Sunday, August 16, 2015

Does Anyone Remember the Gong Show? Matthew 5:43-48, 1 Corinthians 13

Good morning, friends! We're nearing the end of our series on 1 Corinthians. This week, we are looking at 1 Corinthians 13, paired with Matthew 5:43-48




Who Remembers the Gong Show?
Rev. Charissa Clark Howe
Liberty Presbyterian Church
8/16/15

            If anyone ever asks you if we have young families here in this church, please make sure to share this fun stat with them: we had 2 weddings within 8 days in August. For a church of about a hundred members. . . that’s a lot of weddings! It was an exhausting, but fun and exciting 8 days! As luck would have it, both couples chose the same passage of scripture, so while I still had two meditations to write, I only have one scripture passage to study. And. . . we just so happen to be in that same passage this morning. At first I thought, “This will be great! I really get to spend some time tearing into this passage and getting to all the corners.”  But as I picked it back up again this week for yet another message on the 1 Corinthians “love hymn,” I found myself losing steam. “Love is patient, love is kind, blah blah blah. . .”
            We’re heard all these nice words about love before and there are nice words about love all around us: Love tends to get associated with fuzzy feelings and pretty flowers and hearts rather than with difficult, uncomfortable actions. GONG
There are a number of popular online videos recently of people doing random acts of kindness like giving large tips to struggling waitresses or providing a hotel room or nice meal for a homeless person. It feels so warm and fuzzy to watch these from the comfort of our homes and share them around to other people without getting off our couches. GONG
            We often find ourselves completely baffled by those who act lovingly to people who are forgotten or lonely or who seem distasteful or unlovable. GONG
People often argue about how to be the most loving to those struggling with poverty or addiction or severe mental illness, while showing little concern and love in the way they are arguing. GONG
 Paul tells us, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” GONG
We can talk and talk and talk, but if all we’re doing is telling other people how to love, we’re just like this gong. We make an impressive sound, but it fades quickly and there is nothing left in the air but silence.
Love is not easy. Love is not meant to be reserved for the people who love us back or who we want to love or who are easy to love. Love isn’t just about telling someone, “I love you.” Yes, those words are powerful when used appropriately, but they are also often abused, misused, taken for granted, or used to control and manipulate others. They don’t mean anything if there isn’t something to back them up. And I’m not just talking about sending flowers here. Paul doesn’t say, “love buys chocolate, love sends cards, love never forgets birthdays and anniversaries.” Those are nice ways to let another person know you’re thinking of them – I know I personally will never turn down a good bar of gift chocolate – but those aren’t where we really see love in action. They are ways of saying I love you, but they aren’t a full living out of this love that we see laid forth for us in these passages. Anyone can do those things. Those are things we tend to do for the lovable and as Matthew says, even the people who don’t have Jesus in their lives know how to love the lovable people in their lives.
            There is a greater love than love that just loves the loveable. There is a greater love than that which says, “I love you” and leaves it at that. And it’s not easy love. The things that Paul is asking us to associate with love are difficult in the best of relationships, let alone when it comes to people who are less than our favorites. These aren’t just pretty words. These are hard actions to do in the best of circumstances and we’re asked to do them in ALL circumstances.
Patience? I struggle being patient with my family, let alone the guy in traffic who cut me off. . . or worse yet, the guy driving 4 miles per hour in front of me when I’m already running late.
Kind? That’s all great when it comes to my kids or husband. I can usually be kind to them, but that homeless woman asking for something to eat outside the coffee shop I frequent? That’s a different ballgame.
Love keeps no record of wrongs. Ouch. How often do we have annoying or angering encounters with strangers in our day to day lives and then gripe about them all day to our friends or post about it on facebook? Love moves on and gets over it without all that drama.
Here’s the good news: Love never fails. Love is hard. But love is possible. Love outlasts any prophecies, words, and knowledge. When all those things fail, love is still there. God who loved us first promises that one day we will understand all things fully. All that other stuff will fall into place. The reason this all sounds strange is because right now, we can’t possibly understand things fully. It’s love that helps us gain even a partial understanding now.  
What we see and understand now - especially that regarding love – is sort of like looking in a dirty mirror, rather than seeing it face to face, but still we can see it. There is still some understanding that we can have.
            We have a model for our loving lives and actions, and it’s a daunting one to try to live up to. But God knows we’re not perfect. We only see part of things now, but we can know and experience at least part of it now. And this is how we do so. We use the love of God as our model. And 1 Corinthians 13 gives us some of the picture of what that love – love modeled after God – unconditional love for everyone no matter how lovable or unlovable they are – looks like.
      Love is patient. No matter how long it takes us to realize it, God is always there. Always waiting with open arms to welcome us back. As a church, let us always be waiting with open arms, patiently for the loved ones that will one day join us here in this sanctuary. Without judgment of why or how or how long they’ve been away from the family or how it is they come to walk back through these doors. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love is kind. Our Lord Jesus reached out to the downtrodden. He welcomed the eager little children by his side. He reached out to the tax collectors, to women, to all the people around him with gentle kindness. As a church, let us always practice kindness. Not just politeness or charity, but true gentle kindness to those around us. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love does not envy. Never did Jesus get caught up in the race for success or possessions. He didn’t care what other people physically had that he did not have. That stuff just gets in the way, he told us. Let us clear our hearts humbly of any envy or unhealthy desire in our lives for not only can we not best love the people we are envious of when we have envy in our lives, but we can’t truly love anyone around us if we allow desire for things we don’t have to cloud our minds. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love does not boast, it is not proud. God the Creator of everything we know around us, the holy and incomprehensible God that we worship here today humbled himself and came to earth as a simple one of us. God didn’t come as a king with riches or power. God came as a carpenter from the middle of nowhere. May we always act in humility and set all pride aside remembering that even God who deserves above all to show pride is humble for the sake of God’s people. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love does not dishonor others. Jesus, when confronted with people who society saw as shameful and worthless, stooped down, offered a hand, and lifted them up. Let us be always aware of the ways in which we should be stooping down, offering a hand, and lifting others up to show them the honor they deserve as one of God’s children. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love is not self-seeking. Jesus humbled himself to death on the cross. For us. Jesus gained nothing in his death. Let us model our lives after the selfless love of Jesus. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love is not easily angered. Certainly we see times in the Bible in which God is shown as being angry. But what we see is not an easily angered God. Time after time after time, God’s people wander astray and time after time after time, they are welcomed back as God’s children. Let us always remember to practice forgiveness and gentleness before anger and to never let anger ultimately set the tone for our lives and our relationships. In all things, let us work ultimately for peace. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love keeps no record of wrongs. I know that this is a hard one to comprehend for many people but nowhere does God keep a list of all your sins. They have been forgiven. Case closed. You are forgiven. No matter what. We do not sit here in this sanctuary to earn back God’s love. We don’t sit here as a penance for the things that we have done wrong. Those are already forgiven and erased from the page. Let us live as forgiven people, forgiving others as we have been forgiven and keeping no records or tallies of wrongs. Lord in your mercy. . .  
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Because we are forgiven, God doesn’t focus on what we do, did, or will do wrong. God sends us the Word, the Truth- Jesus Christ. Let us delight in the Truth that God offers us. May our journey with Jesus Christ not be simply avoidance of evil, but a rejoicing in him – a celebration of God’s love for us and the truth that we find in Jesus. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love always protects. The Bible says that we are like little baby chicks gathered under the wings of a protective mother hen. No matter what live slings at us, God is there to comfort us, to gather us under those warm, protective wings. Let us in turn protect all those around us, upholding the safety and well-being of our fellow humans. Let us care for all, reach out lovingly to all, protect all. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love always trusts. God’s followers are given a great deal of responsibility in the world. All these loving actions we are talking about are a huge undertaking. God truly trusts us to give us such a huge responsibility as Christians. Let us, remembering that God has trusted us with the care of others, in turn trust those around us. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love always hopes. God doesn’t only hope, but God KNOWS who and what and how each of us are made to be. God sees the best in all of us and waits patiently as we work to figure that out ourselves. Let us in turn always see the good in the others around us. Let us be hopeful because we know that God sees the good in everyone and we can too if we wait and listen patiently. Lord in your mercy. . .
Love always perseveres. It doesn’t matter how long it took or takes you to come around. God is always there. There is no “too far gone” for God’s love. There is nobody who is “beyond repair” when it comes to God. God continues to pursue us all. Always. Let us be perseverant in loving others, even when that love seems fruitless. May we always remember to love others where they are and how they are knowing that they are never “too far gone.” Lord in your mercy. . .
Love never fails. We do not worship a god on a cross. We worship the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ who ultimately triumphs over death and sin. While no one person can ever see the whole story, we see only part – like into a mirror dimly – we can read through the accounts of scripture and get a broader picture. The picture of Christ triumphing. Of love overcoming everything else. Let us always remember that love won’t fail. Even when we don’t see the end result, even when it feels futile and pointless, when it feels like everything else has swallowed love up and rendered it useless, let us continue to love knowing that love never fails. Lord in your mercy. . .

Amen.

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