Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Childlike Versus Childish”
First Corinthians 13: 1-13, January 31st, 2016
One of my favorite pieces of scripture is this passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. I have used it numerous times in the context of a wedding service. I have lifted it up in Bible study classes and preached on it several times. It speaks of Faith, hope and love in the most beautiful ways. Paul also finds a way to speak of what it means to love as an adult rather than as a childish adolescent. There is so much for us to learn from this poetic piece of scripture.
As a child we are primarily focused on ourselves. That is where we start. The world revolves around our needs. This is the natural order of life. It is in early childhood that an infant is meant to taste every aspect of their humanness as they move from their mother’s womb to the various aspects of human life. Hunger, thirst and natural urges drive their movements and their early interactions with others. They yearn for the comfort, protection and love that their mothers gave them. As they grow they learn the full spectrum of emotions and feelings that humankind pass to one another. If the child is raised by mature adults, that know how to give love and proper guidance, then the child will be free to experience love and change from their self-focused childishness and begin to grow and develop while displaying childlike behavior; just as they ought, and thus have the full opportunity to experience the innocence of new life – in a manner which shall allow them to progress as God and their parents have envisioned.
All too often, as we grow from childhood to adulthood we get caught up in childish daydreams which, sadly, are often reinforced with some story tellers desire to entertain us. I suspect that most of us know the story line of the character Peter Pan. “Peter Pan is a character created by Scottish novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie. A mischievous boy who can fly and never grows up, Peter Pan spends his never-ending childhood having adventures on the small island of Neverland as the leader of his gang, the Lost Boys, interacting with mermaids, Native Americans, fairies, pirates, and occasionally ordinary children from the world outside Neverland.” /Wikipedia/
The story of Peter Pan is considered to be a classic. He comes across as a childish child, an adolescent who never grows up. But, yet, in the end he must put away his childish immaturity and juvenile behavior, and in a childlike way, do some grown up things. In some of the sequels and follow-up story lines about this mythical character the writers have him falling in love and wanting to become a father. This conflict of course is the whole discourse surrounding his childishness that romantically one wants to see as childlike, a very sought after personality trait. One bounces around from his interactions with Tinker-Bell, a jealous fairy, and his love for Wendy who takes on a mothering role in the story.
Many a young lad has never wanted to grow up; and I think the same can be said for most any adolescent, boy or girl, and occasionally it is true for some adults as well. On the other hand there are some of us who have forgotten what it is like to be childlike. It is unfortunate, for these folks have become biased and think being childlike is the same as being childish. This is simply not true. The innocence and trusting characteristics of our youth, even naïveté, offer such uncomplicated and candid windows into what a simple unjaded life could be. It is sad that as we age we often loss these characteristics and become untrusting, cynical and complicated at every level of our lives. It is at this stage that some folks slip into what can easily be considered childish behavior. Childish, self-centered, I focused attitudes that tend to push others away – rather than to draw people together – as is more fitting and natural for a community of adults to foster. You see being and or showing characteristics of childishness, immaturity, silly and juvenile behavior, is not restricted to children only!
One must assume that the Apostle Paul’s letters to the struggling community in Corinth was motived by some of the feedback his disciples were bringing to him about what was going on within their little struggling church. It appears that Paul was taking the ‘high road’ as he spoke to them about how adults were to experience and respond to ‘agape’ love; agape is from ancient Greek and it speaks of the highest form of love. It draws on an understanding of ‘brotherly and sisterly’ love; love that shows kindness, tolerance, compassion and generosity. This form of love is centered on and around the love of God for humankind and our response to God’s love. Children are capable of this type of love, yet it usually takes time, sometimes a lot of time to mature and become part of their makeup. It is hoped that as adults we have grasped this understanding of love. Sadly we know that this is often not the case.
When I look into the eyes of a young couple reading these words from Paul’s letter, I pray they are understanding the fullness of what Paul is seeking to express to the listener. “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.” Many talk of love from their lips but do not seem to grasp that love is an action, a response that comes from the heart, and expresses true concern and compassion for another. Could it be that Paul was hearing that mature love was not being practiced within that early community? One can only wonder. Surely he saw that some had it wrong, or ‘where’ would his insight have originated from. One writer says it this way: “Love, real love, is implanted in our souls by God. When we see someone else hurting, our hearts go out to them. It’s natural.” /Melissa Bane Sevier/
Paul’s writing goes deep, leaving no avenue for the hearer to escape his lesson. “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Knowledge, faith and spiritual gifts are not enough! One must possess love and allow it to flow from them as they do God’s work. Love is not taught in our universities as a major, but knowledge is; knowledge covering many subjects and disciplines. Great strides in the avenues of knowledge have been attained since Paul wrote this sentence. Yet, his words still stand. Even if you have great knowledge and abundant faith, but have not become a vessel for the ‘passing on’ of God’s love you have missed the very essence of knowing God!
Paul could have stopped there, surely that was a lot for anyone to grasp, yet he did not! Once again he pushes his point ever so gently but most affectively! “If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” This passage is all about love, adult, childlike, trusting and pure ‘agape’ love. Love that flows freely and without reservation. If you have been hurt because you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable and giving of your love, you perhaps are hesitant to continue. I truly understand how that feels. Yet, you and me, we cannot stop allowing God’s love to flow through us. This is where faith comes in. We must trust that God will resupply us with an infinite supply of love. It is our task to use it and share it.
The pinnacle of this passage is in the next several verses. When I am reading it, standing in front of the soon to be newly married couple, I cannot help but feel the power, the weight, and the sting of these words as they flow from my lips. “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, (and) endures all things. Love never ends.” Sometimes I find it hard to continue reading. I want to reach out and say: did you hear that! Do you understand how important these words are? But, I can only pause for a moment as I push forward with Paul’s discourse surrounding love. I can feel Paul breathing down my neck whispering to me: “tell them they need to let go of their childish ways and become adults!”
This one author, Melissa Bane Sevie, expresses herself well. “Above the clouds of conflict and stress, we imagine the beauty, the simplicity, of loving each other despite our conflicts and differences.” And Frederick Buechner, recaps for us the thoughts of Paul. “The highest gift of all is agape, he says. Without it even faith, almsgiving, martyrdom are mere busyness and even great wisdom doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.” As we ponder together the implications of the Apostles’ letter we can only urge ourselves, over and over again, to seek out the true spirit of love. How often have we heard that love comes from God? Surely, you have come to realize we are still talking about agape love, not romanticized love. How often have we been reminded that we are vessels – through which the hand of God reaches out to the people of God? God’s love is real and it is available to all of the children of God. Rick Morley, tells us to: “Seek that love. And, at the same time, know it is already yours.”
As we come together this day, to worship God; praising God in word and song, let us be reminded that we are called to be the adults in the room. We have built our fellowship on the teachings of Christ and the experiences of those who have come before us. Now it is time for us to move forward, nurturing and supporting one another in mutual fellowship. Shauna St. Clair, speaks of God’s love in this way. “Because of God’s faithfulness and love, we have the strength to develop into communities that carry out the loving, liberating works for which our world searches.”
It is important to remember that childish behavior is something we are meant to move away from – as we mature. Childlike behavior is something we can cultivate and relearn on a daily basis. Trusting, simple and open communications, is the best way to live and grow in love.
“Let us now open our ears, as-well-as our hearts, as we listen now to these words from the New Testament letter, First Corinthians, chapter:13 verses: 1-13”
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. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 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. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
“Allow God to touch our hearts and minds, as we seek out and look for a deeper and more meaningful understanding of these ancient writings.”