January 31, 2016
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
I’ve preached on this text from 1st Corinthians many times…
but I don’t think ever on a Sunday morning!
After the 23rd psalm,
this is probably the most familiar passage in the Bible
because it’s been heard so often at weddings.
There’s a scene from the movie Wedding Crashers
where Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn
are placing bets on what the reading at the wedding will be.
“20 bucks First Corinthians,” Vaughn says.
Then we hear,
“And now a reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians.”
1st Corinthians chapter 13 brings to mind couples,
holding hands, making vows,
and romantic love that they hope will last.
Love is patient; love is kind;
Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant;
Love bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.
Indeed it is a beautiful passage for a wedding…
And I can tell you first hand that it
makes a great cross-stitch for an anniversary gift!
But Paul did not write this letter for a couple in love.
He wrote this letter to the church he had started in Corinth,
which was having a very hard time with love.
We don’t know exactly what the church looked like at that point;
It’s likely that there were small groups of believers
meeting in different parts of the city,
who would come together as a church for a common meal and worship
on a regular basis.
This passage is from the 13th chapter of the letter.
For the first 12 chapters, Paul has been refereeing
various arguments the church has been having.
Some maybe we can relate to…others maybe not.
They’ve been arguing about who should lead them in worship;
they’ve been arguing about whether they can eat certain foods;
they’ve been arguing about who has the most important spiritual gifts:
is it speaking in tongues or is it prophecy…
At the end of chapter 12, Paul says,
“Let me show you a still more excellent way.”
You have missed the point!
The way to get at the gospel
is not in the answer to these arguments you’re having…
The way to get at at the gospel is through the discipline of love –
Paul says to them,
Even the most spiritual of people is nothing to do with Jesus
if they are not kind to others;
Even the greatest prophet and teacher is not sharing the message of Jesus
if they do not exemplify patience.
Without love, it does not matter
how beautiful our worship space is,
how well we teach our children,
how much we contribute to the community,
and advocate for justice.
Those are good things –
but they are not the things that give the church the shape that God desires.
The church is called first to be a community that practices love.
Love one another … and these other things will follow.
“This is a still more excellent way, church,” Paul says.
There was a book published in 1931
which became a best seller.
Some call it one of the best books of the 20th century.
It’s called Living Philosophies: A Series of Intimate Credos.
It’s a collection of writings from various intellectuals – 22 thinkers.
They were asked to share their philosophy of life –
their philosophy of living.
One of the most intriguing credos comes from Albert Einstein.
He wrote it when he was 51 years old –
10 years after he’d won his Nobel Prize in physics.
The brilliant physicist who probed the mysteries of the universe;
The scientists’ scientist who figured out things no one else could begin to understand;
What was Einstein’s philosophy of life?
Albert Einstein agreed with Paul.
Einstein said life is about love….
“We are here,” he said, “for the sake of others.”
He said, we are here for the sake of those we know,
whose smiles make us happy,
But also for the sake of those we don’t know,
To whom we are connected merely by virtue of our common humanity.[i]
We are here for the sake of others.
We are here for love.
Einstein received accolades for his discoveries the world over.
But he wasn’t all that impressed with himself.
In fact, he said that he thought the reason people kept giving him awards
was perhaps because they didn’t understand his ideas.
(Kind of like, “I don’t get it, but let’s give him an award so we look smart!”)
All the awards in the world were insignificant to Einstein.
They did not bring him closer to the goodness, beauty, and truth
he said were his real goals in life.
He saw as the “still more excellent way” Paul wrote about…
as the way of living for the sake of others.
“If I understand all mysteries and have all knowledge…
but have not love, I am nothing.”
The love Paul writes about of course
is not married bliss;
it is not romantic love;
and it’s not necessarily the kind of love that even makes us feel good;
we may not ever “feel the love” for some people.
There are some people who are really hard to love!
But in all honesty, we’re all really hard to love
at least some of the time!
Let’s face it, we’re not always going to get this right.
But because God loves us even so…
maybe we can make love our credo…our philosophy of life.
I don’t understand much of what Einstein said,
but this I understand and I believe:
We are here for the sake of others.
We are here for the sake of love.