Father Benjamin von Bredow
If I have not love, I gain nothing.
A Sermon for Quinquagesima
February 19, 2023 at Holy Communion
1 Corinthians 13
“If I give away all that I have, but have not love, I gain nothing“ (1 Corinthians 13:3). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.
I don’t believe that I have told any of you about the moment that I got “hooked” into the Anglican Church. It happened at a house party.
Throughout my first semester at college, I was skeptical of the Anglican chaplaincy ministry there. It was different than my evangelical background. So I attended this and that, but for the most part kept my distance. But when I returned to Halifax after that first Christmas, I was cajoled to a “Three Kings Party” to celebrate the Epiphany and the new semester. There was standing room only, and the wine flowing. I was having a great time.
But that’s not why I got hooked on the Anglican Church.
Around the same time, the chaplaincy at King’s was facing a crisis, because the university was threatening to defund it. So once the party had been bumping along for a good while, the chaplain asked everyone to stop and gather for a discussion about how the community should respond. Everyone sat on the ground at the chaplain’s feet, and talked.
I was hooked into the Anglican Church by a business meeting.
What happened was miraculous. In a room crammed with young adults full of spirit and full of spirits, they waited for one another. They were quiet together. They allowed one another space to speak. They were willing and even expecting to learn from the chaplain and from one another. They were at peace together, even in the face of crisis for their community.
Our Epistle reading tells us what was going on: “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
In context, Saint Paul’s teaching about love is part of his conversation about spiritual gifts. The Corinthians were preoccupied with which ministries and abilities were most valuable to the church. Paul engages that conversation for a while in chapter 12, but then he takes a big step back and says, “But I will show you a still more excellent way.” And then he talks about the way of love.
He starts off by saying that every kind of ministry, without love, is worthless. You can preach with power, but it’s worthless without love. You can understand the mysteries of the knowledge of God, but it’s worthless without love. You can break your body by your constant service, but it’s worthless without love.
Then notice what changes when we starts describing what love is: it’s not about deeds you accomplish, even deeds of service, but about how you are with other people. “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.“ Love is about how you are when you’re with your brother, not about how energetically you serve your brother.
So back to my story about the Three Kings party at college. I was drawn to the Church by the beauty of love. What so moved me was not what they said or how they resolved to meet their community’s crisis, but how they were together.
They waited for one another. But it was also more than that. Not only was that community at peace when they chose to be together—but they *did choose* to be together. They had a crisis in their community, but that wasn’t the primary reason that they met. They had gathered that evening because they wanted to be together. They wanted to celebrate the Epiphany, and they judged that the appropriate way to celebrate was to gather with food and drink.
So before I make an application of all this: here’s an aside, a thought for you to chew on. Is Christianity the religion of dinner parties? You can decide.
Of course, I’m drawing an analogy between what I saw at that party and this community. We, like them, are a community of worship and of faith. We, like them, are about to have a business meeting, so we should be patient with one another, “quick to hear and slow to speak” (James 1:19).
But I didn’t preach this whole sermon just to tell you to be polite at our meeting. There’s a bigger picture. Our community is also facing a crisis. It is not an immediate crisis, but it is a large one. Our congregation is aging and running out of money. Things will get very difficult some time in the next ten years. There’s hard work ahead if we want to be prepared for that crisis, so that something can continue to flourish here, in this place which means so much to all of us.
But in the last account what matters will not be how hard we work, but how we are together, and whether choosing to be together is important to us. That’s not a reason for being complacent about the coming crisis and the need for hard work. Quite the contrary: as St Paul says, love is the only thing which will remain once everything else has failed. Love is our only way through.
So it matters profoundly whether we are hospitable to one another, whether we make time and space for one another, whether we invite one another to share a meal, whether we take an opportunity to be together when one arises. This isn’t about starting a hospitality program, nor is it about living up the schedule events that this church has run in the past. It’s about choosing to be together as we have opportunity. And then, once we are together, what matters is whether we can exercise patience and humility.