Here is the text of my sermon today, as promised. The verse for today was 1 Corinthians 13 .
Pasting from Word into WordPress messed up the formatting (sorry). The names have been changed to protect the innocent.
Life in High Def
I want to thank you all for allowing me to speak here today. My name is Slartibartfast; many of you know my uncle Zarniwoop, and my uncle Dave (both of whom are REAL preachers) – some even know my Dad. If you do, I’d like to hear some of the juiciest stories after the service. Anyway, I can confidently say that I speak of all the members of X-Alt when I say that New Beginnings has always made us feel like we’re at home, and we have been blessed to be amongst such a fine church family.
Now, I will not keep you long today. Having spent the last 6 years in the United Methodist tradition, it is a sure thing that we value not only spirituality, but punctuality. We even have signals! When I’ve preached before, [signal] this means I’m talking too fast, [signal] this means I’m not speaking loudly enough, and this [signal] means, “Hurry up! We need to beat the Baptists to the buffet!”
But that’s not what I came here to talk to you about.
Now, I realize that we are not supposed to cling to the things of this world, but the Lord’s still got a lot of work yet to do on me. There are still a few select items that are VERY hard to let go. Of these, I’ll confess there’s one possession I prize over all others: My big screen high definition television. [Find someone nodding] You’ve got one, too? Then you know what I mean.
720p. 1080i. And the granddaddy of them all: 1080p. Those aren’t IRS forms. They’re high-def screen resolutions, and let me tell you, once you’ve seen a football game in one of these babies, you’ll understand. The picture is so much better than standard cable TV, there’s almost no comparison. In high definition, you can count the freckles on the anchorman’s nose! Sometimes, during high-def nature shows, you’d swear you are looking at the gazelles through a window. Hook up the surround sound, and then you’ve really got something.
Here’s the weird thing. I’ve got this incredible technology in my den. I’ve got the full HD digital cable package. You know what I spend 90% of my TV watching time doing? [pretend to flip channels] Click…click…click. They might as well bury me with my remote in my hand, because that’s how they’re going to find me when I go. My lovely wife Lintilla asks, “Why do we even pay for this? You’ve got over 200 channels of ‘nothing to watch!’”
Of course, I turn to her and say, “My dear, dear Lintilla. You have a whole closet full of nothing to wear!”
But that’s not what I came here to talk to you about.
When I knew I’d be speaking here today, I took a good look at the calendar. Hmmm. Right smack dab between the Christmas and New Year’s holiday and Valentine’s Day. Hmmm. We just came out of a season of Joy, but also a season when many feel the sting of loneliness extra fiercely. Many have an extra period of grieving, noticing even more the empty chair of a loved one. Also, looking forward to Valentine’s Day, many feel left out, and many are reminded of broken marriages and romances. This is can be a very rough time when thinking of “Love”. It seems this time of year love, or lack of it, is on everybody’s mind.
Love. Ahhh, amore! They say it makes the world go round, an in our text today, 1 Corinthians 13, I’d say that Paul agrees. But it’s very important that we first define what we mean when we say “Love”. The New Testament has three Greek terms for three distinct kinds of love, so let’s use those:
First is Eros, what I sometimes like to call “Showtime Network love”. But seriously, this kind of love covers everything from butterflies in the stomach, to what we call the “warm fuzzies”, to, well, the subject of late-night Showtime movies. There’s one important thing to remember about this kind of love. It’s a feeling, and subject to the whims of emotion. I do believe this kind of love is a gift from God. Yet, it is, at the very least, fickle, and by no means something we can base our lives on.
The second is Philia, or “brotherly love”. The city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, gets its name from this term. This is the love of best friends, of fellowship amongst brothers. It is a wonderful, powerful type of love. I have oodles and oodles of this type of love for my band-mates; we’ve been through the fires together. Although this kind of love is wonderful, it can be interfered with by time, distance, arguments and misunderstanding. Although less fickle than Eros, it’s still captive to circumstance. When the New Testament is talking about the greatness of love, it is NOT speaking of Philia.
When Paul says in verse 13: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love”, the love that he is speaking of is the third kind: agape. Here’s what the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has to say about agape:
The term was used by the early Christians to refer to the special love for God and God’s love for humanity, as well as the self-sacrificing love they believed all should have for each other.
This kind of love is the real thing. According to 1 John 4:8, it is one of the attributes of God Himself; it is of his very nature and flows forth through him to all his people and the entire world. When it comes to love, agape love is high-def; 1080p, no less.
Agape love is not dependent on what’s going on around us or how we feel. All other types of love flow from it. Want a better marriage? Practice agape love toward your spouse, and you’ll find Eros knocking on your door. Agape Love comes directly from Jesus Christ Himself, and it is not fickle or subject to whims, because it’s not something that happens to us, it’s something that we DO.
When we practice agape love, we love as God does. We see the other person as a child of God. We proactively seek that person’s well being, not asking what’s in it for us. We love the other person even when they do not seem very lovable. We love them even when they don’t want us to love them.
When I say that agape love is of Christ and from Christ, what do I mean? I once saw a preacher put it this way (And I’m not above borrowing someone else’s material): Reading verses 4-7 , the verses we all know from weddings, and replacing “love” with “Christ”, it fits in perfectly with the way He was and is. Listen to this:
Christ is patient and kind; Christ does not envy or boast; Christ is not arrogant or rude. Christ did not insist on His own way; He is not irritable or resentful; Christ does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Christ bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endured all things.
When I look back on my life and what a jerk I’ve been sometimes, this verse really drives it home for me. Jesus has been patient with me. He didn’t rejoice in my wrongdoing, He didn’t wag his finger at me and laugh because I was on my way to the Devil; he just gently, softly called me home. He endured and bore my own sins. How could I not respond to that?
God loves us in this way, and Jesus asked us to pass it along. In the book of John, Chapter 13, verse 34 He said: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. We in the church have a hard time with that sometimes. There are no “knockdown, drag out” fights that can compare to family squabbles. And sometimes, it seems that we in the church are the foremost experts on the subject.
I’ll make a confession to you. When X-Alt was “relieved of our duties” at our old church, it was almost impossible for resentment not to take over. Honestly, none of us were feeling very fondly of some of the people there. I know I was not practicing agape love. This is the way of the world. It is perfectly natural to be angry, to withdraw, to lash out and strike back. But it’s not supposed to be our way. Jesus endured a lot more than getting fired from a praise service, and what did He do? As he hung on the cross in agony, he asked the Father to forgive those that had put him there! He still loved them! I try to ask Him as often as I can to give me that kind of heart. It’s still a work in progress. I still see spiritually with a child’s eyes, but one day I will put away such things.
But we are not only supposed to love one another this way. We are supposed to practice agape love toward the entire world, just as Christ did. It is not enough to say, “I love the downtrodden” and write a check to some charity. I believe that when we commit to agape love, we are committing to not only giving money to “the poor”, but finding and loving specific poor people. Jesus would not just have thrown the homeless man a Denarius or made speeches about how Caesar needed to take better care of the poor. He would have wrapped His arms around the homeless man, gotten to know him as a person, ministered to him. I believe this is what we are called to do.
We need to do this because I believe this is God’s plan to change to world. In my opinion, this is why so many were drawn to Christ. Sure, some were drawn to His miracles, some to His wonderful teaching and speaking, but I believe most were drawn to Him because of the way He loved them.
I know this because I’ve seen it. I’ve told this story a million times (and X-Alt is getting tired of hearing it), but it new to you so I get to tell it again. In 2002, my family and I lost all that we had in a house fire. In the aftermath, something happened that changed our lives forever.
The insurance company (Lord bless ‘em), insisted that we physically inventory everything in the house that wasn’t completely consumed by the fire. This meant we had to go inside a dark, wet, burned out shell of a house in the middle of July and count stuff. We did this for 10 hours a day, a week straight. Lintilla and I would come back to our hotel room covered in soot; we actually felt sorry for the cleaning staff because we probably ruined the tub.
However, there was good that was happening. We were relatively new to Belle Meade United Methodist, but that didn’t stop the congregation from raising enough money to keep us afloat; some even collected toys for the kids. We will forever be grateful for that. But something else happened that was life changing.
One evening, our praise leader and his family invited us to come to church. We were able to get clean, and we came. There, they cooked us a home-cooked meal. They hugged us. They prayed with us, over us, and for us. Their kids played with our kids. For a short while, we forgot the chaos and despair that existed for us outside those church walls. I don’t remember everything we ate, but it was the best meal I’ve ever had in my life. To be the recipient of that kind of love is life-changing. You want to jump and shout, you want to sing for Joy, you want to laugh, you can’t help but weep. Most of all, you want others to experience that kind of love.
This is what we are called to do. When you can see every other person as a child of God, you have stepped out of basic cable and into the world of High-def. Everything is clearer. You find yourself doing and saying things you never thought possible. Suddenly, men behind prison walls are not merely “bad guys”, but fellow children of God in need of forgiveness, just like you. When you get to know them, you can’t help but love them.
You start seeing the elderly in nursing homes as people who need ministering to, who need company and the sweet sound of music. You even learn to see that your enemies are also someone’s child; that although they are in error, there is something worth loving in them. And you are amazed to find yourself loving and praying for them. This is because agape love comes directly from God himself – we aren’t capable of it until He enters our hearts.
And you know what? You soon find yourself being the recipient of more love and friendship that you ever thought possible. People, even non-believers, respond to agape love. They are drawn to it like moths to a flame. Love is the only weapon for which there is no defense. Even your enemies are defenseless against it.
Are you lonely? Are you grieving? Do you feel that nobody loves you? Well, what are you waiting for? You’ve got a whole world full of “nobody to love”! Take the undeserved love that Jesus has for you, and pass it along. You’ll find your cup running over before you know it.
Get rid of the static. If you do not yet know Christ as your savior, ask Him into your heart. If you do, pray for an agape heart. It’s time to experience life in High definition.