In just a few months’ time First Corinthians 13 will be making its unoriginal appearance into Saturday afternoons just as frequently as baseball games and family getaways to beaches. The verses will be read aloud time and time again during wedding ceremonies as often as first dances and cakes smashed into couple’s faces at receptions thereafter. The words have been spoken ad nauseam for who knows how many generations to the point that it’s almost not even listened to anymore, no matter how eloquently it’s declared by the relative or friend of the wedding couple.
And yet I get it: the passage is filled to the brim with love. That’s what a wedding is supposed to be about: bursting at the seams with love between the couple, their families, and this God of love. The word comes up nine times in a matter of thirteen verses. I get it. It could very well be the closest thing we have in Scripture to describing how a person feels toward another as they unite themselves before God until death do they part.
Nevertheless, there isn’t a Biblical scholar I know who claims that Paul had any wedding during the first century, or for the rest of eternity, in mind when he wrote this letter to the Corinthians. Paul has another objective in mind: put the church in its place! Provide a needed dose of reality: the church isn’t about us, it’s not about puffing ourselves up, it’s not about showing off. It’s about helping others see the Risen Christ. It’s about the people we serve. It’s about love in the most selfless and sacrificial way, expecting absolutely nothing in return.
And as in a few months’ time when First Corinthians 13 takes center stage on a weekly basis, so too will mission trips for youth groups across the country, including our own. These pivotal experiences for young people have been going on for just as long as First Corinthians 13 has been picked by almost every wedding couple. But just as Paul’s letter can be used in ways he never intended, so too can the much-anticipated mission trips.
We often see them as a way for our youth to get out and experience the “real world,” as we call it. We also want them to grow in their faith. We want them to learn about helping others. And, better yet, at the end of it all it turns out they often feel better about themselves, because, after all, they made a difference. It gives them a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling, and it will continue to do so each time they remember it for years to come. Now not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with any of the above, but I have a feeling Jesus has something else in mind; one of the leading experts in the field of mission trips, to say the least.
When our Lord took His disciples on mission trips, if you want to call them that, almost on a daily basis for years, He would walk miles upon miles throughout Galilee healing the sick, comforting the grieving, giving sight to the blind, raising the dead (among other things). We can’t exactly expect that from our youth when they go on their mission trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin in a few months. And yet, at the same time, we have to realize Jesus never intended to show off or to only help others to make Himself feel better. He was out with complete strangers to improve their lives, and along the way, give glory to the God Who made it possible, Who gives the hope, the new life for all, including for those who take on any mission trip. Jesus revealed to us, and continues to remind us today, that God is already at work in the world. So we might as well join in the ministry of serving others, and experience first-hand what our God is up to each and every day.
So for those of you who have handed in sub orders for our next youth group fundraiser, or who paid for the truffles last month, or who will support our youth in whatever way possible through prayer and encouragement as we approach the summer mission trip and all the service projects in between: know that you are not doing it to instill more faith in our young people. They already have that. God has that taken care of. Don’t think you’re supporting them to give them more hope. They already have that too. They’re much more filled with hope about the world than the rest of us. And I don’t think it’s because they’re naïve so much. It’s because the Holy Spirit refuses to give up on burning inside of them, to never stop giving up on all of God’s children.
Nevertheless, as Paul tells us, the church of all ages, faith and hope are wonderful gifts, but if we can’t bring them to life with love, then it’s nothing more than selfishly promoting ourselves. So as you support our young people in the next few months and beyond, it is to provide them the opportunities to sacrifice themselves, to offer mercy, to bring the love of God to life to far too many people who wonder if God loves them at all. Our young people are about to prove them wrong. The greatest gift the church has to offer is love indeed. And so for the sacred opportunity to do exactly that in all our ministry to Baroda and beyond, we give thanks to God indeed. Amen.
St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Rev. Dennis Smith, Interim Pastor
Office: Tue - Fri: 9 a.m. - Noon