Sermon 1/31: “All We Need Is Love”

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,* but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant5or 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. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

-1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, ‘Is not this Joseph’s son?’ He said to them, ‘Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, “Doctor, cure yourself!” And you will say, “Do here also in your home town the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.” ’ And he said, ‘Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers* in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.’ When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

-Luke 4: 14-30

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Sermon 1/24: “It’s all in the (con)text”

My parents gave me a Flip video for Christmas with the promise that I would put my sermons on the internet for them to “check in” on me occasionally.  A month later, my husband and I decided to try it out, so below represents my very first attempt at sharing my own videos online… forgive the quality–we have not got a tripod yet!

Sermon Title:  Unity

Text:  1 Corinthians 12

What I want to talk about now is the various ways God’s Spirit gets worked into our lives. This is complex and often mis-understood, but I want you to be informed and knowledgeable. Remember how you were when you didn’t know God, led from one phony god to another, never knowing what you were doing, just doing it because everybody else did it? It’s different in this life. God wants us to use our intelligence, to seek to understand as well as we can. For instance, by using your heads, you know perfectly well that the Spirit of God would never prompt anyone to say “Jesus be damned!” Nor would anyone be inclined to say “Jesus is Master!” without the insight of the Holy Spirit.

God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful:

wise counsel

clear understanding

simple trust

healing the sick

miraculous acts

proclamation

distinguishing between spirits

tongues

interpretation of tongues.

All these gifts have a common origin, but are handed out one by one by the one Spirit of God. He decides who gets what, and when.

You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his “body”:

apostles
prophets
teachers
miracle workers
healers
helpers
organizers
those who pray in tongues.
But it’s obvious by now, isn’t it, that Christ’s church is a complete Body and not a gigantic, unidimensional Part? It’s not all Apostle, not all Prophet, not all Miracle Worker, not all Healer, not all Prayer in Tongues, not all Interpreter of Tongues. And yet some of you keep competing for so-called “important” parts.

But now I want to lay out a far better way for you.

Discipleship and Haiti

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

Matthew 25: 31-40

Last week I was driving into town and I noticed a church sign that said the following “ Even the demons tremble and believe.”  Now, I thought to myself, that must be one exciting church… I could just imagine the potential for hell-fire and brimstone on that sign-post, and I lost myself in visions of what sort of sermon that sign might be speaking of.

But for all my fascination and surprise—Presbyterians don’t often get the demons into their sermons, much less their church signs—I also found that, over the course of this week, my mind has gone back again and again to those words… “even the demons tremble and believe.”  The quote is from the book of James, and the author’s main agenda is to remind his readers that there is so much more to faith than what a person says with his tongue—what she says with her feet, and her hands, and her hearts, is equally important, if not more so, because it is with hands and feet and hearts that Christians demonstrate the character of belief in God.

And it was as I entertained these thoughts in my mind that the news began to filter in about the earthquake in Haiti.  News reports and images of overwhelming devastation flooded international and local news service, stories of thousands dead and more injured, of families torn apart and of the glaring need for a concerted response to the tragedy.

I began to wonder, what is it that we are called to be when things like this happen?  And so I turned to scripture, and to the church for answers.  I turned to Matthew 25 and it was there that I began to find an answer to my question.  In this story, Christ, is speaking to his disciples when he tells them a story about sheep and goats.  The word disciple is a latin translation of the word μαθητεύω, which means to follow.  The book of Matthew, then, could be understood as the book of “following,” of discipleship, for that is what the name Matthew means.

The story of the sheep and the goats, then, is a story about discipleship to disciples, people like us who have committed their lives to Christ and who are trying to learn how to live faithfully in to that commitment.  In it, Christ tells a parable about sheep and goats in order to illustrate a central point of discipleship;  That our actions matter.

He says:  when God comes, how you LIVED your faith will matter.  Your membership in God’s Kingdom will in some way depend on how you responded to God’s grace.  And in case there are questions about the nature of response, Jesus makes it simple:  he says, when I was hungry, you fed me, when was thirsty you gave me drink, when I was homeless you gave me room, when I was shivering you gave me clothes, when I was sick you visited, and when I was in prison you offered companionship. And that you did this when you acted in such a way to those around you, the overlooked and ignored.”

There is a story about a desert monk who once posed a question  to an elder: There are two brothers, one of whom remains praying in his cell, fasting six days at a time and doing a great deal of penance. The other one takes care of the sick. Which one’s work is more pleasing to God? The elder replied: If that brother who fasts six days were to hang himself up by the nose, he could not equal the one who takes care of the sick.

Do you see what I am getting at here?  Christ offers us in this parable of the sheep and the goats something critical about what it means to have faith.  He says, If you believe, you will respond to suffering in others.  In fact, he says even more.  He says, your salvation, your citizenship in the Kingdom of God, depends in some way on the nature of our response to God.

Now, some of you may be wondering, doesn’t our faith teach us that it is by grace alone that we are saved?  Certainly, it is true that Calvin observed long ago that nothing we can do will overcome the chasm that separates us from God, and that Christ alone provides a means to salvation.  But even Christ teaches us that he did not die for nothing… As Paul says, do we sin so that Grace may abound?  By no means!  Rather, we are justified by grace THROUGH faith… in other words, we respond with compassion and with action BECAUSE we are saved, and that is one way by which God’s Kingdom is made manifest in the world.

Now, I don’t need to tell you for you to know that there are hungry, thirsty, homeless, shivering, sick and imprisoned people suffering in Haiti right now.  Thousands are homeless because their homes have collapsed in Port-au-Prince.  Drinking quality water has and continues to be a problem in Haiti.  They have NEVER had enough food.  Hospitals cannot handle the need, and there are still people imprisoned in the rubble and trapped by conditions of poverty on that tiny island.

And friends, our faith demands that we respond.  Ours is a faith that finds its center in a  yearning for justice, a yearning that is not our own but is shared by God in the figure of Christ who suffered and continues to suffer that all might be made well in this world.  Our Lord suffers with the people of Haiti, and is grieved when we choose to turn a blind eye to the suffering that lies before us.

I saw a billboard on my way up to Belvidere this week—it was for the Marines and had a picture of a well-dressed young man, very clean-cut, saluting off to the front of him and next him were the following words:  ‘Commitment to something greater than oneself.’  That is what faith in God is like.  Many churches have chosen to downplay songs and hymns that imply militaristic images with respect to our relationship with God, but in this case the analogy is apt.  Discipleship to God demands that we commit ourselves to something greater than us:  we commit ourselves to God, and to God’s plan for the world.  This means that we are sometimes called to respond with love and compassion to the tragedies that beset the world, whether they happen in our back yard or not.