I Corinthians 13
Wednesday, March 15th, 2006
I’m grateful to Reverend Mudie at Cornwells Methodist for choosing I Corinthians 12 last week at our first community Lenten service. I’m grateful because it gave a great lead-in to our looking at the 13th chapter this week. Hopefully, you’ll see this blend together nicely. Maybe if you just think of this as a tag team wrestling match you’ll get the idea.
I Corinthians 13 is a great passage, and one of my favorite. I never get tired of it, though it is a passage that I have read perhaps more than any other in the Bible because it is very often read at (?) weddings.
It’s a great passage for weddings because in it Paul was trying to help a young congregation deal with the problems and controversies that had arisen over differences in people’s experiences and understanding of the Christian faith. Like two people getting married, the task of this new congregation was to blend people with different perspectives on life into one entity. That isn’t always an easy task. And Paul spent a good deal of time answering questions, and giving guidance. But then he paused in the middle of all that to tell them of this most important thing they needed in accomplishing that objective of unity. He told them about Love. And that is our theme for this evening.
As we think about the various denominations of the Christian Church – only a few of which are represented here in these services, too often the question we ask is “what is it that makes us different?” That’s only natural. We have different traditions, different doctrine, and different understanding of the Christian message – much like the young Church in Corinth. And it’s too often the tendency to emphasize the differences. I’d like us to resist that temptation and focus instead on the question “What makes us the same?” We gather here from denominations and traditions that over the years have gone off on various branches and diverging lines. Tonight, I’d like us to think of what we have in common. Tonight I’d like us to think about “Where the lines Cross.”
I think that’s a wonderful thing about doing these kinds of services. Here we have the opportunity to concentrate on what we have in common, rather than on what are the differences. Here we can strive to we see our differences as enriching rather than divisive! That’s what Paul tried to tell the Corinthians. That’s why he wrote these incredible words we read just a while ago.
Let me ask you this. Each of you answer this to yourself. What makes you who you are? If you’re a Presbyterian, a Methodist, or a Lutheran, why? I’ll bet if I asked you individually, a large number of you would say you belong to the denomination you do for the same reason I am Presbyterian. What do you think that reason would be? My parents were! George and Millie Brecht were Presbyterians, and they had a son and their son grew up in the Presbyterian Church.
It’s “tradition.” Think of old Tevya in “Fiddler on the Roof” singing about Tradition! Unless there are other circumstances, unless we have moved, or we have grown at odds with our tradition, or we’ve been inspired to think of our faith differently somehow, we are who we are because of our tradition. it guides who we are. And that’s great! Our traditions are what make us feel comfortable. They are the things that help to give us a better understanding of our faith. They give us identity. And to some extent, they help us to understand a little better that which is not understandable. Through our traditions, we “finite” people try to understand the infinite. All of that is wonderful!
But I’m sure you know, it’s not always as uplifting as that. Families have been torn apart by different traditions. Wars have been fought over traditions. People have been excluded, silenced, and even burned at the stake. You have to know that the way those differences have divided people has got to grieve our God!
Even styles of worship within denominations have caused divisions. We are threatened by that is beyond the “familiar.” We hear different styles of music, and we think “That music cannot be godly!” Why, is that? I don’t know if you’ll agree, but too often it’s because it’s different from what we were taught was godly!
I like Charles Wesley. (All the Methodists just got excited!) “Hey, he likes Wesley!” Charles Wesley wanted his message and his worship to appeal to people. He wanted to touch people’s lives with that which was familiar. So he went out and listened to the music they listened to, and he came back and wrote Christian words to their music. Do you know where he got his songs? Many of them were tavern songs! Charles Wesley was the Contemporary Christian music producer of his era.
But do you know what happened to his music? It got put into hymnbooks. And after many years, people slowly began to include Wesley’s “contemporary” music in their “sacred music.” My friends, the same thing has happened in every era! In every age, people have taken what was considered “secular” in style, and incorporated it into the sacred. But the problem has also been that, in every era that process has been uncomfortable to people. It can be tough to alter traditions they can become sacred to people themselves.
So, how do you keep that wonder and beauty of tradition while adding to it to create a realm where people can worship in new and meaningful ways? How do you do so while still honoring those whose traditions are rich and meaningful to people? That’s the challenge of the Church. And that is what has always happened in the Church. Otherwise, we’d all be singing Gregorian Chant!
So we gather in these kinds of services, we interact with other people who might be from a different tradition than ourselves. And we are faced with the question, “How do we encourage people in their faith when they might be part of a different tradition?” And what if it’s a tradition with which we don’t happen to agree? Sure it’s easy to encourage and uphold people who believe like we do!
That’s a lot to think about it. But as you do so, let me commend to you these incredible words of Paul. In this chapter he says that we could have the greatest faith, the greatest understanding, and even the greatest spirit of giving and sacrifice ever, but if we have not love, it means nothing. Paul said it a lot better that me, but the message is the same.
Love, he says, does not insist on it’s own way! That right there is challenge enough to occupy the human race for the rest of whatever! We humans tend to want things our way. That’s our nature. It’s hard to follow this “more excellent way.”
“Love is not irritable or resentful, it is not arrogant or rude.” The way we present ourselves to others and treat others shows our love. Think about that the next time you lose your temper, or make a cynical or sarcastic remark. Or if you’re an “I told you so” kind of person, listen to this one. “Love does not rejoice in the wrong but rejoices in the right.” And love is a tremendous source of strength. For “love bears all things, love believes all things, love hopes all things, love endures all things.”
Those are all practical ways that love is lived out in our lives. They are challenging enough each by themselves. But let me give you the best perspective of all in this. Paul writes, “For now, we see in a mirror dimly.” My friends, I think that may be the most important theological phrase in all the bible! Whatever our understanding of things, whatever our level of learning, we all see in a mirror dimly. We only see in part. And someday we will know. Someday we will see things as they truly are!
I have my vision of that day! (I know that’s kind of scary, isn’t it?) I have this vision of heaven. In fact, I’ve had this vision for a long time! On that great day, we will all gather in a great amphitheater. In my vision it’s made of clouds. And with great fanfare and choruses of angels, God will step to the podium – it’s made of cloud, too. And God will then tell us the truth about all things. And we’ll all be sitting there with our religious checklists, and our theologies, and our pointed understanding of all that we thought was “essential,” and “right.” and we’ll be checking things against God’s words!
In that scene, I picture a lot of embarrassed looks on people’s faces! I think we’ll hear a lot of, “Un oh!”s, and “Oh boy, I was wrong about that,” (with a smattering of “I told you so”s.) Do you see it? The reason I share that vision with you is to emphasize Paul’s statement that we see in a mirror dimly. But also, the more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that after we’ve checked through our lists, after we’ve boiled things down from the long list of things we thought were essential and right, after we’ve crossed off all the things we’ve gotten wrong, maybe the only thing we’ll have left on all of our notebooks will be these three things – Faith, Hope, and Love.
I know that’s my fantasy. But if it were true, wouldn’t we have a pretty good list? “Faith, Hope, and Love remain.” In the meantime, in the time we have before that day, please do honor your traditions. Please do understand the beauty of that which you believe. Do grow in your appreciation for your faith and the hope it gives you. But make it the objective of your love to strive to understand and honor the traditions of others. May the love, of which Paul speaks so eloquently and so powerfully, be that by which you live your life!
Eternal God, your love for us is infinite and everlasting. Help us to have that love within us. Help us to love and to accept others. Help us to reach out with the love of Christ our Lord. For we pray in his name, Amen.