Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, “Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
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 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. 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.
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 hometown 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 hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up 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.
One Sunday a Vicar told his congregation that the church needed some extra money and asked the people to prayerfully consider giving a little extra in the offering plate.
He said that whoever gave the most would be able to pick out three hymns.
After the offering plates were passed, the vicar glanced down and noticed that someone had placed a cheque for £1,000 in offering.
He was so excited that he immediately shared his joy with his congregation and said he’d like to personally thank the person who placed the money in the plate.
A very quiet, elderly, saintly lady all the way in the back shyly raised her hand.
The pastor asked her to come to the front. Slowly she made her way to the pastor.
He told her how wonderful it was that she gave so much and in thanksgiving asked her to pick out three hymns.
Her eyes brightened as she looked over the congregation, pointed to the three particularly dishy young men in the building and said,
“I’ll take him and him and him.”
Not so much “The Old Rugged Cross” as “Bind us Together.” The woman was offered the ecclesiastical and wanted relationship (relationship with three young men at once – but I shall draw a veil over that).
Now I enjoy hymns (H-Y-M-Ns) – they can lift my spirits, as I feel a part of a group united in one song, and my soul is lifted heavenwards (sometimes – I’d be lying if I said every hymn has that effect – but we should always worship open to a sense of wonder…)
I am fascinated by church buildings – in most communities the Church is the most interesting building, and if the church building is suitable, it can also be the most useful building.
I am inspired by liturgy, how ancient words and modern prayers can connect us to God, to our history and to each other.
I even have a great fondness for vestments – these strange frocks that connect us to our past, and remind us of our history and give the signal that this is a special time and place…
But the hymns and buildings and liturgy and posh frocks are only a means to an end.
“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.”
No matter how beautiful our hymns or how Listed our building, if we are not loving, there is no point.
“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 our liturgy is perfectly crafted and our vestments the finest that can be bought or made, but if we are not loving, we are wasting our time.
But, you may protest, looking after buildings and creating beautiful music and meaningful liturgy is really difficult! Love is easy! As Elvis sang we “can’t help falling in love.” Why do we need so much “stuff” to help us do what comes naturally?
Why do we need so much “stuff” to help us do what comes naturally?
Firstly, there are some ways of loving that we can only do because we have all this “stuff.” Our love for God is focussed by music and liturgy, and a building like this one can be an amazing resource for our local community.
Secondly, if you think loving is easy then you do not fully understand what the word means.
“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 is not just a warm feeling, it is difficult, challenging. Love is demanding; true love demands everything.
St. Augustine said:
What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men and women. That is what love looks like.
In the New Testament, love is more of a verb than a noun. It is a doing word, it’s not a thing or a feeling. The call to love is not really a call to a certain state of feeling as it is to a very particular type of action.
David Wilkerson put it very well when he said, “Love is not only something you feel, it is something you do.”
When it comes to Christian love, feelings are secondary to action, as C.S. Lewis said, “Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbour; act as if you did.”
If we return to our reading about love, St. Paul introduces a paragraph that seems out of place:
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.
We were talking about love, why are we suddenly talking about growing up? The love of children is linked to their dependence on others – they love the adults that care for and provide for them. St Paul is demanding that we mature in our love, and learn to love those who may need us too.
Following the teaching of Jesus, we are to love even our enemies. God teaches us to love by putting some unlovely people around us. It takes no character to love people who are lovely and loving to us. We never really love until we love someone who hates us.
And this kind of love is powerful, it can change the world.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.
The whole point of Christianity is to teach us to love: to love God, love our neighbours, love ourselves.
I end with a quotation from Rick Warren:
“The best use of life is love.
The best expression of love is time.
The best time to love is now.”