31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 24, 2020
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
1 John 4
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Recently, I have been listening to a Lewis Center for Church Leadership podcast about discipleship. The guest, Kay Kotan said we sometimes complicate things when it comes to defining discipleship. In her opinion, discipleship, following Jesus, is quite simply “continuously and intentionally growing more Christ-like and introducing others to Christ”. (Leading Talks Ideas, Episode 51 “Developing a Discipleship Pathway” featuring Kay Kotan)
Continuously and intentionally growing more Christ-like and introducing others to Christ. It’s a good definition for how we follow Jesus, however the Apostle Paul has an even simpler definition – love. Love is how we follow Jesus.
The church in Corinth is deeply faithful. They truly want to follow Jesus as closely as possible, living Christ-like lives and introducing others to Christ; however in Paul’s opinion, they are valuing the wrong things.
Yes, the church needs apostle-messengers. Yes, the church needs teachers and healers and helpers and organizers; however what the church needs most is love. Love is the better way.
Not any kind of love though. There are lots of things people describe as love in our world that are not love. Real love, Christ-like love, is patient and kind. Christ-like love puts others first, which also means it does not force itself on others or fly off the handle or keep score of wrongs.
And we cannot say this enough. Real love, Christ-like love, does not hit. It is not verbally, emotionally, or physically abusive. Real love, Christ-like love, looks for the best – in ourselves, in others, in all of life’s situations. Real love, Christ-like love, is constant and enduring. It keeps going. It keeps loving even when times are tough, even when faced with adversity.
On this Memorial Day Sunday when we are remembering those who gave their lives in service to our country, we give thanks for their love – for their love of country, for their love of neighbor. They did not make this sacrifice so they could boast or be self-important. They did not do it to have statues put up in their name. They gave of their lives, out of love.
And this Memorial Day Sunday, we also remember our loved ones who have passed away in the last year and all of the saints they join in heaven. We remember and give thanks for their love, a love which blessed us during their lifetimes, a love that continues to bless us – because real love, Christ-like love, never ends
Love never ends because God is love, and God never ends.
And what a comfort that is to us, especially now, to know that even as everything around us changes, changes on almost a daily basis, love is constant. God’s love is constant. God is love, and love never ends.
Knowing we are unconditionally loved by God, unconditionally loved by others is good news, a blessing indeed; however discipleship is not about receiving love that is patient and kind and other-focused. It is about embodying and sharing that love with others.
Following Jesus Christ means loving one another, loving one another with a love that takes pleasure in the truth, takes pleasure in the growth and flourishing of the other, a love that faithfully trusts God’s plan for each of us, a love that builds up and nurtures others.
Growing in love is how we grow in discipleship, how we continuously and intentionally grow more Christ-like.
Sometimes, like with the definition of discipleship, we can make growing in love too complicated. We can think growing in love means setting aside copious amounts of time for quiet meditation, study of the Bible, devoting hours on end to prayer. We can sometimes think that if we want to grow in love, we need to find more time to offer hands on help to our literal and figurative neighbors.
Becoming more Christ-like, becoming more loving, doesn’t take a lot of time or effort. It is really quite simple. In her guide to spiritual practice, Strength for the Journey, Renee Miller shares this story:
A young disciple went to the master and asked how he might grow more in knowledge and love of God. He had read the words in scripture, but could not seem to apply them. He said to the master, “I study my lessons as I am required to do. I try to love God especially in my worship. Still my soul feels empty.” The master looked at the disciple with love in his eyes. “Let your study take you into the love of God. Let your worship take you into the love of God. Let your eating take you into the love of God. When you are taken into the love of God, your study, your worship, your eating, your serving will fill your soul.”
The young disciple was doing lots of good and faithful practices however like Paul says to the Corinthians, even the most faithful spiritual practice done without love, done out of obligation, is simply like a noisy irritating instrument. It doesn’t make us important. It doesn’t give our lives meaning. It does not ground us in times of uncertainty. According to the Apostle Paul, things done without love are nothing.
When I am blessed to have some all too rare moments of communication with you all, through email or zoom, I have been hearing that life feels a little bit like nothing right now. All of the “important” things that we used to do – go into the office, volunteer, travel, shop, even our work to support our church’s ministry – all of the important things we used to do have been taken away from us, and so many of us are searching for meaning, wondering about our purpose, thinking about what is of value in our lives.
And what does Paul say to us? It all has meaning – homeschooling our children, cleaning our closets, taking “thank you” pictures, birthday car parades, making meals for ourselves and others. It all has meaning if it is done in love. It all continuously and intentionally helps us grow more Christ-like if it is done in love. It all helps us draw closer to God if it is done in love.
So I invite you to let that be your intention statement for these difficult times that we are going through. Let everything, everything you do be done in love.