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.