Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jan 31 sermon

Here are sermon notes from the Jan. 31 message on I Corinthians 13.
I should tell you that I asked our accompanist to play The Wedding March before I began. Just so that I could make explicit that we were NOT treating this as a wedding text today.

Here comes the bride . . .
This scripture lesson is one that we often hear at weddings and associate with sweet and sentimental feelings. I am not preaching my valentine’s day sermon early this year. Instead, I am hoping to challenge all of us untangle this passage from the accessories and ritual words of weddings and couples and hear it as it was meant to be heard when Paul first wrote it: As instructions to church members about the relationship that ideally existed between them.
Paul didn’t write this for use at Corinthian weddings. He wrote it as part of his attempt to get the church in Corinth, a church that was deeply divided amongst themselves and full of bad feelings and bad manners, to get that church to live up to their calling in Jesus Christ their Lord.
What could possibly go wrong in a church so close to Jesus’ time, a church founded and nurtured by none other than the Apostle Paul? Well - what went wrong was that people got involved.
We remember that the church in Corinth was struggling because they were a faith community living in opposition to the culture around them. In a city where the many Roman gods were worship, the church of Corinth claimed Jesus as their one and only Lord. In a city where the wealthy and the poor don’t mix, here in this church the rich and the poor shared a common meal in the context of worshiping together. Where the Jews and the Gentiles were separated by the ritual purity laws of the Jewish tradition, in the church in Corinth, Jews and Gentiles were in community together. With all these differences within the Corinthian church, it is no surprise that tensions arose in several ways.

What could possibly go wrong in a church so close to Jesus’ time, a church founded and nurtured by none other than the Apostle Paul? Well - what went wrong was that people got involved.
What we forget is that the church is a human institution and whenever any group of humans get together, there will be disagreements, especially in times of change and transition. Conflict in and of itself is not a bad thing, it is how we choose to handle the conflict that makes it good or bad and this morning’s reading provides us with a Christian way of dealing with conflict.

One way to try to deal with conflict is to try to reason yourself out of it. This may be my favorite way, and I’m not alone. Let’s just figure out what is reasonable and makes sense and is intelligible. The church through the ages has done this.

In the early church, Christians began developing creeds that both encapsulated their understanding of the faith and served to separate the "orthodox" from the "heretics." The word creed comes from the Latin word credo, "I believe." What would have happened had the church put more emphasis on the word amo, "I love." ???

One wonders why no one in church history has ever been considered a heretic for being unloving. People were anathematized and often tortured and killed for disagreeing on matters of doctrine or on the authority of the church. When the Biblical record shows that Jesus, our Lord, and even Paul, our first theologian, were far more interested in how we live our lives before God and how treat each other than what we believe.
People are more interested in that, too. Just as when we snipe at each other, and talk behind one another’s backs and undermine each other . . . people notice that and say, “Why would I want to belong to that church?” When church members genuinely care for other church members - when they visit them, share with them, spend time with them, speak well of them, their neighbors and friends notice. The second century theologian Tertullian said that even Christianity's harshest opponents had to admit of Christians, "See how they love each other!"

Thought: Marriage counselors ask partners who are quarreling - which is more important - being proved right, or being in a loving relationship? Being right, or being loved and being loving? And the answer is often, I’d rather prove that I am right. But God is not like that. God actually IS right! In the relationship with people, God is, over and over again, in the right. The people do things, think things, say things that are wrong. God could insist that on His rightness and His righteousness. But he makes the love move - and makes the relationship central.

If you look at the original text as it was written in Greek, you will find that Paul uses the Greek word agape when he speaks of love. This is a special kind of love that is different from the love shared between friends or romantic love. This is a self-sacrificing love that is unconditional and given freely. Agape love is more difficult than other loves because it is most like God’s love. This is the way we are loved by God. That’s why experiencing this love and embodying this love isn’t just an option, or an ideal to be held up for exceptionally spiritual Christians. It is - it has to be the norm. It is central.

Stephen J. Patterson Biblical Theology Bulletin, May 2009
We have to take 1 Corinthians 13 seriously since the reality is that Paul's fundamental experience of God--whether in religious ecstasy or in community relationships--revolves around the experience of love received and given. He cannot understand God, and especially God working through Christ, apart from love (Rom 5:8). To discover Christ, and to be in Christ, is to allow the love of God to control one's whole life (2 Cor 5:14). For Paul there is indeed a way that is higher than all others. It is not faith; it is not hope, or righteousness, or holiness. For Paul, "the highest way" is love.
* 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13 paraphrase Nathan Nettleton

Our spiritual gifts are not the most important thing.

I could have the gift of the gab;
........I could speak like a news reader
................or pray in the language of angels;
but if I don’t love would be a waste of breath; meaningless as a blast of static.

I could have the gift of prophecy,
........the ability to speak God’s word into any situation;
I could have the gift of knowledge and insight;
........the ability to get my head around God’s mysteries
................and make them clear to everyone else;
I could have the gift of earth-shattering faith, that reduces mountains to molehills;
I could have all this and more,
........but if I was devoid of love,
................I’d still be a waste of space.

I could give away everything I owned
........and burn myself out in the fight for justice;
I could throw my body in front of an oncoming tank prove my passion for peace;
but if I do it all without love,
........I’ll have achieved precisely nothing.

Love is willing to hang in there for the long haul;
........Love is always ready to do something for someone else;
Love does not begrudge others their success;
........nor flaunt its own.
Love is not arrogant or rude, doesn’t force its own agendas
................and trample others down in the process.
Love does not get all worked up over every little thing
........or hold grudges and dream of revenge.
Love takes no pleasure in dishonesty, however daring;
........but it is the first to celebrate truth and integrity.
Love holds firm under pressure,
........keeps believing the best of others,
................maintains its hope when all seems lost,
........................and toughs it out, no matter what.

Love is forever!

The gift of prophecy will reach its use-by date,
........speaking in strange tongues will have had its day;
................all our knowledge will be useless and forgotten.
What we know now is a mere drop in the ocean,
........and even prophets can tell us only a little of God.
But the time is coming when everything will be made whole,
........and these things that are less than whole
................will all be over and done with.

When we were children, it was okay to speak like children, think and behave in immature ways;
but sooner or later we’ve got to grow up,
........we’ve got to grow beyond those childish limits.

All our present attempts to make out God’s truth
........are like trying to see under water with the naked eye.
But the time is coming when it will snap into focus,
........when we’ll stand face to face with the fullness of truth.
Now we know only a fraction - then we’ll know it all;
........God will be known to us as well as we are known to God.

There are only three things we have now that will last forever -, hope, and love -
................and the one that matters most is love.

©2001 Nathan Nettleton

In the meeting to come - in the year to come, we’ll be discerning and discussing and doing what God calls us to do together as a church. We’ll also be disagreeing sometimes. And that’s OK. As long as we disagree with each other patiently, humbly, with integrity, with endurance to hang with one another, even though. As long as we love.

Now faith, hope love abide, these three. But the greatest of these is love. May it be so for us. Amen.

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