Sermon 4 Epiphany Yr C

4 Epiphany Yr C, 31/1/2010

I Cor 13:1-13

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta

 “There’s no I in team or love”

The story is told of a hockey coach. The new season had just begun. He was trying to get his players to play as a team. “There is no I in team!” the coach yelled out. “We work together as one team; we all rely on each other if we’re going to win any games. None of this I’m the best stuff.”

The coach was determining who would play on defence, left and right wing, and centre ice. He asked the team members: “Who wants to play centre ice?” The coach was surprised when every team member, except the goalie put up their hands. “What did I just tell you?” the coach asked, with a tone of frustration in his voice. No one dared to say anything. So the coach asked a second time: “Who wants to play centre ice?” Again, every single player put their hand up. Now the coach was really upset. So he gave his lecture all over again about there being no I in team, and the need to work together as equals if they were going to get anywhere as a team.

He went on to say: “How can the team member on centre ice score any goals if the puck is not passed to them by other team members on defence or left and right wing? Without the other team members, the centre ice player could not score. So, I ask you again, who is willing to play defence or left and right wing?” There was a silence, no one put up there hands. The coach asked for a third time: “Who is going to play centre ice?” For the third time, all the players put up their hands. The coach was unable to convince his team that there is no I in team.

In today’s second lesson, the apostle Paul is saying a very similar thing to that coach in the story. He’s telling the church at Corinth and us today that: “There’s no I in team.” Or, put differently: “There’s no I in love.” Chapter thirteen of first Corinthians has been a very popular chapter, often read at church weddings to describe the love between a husband and wife in a Christian marriage. Now don’t get me wrong, what Paul is writing here certainly is applicable to husbands and wives in their marriage relationship. However, if we want to understand this passage in a more complete way, we need to look at the situation that Paul was addressing at the church in Corinth.

Here’s what was happening in the Corinthian church when Paul wrote this letter. The Corinthians, you see, were a rather divided congregation; they were not working and living together in unity as a time. Some members thought they were better than the other members. The congregation had developed into cliques—the wealthy folk thought that they were too good for the poorer folk and could not share the Lord’s Supper with them. Some in the Corinthian church thought that because they were intellectuals, wise and knowledgeable persons; that made them superior to the rest of the congregation’s members. Others believed that because they had gifts like speaking in tongues, interpreting tongues and the gift of prophecy that they were more spiritual than the other members of the congregation. On and on it went.

In this situation, the apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church and us that: “There’s no I in team. There’s no I in love.” Rather, Paul in today’s passage says that the greatest gift of all is love. Love, says Paul does not count one’s self as greater or superior or more spiritual than others. No, love, says Paul, counts others first and oneself last. All the other spiritual gifts can be rather impressive, yet, says Paul, they don’t amount to a row of beans if they lack love. Love is the motor, if you like, that drives the whole car to its destination. Without the motor, the car would not get very far; and without love we do not get very far.

Paul says there’s no I in team and no I in love because: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

Did you notice that in Paul’s description of love here that there is no room for “spiritual superstars” who want to be regarded as superior and of more worth than others? Paul emphasises that true Christian love always counts others first above oneself. In Christ’s church there’s no I in team or I in love. Going back to my first story today, and making it more familiar to our situation here at South Ridge Village; if all of the staff here were managers, would we be able to meet all of the needs of you our residents? No! of course not. Or if all of the staff were chaplains, if they were all pastors like me, would all of your needs be looked after? Again no, of course not! Or if all of the staff were maintenance persons, would you as residents have all of your needs met? No way! What if all the staff were working in housekeeping, would all of your needs be served? I doubt it.

Paul, in this Corinthian letter, emphasises that if the church is to accomplish God’s purposes as a unified team, then we as members all need to work together sharing our different gifts for the common good. We do this sharing out of love for one another, placing others’ needs above ours. The amazing thing we discover is that in counting others more than ourselves and placing their needs above ours; we too shall be served and have our needs met. Why? Because each member of the team; each Christian will be doing the same thing—counting others first ahead of themselves and serving the needs of others first. When we work together and share all of our different gifts as Christians with each other; we become a unified team; we live together in love; and that love continues to grow and grow and grow. The possibilities are endless. Why? Because love is the greatest gift, as Paul says, love is eternal—outlasting all of the other gifts.

The greatest example of Christian love is, of course, Christ himself. He showed us perfectly how to live in love. He always placed the needs of others ahead of his own. He taught that the first shall be last and the last shall be first—that is the true beauty of love. Most of all, he showed us his perfect love in giving up his life by dying on the cross. Although as sinners we deserve to be punished for our sin; Jesus took our place. He accepted our punishment. Instead of getting the punishment that we deserve; Jesus takes our punishment and gives us what we don’t deserve—his love and grace, his forgiveness and the promise of eternal life. Now that’s worth celebrating today and every day of the year!

Let us pray: Thank you Jesus for your perfect example of love. Love that counts others ahead of ourselves and serves the needs of others first. Love that gives without placing conditions on the giving. Love that values and treasures each person and treats them as equals in the family of God. Love the works together in unity and harmony for the common good as a team so that everyone’s needs are served. Amen.