13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 14 Do everything in love.  15 You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the Lord’s people. I urge you, brothers and sisters, 16 to submit to such people and to everyone who joins in the work and labors at it. 17 I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. 18 For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.  19 The churches in the province of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Priscilla greet you warmly in the Lord, and so does the church that meets at their house. 20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.  21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.  22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord! 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.  24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.

With this message we come to the end of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church, and to the end of my sermon series on that same letter, under this past year’s theme, “Baptized by One Spirit into One Body.” That series gave us a focus on the life of Christians and churches, under the power and influence of God’s Spirit, and at the barriers and challenges to the Holy Spirit’s work from various aspects of human nature, and society, such as class, race, gender and status. Now that Paul is wrapping up his letter, he does like many letter writers and sermon writers: he sums up the main focus of his letter. That focus is….

(First cell Phone rings)...Oops. I’ve always been afraid that I would forget to turn one of my cell phones off before church, and wouldn’t you know it, someone is calling me right when I’m starting a sermon. Excuse me…..Hello, Emmanuel Mennonite Church, this is Mathew Swora speaking. Is this an emergency, or can I call you back right after worship? I’m preaching right now…..Well, if you knew I was preaching, why did you call me?…….Who is this?…..The Apostle Paul, right. And I’m Mr. Bean…..I’ll call you back after the Christian Education hour. (CLOSE PHONE)

Sorry about that. I’ll just turn this cell phone off like I should have. Where was I? Oh yes, now that Paul is wrapping up his letter, he has a chance to state his focus one more time and to reinforce it. And that focus is…..

(Second cell phone rings)…This is spooky. I really thought I had turned my personal cell phone off. It has caller ID by the way. And the name of the person calling me is….Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, a.k.a the Apostle Paul. Is this some kind of joke? Hello……. No, this is not Mr. Bean. Its Mathew speaking….. No, I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, but you can understand why I find it a little hard to believe that this is really the apostle Paul on the phone, when twenty one centuries separate us timewise, and if you’re really the Apostle Paul, I doubt that you would know how to use a telephone. You had to write letters in your day. Like the one I’ve been preaching from, your first letter to Corinth. ….Oh, its your second, actually. That’s right, I do remember you mentioning something in this letter about some previous correspondence of yours with them……

(put hand over phone and say to audience: I can’t believe this any more than you, but this really must be the Apostle Paul….Please don’t go anywhere while I take this call)

….So what we call Second Corinthians would actually be your third one there…….How many more letters were there?…….That many, hunh? Were they all as difficult and painful as the two we have in our New Testament?.One was even harder to write…… It seems like you really had your hands full with that divisive and crazy, mixed up crew……No, sir, I’m not saying that we’re any wiser or more virtuous today……. No, sir, if anything, I’d say our churches today are even more divided by race, class and wealth than the Corinthians were. They say that Sunday morning, 11 AM is the most segregated hour in America………Once again, sir, you’ve nailed me. Yes, we have some pretty serious moral controversies and compromises among us today, too…….

So, how did you know to call me at the start of my last sermon on this letter of yours?…….. You’ve read them all on our website?…..You listened to them……Yes sir, I’ll try to remember to slow down…….No, that wasn’t a parade outside, it was the radiator. So, how did I do with interpreting your letter?……..Well, at least that’s a slightly higher grade than what my seminary professor gave me. ……Yes, I like Dr. Swartley’s work too. I’ll tell him what you said……So I did get that right….Well, you wrote a whole chapter about it……. Oh, that’s right, you didn’t put the chapter and verse divisions in, later editors did. But anyway, we hear that chapter thirteen again and again at weddings mostly, “If I have not love, I am just a sounding gong and a tinkling cymbal” and “the greatest of these is love.”……..That’s where I was going to go with today’s sermon, verse 14, “Do everything in love,” along with your very last words in this letter, “My love to all of you in Christ Jesus.”…….Are you crying?……..I’m glad to hear you say how much you love them, Paul, because when a lot of people read this letter, they only remember the stern and direct warnings you gave them against things like pride or sexual immorality………Now you’re gonna make me cry too……Yes, that’s what it takes to have a pastor’s heart ……..I couldn’t say it any better myself……of course, you just love them so much that you want to spend eternity with them, and when you see them doing something that might shipwreck their faith and jeopardize that eternity, your heart just bleeds for them. Or even, once you start to glimpse the high, holy, heavenly beings we are created and called to be, it just breaks your heart to see people settling for anything less. Not that I’ve ever done that………just kidding. ……Uh-hon…..But when you have to tell the truth and take the heat for it, people don’t often interpret that as love. If anything, they confuse it with judgment and condemnation……You’re right, it doesn’t help to be judgmental and condemning, not of people, at least……………But today we live in an era when we confuse love with indulgence, tolerance and everything goes, except for saying that anything doesn’t go. Its almost like the only moral and spiritual boundary we have left nowadays is against setting moral and spiritual boundaries, and that in the name of love…………… It was that way for you, too?………………….They did that even back then, in Corinth? Corinth and Minneapolis are a lot alike. I guess there really is nothing new under the sun, is there?

So, what can you tell us, Brother Paul, about love that would help us separate what you had in mind from the sloppy, self-indulgent, self-contradictory blather that so often passes for love talk today?………Oh! Of course, you go right on in that passage to talk about those folks in the very next breath, our verse 17. Let’s see if we pronounced their names right…..”Steph—AH—nos.” You know, two of our members have a brother back in Ethiopia by that name…. “Fortun-AH-tus”……. and “Ach—AI-cus.” So what do they show us about love, the kind you’re talking about, I mean? ……..That would be in our verse 17 again, where you say, “They supplied what was lacking on your part.” By that, do you mean lacking money or food?……..Sure. You said that in the next verse, “They refreshed your spirit.” How’d they do that, by the way? ……….not just the material aid, but by visiting too?…….Today we call that “hanging out.”………..Yeah, I suppose the danger and difficulty of leaving Corinth and coming all the way to Ephesus would make their visit all the more special………..On the map, it looks like a tiny distance for us, but we don’t walk long distances or sail fragile little wooden sailboats to get around………Yes, I suppose that would be a very good mental image of the kind of love you’re talking about: a servant down on bended knee, like Jesus, with a washbasin and towel.

….There’s another powerful image of love? The kind you’re writing about, I mean? What’s that?……….Oh, DUH! Of course! The cross! Well, we’ve always associated the cross with God’s love for us, but what does it tell us about our love for each other?………Oh! So that’s why you started this whole letter with that extended meditation on the cross.. ….You know, last year, when I started this sermon series on your letter, I got nearly a whole Lenten season worth of sermons from the first few chapters on the cross and what it says about God, about ourselves and each other. That was quite handy, by the way, how Lent and the sermon series started together, and both about the cross of Jesus Christ…… You know, that’s exactly what Greg Boyd at Woodland Hills often says, that true Christian love always has a cross-shape to it. He calls it “cruciform.”……Yeah, I like his sermons too. Anyway, he applies the concept of cruciform love even to enemies outside the church, and against the church, as well as to brothers and sisters in Christ within the church……….so if I hear you right, you’re saying that something of the cross is reflected in any and all love that can be properly called Christian, for family, friends or foes. Well, I’m afraid we’ve often fallen very far short of that. If anything, much of the world remembers us for things like the Crusades or the Inquisition………Yeah, I have often wondered why you said those very things in your words on love: “Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” That’s a very specific list of things not to do, when frankly, we usually look for deep abstract philosophical definitions of love with high-flying, high-soaring vocabulary and images, and usually just about feelings, not actions…….So the Greeks liked that kind of high-falutin oratory too, hunh? But your description of love is pretty basic, down to earth…………Oh, I get it. Precisely because they were envying each other, boasting, dishonoring and keeping record of wrongs you described love the way you did. Wow, that would be a terrible mix in the Corinthian church, if I hear you right, that they were indulging their appetites in immorality all the while they were judging, condemning and backbiting each other…… But what does the cross have to do with that?………Putting such things to death……That’s heavy, Paul, but I couldn’t have said it better myself. Run that by me again so I can write it down. ……..Okay….. “Counting– the– cost– in– terms– of– power—security— and—status—in–the—world— ……preferring– to– die— rather— than—dishonor—Christ—or—do—harm—to—someone— for– whom– Christ—– died…counting—ourselves—dead— to– the— world— and— to— its—- conventional— wisdom…..being— willing— to— endure– the– world’s— contempt— and— hostility –for– joining– a– new— community— that– includes– the– poor— the— slave— the– Jew– the—-Gentile——–and– even– the– enemy— a…..new….citi—zenship ….which….gives..to….all……..dignity—-and—-unity– in— Christ……

Wow. You don’t mind if I use it in a sermon some time, do you?…….

I know you don’t like to toot your own horn, but when, Paul, did you ever show such cruciform love?………..Wow, you effectively got it from both sides. You couldn’t win either way: loving Gentiles even when they treated you as a traitor to the empire and hated you for being Jewish, and loving your fellow Jews even while they hated you for being a traitor to them, eating and living and worshiping with Gentiles, without forcing them to become Jews….Yeah , I’d call that a cruciform love…………….Yes, Jesus is definitely the best example of a cruciform love…..how’d you put it?……….It was in your letter to the Philippians…….That’s right, “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus………and take on the form of a servant”………That gives us two powerful mental images to remember whenever we say the word “love”: a servant’s towel and wash basin, and a cross………..no matter how often you get nailed to a cross, you keep coming back with more love…….

No, seriously, I’m glad you called, Paul. Thank you…………No, I won’t bother to preach the sermon I had in mind this morning. I can always save it for later………I just have one more question for you before you go: You didn’t reverse the charges on me, did you? This wasn’t a collect call, was it?

The End



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