-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 2-3-2019 Pardeeville

(1Corinthians 13:1-13 and Galatians 5:16-19a, 21b-25)


       The city of Corinth was synonymous with unruly behavior, immorality, and promiscuity.  So Paul decided it would be an ideal place to start a church.  He brought the Good News of Jesus Christ to them.  He served as their pastor for about a year and a half and, in that time, he taught them ways to live as Christians.  He gave them the tools and resources they needed to come together as followers of Jesus.  He got them to behave like a community of faith.  Believe me…this was no easy task. 

       Then Paul moved on to start another church at Ephesus.  In the mail one day, he received a letter from a family he had known while serving as pastor in Corinth.  The news was not good.  Things had pretty much fallen apart.  Morality was losing out to other behaviors…and not in a good way.  Paul’s response to the situation in Corinth is quite pastoral though.  There is no ranting or raving, no “What do you think you’re doing?” and no tirades.  Paul is quick to remind the people in Corinth that God is with them not only by what Christ has done for them but also in the continuing presence of the Holy Spirit.  He talks to them about God’s saving love for them and how God’s love has given them the freedom to show love for one another.

       In the passage today, Paul speaks about love as being the driving force behind our every action.  An eloquent speaker not motivated by love is just noisy.  Exceptionally strong faith that is not the product of love is a waste of time.  Generosity to others who are less fortunate, even sacrificing one’s own life, are noble causes but must be the result of our love or they prove meaningless.  Motivated by our love, we are rich.  Everything we say, everything we believe, and everything we do—all of these actions should grow out of love.  Otherwise, what’s the point?

       That got me thinking about something else Paul talks about in another letter to a different church.  He named the fruits of the Spirit.  That’s why we heard the Galatians passage this morning.  I’ve come to the conclusion that all of the fruits of the Spirit grow out of love.  And so I chose three of the nine fruits of the Spirit to highlight this morning.  I chose three because doing all nine at once could keep us here for a long time.    

       So let’s start with love.  This story of love I want to share with you this morning comes from the pages of a really good book, “Chicken Soup for the Soul”.  This particular story is about a teacher in New York who used a process originally developed by Helice Bridges.  “Who?” you may ask.  Helice Bridges founded “Difference Makers International” in 1983.  It’s an organization that works to help all people feel appreciated, respected, loved, and valued for their unique talents.  The teacher in today’s story used a technique called “Who I Am Makes a Difference”.  She called each of her high school seniors to the front of the class and talked about how they had made a difference to her and to the class.  She then presented each of the students with a ribbon printed with the words “Who I am makes a difference”.  Pretty cool idea but that was only the beginning.  She gave each student three more ribbons and asked them to continue the process.  They were to find someone outside the classroom to honor with a ribbon.  In a week or so, they would all come back with stories about the results.

       Here’s one of those stories.  One student visited a young executive that had helped him with some career plans.  Besides thanking him, the student pinned a ribbon on his lapel and gave him two extra ribbons.  The student asked the man to repeat the process with someone else.  Later that day, the young executive went to visit his boss.  He told his boss how much he admired his creativity and pinned a ribbon on him.  Now his boss was not the happiest man in the company.  He was, to put it plainly, grouchy.  But he was honored to be recognized.  And, as a part of the deal, this cantankerous boss received the last ribbon and was asked to give to someone else.

       He was on his way home when he decided to give that ribbon to his 14-year-old son.  When he came home, he told his son about how his young executive had honored him and how he had been given a ribbon to honor someone else.  The man told his son, “My days are really hectic and when I come home, I don’t pay a lot of attention to you.  Sometimes I scream at you for not getting good enough grades or because your bedroom is a mess.  But today I just wanted to tell you that you make a difference in my life.  You are a great kid and I love you.”  As the man went to pin the ribbon on his son, the boy began to cry.  Soon his whole body was shaking.  He was finally able to admit to his father that he had planned on committing suicide the following day because he didn’t think that anyone loved him.  One of the most powerful ways to express our love is to thank people and to let them know that they are appreciated.  And each life touches so many other lives.  We have no way of knowing what’s going to happen when we take the time to make a difference in someone else’s life.  It is a pure expression of love.

       Faithfulness is another fruit of the Spirit.  The word “faithfulness” immediately conjures up images for us.  To be faithful involves some time.  To be faithful means to believe over the long haul.  A person who is faithful is dedicated to a particular cause or purpose.  To be faithful not only involves a quick response but also the stamina to remain dedicated to fulfill your goal.  Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is an organization of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that responds to both natural and man-made disasters around the world.  I think they perfectly represent the concept of faithfulness, especially in this example.

       Back in late August 2005, right in the middle of the Labor Day holiday, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans.  Katrina was a category four hurricane with winds of about 140 miles per hour.  It was the sixth largest hurricane ever recorded.  The water surge was twenty feet high.  The levees in New Orleans were not designed to withstand that kind of surge.  About three quarters of the city was underwater.  This single storm would up affecting about 90,000 square miles!

       We all saw the reports on the news…the damage, the people trying to evacuate the city of New Orleans, the temporary shelters.  But, within a relatively short time, the television news reports moved on to something else…because e there’s always something else.  Presbyterian Disaster Assistance responded immediately when Hurricane Katrina struck and initially considered its time in the Gulf area would be considerable.  That’s how extensive the damage was.  They stayed in New Orleans for ten years…long after you could find a news report about Hurricane Katrina on TV.  I see their relief work in the Gulf States as a splendid example of faithfulness.  During the first four years of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance’s response alone, about 3600 homes were repaired.  About 700 homes were rebuilt and over two million hours of service were recorded.  One of the things Presbyterian Disaster Assistance focuses on is the long term recovery of impacted communities.  They continued to work in the Gulf area, having no intention of leaving until their work was done.  Volunteers were in the Gulf so long that local people got to know them.  One woman, whose home was repaired by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance volunteers, remarked that whenever her four-year-old son saw a person in the organization’s signature blue tee shirts, he knew that they were helping people.  This extension of the Presbyterian Church is a marvelous example of faithfulness, willing to commit time and energy to a project and willing to persevere as long as it takes so healing can be achieved.

       But what about patience?  If you know certain things about Thomas Edison, you might think him a poor example of patience.  He didn’t talk until he was almost four years old.  But he was very inquisitive from the start.  He always wanted to know how things worked.  His favorite word was “Why?”  Early on, his teachers were convinced that Thomas Edison was illiterate.  And here’s the funny part…by today’s determination, he likely suffered from Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder…not the usual prerequisite for patience.

       It’s not well known but the incandescent light bulb was invented by someone else in 1802, 45 years before Thomas Edison was born.  But this guy’s light bulb only lasted a few hours before burning out.  The bulb that Thomas Edison ultimately designed burned over 1200 hours.  Longevity was greatly aided by using a carbon fiber as the filament of the bulb.  But carbon fiber was not the first thing that Thomas Edison used as a filament…or the second thing or the third thing for that matter.  He had over three thousand theories about what to use as a filament.  He tried over a thousand of them.  And here is where ADHD and patience have combined to make a great improvement in our quality of life.  A reporter once asked Thomas Edison how it felt to fail 1000 times.  He told the man, “I didn’t fail 1000 times.  The light bulb is an invention with 1000 steps.”

       There is a fine line between patience and perseverance, between patience and determination.  Here are just a few.  Beethoven handled the violin awkwardly and preferred playing his own compositions.  His teacher called him hopeless as a composer.  The parents of famous opera singer Enrico Caruso wanted him to be an engineer.  His teacher said he had no voice at all.  And how about this…a so-called expert said that Vince Lombardi had minimal football knowledge and lacked motivation.”  Vince Lombardi, for whom the Super Bowl trophy is named, won five NFL championships in seven years.

       Many of the descriptions Paul uses in his letter to the Corinthians still ring true.  Love doesn’t give up.  Love cares for others more than it cares for itself.  Love doesn’t force itself on others.  Love keeps going to the end.  And remember…it all starts with love!  Thanks be to God!