1 Corinthians 13:1-13
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but do not have love,
I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
I want you to know that I am not a percussionist,
so I had to do a lot of research for this sermon!
In particular, I had to learn about cymbals – especially the loud clanging kind
that Paul evidently had something against.
According to “Drummersworld,” an online website for drummers,
there are crash cymbals and there are splash cymbals.
This here is a crash cymbal –
and according to the experts from Drummersworld,
it is meant to be used when there is a big explosion in the music –
it is meant to be an exclamation point!
And certainly there are plenty of pieces of music which need such an exclamation point….
pretty anything by John Philip Sousa for example.
I mean, can you imagine hearing “Stars and Stripes Forever” without a cymbal crash?
The opening line just needs a cymbal crash!
(And you know I’m just dying to play this thing!)
So let’s take a listen….
Tim: play opening line of “Stars and Stripes”
Sousa needs cymbals….Sousa definitely needs cymbals!
I dare say that even Paul would agree!
But as far as I know, Sousa never wrote love songs.
And that is where Paul draws the line.
Paul takes offense when the crash cymbal is used in a love song –
and that was what was happening in Corinth.
Now Paul had been to Corinth, the city in southern Greece
to establish a church there.
Corinth had a population of about 30,000 people back then,
but it was a lot like Gettysburg, in that it was a tourist destination.
When the Isthmian Games – an Olympic games of sorts– came every 2 years,
the population soared to over 100,000 people![i]
The games created a keen sense of competition
and fostered the value of “winning” among the people living there;
winning and other values such as power, prestige, status, and honor.
Unfortunately (or maybe inevitably)
that sense of competition became part of church culture too –
and people – church people – were claiming superiority to others.
Those who could speak in tongues were saying that they were better than others.
Those who had theological wisdom were claiming more prestige.
Those who were gifted teachers or preachers were saying
that they deserved greater status than others.
And it went on and on.
They were each vying for the gold medal of spiritual gifts.
So in this section of his letter written back to the Corinthians,
Paul says, ‘enough already!’
We are to be thankful for the gifts we have been given – whatever they are.
But there really is something more important than gifts –
and that is the fruit of those gifts – namely love.
Love is the fruit of the ability to speak in tongues.
Love is the fruit of theological wisdom.
Love is the fruit of teaching and of preaching.
And if love is not the fruit? If love is missing?
Then you are just a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
(Warning: I’m going to hit it again!) – cymbal crash
You know, a lot of people in our world today think Christians are a bunch of clanging cymbals.
…and who could blame them?
The clanging cymbals are the ones who get on the news.
The clanging cymbals are the ones who provide the outrageous sound bites which make me want to scream,
“I am a Christian but not like the one on TV!”
Outside of Valentine’s Day, love just doesn’t get on the news very often.
But as Paul warns, the kind of love he’s talking about
isn’t the romantic Valentine’s Day love – it’s practical – very practical.
Friend of St James, that some of you know, Pastor Jim Cobb,
tells the story of a woman who visited a newspaper editorin a small town,
hoping to sell him some poems she had written.
The old editor asked her, “What are the poems about?”
She answered, “They’re about love.”
The editor sat back and said, “Well read me a poem.
The world could use a lot more love.”
The poem she read was filled with so many moons and Junes,
and sickingly sweet sentiments that the editor just couldn’t take it anymore.
He stopped her reading and said,
“I’m sorry, but you just don’t know what love is about.
It’s not moonlight and roses.
It’s sitting up all night at a sickbed or working extra hours so the kids can have new shoes.
The world doesn’t need your brand of poetical love.
It needs some good old-fashioned practical love.”[ii]
He says love is patient and kind.
Love is not boastful or arrogant or rude.
Love is an action.
Love is the fruit of our gifts.
Maybe some of you will recognize yourselves in these examples from our congregation.
I wish I knew how to tell these stories in such a way that the network news would pick them up…I think they would make great Super Bowl commercials,
but I’m not holding my breath I’ll see them later today.
(Instead we’ll get commercials with cute little kids and puppy dogs.)
Nonetheless, here’s where I’ve seen love in this congregation this week:
Love is preparing breakfast for youth on Wednesday morning.
Love is making breakfast for homeless individuals during the week.
Love is writing a thank you note to the choir for their ministry.
Love is visiting a member of your Sunday School class in the hospital.
Love is taking a Saturday morning to be present at the funeral of a friend’s spouse.
Love is talking to a kid at school who looks kind of scary to others.
Love is organizing a collection on Super Bowl Sunday for the soup kitchen.
Love is knitting a prayer shawl for someone you’ve never met.
Love is praying for someone who’s sick.
Love is baking a cake for a funeral reception.
Love is working all day and then showing up on a Friday night to provide dinner for seminary students.
Love is tutoring someone who wants to learn English.
Love is stuffing inserts in bulletins.
Love is collating and folding and stapling the newsletter.
Love is giving things away that you no longer need to others free of charge.
Love is loading up a couple of trucks and hauling the rest away to the rescue mission.
Love is driving an elderly neighbor to a doctor’s appointment.
Love is getting up early on a Sunday morning when you’d rather stay in bed because your granddaughter wants to go to Sunday School.
Love is going to a potentially dull meeting of our synod.
Love is helping someone else do their taxes.
Love is singing “Jesus Loves Me” with the children in childcare.
Now all that preparing, making, writing, visiting, taking, talking,
organizing, knitting, praying, baking, working, tutoring, stuffing, collating, folding, stapling,
giving, loading, driving, getting up, going, helping, and singing….all those things are gifts.
But Paul says without love, they are nothing but clanging cymbals.
Love is not a clanging cymbal.
Love takes the gift and bears fruit.
Save the cymbals for Sousa.
One last time Tim?
Tim play opening line of “Stars and Stripes”
[i] Susan Hedahl and Richard Carlson, Preaching 1 Corinthians 13, Chalice Press, 2001, p 7.
[ii] Ibid, p. 110.