Monday, February 1, 2016

Extravagant Love-- sermon from January 31st

I have been posting some sermons lately, but not all of them.  That's because it takes time to post them and there are plenty of other things for me to do weekly. I wasn't going to post this past week's sermon.  But, this morning when I was at the funeral for one of our church members who recently passed, wouldn't you know that the very first passage of Scripture that was read was the same as yesterday's that I chose from the lectionary choices?!?!  And, not only that, he also read from The Message, Eugene Peterson's translation.  I don't often choose The Message for Sunday morning worship times, but yesterday was one of those days that I did choose it.  And to have it read again today in the same version, well, for one, it made me smile.  Then it caused me to think that if these Scripture verses in this version impacted me, then maybe someone else might want or need them too.

Yesterday's message at Fort Oglethorpe UMC was about love, God's love.  As with every message delivered during a service, what is written below isn't necessarily exactly what was shared during our time together.  It could have been added to, subtracted from, etc.  But, it is a guideline as to what was shared.

Prior to the beginning of the sermon I shared a short 3 minute video of pictures that I had taken and gotten from other people from Resurrection 2016 the weekend before.  I bought the song "Helicopter" by B-Shoc and put the song into the video.  The purpose of the video was to give the folks at church a glimpse of what the youth and leaders heard, learned, and did at Resurrection 2016.  One cannot do it justice in 3 minutes or even more than that, but my hope is that folks will take time to talk with the youth about their experience(s).


"Extravagant Love"
January 31, 2016 (4th Sunday after the Epiphany)
1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (MSG)
Fort Oglethorpe UMC

1 Corinthians 13:1-13 (The Message)

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.
If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.
3-7 If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.
Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.
8-10 Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled.
11 When I was an infant at my mother’s breast, I gurgled and cooed like any infant. When I grew up, I left those infant ways for good.
12 We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us!
13 But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.



Today is the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany.  This is "ordinary" time in the church calendar, meaning that ordinal numbers are used to mark the time on the calendar.  We will soon enter the Lenten season.  

Today's Scriptures speak of love.  We might be very familiar with them as these verses are often used in wedding vows, but that wasn't the original setting of these verses.  That's one of the reasons I chose a different Scripture version for us today.  I wanted us to see these words fresh and anew.  When Paul wrote these words to the church at Corinth, he was addressing the body there as they were fighting over their spiritual gifts-- who had what gift, which gift was more important, etc.  This letter to the church at Corinth was to help them see that the most important thing for their focus was love.
It is the same for us.  It may not be spiritual gifts that divide us, but the message for us here today is that LOVE is to be our focus.

Let's look at today's passage one more time. Let's read it together.  [Put on screen again.]

What stands out to you in this passage today?

Where do you hear God speaking to you?

Remember that God has gifted each and every one of us for the good of the whole body.  We are to use our gifts together, with and for one another so that the body not only works as it should, but so that the kingdom of God here on earth is able to function properly.  In this passage, Paul reminds us that love is the more important thing, above all our gifts, above all our differences, above all.

We know that we can love only because God loved us and God's love flows into us and through us.  God is the source of our love.  Love seeks the good of others, what's best for others.

I don't know if you've been in this situation or not, but it happens to me frequently:  Whether it's a topic I'm teaching, preaching, or learning it just somehow happens that there is almost always a life application in the moment.  When I took bioethics two years ago, my grandmother died right before the class and we had her memorial service days before I went to the class and my brother with the traumatic brain injury was going through some stuff.  I honestly didn't know if I could handle the bioethics course.  It ended up being a blessing.  This past Friday we buried my grandmother's ashes.  She had donated her body to Emory University and it took a year and a half to get her ashes back.  It just worked out to be two years to the date when we had her service.  

In the midst of making plans to head to Dalton Friday afternoon, my stepson called Friday morning and started a situation that challenged me to be loving as I prepared to speak on "extravagant love" today.  There were phone calls and texts within our family unit to figure out the truth of what he was doing and saying.  He told one thing to one set of us and another to the other.  In the end, we did him a favor and it all worked out, but there was a portion of time that due to the frustration of the matter, "love" wasn't on my forefront of responses.  I wasn't wanting to respond with agape love to someone who was attempting to play the family units.  Oh, how God allows us opportunities to love the unloveables in our lives.  And sometimes the unloveable is me.

How gracious is our God!!  Our God who loves us and helps us to love others when it isn't easy!
We know that God loved us enough to sacrifice Christ for us.  And we know that God loves us enough to pursue us incessantly.  God does NOT give up on us.  God's love does not fail us.

You may be familiar with the contemporary Christian worship song with the words:  "Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me".  The song is entitled "One Thing Remains".  It was written by Brian Johnson of Jesus Culture:

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

Higher than the mountains that I face
Stronger than the power of the grave
Constant in the trial and the change
One thing remains

On and on and on and on it goes
It overwhelms and satisfies my soul
And I never, ever, have to be afraid
One thing remains

Your love never fails, never gives up
Never runs out on me

In death, in life
I'm confident and covered by the power of Your great love
My debt is paid
There's nothing that can separate my heart from Your great love


There is NOTHING that can separate us from God's great love, if we will allow God into our lives, to take control, to flow into and through our lives.  Love is the greatest thing that God has given to us, that God has for us, and that we can share with ourselves, and others.

Love builds up.  This divine love that we read about here in today's passage is one that will guide us as we listen together for the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us in joining God's direction for our church and community.  

As we contemplate these verses today, they become a way for us to gauge how we are doing in our spiritual growth.  Bob Mulholland writes in his Invitation to A Journey:

"If you want a good litmus test of your spiritual growth, simply examine the nature and quality of your relationship with others.  Are you more loving, more compassionate, more patient, more understanding, more caring, more giving, more forgiving than you were a year ago?  If you cannot answer these kinds of questions in the affirmative and, especially, if others cannot answer them in the affirmative about you, then you need to examine carefully the nature of your spiritual life and growth."  (Bob Mulholland, p. 42, Invitation to a Journey)

There are days when I can see spiritual growth in my own life and I hope others can see it too.  There are other days when I know I struggle and it becomes important for me to reconnect with my Creator, renew my relationship, and refocus on the greatest of these..... LOVE.

How will you allow God's love to flow into your life, into this church's life, into this community's life?  

May God's love permeate every aspect of our doing and being, from our worship times to our committee and meeting times to our fun and fellowship times to our outreach times to whatever God has for us.

May it be so.


Though it wasn't used in the sermon, here is a video of the song "One Thing Remains":

Blessings on your journey,