4th Sunday after Epiphany – C LSB #’s 387, 848, 709
Text – 1 Corinthians 13:2
And if I have prophetic powers, & understand all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
PROPHETIC POWERS, MYSTERIES & KNOWLEDGE
It is what millions of people around the world found so fascinating about the Harry Potter books & movies. Prophetic powers, mysteries & knowledge are the sort of things which intrigue everyone who deals with the brokenness of this life. Three years ago the total value of the Harry Potter franchise was estimated at $25 billion. That holds a lot of power.
Yet, St. Paul makes the absolute claim that without love he is nothing! It doesn’t matter if he has prophetic powers, & understands all mysteries & all knowledge, without love he is nothing. And so are you. So am I. 500 million books sold & 25 billion dollars in value cannot hold a candle to the simplest act of love.
Feelings of love come & go for every single human being, & in every single human relationship, yet whoever gives even a cup of cold water to a follower of Jesus will by no means lose his reward – not ever (Matthew 10:42). In other words, the effects of a loving deed will remain throughout eternity. Feelings come & go. Deeds of love have effects that last forever.
But our sinful nature forgets them immediately & is always asking instead, “What have you done for me lately?” The sinful nature is never satisfied, nor content. It is always looking for more – more power, more mystery, more knowledge. And that sad state of affairs does not exist only in the unbelieving world. It exists right here – in my heart & in yours!
That’s why St. Paul is writing to the church, the congregation, the believers in the city of Corinth: “If I speak in the tongues of men & of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, & understand all mysteries & all knowledge, & if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, & if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” The culture of Corinth loved a good show even if there was no substance to back it up, & that disease had infected the congregation there as well.
That disease is rampant in our society too. Our culture loves to vote for smooth talking politicians even if they only look out for themselves once elected. Or, they promise you free everything but aren’t honest enough to do the math. There’s a reason for the saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” You could travel to Venezuela right now & find out for yourself.
Politicians who are successful at getting reelected understand well the power of the human imagination. Too many of them use that understanding only for their self-interest. J. K. Rowling, creator of the Harry Potter franchise, used it for her own welfare, but she made no pretense about that. She wasn’t running public policy experiments on her constituents.
When it comes to story books, Ms. Rowling wrote a series detailing a fantasy world of powers, mystery & secret knowledge. But the ultimate basis for the series was, in her words, the theme of “living after death.” In the final book she quoted Matthew 6:19, & 1 Corinthians 15:26, stating: “…these Bible verses epitomize the whole [Harry Potter] series.”
So what are those verses? St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15: “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Then Jesus teaches in Matthew 6, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth & rust destroy & where thieves break in & steal.”
To immerse our 21st century thoughts into the 1st century world of St. Paul & the Corinthians, here’s the question I’d like you to consider this morning. Why do human beings spend so much time & effort seeking to lay up treasures on earth? On the surface the answer is obvious. Treasure is valuable & useful, & a lot of good things can be done with it. Even the church uses money to pay the bills & salaries & do the mission work. But you should know me by now & I want to dig deeper than that. God was born in Bethlehem so we can get to the root of the issue, to solve the problem of sin. Satan wants us to remain at the surface with easy answers, “Don’t trouble yourself with details. Just eat of the tree so you will be like God.”
Moth & rust do destroy. Thieves do break in & steal. So your conscience should be prompting you, “Why do human beings spend so much effort & time seeking to lay up treasures on earth?” The root issue is this – the corruption of sin has left you & me wanting, & lacking, & needing! We feel the loss of that perfect communion with our Creator in so many ways.
We feel it in obvious ones like sickness & death. We feel it whenever anxiety strikes. Frustration, anger & sadness all are the result of that lost perfect communion with God. The same is true of feeling weak & powerless, or ignorant & lost. When life is boring & dull & tedious we long for the power of knowing our Lord as He created us to know Him.
Harry Potter is a poor substitute for God, yet the series of books & movies did so well because they were escapist fantasies filled with the intrigue of prophetic powers, & mysteries, & knowledge. People were drawn to it because, for at least a short time, it filled their sense of lacking & needing & wanting.
The Harry Potter stories filled people with the excitement of feeling alive. The trouble is they are a short-term fix to a long-term problem. Sin, death & the devil cannot be defeated with just stories. God had to enter history, to enter time & space, to take on the very substance of His creation in order to make its rescue a reality.
To bring life after death meant that Jesus had to die. You can’t rise from the dead if you haven’t been dead to begin with. The love Messiah demonstrated in that way is the farthest thing from the warm & fuzzy emotions & feelings that the world so highly desires. The love Christ demonstrated on the cross came at a horrific cost. His death was true love, because unlike feelings & emotions which always come & go, the death of God’s Son was an action, an historical event, the effects of which will last forever. As St. Paul wrote:
“Love is patient & 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. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part & we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 15:4-10 ESV)
Human beings love to hear those words at weddings. They are good words, powerful words, but they do not describe the love of sinful human beings. At this moment in time they describe only one flesh & blood human because He is the perfect & holy, only-begotten Son of God. Prophetic powers, mysteries & knowledge belong to Him as to no other human being.
In the brokenness of our lives we long for them. If we strive for them apart from Jesus & apart from His will for us, we turn them idols & they only bring more brokenness & more death. The Church offers the season of Epiphany, the season of light, as one answer for dreams of being like Harry Potter. Yet, the Church is not an escapist fantasy. It exists in a broken world.
Our struggle is that since The Fall we can no longer sense the things of God as we should. Our sight has been blinded by sin. Our mind has been corrupted by lust for more – more power, more mystery, more knowledge. You & I cannot love as we should, as we were created to, so God sent His Son to love in our place to offer healing for our brokenness.
Heaven will be the complete restoration of all that we are missing, lacking, wanting & needing. There, even our love will never end, & we will be forever fulfilled, with no more longing & striving for the cheap substitutes that Satan offers to us.
Ms. Rowling supposedly planned out in advance the Harry Potter story line to cover 7 years. Yahweh has planned out all of history right down to the last detail of eternity! The longing & the need created by the brokenness of our lives is, for now, allowed to remain in order to teach us that some deliverance is not FROM what we fear, but deliverance THROUGH what we fear. Yahweh is able to deliver us through any & all the struggles or pain of our lives. Thus, St. Paul wrote, “I will show you a still more excellent way.”
That way is the love Jesus Christ offers to you, & for you, in His death & His resurrection; a love that never ends, not even in the brokenness of your daily lives. Amen.
Lord, whose humble service bore the weight of human need, Who upon the cross, forsaken, offered mercy’s perfect deed, we, Your servants, bring the worship not of voice alone, but heart, consecrating to Your purpose every gift that You impart. Still Your children wander homeless; still the hungry cry for bread; still the captives long for freedom; still in grief we mourn our dead. As, O Lord, Your deep compassion healed the sick & freed the soul, use the love Your Spirit kindles still to save & make us whole. Amen. LSB 848:1-2.
 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV
Pastor Dean R. Poellet