1 Corinthians 1:1-13
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. 2 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. 3 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.
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 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. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 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. 12 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. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Sermon Faith, Hope, and Love
Good morning. Today is All Saints’ Day, the day in the church year when we honor all the saints of the Church who are no longer with us. This has been one of my favorite days on the liturgical calendar for a long time. But I have to admit, I’m not feeling it as much this year.
I’ll start with the obvious: worship is really different this year. “For All the Saints” is one of my favorite hymns; it’s so majestic. It starts with an F, followed by a C-chord, and then the choir processes in from the back of the sanctuary. But that’s not safe. Maybe next year.
That’s not the only reason I’m not feeling All Saints’ Day like I used to. This used to be one of my favorite times of the year. Used to be.
November 2nd was my grandmother’s birthday and it’s always a happy memory. Grandma lived to be 97. She was a kind and loving soul and she was in pretty good shape up until the end. If you want to get a sense of what she was like, think of Eleanor Hargis. Grandma had a similar combination of love, intelligence, kindness, and longevity, and above all, great faith. While I miss Grandma, I’m not sad about her passing. She’d be 113 tomorrow; she earned her rest!
Grandma’s birthday was also a reminder that my birthday was right around the corner—our birthdays are exactly a week apart. While I’m really, really glad to still be alive this year, birthdays haven’t been the same since my dad died. He died on November 3rd. Right in between Grandma’s birthday and my birthday—about two years before I was ordained. What used to be a happier season in my life is now a reminder of what’s been lost.
One other thing. I used to be really into politics. I was always excited around Election Day. I was always eager for a debate. I was always ready to mix it up, to argue over candidates and issues. Now? Not so much. Politics is exhausting. Elections are exhausting. I just want the whole process to be over. There’s too much ugliness and division. Don’t get me wrong, all of those divisions would be there even if it wasn’t an election year. But because it’s an election year, the division and the ugliness are inescapable. And with each passing year, each passing election season, I lose hope that we can all find a way to get along.
This is also why the Apostle Paul was writing to the church in Corinth in the first place: they were having a lot of trouble getting along with one another. They were fighting over who should lead the congregation. They fought over what it meant to be a Christian. Even though Paul had founded this congregation only a few years earlier, they were divided. In the first chapter of the letter, Paul writes:
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
Paul is urging this community to remember their shared identity in the crucified and risen Christ—their identity in the God that loves them so much that he sent his only begotten son, so that all may be saved through him.
That’s a sermon that still preaches today. In fact, I know I’ve preached that sermon before. But it’s not my sermon today. My sermon isn’t about setting aside our secular, political identities. My sermon isn’t about who you vote for or how you ought to make up your mind.
The Book of Order, the constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), states that God alone is Lord of the conscience. This means that God acts to shape the conscience of each and every one of us and only God governs our consciences. This also means that the Presbyterian Church (USA) does not tell you how to vote, nor will I tell you how to vote. This is definitely not that sermon!
By saying that God alone is Lord of conscience, we also affirm that any of us can walk into the voting booth on Tuesday—or, here in New Jersey, we can fill out our mail-in ballots—and then vote for different candidates. One of you may cast a vote for Biden while another votes for Trump, and both of you can claim to vote your conscience, as influenced by the Holy Spirit and your individual experiences. We are all formed differently, shaped by our families, our life experiences, and our encounters with God.
Perhaps that would have been a good sermon, too, but it’s a sermon about Tuesday, November 3rd. This sermon isn’t about November 3rd.
This sermon is about November 4th.
And November 5th.
And every day after Election Day.
I chose this reading from the Apostle Paul because it’s a reminder of how we, as Christians are supposed to live with one another. It’s a reminder of how we’re supposed to treat our families, friends, and neighbors, whether or not they’re Christians.
In last Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest. His answer was: love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. In today’s lesson, the Apostle Paul provides a little bit more definition on what it means to love our neighbors:
· We have to be patient and kind to one another—especially the people we disagree with.
· We have to set aside our envy and boastfulness.
· We must not be arrogant or rude to one another, irritable or resentful.
Honestly, I think most of us already know this. But we all have difficulty practicing it. Yet we must! We must practice these things with our families, our friends, our neighbors, regardless of our political views.
In this election season, we are subject to all of the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals of political ads, as well as political fights on social media. We have to stop calling one another names and we have to get past the thinking that drives us to name-calling. Also, we have to urge the people who agree with us to show love and practice restraint.
After Election Day, we have to make peace with one another. And peace is not the absence of fighting, it’s the presence of love. Peace is actively loving one another, practicing all of those actions that Paul describes. This is how we restore community in our congregations and in the world. This is how we live as witnesses to the love of Christ in the world.
As we trudge through the next few days and dream of a different way of living together as a community, I’d like to remind you that the journey towards a different and better way of living together begins with prayer. I’d like to share a prayer that was written by a Presbyterian minister named Jill Duffield, which was published in a recent issue of Presbyterian Outlook. Let us pray:
Lord of all, Lord of conscience, Lord of love, we lament the state of our life together. We sow division rather than seek unity. We demonize instead of love one another. How did we get to this place? How will we ever bridge the gaps between us? Where do we go from here?
We know, gracious God, that we cannot mend all the torn places in the fabric of our country. The rips are too big, the ongoing pulling apart too strong. We know, too, almighty God, that nothing is impossible for you. You bring close those far off from you and those far apart from each other. You promise to do abundantly more than we can ever hope or imagine. You call us to bold ministries of repair and reconciliation, justice and mercy. You command us to love our neighbors, love our enemies, love in ways inexplicably and immeasurably powerful through your Spirit.
As we vote and wait, pray and work, may we follow Jesus Christ so closely that we cannot help but see him everywhere and in all people. Pour out your power, show us your way, turn us toward you and heal our nation. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.
Let me offer one last thought: If we place our faith and hope in human institutions and human politicians, we will always be let down. If we spend more time and energy yelling at one another, the people outside of the Church will recognize us as noisy gongs and clanging cymbals. But if we restore and rebuild communities, if we make peace and practice love, the people outside our walls will know that we are Christians—by our love, by our love. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you go forth into the world, remember the words of the Apostle Paul. Be patient; be kind. Do not be boastful, rude, or arrogant. Set aside your irritability. Then go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!
 F-3.0101  Jill Duffield, “Election season prayer,” Presbyterian Outlook, 10/28/20, retrieved from: https://pres-outlook.org/2020/10/election-season-prayer/