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Summary: 1 Corinthians 13’s message about Christian community

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In the film Four weddings and a funeral, during the first wedding, the reader begins the well-worn reading of 1 Corinthians 13, saying, "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". As the reader pauses for breath, someone observes from the back, "good point!".

Over the last three weekends, I’ve attended three different weddings of family and friends. This passage that we read today is indeed a well-won wedding passage, so much so that many of you are probably thinking it doesn’t apply to you, but you’re going to politely indulge me. I have news for you - Paul did not write this passage for engaged couples, but for churches.

So Paul began, "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". Good point. He continued, "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. 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". Good point. Note it and act upon it.

The next section is also about how the Christian community is to treat one another. Paul writes:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

This is not instructions to a couple, but a lesson for the community. Over the years, I know that our community has not always managed to live up to this. We have sometimes got things wrong. I have sometimes got things wrong. For that I apologise.

However, God does not want us to live our life in vain regrets. God wants us to learn from our mistakes and move forwards. The hymn that we’ll sing in a moment is really a prayer that can help us to move forward with God:

Help us accept each other as Christ accepted us;

Teach us as sister, brother, each person to embrace.

Be present, God, among us, and bring us to believe

We are ourselves accepted and meant to love and live.

Even though we have got things wrong, the message of the Christian faith is that God always forgives us and offers us a new start. We should not wallow in our mistakes, but do our best to learn from them and to strive for better in the future. Another example of what we should be striving for in our community is the hymn that we’ll be singing as we prepare to celebrate Communion. I’m going to read the hymn now, as we can sometimes miss the significance of the words when we sing them:

The church is like a table,

a table that is round.

It has no sides or corners,

no first or last, no honours;

here people are in one-ness

and love together bound.

The church is like a table

Set in an open house;

no protocol for seating,

a symbol of inviting,

of sharing, drinking, eating;

An end to ’them’ and ’us’.

The church is like a table,

a table for a feast

to celebrate the healing

of all excluded-feeling

(while Christ is serving, kneeling

a towel round his waist).

The church is like a table,

where every head is crowned.

As guests of God created,

all are to each related;

the whole world is awaited

to make the circle round.

Paul ends his message by saying:

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. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 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. 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. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

In this passage he has two important things to say to us:

1. We do not have a monopoly of truth. If we always remember that others have something of the truth too, and even that they might have something right that we have wrong, then it can only make our community stronger and closer to Christ.

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