Epiphany 4 Sermon

Sermon text: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13

Chapter 13 of Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth is absolutely beautiful.  I think everyone would agree.  Paul writes on and on about this crazy little thing called love.  It is read at the majority of weddings I’ve officiated.  Portions of this chapter are also found on home goods, like signs and pillows.  Love is patient, love is kind.  Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.

It is clear that love is supremely important, the gift of God that strives to show us a still more excellent way of living, of being disciples, of being spouses, neighbors, and parishioners.  The love of God, and the love we share and hold and enact with each other, is the glue that binds us together.  If we cannot share our spiritual gifts with each other as the Body of Christ in a spirit of love, then we are nowhere and nothing.

Outside the obvious words on love, my ears also perked up for verse 11—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.  According to this verse, love is for grownups.

But wait a minute, pastor!  Didn’t Jesus say that we are to be like children?

Yes, we are to believe like children.  However, Jesus never gave us the instruction to behave like children.  Those two things are not the same, in the same way that there’s a difference between knowing the idea of God’s love and living and reflecting the love shown in the gospel.  The love Paul talks about is for grownups.

We live in a culture that is infatuated with the idolatry of youth, but also where people can be immature forever.  Where it’s my way or the highway, I’m going to take my ball and go home, he who has the most toys, wins.  Life as a disciple is supposed to be different.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child.

I remember back to my days on the recess playground at Foot of Ten Elementary School, and how many times did I either hear or say the phrase, “That’s mine!”  We used to play this game where we would punt rubber kickballs back and forth across the playground, and there was always a scrum for possession of the balls.  Like the seagulls on Finding Nemo going, “Mine, mine, mine!”  This is the life and speech of a small child.

For a grownup Christian there is no such thing as “mine.”  We have only what God has shared with us.  This is not a popular idea in modern day America.  It’s not even a popular idea in the church, frankly.  I’ll get called a socialist if I preach too much about the early Christians in the Book of Acts who distinguished themselves by selling and sharing everything.

The grownup Christian knows that everything—every breath, every heartbeat, every thought, every spiritual gift, every object, every dollar—is a gift.

When I was a child, I reasoned like a child.

The beginning of reasoning comes from listening.  A grownup love listens.  A grownup love listens to God and to the world, to what is said and what is not said.  A grownup love listens with the heart.  A grownup love hears the Spirit’s groaning in sighs too deep for words.

Often, just listening is the best expression of love.  If you look at Jesus’ ministry, you’ll notice that he speaks less often that everybody else.  I once thought that by virtue of being God, Jesus could get away with just saying some short, vague sentences.  But perhaps Jesus was just really good at listening.

Real reasoning comes from real listening, and real listening, grown up listening, isn’t waiting for a chance to speak.  Real listening takes courage to hear what is being said and then admit that you might actually be wrong.

Sometimes we listen defensively when we should have courage—and when we get defensive, we often miss what the Holy Spirit was trying to teach us.  It’s been said that God’s first language is silence, and God only breaks silence with a “still small voice.”  That means the only way we’ll grow in faith is to listen to God and to each other.

When I was a child I thought like a child.

What exactly are childish thoughts?  I know one of the things I struggled with most as a youth, and as an adolescent, and as an adult, was the notion that I’m always right.  I’m always right about everything.  And I know that I’m not alone in that fault.

Pastors are not always right.  Politicians are not always right.  Parents are not always right. Husbands are not always right, and contrary to popular opinion, wives are not always right either.

It takes a real grownup to admit that they are wrong.  It takes a real grownup to hear an apology, accept it, and move on.  It takes a grownup to live the words of faith, “If someone offends you, go directly to that person…”

It is not childish to speak words of reconciliation after prayer and discernment.  It is childish to brood and sulk and pout, waiting for people to notice what you will not say.

Elsewhere, Paul writes “unity, faith, and knowledge of the Son of God are maturity.”  As we live and learn from Jesus, our childishness is removed by the Holy Spirit.  As we grow in Christ, our ministry is multiplied.  As we grow in Christ, we mature in love.

Maybe Paul should have said that our church, our work, our marriages, our relationships, our communities—all of them—they all need us to be grownups of the Gospel from the first day.  I keep hearing how the church is in a period of decline and upheaval, and Covid hasn’t help matters.  We know that the world is changing.  How will we live and minister with each other in the midst of this shift?  Will we do it with love?

Even though the church has been around for 2000 years, and even though Zion has been here for 219 of those years, I want to believe that we all are in our awkward teenage years.  That we are growing like a weed, our voice is cracking, our limbs are too gangly for our frames, and we’re fighting for clear complexions.  But I have faith that the church will mature, that we will put away childish ways, and that we will continue to grow and live our grownup discipleship in love.  AMEN

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