Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (January 31, 2016)
- First reading
- Second reading
1 Corinthians 13 | New Living Translation
13 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! 9 Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! 10 But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.
11 When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. 12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
For the last two weeks we have looked at the previous chapter of 1 Corinthians. We can tell from Paul’s writings that the church at Corinth had its good points and its bad points. In chapter 12, we can see that there was some divisiveness over the spiritual gifts and the fact that the church is many people and yet one. God has given each one of us unique gifts to minister in the kingdom and in His church.
One of the unique things about God’s church is that it is made up of people. I love what one of our General Superintendents said many years ago at a district conference. The church has not survived 2,000 because of us (Christians) but in spite of us. God’s church is Christ’s church and that is why the church has survived because Christ is at the center or he should be.
So here we have a church that has some divisions – sounds familiar doesn’t it? Paul launches into the solution. That solution is love. If we don’t have love, we are nothing. It is true, God is love…Jesus came, died on the cross, rose again, ascended to heaven, and is coming again…all because of love. God loves his people so much that He desires no one should perish.
It’s only fitting that we believers ought to model this love. I know that many have read this passage before, but look at the characteristics of love.
- is patient and kind
- is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
- does not demand its own way.
- is not irritable
- keeps no record of being wronged
- does not rejoice about injustice
- rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
- never gives up
- never loses faith
- is always hopeful
- endures through every circumstance.
I love that this passage includes the positive and negatives of love – not only what love is, but what love isn’t. In many ways, these are the characteristics that should be shown by God’s people.
I hope you took the time to read though Pam’s post yesterday. If not, here is the link. How do we go about showing God’s love to a world that so desperately needs it? Jesus told us there were only two commandments – to love the Lord our God with everything we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves. That’s pretty good advise. If we love our neighbor as ourselves, we have to show the love that Paul writes about.
A word of caution: Following Jesus’ statement about loving our neighbors, one of the Pharisees asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan. Our neighbors are those people whom God has created. Yes, God still has work to do in my own life on this topic.
Love is the greatest gift that God gave us and he showed us that we need to love others. With all the talk of spiritual gifts in the Corinthian church, Paul reminds us that someday these gifts will be useless – only love will remain. Our knowledge is only partial – it is incomplete – we only see through a glass darkly – or rather it is like looking at our image in the bathroom mirror right after a shower – the image is cloudy and obscured.
I love how Paul writes that this is how it is now, but then – when we see Jesus — when we see Perfect Love – then we shall know fully and we will see in the mirror clearly. We will know everything completely as God already knows us completely.
We are reminded in another passage that “Perfect Love casts out fear.” Jesus is perfect love. As we close the passage, Paul writes, “Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – but the greatest is love.
The next sentence in chapter 14 says, “Let love be your highest goal!” Love should rule everything we do. It should direct all of our actions in whatever we do. I don’t know about you, but I still have a lot to learn in this area. However, my desire is to love God with all my heart and to love my neighbor as myself. That is my prayer for you as well.
A couple of months ago, I started to have some pains in weird places in my body so I went to the doctor. He did not know what was wrong and sent me home. A couple of weeks went by and the pains got worst and they moved to my back so I went back to the doctor. At that time he sent me to physical therapy to find out what was the problem. When I got there the physical therapist did test to see what was wrong. She asked me questions about my life style and what my job is. I told her that I was a pastor and that Dale and I are looking for a church. I also told her we were helping out at little church.
Then she asked me when the pain was at its worst. I told her when we are at church. If I am not at church I can stand up and walk the pain off. She asked me why I just didn’t stop going to church? The physical therapist explained that this is a normal thing some women when they have the operation I had two years ago. She showed me some exercises I could do to strengthen my back. Dale came with me on the second visit because I asked him to come along. We do not get to spend much time together and I thought it would be cool for him to see what I do there. While we were in the middle of stretching, she started to ask about the pain and once again she asked me what event during the week caused the most pain. Again I replied while we are attending church.
At that point she started relating experience about when she was younger. My therapist had attended church with her family when she was younger. She told us how she was there every time the doors were open. (We can relate to that.) For her, church was not a good experience. She talked about how people at church can be so judgmental and hateful. At this point in her life, she really has no interest in church. I would consider her one of the dechurched.
Dale and I did not say anything we just listened. When she was done talking about church, she started telling about her family. At that moment I was glad we did not say anything because a wall was breaking down. Once again all we did was listened. As Dale and I walked out of therapy our hearts were broken. In our twenty years of ministry we have heard many stories like this from others we have met. My therapists story is a story that has happened over and over.
This has even happened in our own lives. We have been hurt by churches (in reality, by a very few individuals in churches) in the past. However, I think the key for us is that we were able to look past the judgmental people and remember what God is really like and the purpose of His church.
We have spent a lot of time thinking about this woman’s story and it has broken our hearts because of the number of times we have run into this. The next time I had an appointment, the therapist told me that when she heard that I was a pastor she was not going to like me because every pastor she knew was mean and hateful. This did not surprise me – I have heard that from other people. She also told me that many of the Christians she had as patients were rude and uncaring. She was surprised that a pastor and a Christian could be so cute and adorable. Then she asked me if it was ok if she called me cute and adorable. I told her that I had been called that before by a couple of soldiers. She thanked me for showing her how loving and caring a Christian can be. By the way during this time there were other people coming in to talk to her because one of her older patients came in an hour and half early for his appointment. One of the other therapists was going to take him and wanted to know what was going on. I know this is going to sound strange but if God can use a pain in my back to minister to someone, I am ok with it.
As we wrap up this post, let us encourage you to imitate Christ.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God. – Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT)
We have been called to be his children – we have been called to imitate Jesus – to be like Jesus in everything we do. I find it interesting as we look at Jesus. Those whom we expect that Jesus would judge harshest are often dealt the most compassion. Then there are the religious folks – Jesus often reserves his harshest words for those who outwardly are very religious, but inwardly have the same nature as those they are judging.
So where are you today? Are you imitating Jesus? My prayer is that you are. There are people whom God created that desperately need the love of Jesus and perhaps you are the Jesus that they need today.
Here is this week’s edition of Sunday Night Thoughts. I thought I would return to the video version.
Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of his salvation, that we and the whole world may perceive the glory of his marvelous works; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Third Sunday after the Epiphany (January 24, 2016)
- First reading
- Second reading
1 Corinthians 12:12-31 | NLT
12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.
14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?
18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”
22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.
27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it. 28 Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church:
first are apostles,
second are prophets,
third are teachers,
then those who do miracles,
those who have the gift of healing,
those who can help others,
those who have the gift of leadership,
those who speak in unknown languages.
29 Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? 30 Do we all have the gift of healing? Do we all have the ability to speak in unknown languages? Do we all have the ability to interpret unknown languages? Of course not! 31 So you should earnestly desire the most helpful gifts.
But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.
Last week, our scripture was from the beginning part of 1 Corinthians 12. Today we finish up the chapter. As we begin looking at this scripture today, we are reminded that this season between Epiphany and Lent is the season about the mission of Christ and subsequently the mission of the church.
This scripture reminds us again of the diversity in the church and that Jesus needs each one of us working in the church to do the thing that he has called us to do. I think churches (using that in meaning the assembly of the saints) struggle with this. We forget that Christ has given each one of us different jobs to do within his church. All of us can’t do the same thing – just as our human bodies aren’t all one part.
One of the things that I see churches struggle with is those who are in the public ministry. Yes, those people seem always to get all the acclaim. For some, they let that acclaim go to their heads. I know that in my life, it can be easy to be caught up in the acclamation. That’s why I purposely do the “behind-the-scenes” things. I figure as a pastor and worship leader that if I can’t help set up and tear down chairs and tables, and other other tasks that stay out of the limelight – then something is wrong. We should not purposely seek out the attention, but on the other hand, when we are called to do something we should do it.
God has given me a gift that I have only recently recognized. It has only been in the last couple of years that I realized the gift of music that I have been given. Yes, I can read music and play several instruments and sing, but God has given me the uncanny ability to pick up songs quickly – some of that comes from sight singing skills and ear training skills that I learned at Indiana Wesleyan University, some of it is natural talent and I believe that natural talent is a gift from God – specifically because it builds up the church. After all that is the purpose of the gifts.
The church needs all of its members and each one needs to find where they fit within the body. I see many who are not cut out for a public, up front ministry struggle and those who are not cut out for nursery or children’s ministry struggle, simply because we need a warm body. Perhaps the nursery worker needs to be up front and the up front person needs to be in the nursery or children’s ministry. It seems, at times, that everyone wants to be on the platform because it is the public ministry. Guess what? Those of us on the platform who get all those accolades have already received our reward. The real unsung heroes of the church are the children’s ministry workers, nursery workers, janitors and housekeeping people – especially those who clean the bathrooms, the greeters and safety teams, the youth workers, those who work in the kitchen. That’s just a small list of the behind the scenes jobs that sometimes go unfulfilled in the church. God has a part for you!
So what gift has God given you, specifically to build up the church. Are you desiring the gift that gets you noticed? Are you doing a job that you think is not honorable (however you define that)? Remember each one of us are part of the church — each one has a job to do. What helpful gift is God working in you?
One of the TV shows that my daughter Anna and I like to watch is Project Runway. One of the most famous phrases that have come out of Project Runway is from Tim Gunn, he says in every show “make it work”. This has become my motto since we started to help out at Waynesboro Wesleyan Church. Why, because most of my ministry supplies are packed in boxes which are sitting in my son’s room. I do not know which boxes have what, so I have to use the resources I can find in our home which are Children Ministry Deal curriculum that has been downloaded to my computer. Also we when from a church that understood the value of technology in the children ministry where I had a large screen TV to use Power Point, to a church that is not even connected to the internet. I started to use the computer and a desktop computer monitor and a little Bluetooth speaker because there is something wrong with my computer speakers, which works out pretty good. I also have to work with the fact that every other week most of the children have to miss because their parents separation which in a normal event in most churches these days. Unfortunately, most of the older children are gone and most of those weeks I will only have a three year old in my class. I has been over sixteen years since I taught two and three year olds, most of my resources are for elementary children. I had to make the lesson work for younger children. I am really not complaining, this has been a growing moment in my life. You know the saying what does not break you makes you a better person. That is what this period in my life has been.