act in a spirit of love, we truly reflect the image of God to others.

It’s also easy to get lost in the discussion of spiritual gifts.  It’s easy to get stuck in chapter 12.  No, we are not all apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, interpreters; but, if not one of us is all, then what is each of us?  When we look in the mirror, we want to see a specific calling.  We want to know our role and we want to be known for our role.  This definition of roles extends beyond the roles that are within the church.  We want to know that we will be either great architects or teachers or lawyers and we want others to know that we are great in the roles that we play.

This is why chapter 13 has to be included in this letter.  If we speak, if we prophesy, if we teach, and if we heal, but we do not have love, we may be noisy but we have no substance.  If we do not first answer our call to love—and to love is our calling—then we have failed to firm our foundation.  What is the line from the hymn?  “They will know we are Christians by our love.”        

A story from the news this past week was about a man who went into a pizza restaurant and demanded money of another man whose role was cook.  The potential robber broke down crying, saying that he just wanted to feed his family.  Instead of acting out of fear, the cook told the man to wait while he prepared him a meal to take home to his family.  This is love, personified and reflected in the role of cook.      

Today, on this Sunday, a meal is prepared for us too.  The communion table is here before us because fear has been conquered, death has been conquered, and because love has won.  Prepare your hearts, not with a sense of obligation, but instead with a sense of freedom.  Be reminded of the truth that was, is, and is to come.  Be not afraid, be not proud, but be faithful, be hopeful, be filled with the gift of love. 



Pastoral Prayer and Lord’s Prayer

Oh Lord of all Lords,

In our conversations with you, we often confess to you our sins and our desires.  But allow us to confess our fears to you this morning, recognizing that those fears are often as disruptive and impeding to living full lives as our disobedience and our greed.

We confess to you our fear of loneliness and pray that you remind us that we are never alone.

We confess to you our fear of inadequacy and pray that you remind us that your call brings with it sufficiency.

We confess to you our fear that we will lose control and pray that you remind us in those moments that your spirit makes burden rest with ease.

Oh Guiding Presence, Caretaker, Deliverer, be with us with our fears, be with us in our sins, be with us in our praise.

Oh Joy, be with us this morning through it all.  Hear our prayer as we pray together, saying the words given to us by your Son, “Our Father…”