February 3, 2013

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

“Everything with Love”

We talk a lot about LOVE in the church. We read scripture about love:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, God’s mercies never come to an end.” Lamentations 3:22

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” 1 John 4:7-8

“Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.” Psalm 36:5

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:43-44

And we sing hymns about love:

“Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down.”
BOP #371

“A new commandment I give unto you
that you love one another as I have loved you,
that you love one another as I have loved you.”
BOP #225

“What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!”
BOP #242

“Jesu, Jesu, fill us with you love;
show us how to serve
the neighbours we have from you.”
BOP #229

In our faith community, Sunday by Sunday and week by week, we gather to remind one another about the unconditional love that God has for each one of us, and we pray together that God will help us to love in the same way. And yet, it is so difficult to love.

Sure, there are some people that are easier to love. There are some people that we just seem to “click” with… people that we can talk to easily, people who always seem to understand because we’re on the same wave length. We work together harmoniously and enjoy spending time together because the relationship is easy. Misunderstandings are rare and the level of trust is high, and love comes naturally between us.

Maybe you can think of a few people in your life with whom you share that kind of relationship… perhaps a member of your family, maybe a co-worker, maybe a good friend or two. Those easy relationships are a wonderful gift… a gift for which we can give thanks to God.

But not all relationships come so easily. Some take a lot of work. Others are very difficult to maintain even with a lot of work. And being Christians doesn’t mean that those relationships will get easier. It just means that we’ll be reminded week by week of the challenging call that we have accepted, as followers of Jesus, to do our best to love as God in Christ has loved us.

As you consider your own relationships, there may be one or two that come to mind that are difficult… co-workers, or family members, neighbours or fellow church members with whom you find yourself in conflict, misunderstanding, power struggles, hurt feelings, or maybe you just get on each other’s nerves.

We’re not the first Christians to struggle with conflict and communication issues, and we won’t be the last either. Back in seminary I took a preaching course that was focussed on preaching from 1 Corinthians, and it was all about preaching to congregations in conflict.

You see, the Corinthian congregation was in conflict. They were a very diverse community living as Christians in a big city with people from many different religions and cultures. And they didn’t always agree with each other or get along with each other very well. In fact, the conflicts had become severe enough that the Apostle Paul hears about their troubles and writes to the community to try to guide and help them.

He writes: “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.”

A key point of division for the Corinthian Christians was around some of their members who could speak in tongues and others who couldn’t. One might think that those who had the gift of tongues could use it, and others could listen and contribute their own gifts to the worship, but it wasn’t as simple as that.

Those who had the gift were very proud of it, and they tended to look down on the others that didn’t have it. That may have led to the people without the gift deciding that speaking in tongues was a pretty silly thing to be doing. And you can see how the conflict would quickly escalate.

Well, I’m happy to say that we don’t have that problem here at St. Andrew’s. I don’t think any of us do much speaking in tongues! But we’re not completely conflict-free either. We’ve got a pretty diverse group of church members too. We’ve got people with different preferences and priorities. We’ve got lots of different committees and groups, lots of different ministries taking place in and through our congregation. And sometimes in this relatively small space, with all the different personalities, we don’t always get along perfectly either.

Most of the time, our issues arise from problems in communication. But then, once someone’s feelings have been hurt, the miscommunication can become a conflict, and the conflict can become a division, and the division can make every other issue, or project, or ministry difficult to do together because we don’t trust each other anymore.

When Paul writes to the Corinthian church about their problems, he uses the whole of chapter 12 to write about the variety of spiritual gifts that were represented in their community. And St. Andrew’s is blessed with a variety of gifts too. He reminds them that the great variety of gifts, and services, and activities all come from the same Spirit of God that has blessed the people with various gifts, just as the Spirit chooses.

And, of course, he uses the metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ: “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”

And it’s not just that we should accept the fact that we are all different from each other. We could say that it would be NICE if we were all the same, but that’s just not the case, so we’ll have to live with our differences. But in fact, Paul is telling us that our differences and our different gifts and services and activities in the church are essential to the good functioning of the body of Christ. We need the eyes and the ears, the hands and the feet, and all the other parts. And we need them to work together in a somewhat coordinated effort.

After explaining the metaphor of the church as the body of Christ, and after encouraging the Corinthians to value and use the great variety of gifts, he ends the chapter by writing: “And I will show you a still more excellent way.”

If I preach from the pulpit with eloquence and insight every Sunday, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

If we come to choir practice every week, and sing in perfect and glorious harmony, but do not have love, we are nothing.

If we prepare and serve up a wonderful lunch for a couple of hundred people after a funeral, but do not have love, we gain nothing.

If we share our gifts of teaching, or administration, or visiting, or welcoming, or caring for the church building, or giving financially to the mission and ministry of the church, but we do not do it with love, it means 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.”

Love is so hard, isn’t it? Is there any one of us who can listen to that description of love and not feel convicted of our failure to live up to such high demands?

Indeed, the only one who has fulfilled that amazing description of love is God in Jesus Christ, who has loved each one of us from before we were conceived and will keep on loving us to the end of time. God loves us patiently and with kindness. God bears with us and endures through all the ways we get off track. And I believe that God has hope for us that we can learn to love as Jesus loved… maybe not perfectly, but more and more each day.

Today, may we each know, deep in our hearts, that we are loved. And may that love give us the inspiration, the courage, and the humility to do everything we do, to offer every one of our gifts, with love. Amen.