February 3, 2013
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Many years ago I would spend time in the summer at the farm of my moms aunt and uncle down in Georgia. Some of the things I remember from those weeks each summer are trying to ride a pony bareback for the first time. (It was also the last time.) Sweet tea. Fresh blueberries. Fishing all afternoon for small mouth bass and bluegill and catfish, and then having a fish fry in the evening with hushpuppies and watermelon and fresh blackberry cobbler. And church every Sunday and Wednesday.
One Wednesday night at church there was a guest speaker talking about his days in the youth program of the church years ago. He had a picture of the boys in the group, and he talked about each one of the boys and what they were now off doing, ministry and mission and doing good in the world and And then he got to one of the boys and he said. We lost him. I was afraid when he said they had lost him that the boy had died. No, it was worse. He had grown up and become a race car driver.
It was very clear by the tone of voice that to be a race car driver was, while perhaps not the worst thing one could become, it was pretty close. Nothing more was said about this one boy who grew up to be a race car driver. It felt like the audience was supposed to assume that this meant he was beyond hope.
I was confused. To be fair, I was probably twelve, and twelve was a confusing time. But I was particularly confused, because I did not understand how being a race car driver necessarily made you a bad person? Well, I was not confused about whether or not I was supposed to ask questions, so I didnt. But it bugged me for a long time. Without knowing anything else about this man other than he raced cars for a living, we were to assume the worst. It still bugs me.
Can someone who races cars not be loving? Can a race car driver not be faithful? Is there something about flooring it and turning left that makes it impossible to love God with all that they are and all that they do, and love their neighbor as themselves? Is being a race car driver automatically disqualifying for Gods love?
I think Paul has something to say about this. Most of you have heard this passage, probably at a wedding. Paul is talking about some of the things early Christians thought were signs of being a true follower of Jesus: speaking in tongues, prophesying, having great faith, practicing amazing generosity.
Paul says even if you have all of these and do all of these and show yourself to be a great follower of Jesus, but you dont have love, then these things really dont mean anything.
Love is a funny word. We use it to mean romantic love. (Gentlemen, this is your 11 day warning that Valentines Day is coming up!) We use it to mean admiration. (Wow, I love watching my team play.) We use it to mean attachment. (I love my truck.)
When it gets used in the Bible, love can mean some of these things. But mostly what it means is the love of God that loves us regardless of who we are, what we have done, where we have been. Gods love is given to us with no way for us to repay it in the same measure.
Paul is saying that we too are able to love one another without an expectation that it will be repaid. Love like this can take a lot of different forms. It can be forgiveness, where we let go of that grudge or that wound or that desire to get revenge, and regain the ability to live our lives and rebuild relationships.
It can be compassion, helping out others without caring whether they can return the favor or not.
It can look like taking the time and the energy to volunteer and mentor and lead and teach and challenge and nurture children into becoming mature adults and to grow in their faith.
And Paul says that whatever we do, without love, it isnt really being faithful.
Which means that we can be a race car driver and be faithful and loving and follow Jesus. Or a chef. Or a janitor. Or a just about anything else. If we have love for God and for our neighbor.
In Lukes story of Jesus, people from his home town want him to do for them what he has been doing for other people in other towns. And Jesus says that what he is doing is for more than just them. He reminds them of other people God has sent who did miracles, but only for strangers and only for outsiders. And the crowd gets mad.
This should be for us! You should give us what we want! It isnt fair! Which just goes to show it has always been difficult to accept that this love that God has for us is not just for us. It is not just for the ones who look or think or speak like us. It is for all of us.
You. And me. And race car drivers.
Thanks be to God.