Sermons to pick holes in if you so care

In a characteristic splurge onto the internet, I will upload sermons. It's early days for me. I do not mind the critics. Once it's been said, it's been said. It's weird preaching. I am learning. When I speak out of my own experience and from my own analysis of the Bible it feels different to when I have nicked something clever from someone else I have heard - because sometimes you do - you hear stuff and think - that's neat, that's natty - I will use that. I can not always make it my own though so I am learning not to do it.

I analysed preaching styles at New Wine this year. They are not all polished - many are but people lose notes at times and start sentences over - I heard Pilavachi preach a sermon he had preached before, God still did some serious business through it. God uses us despite our clever turns of phrase or awkward analogies - I take comfort in this. So I will upload mine here. Is this a fruitful thing to do. I don't know. If people do not want to read it, they can move on, no harm done. If people would be prepared to unpick some of the stuff, question it, add to it, even better.

Here's the latest one on 1 Cor 13, verses 1-3.

One of my favourite stories as a child was the Velveteen Rabbit... a toy rabbit who is taken everywhere by a little boy getting covered in mud, being left in the rain, losing an eye and needing its ears patching in the process. This rabbit desperately wants to be a real rabbit. 'Real isn't how you are made,' the rabbit is told by another toy – 'It is a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you not just to play with but really loves you then you become real.'

Another story that I read and reread as a child was called The Magic Paintbrush, a story from Chinese folklore. It is the tale of a boy who paints watercolours of the most beautiful creatures but with his last brush stroke they leap from the page as they come alive. For a while the boy decides to make great wealth from his work but to sell it he must leave each picture unfinished. In the end he learns the joy from seeing the paintings burst into life and sacrifices the pride he feels in his artistic talent.

Paul's words to us at the beginning of chapter 13 are such a challenge in a world which would have us measure our accomplishments, boast in our achievements and rate our talents. To hear that these count for nothing in the Kingdom of God is a serious challenge indeed.

It is said that two things most dominate our thinking as human beings – our accomplishments and our relationships. We measure out our lives in terms of our achievements: riding a bike, winning at sports, passing exams, pursuing a career. We also look at our lives and remember falling in love, making friends, being cared for by others. But it would seem that our world is increasingly obsessed by the first, whilst Jesus calls us into the second.

The last two weeks of events in our inner cities works as an illustration of the states of our lives if we focus on the wrong things.

Over the last two weeks we have watched people climb all over each other in pursuit of the things that they think define them.

In the past two weeks we have heard about a fatherless generation.

In the past two weeks we have watched as people have rioted and looted the hearts of our cities, destroying the very communities to which they belong.

Paul's message in this letter to the church in Corinth is a radical challenge to our rioting hearts.

It calls us to concentrate on the giver of our gifts and not the gifts themselves

...to behave not as if we are fatherless but rather through our behaviour to demonstrate who the father is
...and it calls us to define ourselves in terms of one thing only – love.

In other words Paul's message asks us to replace rioting hearts with hearts that dare instead to communicate who God is through our actions. We have this painful and joyful responsibility as citizens of the kingdom rather than citizens of the world to reveal who the father is both to people who know him already and also importantly to people who are yet to know him. Jesus calls us to love even our enemies too as we heard in the reading from Matthew. It is in loving and being loved that we become fully human, fully real and the means through which we can give life to others.

But it comes at a cost.

It was costly to the boy who so loved his rabbit but let it go,

...costly to the Chinese artist who poured out so much paint to see it leap away,

...costly to the Son of God, our saviour Jesus Christ who poured out his very life so that we might live.

It has to be costly to us too.

The velveteen rabbit asks about what it is like to be real, 'Does it hurt? He says

'Sometimes,' is the reply 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt, - generally by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby.'

(I love this – I also think it's a great reason to feel more secure about our hair-loss as we age, we can just say – I am becoming more real and it has all been loved off.)

Jesus didn't ask us simply to love one another, he asked us to love one another as I have loved you.

This means that we love when it is hard to love,
...when we would rather do anything but love
...and it means that we make a choice to love.

This is not a love based on feelings, this is a love that is a decision of the will, just like it was for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. We must choose to love.

Dorothy Day who began Catholic communities which are now world wide, describes in one of her journals how:

"...my love is too small; I even feel ...'I have no love...' [but]...I ... pretend I have.... [and] strange and wonderful, the make-believe becomes true. If you will to love someone you soon do."

Isn't that wonderful! It's so freeing. We do not have to find this love stuff easy. It is not something that we're zapped to be able to do as soon as we become Christians. It is okay to feel as though it is the last thing that we actually want to do. But we can will to do it, we can even play make-believe, we can act in a loving way, even when we do not feel loving and we will find that God in his grace, will supply the rest, he'll supply the love we lack.

How comforting. God knows sometimes we will clash like cymbals instead of feeling in harmony with one another, instead of loving one another. Perhaps we can also take some comfort from how Paul describes us in our attempts to be loving. He says that when we focus on the wrong things we are clanging gongs and clashing cymbals and I am sure we can imagine how God must see us in our attempts to join in with his symphony of love whilst all the while we are out of tune.

We have all sat as parents and grandparents through those primary school productions as children have bashed out their first tunes on their first percussion instruments, so determined to get it right. Our nerves become quite frayed but there is nearly always a moment though when searching eyes find us in the audience and for as long as that child looks at us we unscrew our faces and smile back. If we could just look at the father as we attempt to play our part in the orchestra, we would understand more obviously the noise that we are to make, the father directs our attention to all the other people playing instruments with us and once we can keep time with them as well, we begin to make a more joyful noise. We clash less. With our eyes on the one who is love we will learn how to love each other. For as long as we are only staring at the instrument in front of us and in terms of our passage that would be our abilities, spiritual gifts and good deeds, we will lose our focus, turning away from the father we produce that clashing sound again. Thank God he gives us time to learn and we do that best together as a community as we are doing as a parish of churches together. (Illustration from recent episode of parish life - churches coming together for worship weekend.)

John says in his first letter “No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, people WILL see him, because they’ll see in us the love and care that can come only from him. They will see what God’s character looks like in physical reality and they will understand who he is.” It is love that we are asked to show towards one another so that the world knows we are Jesus' disciples. It is love that makes us so attractive that people are attracted like magnets to join us. We are called to reveal who God is through our loving behaviour towards one another.

For much of the bible we see God through his actions, the sending of his Son, his costly love in sacrificing him, their giving up the Spirit so that the Spirit could come and dwell with us on earth. Jesus demonstrates the gospel with signs and wonders as well as with words and stories. Spending less time telling us who they are and more time demonstrating it, we are also called to demonstrate that God is love. For No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another... people will begin to ask us questions,

... people will begin to be curious...

...people will begin to ask us the reason for the hope that lives within us...

Love exists in the first place because God is love – the creator of all things and he loved us first before the creation of the world and whilst we were a very long way off.

If our love is to be God-shaped, Jesus-shaped, then it is a love that offers itself, that puts the other first...such a hard thing to do, our greatest challenge - risky and difficult.
The love of God in a community like ours is not about demanding perfection but finding a community that can accept us in all our imperfections, with our patched up ears and our rubbed-off hair. This is the love all human beings need in order to become real, in order to leap from the canvas. We can not finish each painting but the author and perfecter of our faith promises to finish what he has begun, to present us pure and spotless on the final day so in the meantime, should our hair rub off a little and our ears need patching from all the clanging and the clashing we have been making as we learn to love, let's risk a little mud and love one another.

...so we must all try a little harder to love...to will to love...to make a decision to love. Perhaps we all have a note to write, an email to send, a phonecall to make, a friendship to restore. Perhaps we all need to tell that unlovable, hard to love, challenging person in our life that we love them. 

Let's start calling each other out into the realness of a Kingdom life... into the symphony of a joyful noise. Let's choose the most excellent way and begin to really live. Risk yourself, will love, make-believe to begin with – God will do the rest. 


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

our world is increasingly obsessed by the first, whilst Jesus calls us into the second.

People forget what the first is and second. So repeat them.

Comparison of stories of a toy rabbit, painting coming to life, and Jesus Christ seems a bit hammy.

You should have told the rabbit story first, you are adding new detail in the sermon.

Anecdotes on parts of a sermon can make the sermon look more like a reading.

Dorothy Day - who's she. Has she been mentioned?

Again, you are jumping around different experiences. You force people to plug into them before they can get a derived meaning.

You put, to make a conclusion, that we cannot finish each painting, but that's not the story.

It would have been best to stick to the rabbit alone. But the problem with strong stories is that they are their own explanation, and do not lead on necessarily to the religious message you want to give.

Rach said...

Thank you - hammy - yes - I think you have a point.

Much that is helpful - thank you. I agree one story helps, not two.

Refining always good to do, will keep praying and thinking.

Bless you - thanks.


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