Sunday 3 February 2019
All in All
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
By Jon Dean
Retired United Reformed Minister and peripatetic preacher in North London churches, who has served congregations in Yorkshire, the Waldensian and Methodist Church in Italy, and in London, as local pastor, ecumenical officer, and in inter faith work, especially in Christian Jewish relations
Context: a church in Islington NW1
Aim: to prepare for the coming days, conscious that we have just heard in Scripture, and need to have by heart, the most sublime description of resurrection life in terms of the Love which, in Dante Alighieri’s words, ‘moves the sun and the other stars’
A Distant Summer
I recently heard a talk in which the speaker was speculating about what was, in his view, a remarkable period of lull in universal violence, the decade at the end of the twentieth century. Comparisons could have been made with the equal semblance of peace, with obvious exceptions, at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries. In 1910, a delegation of German priests and pastors came to England to meet with their British counterparts to pray for strategies to keep the peace between their countries. Success was nil. All this was during a great era for Liberal Religion in Europe. Personalities with feet in more than one camp like the Catholic Baron von Hügel and the founder of Liberal Judaism, Claude Montefiore, initiated discussions across religious boundaries on the crucial matters of possible belief.
Montefiore wrote about the foundational place of Love in the teaching of the New Testament and was criticised by fellow religionists for not emphasising enough the Jewish concentration on ethical religion. Montefiore wrote of what was essential to both religions. What made for peace. When, at many decades’ distance, we read about this, we want to know how they thought both emphases, love and ethics, are complementary and necessary. Indeed, the great Commandments are the cornerstones of the twin faiths, which Jesus taught as a prayer for peace: ‘Love God’ leading to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’
Dialogue the Basis of Harmony
Today we have opened the Bible, not itself just a Book but an ocean of truth, at a great memory (1 Corinthians 13) for all Christians in our many life ceremonies, which demonstrates the basis of dialogue between human creeds.
At the same time, I want to remind you of Paul’s own Jewish background in the First Chapter of the Book of Beginnings (Genesis 1:26-31) and the poem of Creation. Here is the motto for our entire life: God, it says ‘saw everything that he had made…And look: it was all very good’. All of it, the whole boiling, without any exception, begins with the mark of the Maker. You and you and you ad infinitum. What a gospel: what a wonder, love and praise!
The Myth, the Poem, the Epic will go on to introduce our self to our self, in the image of God, in two humans called Adam (Ground) and Eve (Life). Human life on earth. In the Paradise they are perfectly made. They are searching there for the greatest beginning gift. What shall we call it? Adam and Eve delving in the garden for the inspiration for living in Time. We call the gift Possibility. The marriage of Love and Right Behaviour. The two commandments. Eve and Adam as they were meant to be.
Paul, Messenger of Possibility
Then, in the middle of today’s Service, we come across Paul. If Jesus is the new Adam, Paul might be called the second Eve. Jesus and Paul together teach us Ethic and Love, Ground and Living. And God gives Paul, after his youthful Fall into real evil and his terrorist knifing of innocent people, true personal knowledge of Jesus’ interpretation of Love through the bitterest suffering. God gives Paul the gift of Eden (Bliss) renewed, in the name of Jesus, Rescuer and Restorer.
Poem of Bliss
God gives Paul the Paradise Poem (1 Corinthians 13). The Love that rises out of the soil of Ethics, the following of God’s Law as emblemised by the Cross of Jesus. Paul was struck down by the blinding Sun of Justice on the road to that Damascus, which today is a centre of Hell on earth. Paul, with all his guilt and consciousness of his own evil deeds writes to us in this Epiphanytide: 1 Corinthians 13 follows the remembrance of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, the Passover, the Transformation: this do in remembrance of me. After all the cleansing of house and home.
1 Corinthians 13 is the God given Charter of Holiness for daily internalizing. These words describe, better than any others, our calling to become like Christ and return now to Eden. This is the gospel which Jesus delivered to Paul, who begins as one of us, not knowing Jesus in the flesh. And learns, through living a precarious life on the high seas and dangerous roads, what constitutes Love and Right Living.
The All in All
Hear further cleansing words from Paul’s letter to another Greek city slave congregation. Words from Colossians 3:9-11: ‘Do not lie to one another. You have stripped off the old you and clothed yourself with a new you, who is being renewed in the image of Christ. In that renewal there is no longer Gentile or Jew but (take note of these comprehensive words: make these words your prayer for the day): Christ is everything for us, (the bliss), the all in all.’
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