May Love Be Our Legacy- Sermon for January 24, 2021

Sermon for January 24, 2021


     Last week we saw on the news the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris. The ceremony was impressive in spite of restrictions due to security and health concerns. I was also impressed by what took place the day before at the Lincoln Memorial. Surrounding what is called the Reflecting Pool were 400 luminaries shining as dusk inched toward darkness. The lights were to commemorate the more than 400,000 who have died from the COVID-19 virus, almost one year after the first case was diagnosed. It was a memorial to the dead, a pause before the celebrations around the inauguration. What was moving for me was the voice of a nurse from Livonia, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Her name is Lori Key and she sang “Amazing Grace”. Before she sang she said, “Working as a COVID nurse is heartbreaking. As heartbreaking for the patients who are sick, it was heartbreaking for the family who couldn’t be there with them and it is heartbreaking for those caring for them. But when I am at work, I sing. It gives me strength during difficult times and I believe it helps heal.” What helps heal as well is the message of her song: God’s grace. Grace means gift, and the gift of Jesus whom I imagine stands with those who mourn with the word “I am with you always”.

     In a time of national mourning the words we heard from Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church sound out-of-place and insensitive, “let those who mourn as though they were not mourning.” We wonder what in the world was Paul talking about. We may even think of Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” So it is important to understand the whole picture. Much of the Apostle Paul’s letter we call 1 Corinthians dealt with problems, questions and issues that arose in the Christian Assembly in Corinth. In the 7th chapter Paul wrote about issues of marriage. He almost sounded like an advice columnist. Paul wrote husband and wife should not divorce but instead seek reconciliation. Paul dealt with a question that was an issue of his time, should a Christian remain married to an unbelieving spouse. Paul addressed the question of should widows and the unmarried get married? Paul gave no command but offered his opinion that it would be better to remain single like himself. But Paul wrote “it is better to marry that to be aflame with passion”. Then you could say Paul summed it all up with his opinion, “Yet those who marry will experience distress in this life, and I would spare you that.”

It sounded like Paul had a negative view of marriage but then he would explain that is really not the case. We come to our text today, “I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short.” With that in mind ‘let even those who have wives be as though they had none.” Although Paul did not specifically say we can assume he would also mean ‘let even those who have husbands be as though they had none.” This sounds so strange and a serious denial of the meaning of the wedding vows. Paul would continue, ‘and those who mourn as they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing. And those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who have dealing with the world as though they had not dealings with it. For the present form of the world is passing away.”

Paul’s thoughts about marriage, human emotions of mourning and rejoicing, and commerce and work are tied together with the verses “The appointed time has grown short and the present form of this world is passing away.” Paul was not predicting and end-of-the-world disaster but the completion of God’s promise of deliverance known as the New Creation. The present form of this world, the world in which we live, is not the final or permanent reality. This hope of a new creation is found throughout the writings of the Apostle Paul. This hope, what another apostle Peter called a living hope, is a gift from Jesus Christ. From Jesus’ death on the cross we can be assured the old has passed away, that is Jesus through his death conquered its force, conquered its power to create fear. By his death on the cross we are assured that the power of sin has been overcome by his love for all sinners, so we live now under the dominion of grace and not guilt. By Jesus resurrection this was not a victory reserved only for Jesus. It is a victory for all of us, people of faith. Resurrection means a New Creation is coming, as the book of Revelation beautifully states, of no more death, crying or pain any more. In his second letter to Corinthians Paul made all of this personal for each one of us: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all, therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view…so if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Importantly for us, Paul would say this New Creation promise and reality is given in Holy Baptism. This is no mere church ceremony. For one is baptized into Jesus’ death, buried with him, our old sinful buried with Christ for the forgiveness of sins; and we are raised with him for newness of life, live for Jesus, faithful, confident, and following him.

Paul felt the appointed time had grown short, and by time he did not mean something you could write in your appointment book. Paul meant God’s time, time you can write on your heart, the promise of Jesus’ coming again to finish the work begun at Jesus’ death and resurrection or what Paul referred to as the redemption, the final freedom gift for the children of God. Paul felt that Jesus was coming in power soon and very soon, and preparing for this becomes life’s priority. Paul would not want the cares and concerns of this life, this present form, to divert our attention from the promise of the completion of the New Creation. When Paul wrote “mourning as though they were not mourning” did not mean the inhuman denial of grief. Paul did write in 2 Corinthians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”. In all loss, affliction, and grief we are consoled by God. And from there Paul talked about our discipleship, so consoled by God, we can share this mercy with others who are suffering. As the Body of Christ, the Church, Paul would say we rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

So we may say that the Apostle Paul was wrong about his conviction of the imminent coming of Jesus to finish the New Creation. So should we delete this portion of 1 Corinthians? The Second Coming of Jesus is not on our minds much anymore. And we think that this present form of the world is the only form. But our faith would be seriously weakened if we thought there is no New Creation and for this life only must we find hope. . But was Paul so wrong after all? Jesus began his ministry proclaiming, making the good news known, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.” The word ‘time’ is the same word Paul used when he wrote “the appointed time has grown short.” God’s time revealed with Jesus, and what he has done for us and the world. Jesus taught us to pray for the Kingdom, “Thy Kingdom come” and Luther explained that God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we pray that it may come to us. When does this happen? Luther wrote “Whenever the Heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace we believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time, and hereafter in eternity.” Jesus calls you and me to repent, which is to orient our lives to Jesus, his goodness, grace, call and discipleship. One author wrote that instead of inviting people to invite Jesus into their hearts, may we invite them to enter into the heart of Jesus and become inspired and motivated to be people of compassion and healing.

Did you know that the country of Finland has ranked # 1 in the United Nations World Happiness Report. You know what the Finns did? They took advantage of this title by creating an ambassador program of sorts to share the secrets of happiness with the rest of the world. This program is called “Rent a Finn”, encouraging people to visit Finland under the guidance of a local Finnish tour guide. Included is education in the culture, food, and health practices that contribute to the happiness of Finnish citizens. Since the pandemic the Rent a Finn program has moved online, with live-streamed classes on the art of happiness. If Finns are the most happy, Christians are to be the most hopeful. The time is now to be a Rent-a-Christian, a tongue-in-cheek reference to being a faithful disciple and share the hope that is Jesus: who died for us, who rose from the death for us all with the promise of the Kingdom or rule of God, the good news that things from this world will pass away, but the kingdom, the rule of God’s love, the promises and grace of God’s word will never pass away.

Many of us were inspired by that Detroit nurse singing Amazing Grace at the Memorial in Washington, D.C. for the thousands who have died of COVID-19. Another source of inspiration came from the Inauguration poet Amanda Gorman. Her poem “The Hill We Climb” said in part, “We lift our gazes not at what stands between us, But what stands before us…we lay down our arms, so that we can reach our arms out to one another. We seek harm to none, and harmony for all…..if we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy, and change our children’s birthright.” It was a poem that I found said a lot for our Christian faith. We don’t look to what stands between us, our differences, but she said what stands before us, the healing of the nation. I would say “who stands before us”, our Savior Jesus, who loves and gave himself for us so we can follow him in faith. With Jesus indeed, may love be our legacy. We know the familiar words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13: many things of this world are not permanent, but faith, hope, and love ever remain, the greatest of these is love.