Season of Growth

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rev. Dean Snyder

I Corinthians 13:8-13

Seasons of Growth

8 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. 9 For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; 10 but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. 11 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. 12 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. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

We do not live our lives on earth in this lifetime in eternity. We live in times and seasons. Just about the only constant we are promised is change. Tomorrow will not be the same as today.

I believe that the purpose of change is to give each of us and all of us the opportunity to grow. To become smarter. To become wiser. To become better.

God created a world characterized by change, evolution and revolution so that we might not live stagnant lives but so that we will always be growing until the day we die…and my personal plan is to keep growing even after that happens.

Nothing can happen to us, no change can happen in our lives, that is not an opportunity for growth. No success is a success unless we grow as a result of it. No victory is a victory unless we grow from it. No defeat is a defeat if we grow from it. No failure is a failure if we grow from it.

Now, I want to talk today about a fascinating idea that the Apostle Paul teaches in the 13th Chapter of First Corinthians.

In this chapter he talks about three important qualities of Christian life – faith, hope and love. Each of these is an important aspect of being a follower of Jesus.

However, only one of these three is eternal. Ony one of these three never ends. Only one of these three never fails.

Faith is very important. The Book of Hebrews says:  “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach God must believe that God exists.” (Heb 11:6)

Without faith it is impossible to please God.

“Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews says. (Heb 11:1)

Faith is to believe and trust that God is active in creation and human history and that God is drawing us toward a world of justice, inclusion and peace. And in a very personal sense, faith is to believe and trust that if we offer ourselves to God, God will use us as instruments to help build through and in our lives the world God envisions and longs for us so that our lives will have eternal meaning and value.

Faith is not certainty. If we had certainty, we would not need faith.

Without faith it is impossible to please God. Unless we are willing to trust that God is working in our world on behalf of a vision of the Kingdom of God, it is impossible to please God. This is not to say that God won’t love us. I love my children even when I am not totally pleased with them. Faith is not what causes God to love us, but it does please God, according to Hebrews.

But ….But ….faith is not eternal.

If we are normal, we will have seasons in our lives when our faith is strong and we will have seasons in our lives when our faith is weal and puny.

Faith is seasonal. It is not eternal.

The way Paul puts this is that he says someday when we know fully, we will not need faith. It will end. So while faith is important, it is not eternal. It ebbs and wanes, if we are normal.

Faith is seasonal.

Times of doubt and difficulty in trusting God and trusting life are important seasons of life for us in our spiritual growth.

Faith is seasonal in our personal lives.

Faith is also seasonal in human history. There are seasons in human history where faith thrives and other seasons when faith is rare.

The story of Samuel in First Samuel in the Old Testament says: “Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” (1 Sam. 3:1)

The prophet Amos prophesies: “The time is surely coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. (Amos 8:11)

There are times when the word of God is rare and people stop having visions of a better world. There are times when there is a famine or a drought of faith and people stop believing in the Kingdom of God.

There are seasons in human history when faith is strong and seasons when faith is weak.

There is a wonderful book by historian and poet Jennifer Michael Hecht entitled Doubt: A History. She argues that there has been no deepening of religious and theological understanding that did not begin with a time of doubt. All reformation begins in doubt.

Faith is seasonal. It is meant to be seasonal; because faith is facile and childish unless it is tested by doubt.

***

Faith is important but it is not eternal. It is seasonal for the sake of our spiritual growth.

Hope is important. Hope is very similar to faith. Faith is the content of what we hope for. We believe in a God who loves us and wants for us a world of justice, inclusion and peace where we can all thrive.

Hope is the act of investing ourselves in that world, in that kingdom.

The Apostle Paul says in Romans: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Rom 8:24-5)

Hope is to invest ourselves in a world we do not yet see in the faith that God is working with us on behalf of that kingdom.

The Apostle Paul goes so far in the Book of Romans as to call God a “God of hope.” Romans 25:13, he goes so far as to write: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 25:13)

The Bible doesn’t say it specifically but I would say that if we cannot please God without faith, we also cannot please God without hope.

Hope is to invest ourselves in the kingdom God is shaping in our world. Hope is trusting that our giving of ourselves for this kingdom will make a difference; that our lives will matter in the kingdom; that we are and will be a part of a kingdom we can not see yet and will not see fully in this lifetime.

Hope is essential but it is not eternal. Hope is seasonal.

We will have seasons in our lives when hoping is easy and we are full of hope, and we will have seasons when hope is hard and rare.

There is a very troubling passage in the book of Second Kings when Israel was under siege and they were starving and they turned to cannibalism, and they were eating their children. The king of Israel came to the prophet Elisha and said:  “This trouble is from the Lord! Why should I hope in the Lord any longer?” (2 Kings 6:33)

There are times when hope is hard and rare. If we are normal there will be seasons of near hopelessness in our lives, because hope –like faith– is not eternal.

***

Faith is important but seasonal. Hope is important but seasonal.

The Apostle Paul says this because of the next point he wants to make. The next and final point he wants to make is that love is different from faith and hope.

Love never ends. Love is eternal. Love never ends.

Love is required of us in season and out of season. Love is greater than faith and hope. Love is not seasonal. Love is eternal.

The Apostle Paul is writing to a divided, conflicted community. The congregation in Corinth was very divided. They had different convictions. Each was claiming their own truth. Each believed that God spoke to them directly. Paul was writing to a conflicted church. It is good to remember this as we Methodists prepare for General Conference.

Members of the church at Corinth were competitive and arrogant. Those who had strong faith distained those who struggled with doubt. Those who had a strong sense of hope looked down on those who struggled with despair.

The apostle Paul says these things will change. There will be seasons of faith and seasons of doubt in all of our lives. There will be seasons of hope and seasons of struggle in all of our lives. Faith and hope do not make you superior.

But love needs to be constant. Love needs to be constant in and out of season.

Of course, there will be times and seasons when we feel more or less loving. But that does not matter. Whether we feel more loving or less loving, our actions toward one another need to be loving. Love can not be seasonal.

If we hate, it never makes us or anything else better. If we hate, it never makes anything better.

Whatever season of life we are in, whatever season of history we are in, we are called by Christ to figure out how to make our actions loving. Love never ends. There is no season for hate.

Some of us are preparing to go to General Conference. Some of us will be leaving this week. Others of us will be going next week.

Dawn and Matt are going this week. I’ll be leavening after Sunday morning services next week.

Kevin Wright, the new kid on the block, will be preaching next Sunday evening by the way.

General Conference will be an interesting test for some of us.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus raught: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?” (Matt. 5:43-46)

General Conference will be an interesting test for us.

All of life actually is an interesting test for us.

When we go through a season of doubt, we can say to ourselves, Great. I am going to really grow from this.

When we go through a season of struggle and suffering, we can say to ourselves, Great. I am going to become stronger as a result of this season.

When we feel ourselves beginning to hate, we can never say that. Hate will not make us smarter, wiser, better. Because we can only grow in relationship with others. Hate ends relationship.

Love is not seasonal. It is eternal. It must never end.