How Do I Express Myself In Community?
by Rev. Jonathan Gale
Parish Camp Sunday Session
13th October 2013
1 Corinthians 13
The Gift of Love
13If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. 9For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. 12For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
John 13: 3 – 15
3Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. 6He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ 7Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ 8Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’ 9Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ 10Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ 11For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’
12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? 13You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
We have been talking about community this weekend, and I suppose one thing we have not focussed upon, and which is really obvious, is that in community it is important that we all get along well together. God loves unity.
Psalm 133 tells us
1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in peace!
2 It’s like the special olive oil that was poured on Aaron’s head. It ran down on his beard and on the collar of his robe.
3 It’s as if the dew of Mount Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. There the Lord gives his blessing. He gives life that never ends.
But getting on peaceably doesn’t come near what God expects of us. God has some pretty high expectations.
The reading from 1 Corinthians makes that plain. 4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.
It’s quite an ask to be expected to be loving all the time, especially when you are struggling to work and play with people who might not have been your first choice as friends. That’s the thing about church. It’s God’s house. It’s a community of people brought together by one thing only: they are responding to God’s grace in Christ – they are coming together regularly in obedience to God. That makes them your brothers and sisters.
But when you think about the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; it becomes clear that as we are open to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit begins to infuse us, gradually becoming part of our personalities, moulding us into the likeness of Jesus. These nine Fruit of the Spirit are nothing short of the character of Christ.
With Jesus’ character built into us, we have huge help in being able to more than get on. We are able to be loving – and not just any old loving – but the kind of love God has for us: agape love – self-sacrificing love.
You’ve probably heard before that the New Testament writers have four different words for love and that the love that is the love of God (that God expects us to exercise) is known in Greek as agape love.
We have also learnt this weekend that receiving the Holy Spirit is the key to living the Christian life in community – to receiving the power we need to carry out our ministries.
It is no co-incidence that Paul in writing to the Corinthians about the power of Gifts of the Holy Spirit, decides in the very next chapter to talk about how much more important love is. Having the power of Jesus is wonderful. It helps immensely in carrying out our ministries.
Having the character of Jesus (the Fruit of the Holy Spirit) is just as important (possibly even more so). What you are as a Christian is so much more important than what you can do.
I think it was St Francis who said something like “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.” And most of us have heard the expression, “What you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear a word you’re saying.” It’s what we are that gives veracity to what we say.
Either way, nothing is as important as being loving.
There is an old saying that goes like this: “No-one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” So, so true.
Romans 5 mentions that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
It is possible to be loving if we hold closely to God and are open to have more of him in our lives. And even if this love grows a little cold there is always room for simple obedience. I’ve shared before how one day I was travelling with Pastor Ray Oliver and complaining about something or other and he turned to me and said, “Sometimes, Jonathan, you just have to grit your teeth and obey.”
You see, even if they are not walking in the Spirit, even if we’ve lost sight of the grace of God, the Law still stands. God still requires us to love. It is the single most important thing a Christian can do.
Paul says to the Galatians in chapter 5, 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
The only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Paul says to the Corinthians 13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The Apostle John urges us in 1 John 4: 7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Love is the most powerful force in the universe. You may have noticed that people can have all sorts of reasons as to why they either don’t believe in God, or why they won’t come to church regularly; but all arguments tumble down in the face of love. The arguments disappear when they encounter a Christian who genuinely loves them. Suddenly they are of no consequence any more.
Love is an inescapable command, and it has nothing to do with how new feel. It was Larry Christenson, an American Lutheran, who (using an image from the construction industry) said “You make the forms and god will pour the concrete.” C.S. Lewis was particularly emphatic about our going ahead in spite of our feelings. One’s feelings, he once said, could well be influenced by the state of one’s liver, which illustrates just how unreliable they are as a guide to action. His advice was simply to be loving, consistently, whether one felt like it or not, and if done in sincerity, the feelings would eventually follow.
Which reminds me of the man who approached a priest and complained that the bible commanded him to love his wife but he found that very difficult to do. The priest thought for a bit and said, well, if you find her difficult to love as your wife then follow the example of Jesus who laid down his life for his friends and love her as a friend. The man said he didn’t feel very friendly towards his wife. Well, we’re meant to love our enemies said the priest.
Most people deep down are crying out for love.
You’ll notice when Jesus washes his disciples’ feet that Peter objects. He wants the whole of him to be washed. Jesus says, no; ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean.
You see we are not perfect. Every day we pick up a bit of dust. It is in washing one another’s feet (in serving one another, in being loving towards one another) that the dust is washed off.
Jesus says to the disciples: 14So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.
There are very few rituals that Jesus required us to take part in; in fact only three: baptism, communion and foot-washing. And foot-washing stands as a symbol for the life we are to lead as we relate to one another. It stands for service, for loving ministry.
So the hall mark of our life together in community is love. It was said of the early Christians, Tertullian noted (Apology [39.7]) “See how they love one another.”
13And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
The point is this; it’s easy to talk about love. It’s easy to stand in front of people and tell them moving stories of love, because these stories move us all. I’m not going to do that.
I’m simply going to appeal to you today, by the mercies of God, to take the Scriptures to heart and to understand that the way to give expression to your life in community is to be loving. That means putting others first a lot of the time. But know this, we can tell from the life of Jesus in laying down his life for us all that he meant it when he said that the two most important commandments were to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Luke 10: 27)