1 Corinthians 13 New International Version (NIV) 13
13 If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
“THE ENDURING GIFTS”
1 Corinthians 13:13 It has been a privilege to preach from this pulpit for twenty years. You have given me a wonderful opportunity to share the riches of God’s word with you, and the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the power of God unto salvation. Your support and attentiveness have made me a better preacher and Christian. And I am very grateful. Earlier this year I told a fellow minister that I had been here at Streetsville United for twenty years. He looked at me and asked, “Why did you stay so long?” I said, “Well, I was never asked to go anywhere else.” That’s true, but
I never looked to go anywhere else. When you have a supportive and generous congregation, and a good community to live in, why would you look elsewhere? After my first few years here, I recognized that if possible, I would finish my career here. I’m grateful to God and to you, the congregation, that my hope has been fulfilled. Now like most of you, I enjoy stability and predictability. But life does move on, Change comes. I know that you will welcome Jessica with warm affection and loving support, just as you welcomed Adelaide, Julie and I, back in 2000. Now I’m sure God will give me opportunities to preach in the future, and I will be open to them. But what does a preacher speak about on the last Sunday he stands in a pulpit? Well, this preacher is going to preach about gifts that endure. 1 Corinthians chapter 13, verse 13. Paul writes, “And now these three remain – faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.” God’s enduring gifts to the church are faith and hope and love. Amid all the changes in the world, in our lives, and in the church, these gifts of God remain. And I hope that throughout my ministry here, these gifts of God have grown within you. That’s the goal of preaching and pastoral work and teaching and all that we do. “And now these three remain – faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.” First, God’s enduring gift of faith. Faith is God’s essential gift for Christian living. Jesus said, “Believe in God; believe also in me.” Now many people believe in God, but they don’t believe in Jesus. And it’s the “believe also in me” part which makes faith Christian. The New Testament makes it clear that Christian faith is not believing in a proposition or in a set of ideas, but in a living person, Jesus Christ. Paul puts it like this, “The life that I now live,” he wrote, “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Now the aim of preaching is that you will both acquire this faith and be strengthened in it. Paul tells us that faith comes from hearing the Gospel – how God in Christ loved us and gave himself for our sins on the cross and rose again from the dead. As you hear that story, the Holy Spirit stirs faith within you. I cannot give you faith. Only the Holy Spirit can. I proclaim the story and invite you to faith, but I must trust the Holy Spirit to give you the gift. That’s why in every sermon I make reference to the cross and resurrection of Christ. For that is the center of the Christian Gospel. And all Scripture eventually leads us to Christ, who is the Promised One, the atoning Sacrifice, the Risen Lord, that we might trust him for our salvation unto eternal life. Faith in the New Testament has the strong idea of trust. A missionary to Africa was translating the New Testament into the dialect of the people he was
working with. He was attempting to translate John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” He was stuck because he couldn’t find an equivalent word in the native language for “Believe.” But one day he was sitting on a chair and leaned back so that it was on two legs. He asked a native to describe what he was doing. The native used a word which means, “putting all your weight upon.” And that’s the word missionary used to translate “believe.” “Whoever puts all their weight upon Jesus, whoever leans upon him fully, should not perish but have eternal life.” Christian faith means putting all your weight on Jesus, trusting him to bring you to the Father’s house. And he will, for he is the way and the truth and the life. “Believe in God; believe also in me.” Christian faith is believing in God your Heavenly Father and also in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Such faith is an enduring gift of God to the church in every generation. If you have such faith, thank God for it. Keep growing in God’s word. Be refreshed often by the sacrament of the body and blood. And if you don’t yet have such faith, keep listening to the Gospel story until the Holy Spirit stirs it up within you. And he will if you earnestly desire it. “And now these three remain – faith, hope and love…” Secondly, the enduring gift of hope. What is hope? It’s looking to the future with the expectation of good ahead. Now if our hopes were grounded in human action and human wisdom alone, the future would be dreary indeed. Have you ever noticed how almost every forward step we humans make is offset by a backward step? Both the devil and our own broken human nature conspire against our progress. But God gives us real hope. Christian hope is based on God’s promises and God’s actions, and especially on his mighty act at Easter. Peter tells us, “We have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead!” The God of the Bible is at work in all things for good. He is the God who works despite or even though our human messes to bring about good. Think of Joseph languishing for years in an Egyptian prison. Who could have imagined that one day he would be the Prime Minister of Egypt saying to his astonished brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to keep many people alive.” Or that the One crucified in utter humiliation is the Risen and reigning Lord of all. But he is. Our hope lies in what God has done and will yet do, both in our personal lives and in the church and in the world. Now we know that God often does his work, not miraculously or in a spectacular way but through good and wise people he chooses to work through And we can trust that God is present in this COVID-19 pandemic, quietly
growing his Kingdom, giving healing and help, and drawing people to himself. No situation is hopeless, because God is at work, often quietly, working out his good purposes. They say that where there’s life there’s hope. But we can turn it around and say “where there’s hope, there’s life.” When Mother Teresa opened her shelter for care in Calcutta, she conceived it mainly as a hospice, a place where dying street people could spend their last days in some comfort. But many of them, after receiving tender love and care didn’t die. Many made miraculous recoveries. It’s was all because they were given hope. God gives us hope. So we look forward to the time when Christ comes again, when God’s Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, when all that is evil and unworthy is judged and put away at last, when all things are restored and made new. And we look forward to eternal life in God’s eternal Kingdom where Jesus has prepared a place for each one of his believing people. There we will see Christ in his risen glory with the wounds still visible. We will also see and know those who have gone before us. There will be a great reunion. There is a moving passage in Acts chapter 20. Paul was on his final journey to Jerusalem. On the way he stopped at Ephesus where he had taught for so long. He wanted to see the people there one more time. He said, “I know that none of you, among whom I have preached the kingdom, will ever see my face again.” They knelt and prayed and embraced Paul, grieving because they would not see him again on this earth. But they would see him again, of course, in God’s own time. After today we may not see each other again, though our home in Cape Breton will always be open to welcome visitors. But I believe that we will see one another’s faces again, perhaps not in this life, but in heaven where God’s people will gather together around his throne. And we will have lots of time to catch up. Because of the Risen Christ and our faith in him, separation is only for a time. Eternity is forever. God gives us hope. Finally, God’s enduring gift of love. “And now these three remain – faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.” You see, faith will pass away one day, because faith will give way to sight. We will see Jesus as he is. We will cast our crowns before him, lost in wonder, love and praise. Hope will pass away because all that God has promised will be fulfilled. The new creation will be finished at last. But love will remain because it is the essence of God’s Kingdom. Paul tells us, “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 the wrong; but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” That is a perfect portrait of Jesus whose love for us never ends and who endured all things for our sake. And this divine love is God’s gift to his people. God pours his love into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit. The love of Jesus is not merely feelings of love but practical, caring actions towards all, even enemies. Albert Schweitzer once said, “The greatest person in the world is some unknown individual in some obscure corner of the earth who at this very hour has gone in love to be with another person in need.” 1 Corinthians 13 is often read at weddings, but it was originally written by Paul for a church with divisions and infighting. I am so glad that this congregation is not divided, but united in your desire to follow Jesus and to serve him in this community. “They’ll know we are Christians by our love…” “And now these three remain – faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.” As I step away from this pulpit I pray that these enduring gifts of God will continually grow among you; and that this will be the enduring word about Streetsville United Church – “Truly these are people of faith and hope and love.”