September 16th, 2018

The Antidote for All Sin
1 Corinthians 13:1-10, 13

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. . . .
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Before I share today’s sermon I want to make a confession. Much of today’s sermon comes from a sermon preached by Bishop Michael Curry, the Presiding American Bishop over the Episcopal Church. Perhaps you heard him as he officiated at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Bishop Curry is a fine African American preacher. And when I heard him preach this sermon it so moved my heart that I knew I had to share it with you. So in today’s sermon, forgive me if I occasionally sound like a black, Episcopalian brother.

Now, with that out of the way, let me begin with a few words of my own.

There is a sinister force spreading throughout our world today, a force wreaking death and destruction. It goes by many names but the Bible simply calls it “sin.” Yes, sin is among us, taking victims day by day.

Sin is among us, causing thousands of innocent people to be killed in mass shootings while those who do the shooting seem to have no conscience at all.

Sin is among us, causing entire nations to be controlled by zealots, who under the name of religion, treat people with the most ungodly disrespect imaginable.

Sin is among us, causing our elected political leaders to lie and to bicker, creating a government that is, for the most part, dysfunctional.

Sin is among us causing churches to diminish in the middle of a society that goes exponentially secular with each passing day.

Yes, sin is among us and, at times, it seems sin will destroy everything we cherish that is good and right.

Now, you may be wondering why I would read 1 Corinthians 13 and then drift off into a frightening diatribe about the destructive power of sin. Well hang on. There’s a method to my madness.

Many of us view 1 Corinthians 13 as the “Great Love Chapter,” and indeed it is. Few poets, painters, or musicians have created works of art more beautiful than the art we find in 1 Corinthians 13.

But may I remind you, Paul did not write these words to the Corinthians simply to share some artistic verse. Paul wrote these words to the Corinthians to correct a problem. You see, the church at Corinth was about to implode because sin ran rampant among its members. Sin had destroyed the unity of the Corinthian church causing its members to take sides and fight against each other.

There were those who said, “I belong to Peter.” Others who said, “I belong to Paul.” Others who self-righteously bragged, “Well, I just belong to Jesus Christ.”

Then there were the rich who turned up their noses at the poor, and the scholarly who turned down their noses at the unlearned. Then there were the super-spiritual elitists who bragged about their visions, their prophecies and their experience of speaking in tongues.

In the end, there were so many factions in the Corinthian church, that the church had become practically dysfunctional, teetering on the edge of extinction.

So what does Paul do to help heal this sin-sick church? He writes 1 Corinthians 13, and tells the Corinthians that their only hope for survival is the antidote of love.

Given that context, listen again to Paul’s words,
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I have to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

In these few, clear, words Paul tells this congregation that sin can’t be cured with ecstatic tongues, or with profound prophecy, or with insightful intellectualism. The only antidote for the sin that was tearing this congregation apart was the antidote of love. Yes, love is the only antidote for sin.

In fact, that’s what we see if we go back to the cross. If we stop and think back to the death of Jesus, we see sin at its worst. And what does Jesus do to conquer sin at its worst? He conquers sin with the power of his love. Just think about it.

At the Mount of Olives the disciples wanted to eliminate sin with the sword. Indeed, Simon Peter cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. But Jesus said, “No, the sword is not the way to cure sin. The only cure for sin is the antidote of love.”

Even in the upper room, Jesus prepared his disciples to eradicate sin with love. He said to them, A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another. Yes, love was the medicine Jesus was dispensing to cure the sickness of sin.

And when Jesus climbed upon the cross he did so to cancel the power of sin with antidote of love. Yes, it was love that drove Jesus to die on the cross.

It was love that caused Jesus to be arrested and tried on trumped-up charges.

It was love that caused Jesus to sacrifice himself for the good of all humankind.

It was love that bravely faced the soldiers who spit on him and crowned him with thorns.

It was love that promised a dying thief a place in God’s reward.

It was love that dripped down from Jesus' pierced hands as his holy blood mingled with the ugliness of sin.

And it was love that placed Jesus’ dead body in his momma’s trembling arms for one last sobbing cry.

Yes, everything that happened on Calvary happened to inoculate this sin-sick world with the antidote of love.

But that’s not where love stopped, because love keeps working even when all hope seems gone.

So then, early Sunday morning, yes, early Sunday morning before the sun was even rising, the faithful women went to the tomb, and when they got there they saw the evidence of God’s redeeming love.

Because it was love that rolled the stone away,
It was love turned their night to day.
It was love that conquered sin and death.
And it was love that gave Christ’s lungs new breath.

And when all was said and done, the antidote for sin did its wondrous work, by conquering death and hell with the wonder-working power of Jesus and his love.

Or as my daddy used to sing, I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within skinning to rise no more. But the master of the sea, heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me now safe am I. (And what lifted me?) Love lifted me – Love lifted me. When nothing else could help – Love lifted me.

Yes, nothing can lift us from the stinking mire of worldly sin save the wonderful love of God.

Perhaps you know the name of the French Jesuit Priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Not only was he a priest, but he was also a man of science. In fact, in many of his works he talked about the positive relationship between science and religion.

In one essay he said, “The discovery and harnessing of fire by human beings may have been the most important scientific discovery in all human history.” He said,

“Fire made human civilization possible.”
It was fire that made it possible to cook meat and reduce the spread of disease.
It was fire that made it possible to heat a cold environment so humans could migrate all around the world.
It was fire that made the Bronze Age and the Iron Age possible.
It was fire that made the industrial revolution possible.

And even today in our technologically advanced world, where would we be without fire?

Anybody get here by car? It was a controlled burn of fire in your car’s engine that got you here this morning.
Anybody got a cell phone? You can tweet and text, and email because fire put that satellite up into orbit, that satellite on which your cell phone depends.

Yes, De Chardin was right. Fire may well have be the most significant scientific discovery in all of human history.

But then De Chardin takes off his lab coat and puts on his priestly collar as he says; “Yes, the human harnessing of fire was the most significant discovery of all. But, if human beings ever harness the power of love, it will be the second time in history that humanity has discovered FIRE.”

Yes, love is the fire of God, and if you and I would get serious about spreading the fire of God’s love, we’d see a world unlike any we’ve ever known before.

If love caught fire in our world today there’d be no mass shootings or terrorist bombs.
If love caught fire in our world today we'd see a society where no child ever went hungry again.
If love caught fire in our world today we'd lay down our swords and study war no more.
If love caught fire in our world today broken homes would be united and children would thrive once more.
If love caught fire in our world today we’d no longer weep over the death of innocents, or try to figure out who was at fault.
Yes, if love caught fire in our world today, we’d find new harmony at the church house, and maybe at White House as well.

So what we need to do more than anything else? What do we need to do to eradicate this terrible sickness of sin? We need to proclaim and to practice the wondrous power of Jesus and his love.

Because love will cleanse your heart.
Love will set you free.
With love sin will depart.
With love, God’s Kingdom Come will be.

Yes, love is the theme. Love is supreme. Sweeter it grows. Glory bestows. Bright as the son, ever it glows. Love is the theme. Love is the theme. Love is the theme – God's eternal theme.

Amen and amen!

2 comments

What else could the antidote for sin be other that love? Dr. Wilder's sermon helping us to recognize that idea was an encouragement and a greater lesson on 1 Corinthians that I had ever understood. In all of our world concerns, could we possibly just start to be "on fire with love"? What a difference it would make. Thank you, Dr. Wilder.
Barbara Smith

Just now noticed your comment. Thanks for your dear words of encouragement.
Gene