Scripture: 1 Corinthians 13
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
August 7, 2016
The news recently has been heart-breaking for police officers so I thought I would share a light-hearted story about a police officer. A woman was tailgating a man in front of her. The man in front of her came to a yellow light, slowed down, and stopped. The tailgating woman behind him went ballistic, pounding on her horn, screaming in frustration, yelling expletives, with a few irate hand gestures – all because she had wanted to drive through the yellow light. She was obviously in a hurry. Still in mid-rant she heard a tap on her window, looked up and into the face of a serious police officer. The officer ordered her to exit the car with her hands up – he took her to the police station. She was searched, fingerprinted, photographed and placed in a cell. After a couple of hours a policeman approached the cell, opened the door and she was escorted back to the booking desk where the arresting officer was waiting. He said, “M’am, I am awfully sorry for the mistake. You see as I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn and cuzzing a blue streak, I noticed the ‘What Would Jesus Do license’ plate holder, the ‘Follow Me to Sunday School’ bumper sticker, the chrome-plated fish emblem on the trunk and ‘My boss is a Jewish carpenter’ decal on your back window. Naturally, I assumed the car had been stolen.
When we live life at dizzying speeds, sometimes our souls are lost in the process. It’s not that we are rejecting God, it’s just that we don’t have time for God. We don’t struggle with morality, but with the clock. We don’t feel guilty because of sin, but because we have no time for our family, our friends, our God. It’s not sinning too much that is killing our souls, it’s our schedules that are annihilating us. Most of us are not coming home staggering drunk, but we may come home staggering tired, worn out, drained. Tiredness is just as debilitating as drunkenness. Speeding through life endangers our relationships and our souls (Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality, pg. 96).
In our scripture passage this morning, the Corinthians are caught up in the rat race of life. Working harder, competing to be on top, struggling to be number 1. The church at Corinth was Paul’s most challenging congregation. There were significant class distinctions between the rich and the poor and there was abuse of the poor by the wealthy. There were divisions; there were factions; there were claims of superiority based on the possession of particular spiritual gifts. Many of the members of the First Christian Church of Corinth were selfish, haughty, egotistical, fighting to the top for power and prestige. In fact, there was a saying back in that day, if one was particularly vain and self-centered; if one was particularly coarse and objectionable, and stepped on others to get ahead, that person was told, “You are acting like a Corinthian.” Yes, Paul’s most challenging congregation was the church at Corinth.
The Corinthians followed a steep social pyramid. They all wanted to be on top of that pyramid and so they would claim that their particular spiritual gift was most significant. I had a professor who had us actually act-out this passage in order for us to fully comprehend what life was like in the Corinthian Church. So, I am going to have us do that this morning. I am going to divide the congregation into 4 groups. Those sitting on my far left, I want you to be the tongues of mortals (that is, the teachers) and I want you to recite a few commandments over and over again: “Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t lie.” When it comes to you recite those three commandments aloud repeatedly. When I come to the word “angels”, I want the second session to sing the “Hallelujah” chorus and you will sing it repeatedly. When I say noisy gong or clashing symbol, I want you, Lara, to make the piano sound like crashing keys. When I come to prophetic powers, the social concerns group, I want the third section to shout the slogan, “Make peace, not war.” And when I come to the part that says, “understand all mysteries,” I want my far right, the spiritual group to chant, “Om,om, om.” Meanwhile, I am going to try to read the passage. (Act out passage.)
Do you hear what was going on in the Corinthian Church? There was so much noise; so many claims of superiority, the Corinthians were moving at neck break speed to be on top – that the Corinthians missed the message of Jesus altogether – the message of love! Extraordinary gifts, grand abilities and skills, extravagant actions are absolutely worthless without love. There is a great quote by Fred Craddock, a famous DOC preacher who recently passed from life to Life, but he said in his final years of life, “When I was in my late teens, I wanted to be a preacher. When I was in my late twenties, I wanted to be a good preacher. Now that I am older, I want more than anything else to be a Christian. To live simply, to love generously, to serve faithfully and to leave everything else to God.”
According to the Apostle Paul, we can be firm in our faith – following the Ten Commandments, believing that God is Creator of Heaven and Earth, but if we don’t have love, we have nothing. We give everything away (empty our checking account, give all of our retirement funds to an organization in need, sell our homes, cash in our insurance policies); we can sit on the corner with nothing left but what we are wearing and give it all to help the poor, but if we don’t have love, we have nothing. We can know it all, we can work hard to study all about nuclear science, medicine, philosophy, psychology, theology – we can memorize the entire Bible frontward and backwards, but if we don’t have love, we have nothing. The bottom line is ppl really don’t care how much we know, until they know how much we care.
Yes, this particular chapter on love, often read at weddings and funerals, probably the most famous chapter in the entire New Testament is a chapter that the Corinthians desperately needed to hear. It is no accident that Paul wrote this chapter to the Corinthians, but it is a chapter that we also so desperately need to hear in our day and age. Our society reflects the society of Corinth in many ways. And so Paul says to Corinthians and Paul says to us, “There is a more excellent way…”
“Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not envious or jealous. Love is not boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Loves bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
Perhaps you are feeling weighed down this day by the burden of impatience. Maybe you find yourself struggling with envy. Maybe you are facing resentment and bitterness toward another. If you find yourself standing in the shoes of a Corinthian this morning, I invite you to give the gift of Sabbath to your heart, and let it go. Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes, it is the pause that transforms our very way of being in this world.
As I re-read verses 4-7, I want you to substitute the word love with your name and know that is who God created you to truly be. “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 the wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things; love believes all things; love hopes all things; love endures all things.”
Yes, this is your essence. This is your true nature. This is what it means to rest in the arms of love.
(Communion) As we come to this table, I am reminded of a poem entitled “Time to Get Back to Jesus”:
When you can’t remember the 22 characteristics of a good husband or wife, it’s time to get back to Jesus.
When a Bible Scholar tells you to study the Bible, dissect the Bible, critically analyze the Bible, contextualize the Bible and you are stuck in the middle of Leviticus, it’s time to get back to Jesus.
When you can’t decide whether to do the dishes, mop the floor, mow the lawn, wash the clothes, or change the baby’s diapers, it is time to get back to Jesus.
When you are driving your car to basketball, baseball, football, softball or just plain ball, and the road becomes your home, it is time to get back to Jesus.
In the midst of busy lives, we come to this table where Jesus is the host. Jesus not only provides rest that refreshes, but rest that transforms our very way of being in this world.