1 Corinthians 13:1-8a
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 is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
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
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
There is a Wisdom Story that tells of two brothers who worked together to run the family farm. They were loving brothers, each one always looking out for the well-being of the other. They shared all the farm produce equally and they also shared the work fairly.
One of the brothers was a single man and the other was married with a family. The single brother thought about this fact and he came to the conclusion that their habit of equal sharing may not be fair to his brother.
‘I am just one’, he thought to himself, ‘but my brother has to feed not just himself but his wife and children too.’ So with this in mind, he decided that his brother should have a larger share of the produce than his own and in the middle of the night he got up and quietly took a sack of grain from his own store and placed it in his brother’s storehouse. This became a habit and he regularly took extra produce across to his brother’s storehouse.
Meanwhile, the married brother was also thinking things through.
‘I am married’, he thought to himself. ‘I have a wife who cares for me and strong children who help me with the farm work. My brother has no one to support him. It isn’t fair that I should take as much as he does from the produce of the farm.’ So he began to get up in the night and take some of his own share of the produce over to his brother’s storehouse.
This went on for several years and neither brother could understand why his own stock of produce never seemed to diminish even though each was regularly giving some of it to his brother.
Then it happened that one dark night, they both set off to visit their brother’s storehouse at exactly the same time. The brothers, each carrying his own sack of grain, met in the middle of the field between their two cottages. At first, they were both shocked by this unplanned encounter but they soon realized what was happening. At that moment, they dropped their sacks and embraced each other with all the power of the love they felt for each other and they knew, with certainty, they were truly blessed. (Wisdom Stories, pgs. 139-140, by Margaret Silf, adapted)
This story illustrates the love of members of a family. This is the kind of love that puts another person’s interests and welfare before your own. It is this love that the apostle, Paul, is speaking about in his letter to the early Christian Church in Corinth. Early Christian communities were modelled on Jesus’ communitarian, “all part of one family”, approach to life and faith. The communities that Jesus mentored were open, caring communities of faith where love and right relationship were paramount. Love was, and is, the foundational value of Christian community. Jesus says that you shall love your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself. (Mark 12:30-31)
Christian communities in the 1st Century began with good intentions. According to the book of Acts, they shared all of their resources in common so that there was not a needy person among them. (Acts 4:32-35) As time went on, and Christian communities became more highly organized, there were power struggles over leadership and whose way was the “right” way of doing things and whose spiritual gifts were more important than others. For example, we have some insight into what was happening with the early Christian Church in Corinth through the letters that Paul wrote to the congregation that addressed some of the challenges they were facing. In the portion of the letter that immediately precedes today’s excerpt, Paul pointed out very clearly that all the members of the congregation (the Body of Christ) were equally important. To illustrate this he used the example of parts of a human body with each member of the body being of critical and equal importance. (1 Cor.12:12-27) Next he turned to the foundational value of love that Jesus taught and modelled in his life and ministry. Love is the greatest gift of all Paul stated. Using himself as an example Paul states that, “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.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3) Finally, Paul extols the attributes of love that we heard in the reading this morning, “Love is patient, love is kind…” and the list goes on. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
Jesus treated everyone, no matter their race, religion, economic or social status, as brothers and sisters. Paul encouraged Jesus’ followers to do the same and not get caught up in power struggles and petty disagreements. He wanted them to treat each other the way they would like to be treated with love and respect by following Jesus’ example.
Jesus showed, in so many ways, God’s unconditional love. Today’s brief story from Mark’s Gospel illustrates this very well. As you may remember, in 1st Century Mediterranean culture, children were not viewed as persons but rather as chattels of the household in which they lived. Jesus showed by his example of love and care for children that in God’s eyes everyone is beloved and valued equally. Jesus told his disciples to, “Let the little children come to me…for it is to such as these that the Kingdom of God belongs.” (Mark 10:14)
As Christians, followers of Jesus’ Way, we seek to emulate Jesus’ ministry as members of the Body of Christ – the worldwide Christian family.
We welcome new members through the sacrament of baptism just as the early Christian communities did recognizing Christ’s presence and God’s love and blessing. We pledge our support to those being baptized and re-dedicate our own lives in Christ’s service.
This week I reviewed a baptismal resource published by the United Church of Canada appropriately entitled, In the Name of Love. This resource noted the importance of the welcoming aspect of baptism as a tangible sign of belonging to the worldwide Christian community. It also emphasized the communal nature of baptism. Except in special circumstances baptism in the United Church always happens as part of communal worship. You’ve heard the saying that it “takes a village to raise a child”? In the context of Christian community we believe that it “takes a congregation to nurture a vibrant faith”. We nurture one another in faith and, with God’s guidance, we live out our baptismal calling as loving community.
The DVD companion resource for In the Name of Love showed excerpts from a variety of baptismal liturgies. I noted some of the words of commitment spoken by one United Church congregation during the sacrament of baptism. They are words that echo my own sentiments, and that of our community of faith, so I offer them to you as words of encouragement and commitment:
“Let us pledge to these children of God our continued support and care. We will continue to support you, walk with you and grow with you. With God’s help we will live out our baptism as a loving community of Jesus Christ, nurturing one another in faith, upholding one another in prayer,
encouraging one another in God’s work.”
With God’s loving guidance we pray this may be so.