florist arrived to open her shop at 7 a.m. one morning to find a uniformed Army soldier standing out front waiting. He was on his way to the airport to go to Afghanistan for a year. He said, “I usually bring home a bouquet of flowers for my wife every Friday and I don’t want to let her down when I’m away.” He then placed an order for 52 Friday afternoon deliveries of flowers to his wife’s office and asked the florist to schedule one for each week until his return. She was so touched she gave him a 50% discount.
Last week we looked at the twelfth chapter of II Corinthians, in which Paul talks with a divided church about the fact that none of the spiritual gifts is more important than others are, that they are of equal importance and people with different gifts should be valued equally. We talked about it in terms of teamwork, and the choir helped illustrate this as we saw how the four sections of the choir come together using their gifts to make beautiful harmony. I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback about that – if you missed it, visit centralpresby.com and watch the video of that service so you can see it.
As Paul finished that discussion of the important topic of spiritual gifts and working together as the body of Christ, he said, “Now stick with me because I’m getting ready to show you an even more excellent way.” That way is the way of love, the greatest of the gifts, the one without which none of the other gifts are any good.
It’s a shame Paul didn’t know this story about the soldier and the florist to use as an illustration in this chapter. I’d like to talk at length about that story and all the nuances of love it contains, but you know what? It’s like they say about a joke – if you have to explain it, don’t bother, because it will lose its effect completely.
A surgeon told a story about needing to operate on a little girl. She was going to need 0 negative blood during the surgery, and there was none available. But fortunately her twin brother had the same blood type. The surgeon explained the situation to the little boy and told him that it was a matter of life and death for his sister that he be willing for his blood to be used. The boy sat quietly for a moment, then said goodbye to his parents and went back to give blood. The surgeon didn’t think anything of it until they were finished taking his blood and the little boy asked, “So when will I die?” He thought he was giving his life for his sister’s life. Blessed be the tie that binds. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
A man tells a story of how his 88 year old grandmother and her 17 year old cat are both blind. His grandmother has a guide dog which leads her around the house, which is not unusual. But lately, the guide dog has been guiding the cat around the house, too. When the cat meows, the guide dog walks up and rubs against her, and then she follows directly behind him to her food, to the litter box, to a favorite napping spot on the other side of the house. Love can conquer hate, ancient enmities and prejudices, and melt the coldest heart.
A sign language teacher tells of having a woman coming to enroll in his class due to upcoming surgery to have her voicebox removed because of cancer. With her to also enroll the class were her husband, her four children, two sisters, her brother, her mother, her father, and twelve close friends, so they could continue to communicate with her after she lost her ability to speak. 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. Love endures all things. Love never ends. Blessed be the tie that binds.
A woman took her 12 year old son, Sean, with her to the nursing home to see her mother who was suffering from Alzheimers’. Normally she went by herself, and had not taken Sean for several months. When they walked into the lobby the nurse said, “Hi, Sean!” and buzzed them in. “How does she know your name?” the mother asked. “Oh, I swing by here on my walk home from school all the time to say hi to Grandma,” Sean said. Love is kind. It is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love never ends.
When the daughter’s day at high school ended she got word that her mother was home, sick with the flu. So she stopped by the store to get a can of soup for her, thinking it would make her feel better. At the store she found her father already in the checkout line with five cans of soup, NyQuil, tissues, four romantic comedy dvds, and a bouquet of flowers. She said, “My dad makes me smile.” “We share our mutual woes; our mutual burdens bear. And often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.”
A woman tells of sitting on a hotel balcony watching two lovebirds walking together on the beach. Their body language made clear they were much in love, talking and laughing and enjoying each other’s company. As they got closer, she realized that they were her parents. So what? Well, they had almost gotten divorced 8 years earlier, so she was filled with gratitude at the way things had turned out. Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Blessed be the tie that binds.
In 1765 John Fawcett was ordained a Baptist pastor and began serving a small congregation at Wainsgate in northern England. Seven years later he accepted a call to move to London and become pastor of a much larger congregation. On the Sunday of the move the bags were packed and loaded on the wagon and he preached his farewell sermon to the congregation. After the service the grief of the congregation, his wife, and himself, moved him so deeply that he gave orders to unpack and sent word to London that he would not be coming. He pastored that small church for 50 years.
Reflecting on the emotions and the love of that Sunday, Fawcett penned these words: “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. The fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above,” as well as the other stanzas which we will sing together shortly. Love never ends. (The Presbyterian Hymnal Companion)
Why is it so hard for us to choose love? When we know it is the right thing, when we know how much better it feels and how much good is brought about by it, why is it so hard for us to choose love? Why do we keep choosing bitterness, envy, strife, animosity, anger, and fear? Why do we tolerate politicians who work to pit us against each other and make us distrust and even dislike each other? Do we think that hate has the power to bind us together as love does? Hate only binds us together as long as we have a common enemy.
Why do we allow religious leaders to set us against each other over social issues, over worship and music styles, over theological nuances? Why are we so quick to jump on criticism and negativism bandwagons? Why are we so touchy about skin color and language differences and nationalities? Why are we so quick to snap at our spouses, our parents, our children?
Why is it so hard for us to choose love? Why is it hard to take the high road? Why is selfishness such a supremely powerful motivator in the way we live our lives? I think that unless we train ourselves otherwise, the default position for human nature when we are hurt in some way is to assume a posture of self-defense and mistrust. Martin Luther King, Jr., had many terrible experiences in trying to lead the movement against racial segregation in the south in the 1960’s. He had plenty of reason to hate, plenty of reason to abandon his nonviolent approach and tell his movement to get guns and start fighting back. But through his study of the Bible and the life of Mahatma Gandhi, he had trained himself to react differently. He said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”
Paul said, “I’m going to show you a better way than the one you’ve been on. It’s the way of love. It doesn’t matter how many languages you can speak or if you can speak in spiritual tongues; it doesn’t matter how much money you have; it doesn’t matter if you have so much faith you can move a mountain. If you don’t have love, you don’t have anything. Let me tell you about love.
Love is patient and kind. There is no envy or pride or arrogance or rudeness to it. If you have love you don’t insist that everything has to be your way. You won’t be irritable, short tempered, or resentful over all those little things that drive you crazy. Love won’t lead you to do something to get back at someone you love to punish them. Love leads to yearning for the happiness of the other as much or more as for your own happiness. Love bears, believes, hopes, and endures. It never ends and can’t even imagine the possibility of an ending. Faith, hope, and love are all really important gifts, but love is the very most important one.
The soldier ordering 52 weeks worth of flowers; the florist taking 50% off; the twin brother giving his blood even though he thinks it is his life dripping out; the guide dog leading the blind grandmother and blind cat around; the family and friends day registering for the sign language class; the 12 year old visiting his grandmother in the nursing home unbeknownst to his mother; the husband buying soup, medicine, tissues, movies, and flowers, for his sick wife; and the nearly broken couple rejoicing in their regenerated love. These are all lovely illustrations of the power to bind wielded by the greatest gift of love. As Paul concludes, “Make love your aim.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey January 31, 2016 Central, Anderson
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