This sermon continues the Alive Series taken from Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking. We cannot say that God is love or that we love God without recognizing that the love of God is the love for neighbor. The story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10:1-49 sets the tone for how the Holy Spirit shatters our cultural boundaries and leads us into God’s radical love.
This summer we are using Brian McLaren’s book We Make the Road by Walking to explore the Holy Spirit. Who is the Holy Spirit? How does the Holy Spirit work and move in the world?
So far we’ve established that the Spirit is real and is on the move.
Two weeks ago we learned that walking in the Spirit is a wild journey of following the cloud through many twists and turns.
Last week Pastor Kris showed us so beautifully that the Spirit of God is the Spirit of Love.
This week, McLaren begins the chapter with one bold statement. He says, “Where the Spirit is moving, love for God always, always overflows in love for neighbor.”
This is so true that Pastor Kris couldn’t help herself last week. She didn’t keep her sermon contained to the love of God, she immediately moved to love for neighbor, because you have to.
Love for God without love for neighbor is actually not love for God.
McLaren starts off with one of the clearest and most radical examples of God’s love for neighbor. It is found in the 10th chapter of Acts.
The story begins with a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. Imagine this man. He is a commander of one hundred Imperial soldiers. He is like the shiny storm trooper in the Last Jedi. He is a bad dude. Everything about his race and position exudes power and oppression. He is the bad guy.
Yet, it says that he is a devout man. He prays to God and cares for the poor.
Then there is Peter. He is a simple Jewish man. He’s not a politician or a scholar. He’s a fisherman from Galilee. He, too, is a devout man who has been raised in a Jewish home.
The Jews pride themselves in being different than everyone else. The primary way that Jews distinguished themselves from everyone else was through what they did not eat. Certain kinds of animals were unclean, and they were not allowed to eat them or touch people who ate them.
Peter has a vision in which God shows him a bunch of unclean animals and says, “eat them.”
“Whoa, slow down, Lord. You told me in the Bible that I can’t eat them. I would never do such a thing.”
Then God blows our minds. God says, “Don’t call unclean what I call clean.”
Do you see the scandal in this story? God is undermining the very scripture that God gave. Can we be any more confusing?
So, Peter goes to Cornelius’ house, which is against the rules, and the Holy Spirt shows up in the same way the Holy Spirit showed up with the Jewish disciples on the day of Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit is out of control. Filling Gentiles? You mean God loves them, too?
This Holy Spirit thing is wild.
McLaren goes on to define our current problem in the world. Our natural human tendency is to think that same is safe and different is dangerous. We like to stick with people who are just like us and make us feel good about ourselves and feel safe. So we flock together and try to keep all the different people away.
This has led to tribal divisions, war, conquest, and lots of death and destruction.
He says, “eventually, because the Earth is a sphere, our dispersing tribes had to come full circle and encounter one another again.”
“That is our challenge today,” he says, “We must find a way to live together on a crowded planet.”
How can we move from “our kind vs. Their kind” mentality to “humankind.”
This is when I break out into High School Musical, We’re all in this together.”
This is the message of Paul’s letters. The number one thing he wrestled with is the deep set ethnic hatred that people brought into the church.
He continually reminds them, in multiple passages, that each person is different, but is an equal and valuable part of the body of Christ. Difference is a gift, not a threat.
He offers an interesting metaphor. He asks what kind of energy fuels our society. Is it the dirty energy of fear, prejudice, supremecy, ingeriority, resentment, isolation, and hostility. This is energy, but it will eventually pollute us and kill us.
The Spirit of God is clean energy.
It converts fear to love,
prejudice to openness,
supremecy to service,
inferiority to equality,
resentment to reconciliation,
isolation to connection, and
hostility to hospitality.
The apostles Paul calls it “The Most Excellent Way.” Literally translated, it is the hyperbolic way. The way that exceeds expectation and defies all logic. It is the way of love.
I have discovered a poetic beauty in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 that I have never seen before. Allow me to step through each section of the text visually. I have written the English words in the order of the Greek language, so that you may see the structural beauty of this text. It sounds like Yoda speak, which is another reason it is so cool.
First, let’s look at an abbreviated 1 Corinthians 12 to provide context.
The context is Paul’s argument from 1 Corinthians 12:1-31. The church in Corinth is being ripped apart by warring factions. Everyone is arguing over who has the better spiritual gifts. The real issue, in my opinion, was a power struggle. Who is the authoritative voice now that the Law of Moses has been contextualized and the Holy Spirit is running wild amongst Jews and Gentiles alike?!?
Our English translations usually render verse 31 “I will show you a still more excellent way.” The literal translation, however, reads “and still by hyperbolic way to you I show.” The alternative path that Paul is about to show the Corinthians is one that goes above and beyond imagination. It is excessive. It overflows. It is the most excellent way.
The way is love. We are very familiar with 1 Corinthians 13:1-8, especially if you have been to a wedding recently. We love the list of adjectives that describe agape love. But, we often stop at the first half of verse 8.
Let the magic begin…
Notice the first word: The Love. It never falls apart, fails, ends, collapses, ceases…
However, the stuff that we get so worked up about–our gifts of prophesy, tongues, and knowledge–they will end. They will be abolished, crushed, fade away, disintegrate. Nill.
Notice the structure. “from part” we know. “from part” we prophesy. Our knowledge, our ability to speak the truth, is small and limited by our own perspective. We only have part of the picture.
Here is a key place where our English language has really led us down the wrong path for interpreting this text. Look closely at the structure. “When might come to teleion.” The Greek word telos is highly debated amongst Bible and Theology nerds. It means more than the end, as if it the final stop of a railroad track. It means the fulfillment of purpose.
The New Living Translation says, “But when the time of perfection comes.” The word perfect is so dangerous. Our Greek, Western heritage brings so much Platonic baggage with that word that it makes it seem like it is a hard stop. You can’t go beyond perfect, can you?
The New Revised Standard version says, “but when the complete comes.” That is a little better, but still has a finality to it.
I think the word maturity communicates it more closely to the meaning Paul may have intended. My reason for that will become clear in a moment. first…
Look what maturity does to our “from part” way of being. It abolishes it. It opens it up and allows us to see more fully. Keep going…
Paul uses a metaphor to explain it. Infants grow to maturity. When I was an infant, I acted like one. When I become a mature adult, my infant ways are abolished. Or, at least they should be. Can you hear the finger wagging here?
For now, as infants, life is an enigma. That is literally what it says. The Greek word is einigmata, from which we get the English word enigma. It represents something that simply does not make sense. The grown-up world doesn’t make sense to the infant.
Here is where it blossoms into something incredibly beautiful. Notice how the infant looks at the world. She looks into a mirror. Who is she looking at? herself.
Where does the gaze fall when maturity arrives? We look face to face. In maturity, I will perceive (not know) just as also I was perceived.
I have always been taught that this passage was all about how glorious Heaven will be after we die. Right now we are stupid humans, but someday, after this life is over, we’ll get to understand all the mysteries of the universe.
I don’t think that is what Paul is saying at all. Paul is telling the Corinthians to grow up. He’s telling them to stop gazing in the mirror and wondering how important they are in their own eyes. The bickering and one-upsmanship is childishness and not part of the body of Christ that God is trying to mature in this world.
God’s love causes us to look at each other AND ACTUALLY SEE EACH OTHER!
We are called to love each other in the same way that God loves us. Each of us is a beloved child of God and we are called to look out for everybody.
Notice the last word of this majestic poem: The Love. Mic drop.
Here is is all put together.
McLaren’s final statement is so beautiful. In the story of creation, in the adventure and uprising of Jesus, in the movement of the Spirit, to Love is to Live.