Summary: Reasons why I Cor 13 may be the scariest chapter in the Bible.
Sermon: Scariest Chapter in Scripture
Text: I Cor 13:1-13
Who: Mark Woolsey
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, Feb 26, 2006
Where: TI Ash Wednesday
When: Sunday, Mar 1, 2006
Audio link: http://providencerec.com/Sound%20Files/Srmn060226WoolseyICor13;01-13QuinquagesimaScariestChapterInTheBible.mp3
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In times past I have spoken of special days of the church calendar: Ascension Day, Easter Sunday, Christmas, Epiphany, etc. These are more or less familiar to many of us. Today, however, has one of the strangest names of the year: Quinquagesima. It sounds rather impressive and solemn, but really it’s Latin for 50 days. Today is exactly 50 days before Easter. It is also the last Sunday Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent.
Before I start with the Biblical exegesis, I would like to speak for a moment about Lent. Lent comes from the word meaning "to lengthen" because the days are getting noticably longer now that winter is coming to a close. Although it started out as a two or three day fast before Easter for the first three centuries of the church, it has grown to the period of 40 days we know today. 40 days of fasting is a good Scriptural pattern since Moses, Elijah, and especially our Lord did this. You may be surprised, however, to find out that if you count the days between the beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, and the end, Easter, you get 46 days rather than 40. The reason for this is that the six Sundays are feast days in which we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord; no fasting is to be done on those days.
Unfortunately, among Evangelicals Lent has quite a bad rap. We tend to see it as a left-over artifact of the works-righteousness days of the church, or as an unnecessary addition to our spiritual disciplines. In reality it is neither. Although any spiritual exercise can and has been abused, Lent should be seen as an antidote, rather than a cause, of self-salvation and thus a very necessary spiritual discipline. Instead of seeing it as a way to pay off some of our debt to God, which we can never do, it is properly seen as revelation to ourselves of our own sinfulness. If we are honest with outselves, in the end we think we are not really that bad. We’ve never robbed a bank, never murdered anyone, we’ve been honest in with our money (well, ok, maybe we a little creative on our expense statements and tax returns, but everyone does that). We’ve even helped old ladies cross the street. Maybe we’re not a Billy Graham or Mother Teresa, but we are decent people; surely God will give us a passing grade, won’t He? Lent disabuses us of our self-deception. Like a person who cannot see the black streaks that he has smeared all over his face, our sins are for the most part invisible to us until the mirror of Lent, by it’s use of God’s word, forces us to acknowledge and deal with them. In and of itself it provides no way to wipe those marks off, but it does identify them and create in us an awareness of their insidious nature. The night of Lent helps us all the more to see the light of Easter. When Lent is properly practiced, grace is transformed from boring into amazing. The fast of Lent becomes a reminder of our sins and the sacrifice of our Lord. It heightens the joy of Easter Day. Find some small thing you love and give it up to the Lord during this time. Don’t make it big; you’re not going to impress or propitiate Him, anyway. Christ has already done that. Everytime you are irritated that you cannot have that small thing during this 40 days, consider how dark your heart really is, how prone to self-deception, and then remember that Christ forgave even that. None of us really understands the depth of our depravity. At least we have a slightly better insight to this during Lent. I highly recommend it’s observance.
III. Scariest Chapter in the Bible
The Epistle reading for today, I Cor 13, may seem somewhat surprising as we are preparing ourselves for solemn Lent. This is arguably the most famous chapter in all the Bible, in part because it is read most often during weddings. The bride, with stars in her eyes, gazes worshipfully on her groom as these words are read and expounded upon. Love is patient and kind? Well, of course! He’s perfect anyway, so all the demands of this chapter are easily obeyed - for the first six months. Unfortunately, though, most men - except for my wife’s husband, of course ;-) - lose this status of perfection after six months or so, and the force of this chapter becomes more onerous. In fact, if this chapter were properly understood, I think it would be one of the scariest chapters in all of Scripture. To help us take a fresh look at what it says, I would like us to travel back in time to our wedding day; but this time the preacher is something out of a bad dream...