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The Love Chapter January 31, 2016

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1 Corinthians 12:31b-13:13

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

January 31, 2016

 

Focus:  God’s greatest gift to us is His love.

Function:  That the hearers love one another.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

The Love Chapter

 

Our sermon text today is 1 Corinthians 13.  It’s estimated that in the typical pastor’s time in service to God’s ministry, he will perform 117 weddings.  And for 83 of them, the couple will ask for him to preach 1 Corinthians 13.  I may or may not have just made those numbers up, but the point is the same.  This is one of the most well-known chapters in the Bible.

It’s been dubbed, “the love chapter.”  And it is without a doubt, the most popular wedding text.  Many of you likely had it read at your wedding.  Several of you even have it on display in your homes.  And a few of you might even have it memorized.  But for as popular as it is, you might be surprised to know that the Apostle Paul wasn’t thinking about weddings when he wrote it.

That’s why I wanted to preach on this text today.  It’s a chance to put this part of Paul’s letter back into Paul’s letter.  To look at it through the context he wrote it in so we can see what he was trying to communicate with the Corinthians, and potentially us.

Now, we won’t rewind our way through the whole letter.   We’d miss our chili cookoff if we did that.  It’s enough to simply point out the purpose of Paul’s letter.  On the one hand, he’s rebuking them for being a church divided.  But on the other hand, he’s encouraging them, he’s answering their questions about marriage, and idols, and the Lord’s Supper.  And he’s encouraging them to be one, united body.

The first section of the letter handles those divisions.  Then he comes back and answers their questions, does some teaching.  And then he puts forth a section on life together.  What does it look like to be a church, to be the body of Christ?  What does it look like to love one another?  What does it look like to worship God together?  He’s encouraging them and teaching them.

Our text today is in this section.  We’re going to skip over some and start with chapter 12.  Here we learn about two different, but very related ideas.  The first is spiritual gifts.  God, our Father, is a gracious God, and He loves creating.  He loves giving.  And so not only did He create you, but He created you uniquely made.  Your personality, your interests, your skill set, these things are all gifts.

And he lists some: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues.  A variety of gifts God gives to His people as He sees fit.  God has given you some gifts like these, as Paul says in verse seven, “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

And that gets into the second part of the chapter, where Paul teaches the Corinthians that “just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.”  It’s a helpful image.  Maybe you’re a hand.  And you’re a foot.  You’re an elbow, or an eye.  You’re an ear, or the mouth.  So many different members of the body, each with its own unique function.  But without the mouth, how would the body eat to survive?  Without the eye, how could we see?  Without the heart, how could we pump the life blood through our veins?  Without joints, how immobile would we become?

Do you see how this all flows together?  God has blessed us all greatly with many things.  Each of you has unique spiritual gifts, and when we come together as a family, as a community, as the body of Christ, we are so much stronger, so much better for it.

In a world that seeks independence, the church thrives on interdependence.  We’re not alone.  We’re in this together.  We help one another, we build each other up, we serve together.

And then we get the transition between chapter 12 and 13.  Paul says, “But earnestly desire the higher gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way.”  And he begins to talk about love.  That none of this matters without love.

And we have to pause here for a moment.  We live in a culture where love and sex are synonyms.  Now, don’t get me wrong, sex is a great gift from God.  And a great blessing between husband and wife, but it doesn’t fit here.  You can’t take the word love in chapter 13 and replace it with the American mindset of what sex is.  It just doesn’t work.  Love is so much more than romance, it’s so much more than lust, of satisfying our own wants and desires.

We have examples from our other readings this morning.  We have the prophet Jeremiah.  And we see him called, we see God declaring “I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  And we see Jeremiah recoil.  But, but, I don’t know how to speak, I’m, I’m, I’m just a kid.  But God still gave him the gift, God still sent him, and worked through him.

Jeremiah still went to the people of Judah, to God’s people in exile, with a message of good news.  He prophesied to them not just about freedom from Babylon, he prophesied to them about an eternal freedom, about being a people of God again.  About a ruler who would come to set them free from their bondage to sin.  Jeremiah used his gift from God to help an entire nation.  But it took sacrifice.  He had to give of himself, to give up his own desires, to be humble enough to speak to people who would laugh in his face even at the greatest message ever told.

Then we have that ruler who came.  Jesus Christ, God Himself in the flesh for us.  Jesus comes and He uses His gifts in service to others.  But it’s also about a relationship.  It’s about loving others to the point that you are willing to serve them.  This is what He knocks the Pharisees for.  In Matthew 23:23, He says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

What was the point of the tithe?  In addition to its connection with God, of trust in our relationship with Him, on our level it was so that the church would have the resources to feed, clothe, and shelter the widows and the orphans.  Without love, why even bother?  You Pharisees are giving, but you don’t love.  None of it even sees the least of these.  You’re not actually caring for anyone with what you do.  It’s all just a show.  You care more for a building than for the people in your community.

Then we see Jesus in our gospel reading.  We see Him casting out demons, healing the sick, preaching to the people a message of good news and of hope.  That’s love.  That He’s using His gifts to serve others.

It takes sacrifice.  We see from the end of that reading that the people followed Jesus and tried to stop Him from leaving.  We see that several times in the gospels.  We see a group that wants to make Him their bread king.  He could have been surrounded by popularity and wealth, but He sacrificed it.  And He said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” He left it all behind to continue to serve, to continue to love.

He continued on, preaching and teaching from one village to the next.  From one people, one city, one leader to the next.  Until that night when He was betrayed by His own, arrested in a garden, tried in the wee hours of the morning, convicted of no crime, tormented and tortured for us as He hung there upon the cross.  He didn’t do that for Himself.

This is love!  This is what Paul describes to us.  It’s patient and kind, it doesn’t insist on its own way, it’s not self-seeking.  It bears all things.  Endures all things.  Love never ends.

What point are God’s gifts to us if we don’t have love?  What point is there to anything if you seek only after yourself?  If God has given you the gift of teaching, literally, what good is that to you?  If He’s given you the passion of carpentry, what good is that if you don’t share it?  If you have the skills of a doctor, what use do you have if not to help others?

The best way to live is in love.  It’s in self-sacrifice.  Whether you’re talking about work, or family, or sex, or anything, the best moments you’ll experience are the ones where you’re being selfless and loving someone else.

And there’s a reason for that.  We are children of the King.  We are made in the image of God.  When we serve others, when we love others, when we are selfless and giving, we’re reflecting God in us.  We’re reflecting the God who took on flesh and willingly went to the cross, giving His body and blood as a sacrificial gift for each of us.  There’s no greater evidence of love anywhere.  Not real, not fictional, than the love that Christ has for us.  The love He graciously gave us by paying the price for us.  Christ died and rose again that we might live!

When we live for others instead of ourselves, we’re reflecting the God who so joyously creates and gives and blesses His world and His people.  And that’s the way we were made.

Together, we are all one body.  Many members, but one body of Christ.  And there are so many unique gifts that we can share with each other.  That out of love for one another, we can use to serve each other, to help each other.  To grow together.  There’s a great appreciation for our farmers for providing us food.  The farmers in turn appreciate those who make the machines.  The machinist appreciates the doctor for helping heal their wounds.  The doctor appreciates the teachers that loved and trained him.  The teacher appreciates the parents who taught their children respect and hard work.  The list goes on and on.  It’s called interdependence.  As a family, as the body of Christ, we work together, we serve one another.  We love each other.

In time, all these things will pass away.  In time, we won’t need teachers or doctors.  Lawyers or accountants.  But when the perfect comes, when we are fully known, love will remain.  The love of God that gives life, that is life.  The body of Christ will be with Christ forevermore.

 

Created. Redeemed. Called. January 17, 2016

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Isaiah 43:1

Life Sunday

January 17, 2016

 

Focus:  God gives value to all human life.

Function:  That the hearers value their lives as God does.

Structure:  Outline provided by Rev. Dr. Jim Lamb of Lutherans for Life.

 

Created. Redeemed. Called.

 

As we recognize Life Sunday, we also recognize just how difficult it can be.  All the issues we can talk about, issues of life from cradle to grave.  Many of them we have talked about before.  Many of them we’ll talk about again.  But so many of them can seem complicated, confusing, controversial, and uncomfortable.

Complicated, like stem cell research, cloning, in vitro fertilization and genetic engineering.  Maybe we need scientists to figure it all out.    Confusing, should we remove the feeding tube, stop the treatments, sign the Living Will, or use a Do Not Resuscitate order?  Maybe we need pioneers in the realm of ethics. @  Then there’s the controversies surrounding any of these topics.  Is church really the place?  Is worship or Bible study?  Should we just leave it all to the politicians?  Maybe we need to just stick to the gospel and leave the rest to our Biblical scholars.  @  And they can definitely make us uncomfortable, there are likely people here today who’ve had an abortion or pressured someone they know, or maybe they feel guilty because they couldn’t talk someone out of it.  Perhaps psychologists can be helpful, too.

These words are true.  Complicated, confusing, controversial, uncomfortable.  But today, today we’re not going to talk about those things.   Today we’re going to answer a different question.  A question that isn’t complicated nor confusing.  A question that isn’t controversial and doesn’t make us uncomfortable.  It’s actually pretty simple.  But it speaks to all of these issues.  In fact, it speaks to all of life, all of life everywhere.  And before we can even talk about life issues, this is where we have to begin.

Our question today is this: “what has God done that gives value to human life?”    And our Scripture text, Isaiah 43:1 gives us the answer.  “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.”

It gives us three simple words to consider.   Created.  Redeemed.  Called.  We don’t need to be scientists, ethicists, politicians, Biblical scholars or psychologists to talk about these things.  Those men and women can help, and are good to have in our community, but we get to look at these things as the very people of God.  We see them as followers of Christ, as we live in His Spirit and in His gifts.

Every life, every person has value because God made us all.  God created every single person.  And the Bible tells us that this is intimate, it’s hands on.   “Your hands fashioned and made me” (Job 10:8).   “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).  We could all just as well have a tag on our back the same as we do on our clothing.

It would read @ “Handmade by God.”  And even though some would challenge this by asking about children born with deformities or illnesses or any number of challenges, the answer is still the same.  They are the work of God’s hands and they are precious in His sight.

And should we want to go deeper on that question, God would have a couple of questions for us.   “Do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands?” (Isaiah 45:11)    “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘You did not make me’? Can the pot say to the potter, ‘You know nothing’?” (Isaiah 39:16).  What right do we have to challenge God?  We’re not the creator, we’re the created.

God is also clear in Psalm 51, saying that He has made even the smallest of human beings, even from the moment they were conceived.  “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5).  And when we think about sinfulness as being part of our human condition, and then realize that we are sinful from the very moment of conception, that means we’re human from the moment of conception.  But it also points to the next thing God has done for us that shows how much He values human life.

God knew that as sinners, we would be in need of a Savior.  From the moment of conception and onward, we are in desperate need of a Redeemer.  And we have One!  As the angel Gabriel told Mary “You will conceive and give birth to a Son, and you are to call Him Jesus” (Luke 1:31).  Those are great words not just at Christmas, but all year round!  And it mentions two separate events, both the conception of Jesus and His birth.  And it’s His conception that is the miracle, not the birth.

As God willed it, Jesus was conceived without an earthly father, by power from on high (Luke 1:35a).  That’s why the angel calls Him the Son of God (Luke 1:35b) because that’s what He is, from the moment of His conception.    “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14a).  At the time of His conception, not just His birth.

Jesus wasn’t just God-man, but also God-embryo, if you want to use that language.  Our unholiness in our conception is replaced by His holiness in His conception.  He comes to take our place.  And that gives value to embryos the world over.  They are being redeemed!

But there’s more to it.  It doesn’t end at conception.    Jesus needed a womb to develop in.  He needed feet so that He could walk among us.  He needed hands so that He could reach out and heal the sick.  He needed a mouth so that He could teach and proclaim the kingdom of God, forgiving us of our sins. He needed a heart to be filled with compassion for the lost, for the least.  He needed a body so He could hold children in His arms and bless them.

He needed those same hands and feet so that on Good Friday they might be pierced through, as one nail after another was used to secure Him to the cross.  So that He could take our place.

He needed a mouth so that He could cry out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” (Psalm 22:1) so that we wouldn’t have to.

He needed a heart pumping blood so that it would pour out from His veins, flowing from His side, to cleanse us of our sins as He fell still in death.

And He needed a body to be buried in the tomb so that on Easter morning He might rise again, breaking forth from the tomb, victorious over death and the grave alike!

Paul tells us that we have been bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20a).  From the very time of His conception until the moments spent on the cross, it all comes to a price, a price paid for us.   And so Paul reminds the Ephesian elders to “Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood” (Acts 20:28b).  We weren’t bought by some man or even a martyr.  God purchased us back for Himself with His own blood in the person of Jesus Christ.  The price paid for our life, to destroy our sins, was high.  The value that gives to human life is incalculable.

And that price was paid for all.  For all mankind.  Every human ever conceived.  Jesus Christ died “once for all” (Hebrews 9:12).  Sadly, not all men know this, but that doesn’t change the fact.  Christ’s death and His resurrection give value to all human life.  And it’s then our task to share this good news.

So far, we have two simple answers to our question, “What has God done that gives value to human life?”

Every human being, every life has value, because we are all the works of God’s hands.  We are all a part of His creation.    And we are also all the work of His hands as He stretched them out on the cross to offer us redemption.  We are all created and redeemed.

That leaves us with one simple answer left.  Every human being has value because every life is someone God desires to call into a relationship with Himself.  He truly “wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).  He wants every human being to be brought to the font, to be splashed by the water of Baptism, called in the words.  He has created and redeemed every life with His own hands  and He seeks to call us His children, to hold us, to engrave us in the palms of His hands both now and forever (Isaiah 49:16).

We are created, redeemed, and called.  It’s not complicated.  It’s not confusing.  It’s not controversial, and it’s not uncomfortable.  It’s simple.  But even in its simplicity, it speaks to all of our life’s issues.  It’s the starting point before we can even begin to answer the questions.

Let’s try on some quiz questions here: why do we strive to protect tiny embryos in Petri dishes or frozen in a fertility clinic?    Because they are little ones created and redeemed by God whom He seeks to call to Himself.

Why do we speak up for those in the womb who cannot speak?    Because they are all created, redeemed, little ones whom God wants to call.

What do we teach our little children so that when they are older, sexual promiscuity and abortion will be unthinkable?    They are special not because of what they do, how they look or how they dress, but because they are created, redeemed, and called!

What do we tell you young people as you struggle with temptations and tough choices, mood swings and confused feelings about your identity?  @We want you to know whose you are and that you can make good choices because you are created, redeemed, and called. You are His!

What do we share with that unmarried, pregnant high school young woman who is ashamed and afraid and sees only one way out?  We share that she is loved and forgiven and not forsaken because she is created, redeemed, and called. And we let her know that we care.

What do we say to women and men crushed in the aftermath of an abortion decision?  They are created, redeemed, and called, and therefore NOTHING can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

What do we share with the infertile couple desperately desiring a child?  They are created, redeemed, and called, and they can trust in the ways and will of their God. We can then pray with them and help them look at all of their options.

What can we say to those who miscarry a child they already know and love?  They are created, redeemed, and called, and God holds them in His hands.

What do we have to share with the frail and elderly who wonder about God’s purpose for their lives?  They are created, redeemed, and called, and as long as God gives them life, He gives their lives meaning and purpose.

How can we help the family struggling with a difficult end-of-life decision for a loved one?  We can encourage them to know that they and their loved one are created, redeemed, and called. They can make a decision they believe is in accordance with God’s will and trust that He will work through it.

This list could go on and on, but the answer is still the same.  Our lives have value.  Every life has value because every life is someone who has been created by God, redeemed by the blood of Jesus, and they have either been called or God is still seeking to call them into an everlasting relationship with Him.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.  In fact, it’s simple.  All life has value because God has created, redeemed, and called.  Amen.