The Faith We Sing: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” - Rev. Louis Timberlake

The Faith We Sing: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”
2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Louis Timberlake
June 13, 2016

Do you know one of those people that is just injury prone? Are you one of those people? I had a friend in college that seemed to get injured all the time. He wasn’t a college athlete or anything, but he was injured enough to be one. I think every time he played an intramural sport or a pickup game of soccer, he got hurt. Collarbones, ACLs--he was just injury prone.

I am fortunate that I have never had a major injury. I played plenty of sports--baseball as a kid, wrestling in middle school, football and track in high school. But, I was not injured often and never had a major injury. I did have a cast once in middle school, but it was barely a hairline fracture and I potentially didn’t even need the cast. In football, the most I had was one mild concussion.

I actually never had crutches until college. And that injury had nothing to do with sports. It was a church youth event. If you didn’t know, youth ministry can be dangerous. I once broke a friend’s collarbone at youth group. By accident, of course. Scientists tell us that our brains aren’t fully developed until the age of 25. Well, our still-developing 16-year-old brains thought it would be a good idea for him to get inside this thin foam tunnel that was really intended for little kids to crawl through. Then, he stood up at one end of the church gym, encased in this tunnel, while I ran from the other end and tackled him as hard as I could, trusting that two inches of foam would be enough padding to keep both of us from being injured. It wasn’t. One broken collarbone later, the youth weren’t allowed to play on the kids’ foam equipment.

Anyways, the only time I ended up on crutches, it was also a youth event. And, it’s kind of a humiliating story.

It was a fall kickoff with another church youth group, complete with all of the big inflatables. I was a sophomore in college, working with the youth, and a high school freshman girl challenged me to inflatable jousting. So, you get up on these raised pedestals, surrounded by an inflatable floor to cushion your fall. You’re given these oversized foam jousting sticks and your goal is to knock your opponent off of their platform. So, here I was, facing off against this freshman girl that I probably outweighed by 80 lbs. Now, I didn’t want to be a jerk, so I wasn’t going all out trying to knock her off. It’s never a good day when a youth leader makes a youth cry. But, my chivalry became my downfall when she hit me, I lost my balance, and I fell off of the pedestal. Now, I tried to laugh it off, but my pride was pretty damaged. And, it was made worse when I went to jump out of the arena and landed wrong on my left foot, majorly spraining my big toe. Spraining a toe hurts. I’ve sprained plenty of ankles, but this was worse. So, while I was still wallowing in my defeat, another leader had to drive me to the urgent care for xrays to make sure that it wasn’t broken. It wasn’t, but it was bad enough that I needed crutches to walk.

I’m a pretty independent person. I am not good at asking others for help. I don’t like asking for directions. I don’t like calling a repairman, because I want to fix it myself. When I’m walking through Lowe’s and one of the workers asks if I need help finding something, I always say “no.” It may take me fifteen minutes longer, but I’ll find it myself. I’m not saying this is the wise approach or the healthy approach, but it’s just who I am. So, being on crutches was difficult for me, because I had to rely on others for some things. I remember how difficult it was to ask my roommate to go get my car, which was parked on the other side of campus. It would have been ridiculous for me to go all the way across campus on crutches, but I had to work myself up for ten minutes to be able to verbalize that request for help.

Now, I imagine a few of you are wired that way as well. And, I imagine that a few of you are related to people wired that way. But, it’s not just a small group of us. All of us, at times, find it difficult to seek help, to rely on someone or something beyond ourselves. It is hard for all of us, and for some more than others, to trust and depend on someone else.

This is true of our relationship with God as well. For many of us, we believe in God, we believe that God is good, we believe that God is at work in our world, but we stop there. We stop short of learning how to trust in God, to depend on God. It’s hard to rely on something beyond ourselves.

The two verses that we read are from a letter written by Paul, the most prominent early Christian missionary, to the church in Corinth. He’s writing, in this chapter, about what qualifies someone for church leadership. In verses 4-6, he writes, “Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant.”

He’s saying that competence isn’t so much about what we do, but about what God does in us. This is a powerful message for anyone who might one day be in church leadership. You don’t have to feel fully equipped, because your competence is ultimately about something God does in you.

It’s also a powerful message for all of us who would much rather rely upon ourselves than on others or on God. We are not competent, we are not capable, apart from what God does in us.

So, when Paul gets to what we read earlier.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”

He’s talking about the way in which we are transformed by God towards wholeness. When he talks about unveiled faces, he’s referring to a story about Moses. Moses is at Mt Sinai with the Israelites and he is going back and forth between speaking with God and relaying God’s message to the Israelites. And, he has a veil that he removes in the presence of God and wears in the presence of the people. But, the people catch a glimpse of his face unveiled and it is literally shining from him having encountered God.

What Paul pulls from this is that, as we experience God and allow God to affect us, it literally transforms us. We gradually begin to reflect God more and more.

We refer to this as sanctification. Being made holy. Being shaped to resemble Christ. As the love and grace of God works in our lives, we are transformed to be more like Christ. It is something that God does in us. But, it requires us to learn to be more dependent upon God. It is only as we increase our dependence upon God that we increase the degree to which we reflect God.

I’ve told you before that I took some sculpture classes in college. No one mistook me for an Art major, but I held my own. But, I lacked something that I saw in some of my Art major friends. I could make things, but I lacked a certain insight and ingenuity that allowed some of my friends to make things that were just compelling. They were able to bring the materials to life in a way that I never could.

There is a certain beauty in the way a good artist relates to his or her materials. There’s kind of a relational dynamic at work. The prophet Jeremiah compares God to a potter and the people of God to clay. But, if you’ve ever worked with clay, you know that you really have to work WITH it. You can’t force it, you have to push and pull a little bit at a time, you have to feel out where it is malleable and where it is brittle.

This is the way it is with God and us. God is the artist, shaping each one of us. But, we have a role. We have to cultivate a certain openness to be shaped by God’s grace. We have to leave room for God to work.

Charles Wesley wrote the hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” as a prayer for God to do in us what we cannot do ourselves, a prayer for God to transform us, so that the love of Christ grows in us, little by little, until it becomes the primary thing that shapes how we live and order our lives. What would our lives look like, if the love of Christ became the primary things that shaped our thoughts, our interactions, and our priorities?

The hymn is a prayer. The thing is, a prayer that is just words is not much of a prayer. If we seek for God to form us in God’s image, then we must do our part. We must learn to rely more upon God, to give God opportunities to work in our lives. And so, as we move towards our prayer time this morning, I would encourage you to let the words of the hymn we sing be your prayer to God. And, I would encourage you to think of one thing that you can do will present God with an opportunity to work in your life. Maybe it’s joining a small group, maybe it’s finding a way to serve in mission, maybe it’s incorporating prayer or scripture into your daily routine. Find one thing that will open you up to allow God to continue to transform you to be more like Christ. And do it.

Discussion Questions

  • How independent of a person are you? Do you find it easy or difficult to rely upon others?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to depend upon God? Explain.
  • How does increasing our dependence upon God increase the degree to which we reflect God?
  • What do you think about the belief that reflecting God’s image means to reflect the love of God?
  • Sanctification refers to us being made holy, by the grace of God. How does God’s grace work in our lives? What does it mean for us to respond to that grace? How is this relationship like that between an artist and a piece of art?
  • What would it look like for the love of God to become the primary thing that shapes our interactions, thoughts, and priorities?
  • What is one thing you plan to do to open yourself up to God to work in your life?