I Corinthians 13 Face To Face June 9, 2013
How much money do you have?
(pause)…I’m sorry, that’s a little forward, isn’t it?
What I meant to ask is “How much of your money do you give to the church, or to God’s work in the world?”
Is it enough?
-again, I’m sorry.
It’s not polite to talk about money in church, I know that.
God cares about our money, but God cares just as much about where we put our time, right?
So why don’t we talk about how we spend our time instead?
“How much of your time will you spend either in church, or on church related activities this week?”
How many church meetings will you have, or how many church people will you visit?
How much time will you spend in prayer over the next seven days?
Again, is it enough?
How do you know if it’s ‘enough’?
-Is anyone uncomfortable yet?
Should I continue?
-I haven’t even touched on the really awkward questions! 🙂
Like this: how many murders did you witness on a screen this week?
How many sex scenes, how much hatred and fear was piped into your living space?
How many four letter words did you hear through the media that you consume, and what percentage of those were God’s name taken in vain?
Was it enough?
I’m assuming that for most of us, the questions I’ve asked this morning are considered pretty ‘private’ matters, right?
How we spend our money, how we spend our time, the kinds of movies or television we watch, the kind of music we listen to…these are all more or less ‘private’ concerns.
And so, when someone (a yokel) like me stands up in public and starts trying to draw what you believe is your private business out into the public realm, your guard starts to go up, am I right?
You’re not sure you want me to know that information, because you maybe don’t trust what I’m going to do with it.
Or even if you trust me, maybe there are other people here that you wouldn’t trust with that information, so I think you’re wise to hold your cards close and guard your answers.
At the same time, looking at how you spend your time and money; it can be a good thing to do now and then. The checkbook doesn’t lie.
This boundary that we have between our public and private selves has always been interesting to me.
It’s fascinating, what lengths we go to to present a certain image to the outside world, isn’t it?
The thing is, the answers to these questions…”the facts” as I’ll refer to them…they are only part of the story.
I would certainly hope that your faith influences the choices you make in each of these areas, so that after you’ve been a Christian for a number of years you’re less entertained by murder and sex, or you give more freely of your money and your time.
But I’m also enough of a realist to understand that sadly, that’s not always the case.
…it’s easy today to become a Christian in name only, and then simply justify the choices we’ve always made, instead of actually changing our choices and living differently.
And that’s at least part of what I think Paul was trying to get at when he wrote this chapter about love.
First, a little bit of background… we’re looking at the book of 1st Corinthians, which is probably actually the second letter that Paul wrote to this particular congregation in Corinth.
We call these letters first and second Corinthians because they’re the only letters that have survived and been included in the Bible as we have it.
But in reality there were probably at least four letters that Paul wrote to the Corinthian church.
Two of them have been lost, one is referenced in chapter 5 verse 9, and some people think that part of that first, lost letter has been preserved and inserted into 2 Corinthians 6, verse 14 through 7 verse 1.
But that’s another day’s sermon.
The church that Paul was writing to here was dealing with some major stuff.
Corinth was kind of like the Las Vegas of the ancient world…it was kind of a ”Sin City”, where all different kinds of people came together and kind of melded together their beliefs into something generic enough and palatable enough for everyone to agree on…and so they set the bar low enough that pretty much anything went.
So the cult of Aphrodite employed something like 1,000 temple prostitutes at her shrine, and that was kind of normal in Corinth. It was part of the cultural cloth that the Corinthian church was cut from. There were rich people and poor people and strong people and weak people.
There were factions and conflicts and turf wars and family histories that influenced the dynamics of city life.
Meanwhile, the congregation itself represented the diversity of the city. There were very poor and destitute people within it, alongside very high, rich, prominent people worshipping side by side.
Like us, they lived in different areas, different neighborhoods, different regions of the city, but they would come together once a week to worship together.
And so you can imagine that in Paul’s absence, these different factions formed, where some claimed loyalty to Apollos, some to Paul, and some proclaimed “a plague on all your houses” and claimed allegiance and loyalty to Christ alone.
In some ways that sounds like Anabaptism, doesn’t it? “Forget you all; we’ve got the truth!”
So that’s a snapshot of the Corinthian church, and it might be too brief to even be much good.
But it’s important, because we have to get away from thinking that 1st Corinthians chapter 13 is simply a wedding text.
Sure, there’s good stuff in here for how two people should treat each other in a Christian marriage, but as far as I can tell Paul is writing this to the whole church at Corinth, a church that was very broken and enduring some very hard times.
There’s no mention of a wedding anywhere.
What is mentioned are the factions that were there, the struggles of maintaining unity in a hostile climate, the challenge of coming together as one body when there are so many obstacles to prevent that happening…
What is mentioned are the spiritual gifts that God gives to believers in order to edify, to build up, to encourage the other believers, because unless God is the one bringing us together we don’t have a chance.
That’s the context where Paul writes this chapter about Love.
Sometimes when I’m writing a sermon, I think of a nice bumper sticker slogan.
A nice one for this Sunday, or this chapter, would be “Love; it’s not just for marriage anymore”.
(If anyone wants to get about 100 of those printed up, feel free.)
That’s where my questions at the beginning of this sermon, or, rather, the feelings my questions hopefully evoked within you, come into play.
It’s like this.
There are spiritual gifts.
And what I mean when I say that is, there is a spiritual world, that I believe exists both within and alongside the physical world that we inhabit.
And I won’t get too philosophical this morning, but I believe this spiritual world is even more real than the physical world. That’s maybe one reason I was drawn to pastoral work.
So when God gives spiritual gifts, they’re meant to work within, and influence the reality behind and throughout our reality…or the world that’s within our world, so to speak.
That’s why the fruits of the spirit are so important…kindness impacts our physical world far more than money ever could on its own. Patience is far more valuable to us in the here and now than time itself ever will be.
The same could be said for generosity, for faith, for hope…
And you know how in our physical world, there’s a force called ‘gravity’ that literally keeps everything together?
There’s a force called gravity, and if it was missing things would literally fall apart–I believe “Love” is the gravity of the spiritual world.
It’s not just a nice idea. It’s the force that makes all the other spiritual gifts make any sense at all!
And, if you agree with me about this spiritual world, and if you believe, like I do, that i’s even more ‘real’ or more ‘powerful’ than the physical world we live in, then you start to see how the questions about our money, and our time…the questions I opened with, how they all point back to these spiritual realities!
Remember, love is patient. Love is kind. Love is generous.
Love builds others up, using everything it has at its disposal, including our time and our money and the spiritual gifts God has given each one of us.
Now, as Paul closes this chapter and moves on to talk about other spiritual gifts…he goes into this stuff about knowing only in part, and how when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.
The kind of Love that we Christians have is a kind of Love that is whole.
It’s complete, it’s not partial.
Even though we are partial people; meaning we’re broken people who don’t always do the loving thing…that’s what we’re striving for and growing towards.
So take a good look in the mirror this week.
We can see in it only dimly, but behind the glass there’s a whole different world, where patience and kindness are the norm, where envy and pride and arrogance are not, where truth is celebrated and hope is born.
Look into the mirror, for it will tell you what you need to know…look into your checkbook and your calendar, ask your friends and your family to paint your picture; but look beyond those things as well.
Look all the way to the face of God, who beckons to each of us and calls us to love Him, and to Love each other.