January 30, 2022

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

“We Know in Part”

I’ve been watching Jeopardy a lot lately. I started getting into it again after Alex Trebec died because I was curious about all potential new hosts that they were trying out to take on his role. Then, when there were a couple of really good contestants that got into long winning streaks, it kept me watching as I got to know them and I wanted to see how they would do.

It’s funny that I enjoy watching Jeopardy because I’m not particularly good at it. I do very well when the Bible categories come up occasionally, and not bad on the vocabulary-based questions. But generally I don’t have a good memory for trivia, so I never imagine myself actually being a contestant like many other viewers might.

Watching Jeopardy actually reminds me that I don’t know everything. And particularly when the players do know most of the answers, their knowledge humbles me and teaches me a few things at the same time. This week I was sad to see Amy Schneider lose the game on Wednesday after a 40-game winning streak. She was an amazing player who seemed to know so much about so many diverse topics, but even Amy did not know everything, and she couldn’t think of the one country in the world with a name ending in the letter “H.” Nick got it at home, but he did pause the show and got it after a pretty long think about it.

Watching Amy over the last couple of months also made me aware of another area of learning in my life. Amy was the first trans-person to be a contestant on Jeopardy, an identity that I remember thinking was very strange in the past, and that made me rather uncomfortable. But watching Amy, and getting to know her, and rooting for her, and appreciating her skill and her warm personality, made me realize that I’m learning and growing in understanding. I’ll never know what it is like to BE a trans-person, but I’ll be happy to welcome trans-people in my community as neighbours and friends, just like anyone else. I wonder how many other people were impacted by Amy Schneider’s courageous and brilliant run on Jeopardy.

Of course, understanding and accepting differences and diversity among people has been shown throughout history to be extremely difficult for human beings. We tend to fear what we do not understand, often leading to discrimination, oppression, conflict, and war. We have tried to wipe each other out based on colour, culture, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity – sometimes through outright war, and other times through assimilation, forced conversion, or cultural genocide.

Our Scripture text this morning from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians picks up from the passages we’ve been reading the last couple of weeks. Paul is trying to address the conflicts and divisions right within the Christian Church at Corinth, and guide the people towards the unity with diversity that is God’s desire for human community.

After encouraging them that their different gifts and abilities are a blessing from the Holy Spirit that allow the one church to work together as a coordinated body, Paul tells them that beyond respecting and valuing their differences, there is a still more excellent way. It’s the way that Christians are expected to treat our neighbours whether we understand or appreciate them or not, and it’s the way of LOVE.

The Apostle tells them that whatever gifts they may have of knowledge, faith, or generous giving, these things become worthless if they are not shared with love. Think of someone who is called upon to provide personal care for their aging parent, for example. If every act of caregiving is delivered with impatience, resentment, or criticism of the one needing care, it doesn’t amount to much, does it? “Here’s your supper. I spent two hours making it, and you probably won’t even eat most of it. But here you go.”

“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.”

It’s a high calling that we have as Christians – not only to use whatever gifts we’ve been given, giving of ourselves generously for the common good. But we are called to do everything with love.

No, we won’t do it perfectly. We’ll each have our bad days when we just want to be appreciated, when we run out of patience, when we really do want to insist on our own way because we’re convinced that we are right, and when we say something awful that we wish later we could just take back after our unkindness has already done its damage.

The line in the text that struck me this week, and that I used for the title of this sermon was “we know only in part.” Paul actually uses it twice, first saying “we know only in part” in verse 9, and then saying, “I know only in part” in verse 12. Even the great Apostle does not know or understand everything. His only advantage is that he knows that he doesn’t know everything.

When I remember that I know only in part, it prompts me to seek input and feedback from others, recognizing that they may know or understand something that I don’t yet know or understand. It’s a good Presbyterian principle of how we do church – with Sessions and Presbyteries and even Committees making decisions together, rather than one person with authority deciding – because we have learned that any one of us knows only in part.

And when we listen, and learn, and come to know more together, our passage today reminds us that we need to be gentle with each other – showing love rather than judgement when each of our blind spots is revealed.

The question of knowledge is centre stage in our society these days, as we continue to struggle through this long and ever-changing pandemic. Almost every night on the news, we hear from experts and try to understand what we’re dealing with and how we can keep ourselves and our communities safe and well.

We keep having to hear from the experts again and again because they’re still learning too. Remember back when we thought that the Coronavirus was going to spread to our homes on our groceries, and we spent so much time wiping everything down and disinfecting surfaces everywhere?

Eventually, through research and experience, we learned that the bigger issue was how it spread through the air – first through droplets, and then even more freely than that. Remember when they told us that masks were not necessary, or later when a homemade cloth mask would do? Remember when two vaccine doses were expected to be sufficient?

Even now, we know only in part. It’s not because anyone is lying to us or trying to trick us. It’s just because we’re all still learning. You see, it’s not just me or just you that doesn’t have all the knowledge yet. Even if you put us all together with everything we’ve all learned, we would still have some gaps. As Paul said, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.”

The Apostle is probably talking about knowing or understanding God or the meaning of life, as opposed to best practices for avoiding Covid infection or how to rid the world of this terrible virus. But I appreciate the hopefulness of Paul’s statement. We don’t understand everything. We don’t know everything. Our seemingly sure conclusions of the past may be proved wrong or incomplete one day. But in the end, love will endure. It’s the only thing that is eternal.

And it makes me wonder… when we look back on these years of pandemic, when we finally get through it, will we be able to describe LOVE as something that guided and undergirded our struggle together through this time?

I have to admit that I don’t FEEL a lot of love towards the folks who formed a convoy of trucks and descended on Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates and demand their personal freedoms. It made me afraid for my friends and family in that city, especially with fringe leaders in the protest suggesting a Canadian version of the U.S.’s January 6th insurrection last year, and the personal threats against politicians and other leaders.

I think what’s happening is that people across the country are getting so tired and frustrated with the pandemic that their anger is flaring up. Unfortunately, it’s not being aimed at the virus itself and directed into logical actions to fight and overcome the pandemic. But instead, a mob mentality is taking over, and the anger is being aimed at the authorities that are desperately trying to get us through this thing with vaccinations and restrictions intended to stop the spread.

And it creates a challenge for us as people of faith who are frustrated and angry too – to try to be patient and kind, to be determined not to let ourselves become arrogant or rude towards those who cannot seem to understand how this virus spreads and how dangerous it is to our vulnerable populations. And it is a challenge for us to keep in mind that we also do not know everything, and we won’t until that glorious day when we see God face-to-face.

In the meantime, we have to open our eyes and our hearts to recognize and participate in the LOVE that is all around us – the love of God that is being expressed and lived out every day through our weary health care workers, through so many people making sacrifices to keep others safe, through vaccines being administered and shared around the world, through families, and neighbours, and teachers, and front-line workers, and YES, truckers too, doing everything they can to keep good things going and caring for one another despite the challenges of these days.

We know only in part. But let us keep learning from one another. We become frustrated and angry sometimes too. But let us be determined, with God’s help, to love one another above all. Because Paul is right: “faith, hope, and love abide.”

Love is here. It hasn’t disappeared. It’s the thing that never ends, by God’s grace. “Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”