Bible verses for reflection: 1 Corinthians 13: 1-13
I’m not sure I can put into words how excited I am to be a part of this community of faith. In many ways, I’m still trying to convince myself that it’s real. I am grateful to the APNC, for their faithfulness and to all of you for calling me as your new associate pastor. God is good, friends. All the time. Each day this week, I’ve learned more and more about what happens here in this place and it is exciting. I’ve learned more and more about what happens here inside DPC and what DPC does beyond the walls of this building. It is easy to see that God is at work in and through you…as individuals and as a body.
Todd asked me to preach today…my first Sunday and we find ourselves in the middle of a series about the bicentennial goal. It is so impressive to me that you all have a bicentennial goal…something you’ve committed to work toward for the next ten years. My husband is the goal setter in our family. At the beginning of the year, he asks me what I think our goals should be for the next year and I don’t typically have a ready answer. The idea of a goal for us for the year is a bit overwhelming to me. I think it is quite wonderful that you all have set a goal not only for the next year but for the next several. Every child of God, belonging, engaging, being transformed. A couple of weeks ago you reflected on what it means to be a child of God and I was here last week when Todd talked about belonging and what it means to be a part of the body of Christ…that we all belong here, we are all necessary, and we are all connected to one another.
Today, we’ll think about what it means to be engaged in the love of Christ. One thing that you’ll learn about me is that I love the dictionary. It’s a favorite resource of mine. So, I had to look up the word “engage” to see what it officially means. According to dictionary.com, to engage means to “occupy the attention or efforts of (a person or persons).” So, one of this congregation’s goals for the next 10 years and I imagine for the foreseeable future is to occupy the attention or efforts of each person in Christ’s love. It certainly seems a worthy goal to me.
We’ve read a very familiar passage of Scripture this morning. The 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is one that we have heard many times. It’s a popular choice for weddings and I’ve heard it outside of the church in movies and on TV. It is often used, incorrectly, as an ideal for romantic love but that’s not what Paul is talking about here. Remember that Paul is writing to a community that is having a difficult time staying together. And this kind of love, the love that Paul describes isn’t easy to embody even when everyone is getting along. It isn’t easy to live out this kind of love. We can look at this list…love is patient, love is kind, love is not envious or boastful or arrogant, etc. and read it as a to-do list or a list of attributes of love but more than telling us what love is this passage tells us what love does; love is a busy, active thing that never stops working…love exercises patience, love acts with kindness, love does not envy or boast or brag or insult. Love doesn’t throw tantrums or jockey for position, love doesn’t snap when provoked, love doesn’t take things personally, love doesn’t hold a grudge, love keeps its cool, love gets excited about truth and righteousness, love can handle anything and in the end love will not fall but will continue to stand tall forever.
Now, we can read this passage and give ourselves a break by saying, “Well, this is how God loves. Paul is describing the love of God. Paul doesn’t expect us to live up to this standard of loving.” We could let ourselves off the hook but I think Paul does expect us to live up to this standard of loving. I think Paul does expect the body of Christ to love this way. Our passage opened with the reminder that we can give away all our money and all of our possessions but if we don’t do it with love, our giving is folly. We can know all there is to know but if we do not love, our knowledge doesn’t add up to much. We can speak eloquently but if we do not speak with love, the words coming out of our mouths are just noise. If we do not have love as our foundation, we are nothing. I don’t think Paul is exaggerating here. I think that without the love of God…we are nothing…our actions amount to nothing…our good intentions amount to nothing…our activities amount to nothing. You see, we desperately need the foundation of God’s love in our lives. The love of God in us is our driving force.
As a pastor, I hear lot of questions about what makes the church different…what makes Christians different…what makes a community of faith different…what separates us from charities and service organizations? There are plenty of those in the world. I’m sure there are plenty of those here in Decatur. And those organizations have a lot to offer and they do good things but we are different, right? There’s something that sets us apart, I think. Unfortunately, in today’s world, it’s not always easy to see what that something is but it’s the love of Christ. The love of Christ sets us apart. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” Not just any love but this love…the kind that exercises patience and acts with kindness. The kind of love that forgives and doesn’t hold a grudge. The kind of love that listens. The kind of love that always considers others first. It is the love of Christ in us that makes us different. As children of God and members of the body of Christ we are to engage in this kind of love. We are to occupy our attention and our efforts in Christ’s love.
It’s not an easy undertaking. Embodying this kind of love isn’t easy. Living out this kind of love isn’t easy. We’ve been around enough people to know that loving this way takes intention and effort. It takes prayer and practice. One of the great things about being a part of a community of faith is that we get to practice living the kind of life God calls us to live here. We get to practice loving one another here. We get to practice serving one another here. We get to practice putting others first here. But we don’t stay here, we leave this place confident that we are fully known and loved by God, filled with the love of Christ…we walk outside of these doors…and we love the community around us…we love our neighbors…we love the least of these…we love those who are different from us. The only way we can do it is with God’s help. The only way we can live out this kind of love is if the love of Christ lives within us.
When my husband Keenan and I were making our way from Oklahoma to Georgia, I heard a bit of theology on the radio. I’m a firm believer that God can and will speak to us in any number of ways when we keep our ears open. David Bowie was a favorite artist of mine and one of his songs came on the radio as we were driving through Alabama. He died a few weeks ago so I listened intently when the song began because something in my heart stirred. When the song was over, I told Keenan that I heard it…I heard the line that I didn’t know I was waiting to hear. “Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night and love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.”
That’s it. My friends, it is the love of Christ that dares us, inspires us, and enables us to care about the world, about our community, about our neighbors, about the other, and about ourselves. As we strive together to live as God’s own beloved children, may we continually seek out ways to engage in Christ’s love in all that we do…here together and out there in God’s world.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
January 31, 2016