That Which Remains…
1 Cor. 13
† In Jesus Name †
May your life be so lived in the mercy and love of God, that it resounds with trust, with hope and with the love of God!
For nearly two hundred years, the doors of a cathedral in Macao have stood open, and people have poured through them, cameras at the ready, with guards quickly reminding them that they couldn’t bring any food or drink into the church proper.
The day we visited there, you could not count the throng of people, as tour busses dropped people off at the base of the stairs, 66 steps below the church’s main doors, to see that hallowed ground. The church was on top of one of the hills in the city, and looked over the streets below, where everything you could think of was for sale.
It was a bit eerie walking through the doors, as your eyes ran the length of the stone floor, as you looked to where the altar should be, as you saw people snapping pictures. You’ll see a picture of the church later, well, of the one way that has been all that has remained since 1830….
As I read today’s epistle passage about the incredible things we are given the ability to do, and their value if we do them without love, St Paul’s Cathedral comes to mind. A Church, a place, designated as holy ground, with people thronging and busily moving about it, but without the word of God, without the altar to which people are called to share in Christ’s feast, It too, is lacking. For both, a ministry without sacrificial love, and a church without God’s word and sacrament, is worthless, a testimony of no value, a place where history may be celebrated, even bragged about, but no transformation, no repentance, occurs.
It may bring about awe for a moment, but really is a place of sadness, and regret.
Such is the nature of ministry without His love, no matter how great the charisma, not matter how many people throng and applaud the works done and the words said.
How do we judge how well we are doing in our vocation?
As individuals? As the church?
This test reminds me of 7-11 – we get a big gulp!
Just curious – how many people had 1 Corinthians 13 read at their wedding? How many of you remember your wedding?
You all know that this isn’t just the standard for you marriage, but for every relationship, you are in…in your entire life? Remember the two commandments? Love God with… (wait for answer) and love your…
So let’s take a test, and inventory of how well we love… how good we’ve gotten at it. I’ll even give you a pass on your love for God, and we’ll just talk about your love for your spouse, your families, and your neighbors and coworkers. So in this test – at the bottom of the prayer list, you have a little chart. First column goes the Bible’s characteristic of Love… then the second is your grade, pass or fail. The third would be the church’s grade.
Number One, put a check in the box a1 if you are patient and kind with you spouse if you are married, with your family (including in-laws) and with your neighbors and co-workers. Patient is from the word long-suffering and kind is to be merciful, willing to forgive and restore people to their original relationship with you… Okay, if you do that – no exceptions – put a check there.
Now put a check in box 1B if you believe the church has the same characteristic.
Same for box 2a and 2b if you are never jealous of what your spouse, your family or neighbors and co-workers have or do. Or if you never show off what you have. What about us as a church. Are we jealous that another church has a better…. Hmm well no other church has a better congregation or music team… O wait – just bragged about us – no check there!
Box 3a and 3b – Are you ever one who has to have your own way, that your spouse, your children, your neighbors have to do things your way or else it is not good enough? What about us as a church – do we demand we do things our way – and if others don’t like it, well they aren’t real Christians anyway, so who cares about them?
Box 4a and 4b – any of us easily irritated by our spouses, by our kids and/or grandkids, or that one co-worker, or the neighbor who plays their music too loud? What about the person who bashes Christianity? You can only put a check in the box if you ever irritable…
What about box 5a an b? Do we ever, as individuals, keep a records about the things people do wrong, or the sins people sin against us? The things of the past – that we said we forgave, yet still remember – and still hold against them?
Do we do that as a church? Have we realized that God’s grace doesn’t just cleanse our slates of our sin, but the sins committed against our people?
I suppose I could go on, and deal with the rest of the list, but I am already feeling a little cymbalistic and worthless….
How many of us can claim to be loving, to act, towards all people in every instance in the ways described in this passage?
It’s a pretty sobering inventory…but I am not sure that we totally grasp the passage, and what it means. Matter of fact, I think we take it one of two ways. As a naïve romantic statement about how the perfect marriage will be… or perhaps, as a list to prove how messed up we are, or our spouse is. I mean – aren’t they supposed to never lose faith, never give up and endure every circumstance?
Used the wrong way, this passage becomes a great weapon to beat others into the ground with, or to beat ourselves up with! Either way, everything becomes like St Paul’s Church/wall in Macau… a sorrow-ful shell of what once was a vibrant place filled with the presence of God.
But Paul was showing them a better way
That is why we always need to consider the context of our reading. We need to take into consideration not just our chapter, but the ones before and after it. We need to look at the entire book as well.
In this case – we started the reading by Paul talking about showing a better way – so we have to ask, a better way than what? Last week you heard Mike talk about how the body of Christ is knit together, with each having its own role, and how we are one, even as we rejoice together, and cry together, as we show compassion and as we love.
In this reading, he gets deeper into the mystery that is the body of Christ, How we are bound together, how what God does in us, as a diverse body, is yet a ministry that is whole and one.
It is something that requires something beyond our vision, beyond our comprehension. The purest love, the kind that will bring life to that which is empty and hallow. The kind of love that will be impossible to explain, yet give meaning to it all…
The kind of love that comes only as we live, together, in Christ.
The kind of love that is the life of the church.. That is our life.
What remains…of us
That which we trust in..
That reason we have hope
The very love…of Christ
I think that is perhaps my biggest take away from this trip, as I worked with young missionaries, who are living in the shadow of a church, that is but a wall. For reasons I can’t get into in the sermon, they can go without the Lord’s supper for a month, or ever two or three. They don’t get to celebrate with the family of God, the very gifts that God has for them.
It shows. A pastor like me is treated like a royal guest, not because I am the greatest preacher or teacher, but because I bring them a tangible reminder of God’s love. The words of absolution, the word of God around which they can gather and celebrate, the precious, life giving, life renewing celebration and feast – where they can know God’s love. I introduced them to the concept of how we shared God’s peace with each other, after the words of institution, before we feast together as we commune. The fact that the Body and Blood of Christ is shed for them, that because of it there is God’s peace among them. Fifteen people from two cities, people that work together, yet… need the power of God’s love, and yeah – they learned to pass the incredible peace of God.
Do we even begin to realize what the love of God brings into our life? Do we understand how it cleanses, and reconciles and forgives? Do we realize how it is the very skeleton and the blood that pumps through our lives?
Do we even realize it is why we are here?
Those characteristics, they aren’t about us, though we should strive to imitate the one they describe.
The reason that the the gifts and talents and abilities we have – no matter how great or how small – have meaning, is that love…the reason the church can overcome sin, see reconciliation comes down to this.
The Lord of love…is with you.
“The Spirit of the Lord is Upon Me…so Why?”
† In Jesus Name †
As you give your lives as a living sacrifice to God, as you are equipped by the Holy Spirit’s gifting in your lives, never forget that for you as well is the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ!
The Burden of the Call
We So want to see the evidence – to know it has been fulfilled!
It always amazes me, how the man made schedule of readings God is able to use. The Sunday I am preaching to those apostello’d – those sent not just by the LCMS but by God to share His message – the gospel reading is about Jesus taking up the burden of His being apostello’d – of His being sent.
Not that you and I have the same burden as Jesus did – or even that of the original 12 plus Paul – but we do share in that burden – you are as surely sent here as God sent them. Whether you are GEO’s or doing life… err lifetime missionaries or accompanying spouse – or the children – you are all here because God has brought you here.
We look at Jesus taking up His burden as the primary, the first apostello. As He reads the prophecy that points out this very thing in Isaiah – hear these words, not just descriptive of His call – but of your call – because you are united to Him.
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The year of the Lord’s favor – the year, when God descreed every debt cancelled, that every bill was paid in full – that everything is restored to its rightful place- including us. The year of jubilee.
I know when I left the University I worked at – to enter “full-time” ministry, I thought of all those things happenin – all the people that would come to know Jesus, all the wonderful – even miraculous things that would occur – and how God’s people would praise Him… as they saw His love.
But then the questions arise
Who are you – anyway?
We even may think they are out to crucify you
If they are – so what?
That was 15 years ago – nearly 20 if you count my time as a “part-time” minister. Gonna be a little honest – I think more of my time has been like Jesus’ first service and sermon. So excited to share God’s call to everyone to enjoy the freedom of Christ.. and I quickly fade as people start questioning me – and while they haven’t picked up stones yet……
It seems like that sometimes – not enough eyes that are blind to the gospel open them – or those who hear that they are free from the bondage of sin, stay in the familiar cells that they have become comfortable to – afraid of venturing out into the reality of God’s love. Some have questioned me – not the – “aren’t you Joseph’s son”, but the same question, who are you to tell me I am a sinner in need of God’s grace?
I have to admit – I look at myself far more often than the message I am entrusted to bear. I don’t always hear it for myself first, and so I find myself condemned in the eyes of those I am called to bring it to, those who it is so evident that they need it.
I end up feeling crushed – I end up wanting to go home – to find a little cabin in the mountains of new Hampshire, on a nice quiet lake with a awesome internet connected, and finish out my life canoeing, playing piano and guitar and World of Warcraft.
IT is then, that the law has afflicted me… and I need to be comforted by the very message I bring. Having talked to a number of folk since I landed in Asia ten days ago, I am not the only one.
We have to know the news we bring… just not know – but know. We have to hear it from Him!
As good LC-MS Lutherans – we may have heard the phrase once or twice about proper Law and Gospel tension – Afflict those comfortable in their sin, comfort those afflicted by their sin.
I get the feeling that most of you are as in need of that comfort as I am. Ou wonder why wasn’t there 100 baptisms or even ten, or just one, to witness recently. You want to blame someone, lest you have to blame yourselves. Our “Leaders” are really easy targets. If only they would… then I could see the kinds of results I thought I would.
We who serve in the temple – so need to stop and remember that we are the temple – that God’s spirit is with us here – wherever here is. The love we want people to know – we need to meditate on it, dwell in it, rest and be strengthened by it.
When we want to go on our way – to escape the crowd as Jesus did we need to realize He went on His way for us, and indeed through us! As He walked through that crowd, the way He went, the way He chose to go on, was to that cross to did for us, that we could die with Him in baptism, that we could rise with Him.
That is why I am so greatful to end my stay this way – serving you – calling you to remember what I have failed to remember so many times. That while we share Christ’s calling, we aren’t Christ. The work doesn’t depend on us, or those holding us back. No one can separate us from His love, for we are His called one, His loved ones.
When I proclaimed your sins forgiven, and when you proclaimed mine forgiven, did you hear that? That you are cleansed of all your sin and all unrighteousness?
When we pray together the Lord’s prayer – do you hear yourself correctly addressing God as your Father? Do you hear what Jesus has taught you to ask for, to pray for, knowing it is the Father’s will to give you all these things?
When you hear the words “for you” during the words of institution, do you get that it is for you… you?
Know this – you have been called and sent into… called and apostell’d to this place. But you haven’t been sent alone, you have been sent with Him – not just His message – but with Him.
For you are His, as the song said – bought with the precious blood of Christ.
So as you serve – as you are tempted with loneliness, know that is never true… but you are in Christ… with Christ…
And he is keeping, guarding your hearts and minds in the glorious peace of God, the peace that goes beyond understanding, the peace that is the Father’s.
The peace that is yours.