“iDisciple – Part 2”
Bible Text: 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 | Preacher: Rev. Mike Putnam | [WHAT FOLLOWS IS THE FULL PRINTED TEXT OF TODAY’S SERMON. TO LISTEN TO AN AUDIO RECORDING, CLICK THE LITTLE BLACK ARROW ABOVE THE WORD “WHAT.”]
Have you ever had something you need to do, and you know if you did it you would be better off, but you don’t want to?
I do. I have a wisdom tooth that needs to come out. It’s needed to come out for years. It’s got cavities. It’s hard to brush. Every time I go to the dentist, I get the lecture. “We need to do something about that tooth before it gives you real problems,” he says.
Actually, once went ahead and booked the date. I was all ready. I blocked out a few days for healing, picked up the antibiotics, made some arrangements. Then at the last minute I had a funeral to do.
It’s been four years since. I went in for a cleaning last week – I got the lecture. “That tooth needs to come out, it’s going to be a problem real soon,” the dentist warned. I might do something about it…or I might not.
What is it about our human nature that allows us to live this way? I know I’m not alone here.
Well, this morning we are confronted with a list. Again, it’s a list that sounds real good at a wedding. The bride and the groom staring doefully into each other’s eyes – the bride has a little twinkle though – as if to say – this’ll be my little project…it’ll be good for you…once I get you broken in.
“Love is patient, love is kind, it 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. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
That’s quite a list! It sounds good at a wedding – but after that it starts to sound about as enticing as my dentist telling me I need to have my wisdom tooth out. I know, it’ll be good for me…
So, what is this? Is this a to-do list? Is this something we should be checking off as we work our way through Jesus’ self improvement process? “Ten days to perfection with Jesus Christ.”
Pastor Alistair Begg says we should look at this list not as a to-do list, but as 15 facets of a diamond. Want to know what love is, look at this stunning 15-point diamond and just keep turning it.
I want you to try something. Supplant your name with the word “love” in this passage. “Mike is patient…” Well, that’s as far as I can go. I’m done!
I’m not patient. Never have been. But then, now that I think of it, I used to be a whole lot less patient. That’s why the business world suited me so well – it was fast past. Decisions made on the fly. As a Key Account Manager, I called the shots.
…And then God made me a minister…where the speed of things is about as fast as a glacier! People don’t always see my vision. Different personalities at play. “Okay God, here I am…this was your idea, remember? You’re going to have to give me some patience…” And he has…
So, I’m not sure how far down the list you got, but it doesn’t really work to put my name in before each of these traits. But what if we were to put Jesus’ name in the place of the word “love”?
Jesus is patient – that works doesn’t it? Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy or boast. …maybe we’re on to something here. Jesus is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.
There we go. Want to know what love is? Look to Jesus. He is love personified.
You see, this list of Paul’s, so often read at weddings isn’t a to-do list for the groom, rest easy boys! No, it’s actually a to-do list for Jesus. It’s a list of what Jesus wants to do in those who call themselves his disciples.
Because, let’s be honest, we can’t do this stuff under our own power – and frankly we’d probably find every excuse in the book to never get around to it. This is what Jesus wants to do in you…
I came across a story the other day about Grace Thomas. Grace was the daughter of a Birmingham, Alabama streetcar conductor and his wife. When she married in the late 1930’s, she moved to Atlanta and took a clerk’s job in one of the state government offices.
Through her work, she developed an interest in law and politics, and enrolled in a local law school that offered night classes. After years of part-time study, she finally completed law school, and her family wondered what she would do with her law degree. They were shocked when she announced that she had decided to enter the 1954 election race for governor of Georgia.
There were nine candidates for governor that year, eight men and Grace, but there was really only one issue that year. “Racially separate but equal.” Eight of the nine candidates spoke out angrily about the thought of integration of black children into white schools, and white children in black schools, but Grace spoke out for it.
Her campaign slogan was “Say Grace at the polls.” Not many did; she ran dead last, and her family were relieved that she had gotten this out of her system.
But she had not. Eight years later, in 1962, she ran for governor again. By then the civil rights movement was gaining momentum, and her message of racial harmony was hotly controversial. She received death threats, and her family traveled with her as she campaigned, in order to provide protection and moral support. She finished last again on election day, but her campaign was a testimony to goodwill and racial tolerance.
One day, Grace made a campaign appearance in the small town of Louisville, Georgia. In those days, the centerpiece of the town square was not a courthouse or a war memorial but an old slave market. Grace stood on the very spot where slaves had been auctioned, a hostile crowd of locals gathered to hear what she would say.
“The old has passed away,” she began, “and the new has come. This place” she said, gesturing to the market, “represents all about our past which we must repent. A new day is here, a day when Georgians white and black can join hands together.”
This was provocative talk in Georgia in 1962. Someone shouted, “Are you a communist?” Grace paused midsentence. “No.” she said softly. “I am not.” “Well, then,” shouted the heckler, “where’d you get those damned ideas?”
Grace thought for a minute, and then she pointed to the steeple of a nearby church. “I got them over there,” she said, “in Sunday school.”
“Love is patient, love is kind…Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth…it always hopes, always perseveres…”
Eugene Peterson says, “God did not become a servant so that we could order him around but so that we could join him in a redemptive lifestyle.” That’s the essence of being a disciple. It is to decide to join with the one who is not the giver of to-do lists, but the master of the list itself – the only one who can show us what humanity is really capable of, and the only one who can get us there.
Peterson goes on, “The basic conviction of a disciple is that God intends good for us and that he will get his way in us.”
One of the sins of the conservative church is that it overemphasizes conversion. Sunday after Sunday, the preacher thumps the pulpit about conversion. There’s an altar call. People come forward, “give their lives to the Lord.” And next week, they do it all again.
One of the sins of the liberal church is that it devalues conversion. We never talk about it. “Altar call?” I think not! We’re not into that, we just want to do good, be good people, work for the Kingdom here and now.
But the reality is disciples need both. We can’t do this on our own. This list, as delightful as it sounds, is a burden that will demand more of us than we have to offer. We’ve got to yoke ourselves to the one who can get us there. The one who can make this burden light.
N.T. Wright says, “Thus it is “love” we are called to learn like a difficult but powerful language and to practice like a beautiful but complex musical instrument.”
He says, “Love does not automatically appear just because someone has believed in Jesus, prayed for God’s Spirit and has then sat back and waited. Oh, there may well be some strong and sudden initial signs that this fruit is on the way. But this doesn’t mean it’s all downhill from there. These are the blossoms; to get the fruit you have to learn to be a gardener. You have to discover how to tend and prune, how to irrigate the field, how to keep birds and squirrels away. Only then will the fruit appear.”
The result of this mutual gardening process is a transformed person. Someone who, by all conventional cultural standards, is kind of weird. Someone who lays themselves down for strangers, who gives themselves away in love, who walks the particular way of Jesus Christ.
Oh, our culture is pretty sure it knows all about love. It’s actually pretty sure it’s good at it, too. But in light of this list, in light of the piercing love-light of Christ, worldly love is no love at all. It will take something from outside us to accomplish this list. And the good news is that with Jesus we can accomplish things the world could never have come up with on its own.
I’m reminded of the story of Dr. Stephen Foster, a Canadian physician. Foster, a missionary surgeon now in his late sixties, lived in Angola most of his working life. Angola had the highest child mortality rate of any country in the world and was headed by a Marxist regime hostile to Christianity for most of the years Foster served there.
Yet something remarkable happened. “We were granted visas,” he said, “by the very people who told us publicly, ‘your churches are going to disappear,’ but privately, ‘you are the only ones we know willing to serve in the midst of the fire.’”
Foster served in the war-torn country and raised his children there. One son contracted polio, a daughter survived cerebral malaria, and during a particularly bad period of famine, his family nearly starved when they shared their rations with over one hundred villagers.
Nicholas Kristof, a journalist who profiled Dr. Foster, in a New York Times article, admitted that he has little in common with people of faith. But the article ends with a short paragraph I want to read you. Kristof wrote, “The next time you hear someone at a cocktail party mocking evangelicals, think of Dr. Foster and those like him. These are the folks who don’t just proclaim the gospel, they live it. They deserve better.”
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
The world is pretty sure it knows exactly what love is, and it’s pretty sure it’s got it down to a science. In reality, love is something quite different.
But the good news is the “God who is love” “so loved the world, that he sent His only Son” to show us, to guide us, to make a way where there was no way before.
And we disciples, we get to lead the way. To show the world a kind of love, so deep and so wide, they might think we’ve lost our minds. But in truth, we’ve found our hearts.
I can’t wait to see what God is going to do in me and you next! I have a feeling its going to be great. So, come, Lord Jesus, Come.