Jeremiah 1:4-10/ Psalm 71/ 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“The Best Gift Ever”
Have you ever said upon receiving a gift that this gift is the best gift ever? It was probably a gift that was selected with our deepest needs in mind. Perhaps it perfectly matches who we are or just what we have longed for or needed.
Perhaps Sunny has been focusing on I Corinthians and spiritual gifts? Here’s a bit of a summary: baptized with living water is our first spiritual gift from God, it is the start of our faith journey; the second of the spiritual gifts, just are, not selected or bought, some are given the right words to say to someone in need, some are wise in understanding, some are filled with hope and faith and have the gift of peace, some are given hands that heal, some are so intuitive that they can spot in an instant how things will work out, some are visionaries in the church, some can hear what a person is trying to say not what they said. All these gifts work together so all may live in the light of Christ. The third gift is understanding that we come together as one body with many members. The best analogue for the church. Everyone is in, in the body of Christ, no exclusions please.
Different Parts of Christ’s Body
These are Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians about spiritual gifts and the varied roles we are to play in Christ’s body. Paul brings it all together with a beautiful hymn to love – the greatest gift. Paul is always saying, “Strive for the greatest gift, love.” Love has more significance than any other gift from God. Paul did not write this hymn for weddings but for the whole church.
In a Peanuts cartoon, Lucy tells Charlie Brown, “You know what I don’t understand? I don’t understand love!” Charlie Brown replies, “Who does!” So, Lucy asks him to explain love to her. But he protests, “You can’t explain love.” Paul does not really explain love or define it. He describes what it is and isn’t. Love is a gift, and we can certainly describe what it is not.
There is a scene from the play about Helen Keller’s life in which Anne Sullivan spells out the word L.O.V.E. in Helen’s hand. Perplexed, she spells back the question, WHAT.IS.LOVE? I know few people who do not want to love, who set out to be intentionally hateful or hurtful or who want to withhold love. It is impossible for us to express love until we experience it. It is hard to love until we feel loved. Paul wants us to understand how God loves us unconditionally. We are commanded today, to love as Christ loved us.
Unconditional Love of Christ
Let’s think for a moment upon Christ’s love. Can you envision a world where all problems that stem from the absence of unconditional love could be resolved by the experience of unconditional love? Can love really undo the hurts and pains we have known? Can love really bring peace to the world? Can love really restore what has been broken? How will we know unless we try it?
Columnist Ann Landers once responded to an inquiry by writing, “If you have love in your life, it can make up for a great many things you lack. If you don’t have it, no matter what else there is, it’s not enough.
Paul’s Hymn about Love
Paul’s hymn may be too familiar so here is a different translation, J.B. Phillips paraphrases this passage beautifully…
This love of which I speak is slow to lose patience – it looks for a way of being constructive. It is not possessive: it is neither anxious to impress nor does it cherish inflated ideas of its own importance. Love has good manners and does not pursue selfish advantage. It is not touchy. It does not keep account of evil or gloat over the wickedness of other people. Love knows no limit to its endurance, no end to its trust, no fading of its hope. It is, in fact, the one thing that still stands when all else has fallen. (The New Testament in Modern English)
What if we substitute our name every time, we read love? Sandy looks for a way of being constructive. Christine is not possessive. Amanda is neither anxious to impress. Joan does not cherish ideas of inflated importance. Harry is not touchy. This Gloria of which I speak is slow to lose patience… Kris has good manners and does not pursue selfish interest. Joanne knows no limit to her endurance. Love has less to do with emotion than devotion. Love can overcome things that irritate us. Sometimes love means doing a random act of kindness. We can rejoice in someone else’s good fortune if we love. Loving humbles us, pure and simple.
Love that Transforms
Loving is always risky because we cannot enter into it, without being changed. Altered. Transformed. In the face of this, we might ask, “Do I really want this?” Do I really desire to be so undone? Jesus understood our uncertainty. Loving is never just about opening our hearts. It is willing to have our heart become larger as we make room for people and stories and experiences we never imagined holding. Loving each other is about a willingness to have hearts shattered and rebuilt with the promise of forgiveness. Our world is a broken place but beauty shines as we live in the light of God’s love. This is what 1 Corinthians teaches and is what the promise of Jesus teaches us. May this greatest gift shine in your life and in mine! Amen.