SERMON from 2-3-13: “The Greatest of These”

1 Corinthians 13.1-13

13If I speak in tongues of human beings and of angels but I don't have love, I'm a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and I know all the mysteries and everything else, and if I have such complete faith that I can move mountains but I don't have love, I'm nothing. 3If I give away everything that I have and hand over my own body to feel good about what I've done but I don't have love, I receive no benefit whatsoever. 4Love is patient, love is kind, it isn't jealous, it doesn't brag, it isn't arrogant, 5it isn't rude, it doesn't seek its own advantage, it isn't irritable, it doesn't keep a record of complaints, 6it isn't happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. 8Love never fails. As for prophecies, they will be brought to an end. As for tongues, they will stop. As for knowledge, it will be brought to an end. 9We know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, what is partial will be brought to an end. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, reason like a child, think like a child. But now that I have become a man, I've put an end to childish things. 12Now we see a reflection in a mirror; then we will see face-to-face. Now I know partially, but then I will know completely in the same way that I have been completely known. 13Now faith, hope, and love remain–these three things–and the greatest of these is love.

 

The Greatest of These

 

We know this text, right? You may have a plaque on your wall. You may have a blanket laying over your couch. You may have a bookmark in your Bible that reminds you of the emotional significance of this scripture.

 

This is only an educated guess, but I figure this passage from Paul's letter has the greatest levels of emotional significance in relation to practical application.

 

Importantly, this text can stand on it's own – but it doesn't. The important context is to understand chapter 12 of the letter. Paul is talking about the importance of all the parts of the body – or the community (the church, though I think it's more accurate to call it a community) – working together in the way which they were created. Preachers preaching. Teachers teaching. Prophets prophesying. Evangelists evangelizing. It is important for all these things to exist separately, but they must work in unison – or together in community.

 

The problem with Corinth was all the infighting. It's why Paul had to write the letter. He wasn't just writing to tell them about all the good they were doing, he was writing to admonish them. They needed to work together and Paul wrote the letter to ensure they knew he knew they weren't living up to the example he taught.

 

So, he tells them how they are supposed to work together. Chapter 13 is about creating a parachute. This passage is Paul's attempt to give them a fail-safe for living and existing in Christian community.

 

It's like hearing about all the parts of your body you can survive without. You don't need your appendix. You don't need both kidneys, nor do you need all of your liver.

 

However, you do need most of your brain to function. You need nearly all your blood to survive. You need your heart to keep it pumping.

 

1 Corinthians 13.1-13 is Paul's explanation of how the Corinthian church can live without many things – but they need to love each other. They need to know what love is, and that they cannot live without it.

 

Even greater than faith, love is needed. Even greater than hope, love must remain.

 

Love is the thing which works best to help restore our faith and our hope. Well…our everything.

 

Ted Stallard was turned off by school. Very sloppy in appearance. Expressionless. Unattractive. Even his teacher, Miss Thompson, enjoyed bearing down her red pen — as she placed Xs beside his many wrong answers.

 

If only she had studied his records more carefully. They read:

 

1st grade: Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but (has) poor home situation.

 

2nd grade: Ted could do better. Mother seriously ill. Receives little help from home.

 

3rd grade: Ted is a good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.

 

4th grade: Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest whatsoever.

 

Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher's desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted's package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing, and a bottle of cheap perfume. The children began to snicker. But she silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist, and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too.

 

At day's end, after the other children had left, Ted came by the teacher's desk and said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I'm glad you like my presents.” He left. Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude.

 

The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher — one committed to loving each of them. Especially the slow ones. Especially Ted. Surprisingly — or maybe, not surprisingly, Ted began to show great improvement. He actually caught up with most of the students and even passed a few.

 

Time came and went. Miss Thompson heard nothing from Ted for a long time. Then, one day, she received this note:

 

Dear Miss Thompson:

 

I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class.

 

Love, Ted

 

Four years later, another note arrived:

 

Dear Miss Thompson:

 

They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it.

 

Love, Ted

 

And four years later:

 

Dear Miss Thompson:

 

As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year.

 

Miss Thompson attended that wedding, and sat where Ted's mother would have sat. The love she had shown that young man entitled her to that privilege.

 

It is something as simple as love that can spark amazing things in us and others.

 

Now, here we are at Communion Sunday. Something as simple as a loaf of bread and a cup of juice is to us a reminder of the love of God and his vast and persistent attempts to ensure we know.

 

From this table – and the simple act of partaking in the remembrance of Jesus' final meal – let us engage in this communion and seek to feel the love inherent in this solumn, sacred and grace-filled act.

 

And thanks be to God for the privilege.

 

AMEN.

 

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