May 26-May 27 Style Points!
1 Corinthians 13: 1-8, 13 1 Samuel 17: 32-40
Today we continue our journey into the spiritual gifts, discovering the talent God has given to us. And I hope you’ve been learning a lot and enjoying this series. We began a few weeks ago with a sermon on rediscovering our God-given purpose, then last week we looked at 4 important pieces of advice when operating out of our gifts. Today we add another layer to this topic with a conversation about style, because God not only cares deeply about what we do, but also deeply about what we do.
Last Saturday, much of the world was smitten with the most recent royal wedding. Many people were glued to their tv’s or devices as they watched Prince Harry and Meghan Markle say their “I do’s.” And it was a beautiful wedding, full of all the pomp and circumstance that you would expect of British royalty. But there was someone else who stood out that day, someone beyond a prince and his new bride: an American Episcopal Bishop by the name of Rev. Michael Curry. And Bishop Curry grabbed the reigns of this moment and made his mark. In his sermon, Bishop Curry preached on love, which is and understandable topic for a wedding. But this was not the ordinary “lovey-dovey” sermon we’re used to hearing. Instead, Bishop Curry preached on the type of transformational that love breaks down barriers, sets people free and carries within it the power to create change. And then he relfected on these words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way."
Of all the words we could use to describe our Christian faith, I don’t think there’s any better word than love. We could talk about holiness or righteousness, but love just seems to be the right word. And that’s because God knows a thing or two about love. When we hear the ancient writers talk about God, they talk extensively about love. Sure, they talk about power and miracles and authority and strength, concepts that give us hope and comfort in this world…but love is different. We read in 1 John that God is love. Not power, not authority, but love. God IS love. Which is something that demands our attention!
It’s impossible to look at the Bible and not conclude that love is God’s preferred style. When God does what God does, God does it in love. It was love that moved God’s heart to offer our world the beautiful gift of Jesus Christ. And out of love, Jesus poured his energy into blessing our sin-sick selves. And ultimately, that’s what people were drawn to. They were drawn to and transformed by God’s love. Now, there is no denying that Jesus was able to do some pretty incredible things- he healed the sick, made the blind to see- but those acts, as amazing as they were, were not enough to convince the world to follow. It was love that made a lasting impression, and it is God’s love that continues to be the most powerful force for good in our world. That’s the style we’re meant to have- the style of love. And style matters! Without love as our style, without love as the armor we wear into spiritual battle, we’ll lose the war before we ever begin.
Sometime we can fall into the trap of just getting the job done. And I understand that. In a time-sensitive culture, we don’t always take the opportunity to think about how we do what God has called us to do. But we need to challenge this way of thinking. If we think style doesn’t matter, if we think we can just go about our daily business in any manner, maybe King David would change our minds. When the giant Goliath provoked the Israelites to fight, not a single man would take the bait. Not even the reigning King named Saul. They had all the equipment they needed. Armor, spears, shields, but they also had fear. And out of the crowd a young shepherd boy shook off whatever fear he had said he would go and fight. He didn’t look the part. He was too small, too young, and lacked in military training. But he insisted. King Saul put his own armor on David, but that armor wasn’t his style. It didn’t fit. He couldn’t fight Goliath in somebody else’s armor. He couldn’t attack the enemy the way others would attack. Because style matters. So young David shed his old style, and he put on his devotion to a God who he knew would NOT let him down, and slayed the giant. Gifts are important. The tools we carry into this divine/cosmic battle are significant. They are God-given. We should never downplay them, whether they’re five smooth stones or sword or shield. But God also cares deeply about our style. Let me say it again: God cares deeply about our style.
Bob Goff is one of the most influential Christian activists of our time. For 25 years, he used his leverage as a lawyer to fight child sex trafficking and resource African countries with training and material necessities. But it almost didn’t happen. Goff struggled with his entrance exams and was not accepted into law school, but he persevered because of an intense love for God. Here’s what happened next, as recounted by reporter Marci Seither: “Without an acceptance letter, Bob walked into the school of his choice a week before classes started and introduced himself to the dean. He acknowledged his poor LSAT score, but explained that he needed to become a lawyer to make a difference in the world. The dean politely turned him away, but Bob was persistent. He sat on the bench outside the dean’s office—and waited. “You have the power to let me in,” Bob told the dean when the man passed by the bench. “All you have to tell me is, ‘Go buy your books.’” For two weeks Bob waited for a chance. Finally, the dean stopped in front of the bench and said, “Go buy your books.” Live every other lawyer before him, Bob Goff got the skills and degrees required for his profession, but they would’ve been meaningless if he hadn’t been dressed in love.
Are you dressed in love? When you walk out the door every morning, is love the armor you wear? It makes all the difference in God’s eyes. We can have the best of what the Holy Spirit offers, says Paul, but without love as our style, without love as our defining trait, it really doesn’t count for much. We can offer the world the greatest skills and talents, we can have all the supernatural gifts in our lives, but without love, transformation will remain a dream instead of reality. Even if we have the faith move mountains and the wisdom to understand the depths of the universe, we’re nothing without love.
As Paul wrote to his beloved church in Corinth, he must’ve been disheartened by what he saw. This was an extraordinarily gifted church, full of talent and potential oozing all over the place, lacking nothing; Yet they lacked the very characteristic of the One who had saved them. They had God-given power, but power can turn into abuse when love is absent. They had God-given influence, but influence can turn into intimidation when love goes missing. They had God-given authority, but without love, authority can morph into domination and oppression. They had God-given relationships, but without love, even the healthiest relationships can grow testy, then dry, then silent. And the scariest of all? They had God-given status as friends and servants of God, but without love, we can forget who serves whom.
In the 1960’s, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, a priest by the name of Peter Scholtes was looking for a song that would transcend race and class and bring people together. He couldn’t find one, so he decided to write his own. And out of that Chicago atmosphere came a song that I think Paul would’ve been a fan of: “They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love.” Not our gifts, talents or works, but by our love. We can have the greatest armor in the world, but the giants we face in this world, and the giants we face in ourselves, are not defeated by the best armor or battle gear; they’re eventually brought to their knees by love. We can speak with the tongues of angels, preach with the power of the prophets, sing with the heavenly choirs, heal the sick, comfort the dying, build the holiest of churches, care for the poorest of the poor…Yet it is love that God says is the greatest of them all.
So how are you doing with love? Really, how are you doing with love? Because love matters. Love is God’s preferred style, the very source from which all of God’s good and miraculous works stem. And it’s meant to be our style as well. This is why we’ve been given two great commandments, which we probably need to recite every day: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. This is how an old world becomes new again. As Dr. King said, “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way." Are you ready to be a person of love? Let’s love well, because when love is the energy behind our good works, and when love is the spring from which our Spirit-giftedness flows, those big, old, scary giants will fall. Amen.