Sunday, June 18, 2017

Love Never Ends

My last sermon for Presbury UMC.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 8-13 (NRSV)
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And 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. If 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.
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. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When 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. For 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. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NRSV)
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Let us pray:
Patient teacher, we give you thanks. We should always start with thanks because no matter how weak our faith or how slim our hope, we always have your love. So we thank you. And we ask through the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts this morning that you may help us always to name that love and be part of that love ourselves this day and always. Amen.

How many of you like love stories? Me too! In the famous romance story Star Wars, the first time Han and Leia express their love for one another, it went a little something like this:

That is true love right there. What does it have to do with our scripture from 1st and 2nd Corinthians? Nothing, I just wanted to make a Star Wars reference in my goodbye sermon to all of you.

Anyway, love stories have been on my mind as I prepared to say goodbye to all of you. Not romantic ones, except for Star Wars of course. Even though this 1 Corinthians 13 passage is frequently used at weddings, the love it describes is not a romantic love in the least. The apostle Paul who wrote this letter to the early Corinthians church was not the most romantic guy. He wanted us to understand at least a little bit the kind of love that God has for us. You see, romantic love may inspire us, spark something within us, but it is not stable. It must be grounded in commitment if it is to endure any length of time, and even then it does not always last. But that doesn't mean love, the love that God has used as the foundation of our being, the love God has taught us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the love that God offers us each and every day through the movement of the Spirit, is not stable. In fact, the scripture verse that keeps coming to mind is the last from this chapter: And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

I talked about faith not long ago. I said that it was more than just believing something to be true. Intellectually, we may know something to be true, but that doesn't always mean that we no longer have doubts in our hearts. Nor is faith the trust that the storms in life will pass or reveal a greater gift. Faith is about leaning into the presence of God even when we are afraid.

And yet, that is easier said than done.

I talked about hope just last week. About how hope can disappoint us, but when it does it is not the hope God is calling us to. God is not calling us to a specific outcome, to be postivie or optimistic. God is calling us to act into the possibilites for good that God is constantly creating.

And yet, still it is hard to hope.

But the greatest of these is love. That's what Paul tells us. In fact, he writes that is all you have is hope, that is not enough. He writes that if all you have is faith, you are nothing. He writes, If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And 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. If 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. It almost sounds harsh. But my experience is that this love is what sustains us when our faith slips. Love is what holds onto hope when we no longer can. Love can transform us in the darkest hour of our lives because love never ends.

In the last four years I have been your pastor, I have seen the transformational power of love through this church. I have watched when I bring one of you with me to see someone in the hospital or at home, and I have seen their whole faces change. Sure it means a lot to have the pastor come visit, but to have a fellow church member come visit, someone you have known for years, that means something even more. I have watched as you have offered help to one another, whether it is a ride somewhere or letting someone stay with you. One person told me this week that even though she doesn't have biological family in Edgewood anymore, people in church have adopted her and become her family, taking her to doctor's appointments, bringing her meals, and helping her find someone to help around the house. Another told me he introduces members of the church as his siblings because that's how connected he feels. I have been witness to the transforming power of love as our youth have gone on mission trips and as our children have played with a Muslim youth group. I have watched people sit and listen with our guests experiencing homelessness at the shelter, offering them anointing for healing. I have watched you love one another as Jesus loved us, which was the commandment he gave to us before his death and resurrection in the Gospel of John.

I, too, have been on the receiving end of that love. When I came to Presbury, I'd like to think I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, ready to work. Deer Creek and Mt. Tabor had taught me how to pastor, and helped me to fall in love with the church again, and I was ready to get to know you and jump right into ministry. You put up with my hare-brained ideas, indulged my geeky-ness, and cleaned up after me when I threw confetti around everywhere. You welcomed Aaron, and even though he still considers himself to be a Baptist, he knows you are his church home. He felt included and valued and discipled here. And when we had the worst year of our lives, you were there, laying hands on Aaron to ask for his healing, sending us cards and sharing your own stories of loss so we did not feel so alone, and continually telling me you were praying for me. You caravaned to Washington D.C. to celebrate my ordination. You hugged us, laughed more with us that at us, cried with us, and continue to cover us in prayer. That love has lifted us up, kept us floating above water when we have struggled with our grief and anxiety so much that our own faith and hope have waned. God poured love into you, and you poured it out onto us.

Maybe using the Star Wars clip about love was not so disjointed after all. Me telling you that I love you may make you want to say, duh, we know. But I don't think you do know how much your love has carried us through. You might say that it is your work as the church to love. And it is. But churches are not often described as loving places, but rather as places of judgment and hypocrisy. But even when we fall short here at Presbury, we are still a loving community, trying to learn to love better. So thank you--- which incidentally was my response to Aaron when he first told me he loved me. But that's another story.

Love doesn't always get the words right, the way that faith tries to. Love doesn't work toward vision of what the future will hold, the way faith does. Love is. We know only in part, as Paul reminds us. But love reminds us that we are fully known by God, in all our struggles, in our defeats, in our joys, and God loves us.

God expresses that love to others through us. Our world is in such need of the love that is crammed into the people in this building. After a week of news of mass shootings at even a congressional baseball game wondering when it will be difficult for people who should not have guns to get guns, of yet another trial in which a murder of a black man is seen as inconsequential when the officer who killed Philando Castile was acquitted, and yet another trial that reminds us why so few people report sexual abuse that ended with a deadlocked jury because can women be believed over a rich, powerful man? And that's just the news. What hurt is here in our church, here in our community? Such hurt cannot be healed except with love. You have shown it to me and to one another. You have shared it in service and in mission. And you need to keep on sharing it now, with your new pastor Tiffany, with your siblings in this new church partnership at Cranberry, and with all of Edgewood. Because you never know who is feeling drained of their faith and hope and in need of a little love to remind them why they are on this earth in the first place. You yourself may be in that position. Your faith may feel a little shaky, like mine has, especially since Aaron's mom died. Your hope may flicker like it is going out, like mine has through this whole journey of infertility and miscarriage. As you face this new transition with a new pastor and a new partner church, your faith and hope may be solid but you may still be nervous and anxious. But love never ends. You only have to turn to one another to find the love that God pours out through us.

Thank you for the ways you have been part of my love story with God. And for allowing me to be part of yours. I look forward to seeing how the story continues with Pastor Tiffany and continues as Aaron and I go to Calvary. When Paul wrote the second letter to the Corinthians, he gave them farewell advice. It's short advice, and good, but my advice for you is simply to love one another. For, as Paul wrote to the Corinthians and I am sure is true for you, the God of love and peace will be with you. Always. Amen.

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