Crazy Little Thing Called Love
This sermon was given by Geoff Pound to the Ashburton Baptist Church on 31 January 2016.
Reading: 1 Corinthians 12: 31-13: 1-13
Before Jimmy Carter was President of the United States he was a naval officer. When he’d finishing his training he applied for his first job and was interviewed by the Admiral. The Admiral had a reputation for being quite demanding and in the interview he asked the applicant: “Where did you come in your class in the Naval Academy?” With a measure of pride Carter said: “Sir, I came 59th in a class of 840!”
Carter said he expected to be showered with praise but instead he was confronted with the penetrating question: “Did you do your best?” Carter was about to reply with an automatic “Yes Sir” but he thought about it for a moment and said, “No, Sir, I didn’t always do my best.”
After a long awkward silence, the Admiral said: “Why not?!”
Jimmy Carter must have responded positively to that interview experience because he entitled one of his book’s Why Not the Best? 
Why Not the Best? is the theme in today’s Scripture, but the topic isn’t posed judgmentally. The apostle Paul writes to a church that was experiencing some argy-bargy and he says:
You want the greatest gifts? You want to excel and do your best? V31:
“I will show you a still more excellent way.”
Here’s the leader’s secret as to how best to speak to your team. How a parent might best encourage their children. How a teacher might best motivate their students.
He doesn’t lambast and say: “Don’t you keep doing this.”
He doesn’t point the finger and say, ‘You. You. You.’
Right throughout he uses the first person: If I speak.. if I have…’
To those who thought they were great because of their speaking prowess Paul says:
13 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.
Mindful of those who valued their gifts of understanding, knowledge and faith, he says:
2 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.
Thinking of those who prided themselves on their generosity and their service, he says:
3 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.
He’s throwing out scenarios—‘If’! If’! ‘If’!—so we could add what we think we’re good at:
If I excel at leadership but I don’t have love…
If I am the queen of creativity but I don’t have love…
If I am the best at….. (fill in the gap) but I don’t have love…
I am nothing.
Isn’t January such an aspirational month, Down Under? We see the best sportspeople on the courts and cricket pitches, and so many children want to be champions like their heroes. In many different spheres citizens are awarded Australia Day honours.
This week we have children with new books going to school. We want them to excel in their studies.
Workers are getting back to their offices, teachers to their classrooms, politicians to their debating chambers, don’t we all want to do our best?
Paul says, we can be the best in our field but if we don’t excel in love we are nothing. Zero. Nada. Even less than nothing. Who wants to be a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal, a squeaky gate?
Paul is showing us the indispensable importance of excelling in love.
The New Testament Greek is so precise that it has four words for love:
There’s family love, the love that flows between a parent and a child.
There’s brotherly, sisterly love and love between friends.
There’s sexual love for when we talk about ‘being in love’.
Finally there’s unconditional love even when circumstances turn.
It’s this love that Paul is commending here.
In verse 4 he beams this love through a prism and breaks it down:
4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love is supremely about how we relate to people and not just the people that we like. Excelling in life is not so much about roles as relationships. It’s not about gifts but about goodness. It’s not about titles or tasks but about how we treat one another.
To really check how I was doing in the love stakes I put my name into this Scripture everywhere it says ‘love’. Listen to this if you can bear it:
4 Geoff Pound is patient; Geoff is kind; Geoff is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude.
I’m so relieved that members of my family aren’t here. “Geoff Pound is patient?” ‘Rubbish’, they’d say!
I feel embarrassed saying this especially among my colleagues and those who know me best.
I’m starting to sound like the author who wrote the book, ‘Humility and how I achieved it!’
I’m sounding like a noisy gong.
How does it sound when you insert your name into this love challenge? Try it as I continue to put my name there.
Geoff does not insist on his own way; Geoff is not irritable. Geoff is not resentful; 6 Geoff Pound does not rejoice in wrongdoing…
Sound good to you or are you too sounding like a clanging cymbal?
But as this passage was written not to one person but to a church let’s put in our name:
The Ashburton Baptist Church is patient; Ashy Baptist people are kind. We are not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. ABC does not insist on its own way, we are never irritable or resentful. Ashburton Baptists do not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoice in the truth. Ashburton Baptist Church bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
How did that sound? While we appreciate our good qualities, I can’t imagine any church would feel they are meeting this standard. Does any church make the grade? Could we say this truthfully about any person?
What about the person of Jesus? Shall we try his name?
4 Jesus is patient; Jesus is kind;
Jesus is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude… Sounding right? Yes!
Jesus Christ does not insist on his own way. Jesus is not irritable or resentful. Jesus does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. Jesus bears all things. Jesus believes all things. Jesus hopes all things. Jesus endures all things.
Don’t you agree that his name is such a fine substitute for the word ‘love’?
With all that we know of Jesus—his acceptance of children, his compassion for the poor, his patience with those disciples, his courage, his hope in people, his stickability to his mission despite rejection and suffering.
Jesus was supremely a person of Love.
So if we don’t meet the love test but Jesus does, how then do we become a person of love? How does a church like Ashburton Baptist become a community about which people might say: “See how these Christians love each other”?
When you go for a walk on the same route and at the same time each morning, you get to meet the same people. Recently as I’ve gone anti-clockwise around the Gardiners Creek Trail I’ve said ‘Good morning’ a number of times to a man coming the other way. So I stopped one day and said:
“My name is Geoff. What’s your name?”
He didn’t understand so I said: ‘Geoff’. [Gesturing to him] and he said ‘Tau’.
I said, ‘Australia’ and he said, ‘China’.
I said: ‘Beijing?’ He shook his head. ‘Shanghai’? No.
I said: ‘Melbourne’. [Gesturing to him] and he said ‘Guangzhou’.
It was hard going. We had no more words. So I pointed ahead and motioned that I’d better get going and he thought I meant that I was asking him to come with me. So he did.
I thought, this is going to be a long walk repeating the only words we shared like ‘Geoff’, ‘Tau’, ‘Australia’ and ‘China’. As we walked we pointed at things and said, ‘tree’ and ‘bird’. We both greeted others with a ‘Good morning’.
Each day we’ve relaxed more and more, there’s a friendship growing and we’ve added to our vocabulary, ‘sun’ ‘moon’ ‘stop’ and ‘train’.
As we’re thinking this morning about this language of love, I feel that I’m such a beginner. It’s as if we’re entering into another world. Another culture. I’m floundering. I’m blundering.
But we meet Jesus and we hear his invitation, ‘Come with me’. It’s all new and bewildering. We learn new words like ‘patience’ and ‘kindness’ and then the teacher says, “I don’t just want to extend your vocabulary. I want you to become patient. I will help you to be kind.”
When we welcome his life we’re no longer as envious or boastful, arrogant or rude. When Jesus floods us with his presence we no longer insist on our own way.
Turning language into a lifestyle happens like this for a church. When we together open ourselves to this person Jesus we’re not so irritable or resentful. We don’t rejoice as much over the wrongdoing of others. We are a community learning to bear all things, believe all things and endure all things.
We’ve been thinking of children giving up kinder to go to prep, and older children giving up primary school to enter secondary school. Life keeps on being an experience of giving up and taking on until we finally give up work to enter retirement and then ultimately we give up this life to take hold of the next.
Paul says that while we give up childish things, love will never end. We will never have to give it up! So what a lasting investment to follow this more excellent way!
It’s not about trying harder, pulling ourselves up with our boot laces, but walking with Christ and putting ourselves in the place where we can receive this magnificent gift of love.
Yes, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Loving God, it is so true that ‘now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now we know only in part; then we will know fully, even as we have been fully known.’
Lord, help us to truly see the importance of the way of love.
Move us beyond definitions to a dynamic experience of love.
We ask this not only for ourselves but for us as a church community.
In this new week when our patience is tried, our kindness is tested, in those conversations and discussions where we want to push our own barrow and claim recognition for things that are achieved, in all of these interactions enable us to remember your presence, to ask you to touch our hearts so that we become more fully people of love.
We look forward to actually becoming all that you have in mind for us to be.