A sermon by Keith Herron, Pastor, Holmeswood Baptist Church, Kansas City, Mo.
I Corinthians 13
July 13, 2014
What is it in your life, what activity or what driving force, makes you so happy it makes your heart sing? Joseph Campbell asked it this way, “What’s your bliss?”
The answer to that question is something different for almost everyone here, dependently unique to our calling and experience. While your gift is unique to you, everyone has something that sparks their lives to joie de vivre (your happy joy).
For some, it’s the passion they feel of teaching children. Good school teachers have this; those who love working with a specific age group in VBS have this (Maybe it’s too soon after VBS to make this point?). While teaching is tough work, these folks know they love helping children grow. They love helping children flourish and become the person they are meant to be. But in the spirit of our Scripture reading, if you work with children without love you’re no better than a bad babysitter.
For some of you, your bliss is working to manage or coordinate big projects. You love the challenge of tackling a nearly overwhelming task involving dozens of co-workers and diligently seeing that everyone has the right assignment for their skills and interest and seeing they have the right tools and the right resources at just the right time so the project is done efficiently and in a timely fashion … the joy comes when the dust settles and you and your teammates get a great sense of accomplishment! But if you don’t work with a sense of love, you are a forgotten project report tossed into a forgotten file cabinet.
Some of you love to prepare a great meal that everyone looks forward to sharing (especially if they stop long enough to recognize how much love was poured into the making of that meal). You think about who to invite to your table and who should next to whom because they would enjoy each other as much as they enjoy the meal you’re preparing. It’s not just the cooking. It’s the hospitality of bringing people together and feeding them that makes you happy. You love the preparation and the bringing together of the right ingredients … spices, and raw, fresh vegetables, and yummy dishes, and desserts. You love the planning, the execution, and the serving of a meal that others will also enjoy, a gift that blesses their bodies and their souls. But if you cook without love, you are a tasteless, moldy dish in a Tupperware container in the back of the refrigerator.
Some have a great thirst for knowledge and count their education as one of God’s best gifts in life. They love reading and researching and delving into the world of ideas so they might be enriched and also so they might enrich and stimulate others to grow. But if you live your studious life without love, you are just a bore and a know-it-all nuisance to everyone around you.
I know folks who love to make music. They love the chance to make music, whether it’s alone in quiet times when they can sit at a keyboard and play or whether they can get with their friends and make music just for the fun of playing music. You know the phrase … “He who sings prays twice.” But if you make music with no love in your heart, you are just an irritating jingle the kids in the carpool make fun of.
Or perhaps you’ve followed a calling into ministry and you give yourself to preaching and teaching and having key conversations with folks of all kinds. You love the crazy-irregular rhythms of ministry. But if you are a preacher without love, you are just the yakkity-smakkity that merely occupies what the Order of Worship calls, “The Sermon.”
Did you know that not knowing the secret power to your meaning and purpose in life can make even your happy joy surprisingly empty and meaningless if it’s not done out of love? That’s what our Bible verses this week tell us.
What is this love that Paul writes about? It’s interesting to note the irony of this love letter is shown in the church’s fighting with itself. The church in Corinth was full of divisions and arguments. If you only read the love chapter, you will be lulled into naïvely thinking everyone is getting along beautifully. But just beneath the surface, there are strong currents of distrust and disagreement.
Love is the key to understanding someone with whom you disagree. You don’t have to agree to show respect to the one with whom you are holding this argument.
This week in Vacation Bible School, we explored stories of Jesus and how in all the encounters Jesus had with the people he met he showed love as the basic motivation that made his life meaningful.
Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious,
never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude.
Love does not demand in its own way.
It is not irritable or touchy.
It does not hold grudges
and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.
It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.
Love never gives up.
God’s love is poured out like a fountain flowing to fill your life … When we live God’s love in everything we do or say, God’s love and kindness flows in such quantity it is poured out like a waterfall that never stops. The water flows and flows and flows whether you pay attention or not. In fact, the waterfall flows endlessly day and night, day after day … no matter who you are, no matter whether you’re tall or short, skinny or fat, no matter what color your skin is, or whether you’re good at sports or video games or what. God’s love is like a fountain pouring out day and night God’s goodness and love for you.
I read this week how one church extends a warm & wide welcome (just like God). It was posted in a sign they hung on the wall in their church:
“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles (I don’t speak English). We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds. We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket.
You’re welcome here if you’re ‘just browsing,’ just woke up or just got out of jail … We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.
We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted … We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid, or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!”
That kind of open-handed welcome is the way God welcomes us. We are invited into a relationship with God that is startling for how full of love it is.
Our Bible stories this week made some mighty big promises. One last thought about this promise. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
God’s love is rich and full and the greatest gift in the world. May we be filled with God’s love.
After serving as bridge pastor at First Congregational Church of St. Louis, Missouri, during the past year, Herron moved recently to Lawrence, Kansas, where he will continue to minister in interim settings. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).