Our reading today is from 1 Corinthians 13, the famous “love” chapter. This is probably the most widely read passage at weddings. True, it’s the most beautiful description there is in Scripture about love – yet the context of the passage is not about marriage. It is about giving for that is what marriage is really all about. I’d like us to consider this passage under three headings:
The motive for love in marriage is giving.
The quality of love in marriage is Divine.
The purpose of love in marriage is maturity
How do you get someone’s attention? In 1923, John Reith, the BBC’s first director-general launched a new initiative – broadcasting personal messages directly to individuals to let them know of next of kin who were “dangerously ill” They were very short and clinical messages, containing just a few simple facts like names, towns, car registrations or telephone numbers. “Will Mr and Mrs Smoth, last heard of eight months ago in the Birmingham area, go to Leeds General Infirmary where Mrs Smith’s mother is dangerously ill,” The first SOS message was broadcast in March 1923. It was a 30-second appeal to help find a missing six-year-old boy. Listeners got in touch, and the boy was found safe and well. This success encouraged the BBC to produce more, and an eclectic mixture of “emergencies” followed, including the escape of a Pelican from St James’ Park, and a request for a wet nurse for twins born at a hospital in Norfolk. Another message to a bird-lover urged him to contact a Birmingham pet shop after buying parrots there because the seller had died from Psittacosis or “parrot fever”.
“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians.” (Daniel 1:1-4)
Daniel never expected to end up in Babylon any more than you did. Picture Daniel. One of the brightest and best of Israel. Daniel is from a family of high social status. He is physically flawless. He is a strikingly handsome man. If Joanna were giving this message, she might tell you to picture Daniel Craig. Apparently Daniel is actually much shorter than he appears on screen. So picture someone who looks like Daniel Craig only more handsome and less dumpy. Daniel is bright. He is quick to understand. He is qualified to serve in the king’s palace, which means he has a high level of what we would call ‘emotional intelligence’. He is also devoted to God and God’s people. And he has all the dreams that young men like that have. Back in Judah his future would have been predictable. The whole world is at his feet. He would go to a good university and then on to success in whatever field he chose. He would have a great marriage, live in an enviable home with the right postcode, raise a wonderful family, occupy a prominent place in the community. But life did not turn out the way he planned.
According to the Police Log of Sarasota, Florida, the elderly lady was doing her shopping when, upon returning to her car, she found four males in the act of stealing her vehicle. Uncharacteristically, she dropped her shopping bags and, standing in front of the vehicle to block their escape, drew her handgun, pointed it at the front windscreen and screamed at the top of her lungs, “I have a gun. I know how to use it. Get out of the car!” The four men didn’t wait to find out. They jumped out and ran like crazy in all directions. The lady, somewhat shaken, put the gun back in her bag, loaded her shopping bags into the back of the car and got into the driver’s seat. She was shaking so much that she could not get her key into the ignition. She tried and tried, and then she realized why. It was for the same reason she wondered why there was a football, a Frisbee and two 6 packs of beer in the boot. A few minutes later, she found her own car parked four or five spaces farther away. She loaded her bags into her own car and drove to the police station to report her mistake. The sergeant to whom she told the story smiled and pointed to the other end of the counter. There stood four rather agitated men who were reporting a car-jacking by a crazy, elderly lady described as white, less than five feet tall, with glasses, curly white hair, and carrying a large handgun. No charges were filed apparently. A case of mistaken identity.
If Jesus walked into Christ Church tonight would we recognise him? What would he be wearing? A 1st Century Roman toga? I think not. Would we recognise him? Tonight we begin a new series of sermons in the Book of Hebrews. We have entitled this “The Jesus I never knew”.
Mark Carney, the Bank of England governor, issued a warning recently that climate change poses a huge risk to global stability. At a gathering of leading insurers at Lloyd’s of London, Mr Carney pointed out that the rapid increase in weather-related catastrophes was causing a spike in financial costs. But he also warned that the challenges currently posed by climate change “pale in significance compared with what might come”. He said our generation has little incentive to avert future problems. Ironically, insurers are among those with the biggest interest in climate change as the syndicates operating at Lloyd’s, the world’s oldest insurance market, are the most exposed to disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Mr Carney said the after-effects of such disasters were likely to grow worse: “The challenges currently posed by climate change pale in significance compared with what might come. “The far-sighted amongst you are anticipating broader global impacts on property, migration and political stability, as well as food and water security.” Who is responsible? We can blame politicians for failing to act sooner. We can criticize multinational corporations for exacerbating climate change through the exploitation of oil, gas and other natural resources. Or we can acknowledge that the Christian Church, which is the largest religious movement in the world, has largely failed to fulfil its responsibility to care for creation. Church leaders have not, until relatively recently, acknowledged that creation care is integral to the gospel.
There are many different kinds of Church. You can be a member of an Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Charismatic, Coptic, Episcopal, Methodist, Orthodox, Pentecostal, Presbyterian, Reformed, Roman Catholic or one of hundreds of other denominations including the Strict and Particular.
Some prefer a High Church, a Low Church, a Broad Church, Mega Church or a House Church. In remote places you may have to attend a Virtual Church. In some countries people belong to the Underground Church because they are a Persecuted Church. Many long to have a Junior Church, and aspire to be a Messy Church. But no one wants to belong to a Dead Church. We need to belong to a Bible Church, a Local Church, a Community Church, an International Church, a Gospel Church and a welcoming, friendly, caring, Christ–centred, Holy Spirit filled Church.
And some are realising that God also wants us to be an Eco Church as well. What is an Eco Church? An Eco Church demonstrates by their actions that they care for God’s earth. That is why on Harvest Sunday at Christ Church we are committing ourselves to become an Eco Church.
Increasing numbers of Christians are realising that caring for God’s creation is central to the Christian faith. We may have neglected creation care in the past but we are rediscovering that creation care is one of our God given responsibilities. A’Roche together with Tearfund and the Church of England are teaming up to help us become an Eco Church. This is a talk I gave at the September Family Service.
Water is pretty amazing stuff isn’t it? In its natural state we take it for granted. But when its cooled to 0 degrees centigrade it can bring an entire country to a stand still. When heated to boiling point water changes from a liquid to a gas. That is when water takes on a whole new dimension and becomes very, very powerful. Thomas Savery, the British military engineer, was the first to patent a steam engine in 1679. James Watt refined the engine and gave his name to the unit of power generated by the steam engine. A watt is apparently 1/746th of a horse power. For much of the 20th century, our entire rail transportation system was powered by steam. As a young boy I used to collect the names of the different steam trains that ran between Lowestoft and Liverpool Street, delivering fresh fish to Billingsgate Market and bringing Londoners to the sandy beaches of the Suffolk coast. Steam is still used to catapult jet aircraft from aircraft carriers. The steam catapult with pistons the length of a football pitch, can hurl a 45,000-pound plane from 0 to 165 miles per hour in two seconds.
Great power is realized when water is heated to high temperatures. But even greater power is released when Christians are on fire for Jesus. In our concluding study of the seven letters to the Churches of Revelation, the church in Laodicea has the unenviable distinction of being the only one about of which Jesus had nothing good to say. This is the sternest of the seven letters. Unlike the other churches, there is much censure and no praise.
‘This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,’ whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. ‘Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!’ Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror— indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy— but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.
Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows is one of my favourite children’s stories. Rat and Mole’s encounter with the Piper at the Gates of Dawn sums up what happens when we recognise the Almighty God as our Creator, as our Shepherd and Lord.
During the Summer we have been exploring Ecclesiastes together. Solomon has encouraged us to identify with those whose world view is secular, whether of an atheist or agnostic. Solomon describes their world view 27x as “under the sun.”
Hugh Grosvenor, aged 25, became the most eligible bachelor in the country this week. That is because, on the death of his father, the Duke of Westminster, Hugh inherited a fortune estimated by Forbes to be worth £9 billion. This makes the young Hugh, the third wealthiest landowner in Britain and the 68th wealthiest person in the world. His estate includes 190 acres in Belgravia and thousands of acres in Scotland and Spain. Contented? Wouldn’t you be?
What price contentment? A fraction of £9 billion you might think.
Well think again. Although the word doesn’t actually appear in our passage this morning, the theme of Ecclesiastes 5 is contentment. In verses 5:8-17, the Lord looks at the world and observes how we buy into a number of myths about money. In verse 17, we are reminded of the consequences: “All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.” (Ecclesiastes 5:17).