A Christmas Paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 13

(With apologies to Saint Paul, inspired by a meditation by Sharon Jaynes,

and freely adapted by Andy Langford)

Central UMC: Concord

28 November 2010

At Christmas, God offers to us the gift of God’s own son.

For hundreds of years,

               the people of God had dreamed that the Messiah would come.

And then, in a world dominated by sin and death,

Emmanuel, a child conceived by the Holy Spirit,

was born of Mary and appeared in Bethlehem.

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, sang about the coming of the Messiah.  Zechariah believed that Mary’s child would be the Savior of the world.  In his exuberance, Zechariah sang that the child of Mary would:  (Luke 1:68-72) 

               save God’s people from their enemies,

               show mercy,

               fulfill God’s covenant,

               forgive sins,

               shine on people in the midst of darkness,

               and guide us in paths of peace.

After the angel announced that Mary was God’s chosen servant, Mary sang that Jesus would: (Luke 1:46-55)

               show mercy,

               scatter the proud,

               bring down the powerful,

               lift up the lowly,

               fill the hungry with good things,

               send the rich empty away,

               and help the people of God.

And so the child born in Bethlehem fulfilled all of Zechariah’s dreams and Mary’s hopes and more.

How then shall we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ? 

Several years ago, I read on the Internet a version of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the 13th chapter about love, as adapted for Christmas.  Let me now share with you my own version of Paul’s anthem to love, as adapted for this season of the year.

If I say that I love Christmas,

               but do not have love,

               I may overlook the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem

forget Christ’s presence in my life today,

and lose hope that Jesus Christ will return in glory.

If I read the Christmas story, sing the carols, and say “Merry Christmas,”

               but do not listen to the meaning of the words,

I am just a voice.

If I decorate my house with red bows, twinkling lights, and shiny balls,

               poinsettias, wreaths, and garlands,

but do not celebrate all that is beautiful,

I am just a decorator.

If I watch every football, basketball, and hockey game,

               every high school, college, and professional game,

               but do not care for the friends watching with me,

I am just a spectator.

If I slave away in my kitchen, bake dozens of Christmas cookies,

               and prepare gourmet meals,

               but do not share my table with others,

I am just a cook.

If I watch “A Christmas Carol,” “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,”

               and “Miracle on 34th Street,”

               but overlook the magic of the season,

               I am just a jaded skeptic.

If I shop every sale, search for the best buys,

               and find the perfect gift for everyone on my list,

               but push to the front of the line, haggle with the clerks,

               and buy a present for myself first,

               I am just a consumer.

If I pack my car, fight traffic and airport security,

and  travel great distances to visit family,

               but forget why I hit the road,

               I am just a weary traveler.

If I go to every family gathering, kissing and hugging

               every aunt, uncle, cousin, grandparent, grandchild,

               in-law, out-law,

and who was that in the outlandish Christmas sweater?,

               but forget that they are all my family,

               I am just a solitary individual.      

If I listen to Handel’s “Messiah,”

               “Amahl and the Night Visitors,”

               and Elvis Pressley’s “Christmas Favorites,”

               but do not join in the song,

               I am just a member of the audience.

If I give a gift for missions, for the church staff, for the church budget,

for the mail carrier, the garbage collector, the hair stylist,

the paper carrier, the teacher, and who did I forget?,

but do not say “Thank you” to the people who receive these gifts,

I am just a check writer.

If I mourn what I have lost, especially the ones I loved the most,

               but neglect who and what I still have,

I will not find peace.

If I smile and say the right words,

               but do not listen, hug, and weep for those who mourn,

               I am an empty person.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home,

and ring a Salvation Army bell,

               but only think about the next activity on my list,

I gain nothing.

If I set out all my nativity scenes, hang a star,

               and watch a live nativity,

               but see only the chipped paint, broken light bulbs, dirty animals,

               and restless children,

               I miss the wonder of the holy night.

If I trim my tree with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes,

               attend holiday parties, and sing in the choir’s cantata,

               but forget why I do all these activities,

I lose the meaning of the season.

If I attend every service, hear every sermon,

               listen to every anthem, light a candle, and share in Holy Communion,

but do not worship the Christ child,

I have missed the point.

Love stops talking to hear the angel’s voice.

Love stops decorating to enjoy the beauty of the season.

Love stops cooking to hug my family and guests.

Love stops grumbling to say “Merry Christmas” to everyone I meet.

Love mutes the television to talk with friends around me.

Love does not dread everyone coming over to our house,

               but is thankful that we have friends and family who wish to visit.

Love, though stressed out, tired, and frantic, is kind.

Love enjoys each activity during that activity.

Love does not envy another’s home with Christmas china and table linens.

Love does not outdo their neighbors’ lights and yard decorations.

Love worries less about the travel and more about the destination.

Love stops buying to simply be.

Love is less about the gifts and more about the giving.

Love does not show off what I got at Christmas.

Love does not dismiss what you got for Christmas.

Love does not fear the hurting and mourning people around us,

               but summons us to be compassionate friends.

Love does not give only to those who are able to give in return,

               but rejoices in giving to those who cannot give anything.

Love is less about giving to others and more about receiving from God.

Love is less about the worship

and more about the Child being worshiped.

Love bears all things, believes all things,

hopes all things, and endures all things.

Love never fails.

The Christmas tree will disappear, the decorations will be put away,

the Christmas china will be put back on the shelf, the games will end,

the wreaths will be taken down, the candles will burn out,

the video games will break, the jewelry will be hidden away,

the bills will arrive, the left-over food will be thrown away,

               the car will be unpacked, the television specials will be forgotten,

the golf clubs will rust, the children will go back to school,

and family will disappear but the weight we gained will stay.

But, but, but,

faith, hope, and love remain,

and the greatest of these is love,

the love that came down at Christmas,

the love we find in the Christ child born in Bethlehem.

November 7 Sermon: Jesus’ Death and Resurrection — Matthew 27:1 – 28:20


Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death.  The authorities bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. . . .

Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. When Jesus was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge– to the great amazement of the governor.

Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For Pilate knew it was out of envy that the religious authorities had handed Jesus over to him. . . . 

But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” the crowd answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” . . . Then Pilate released Barabbas to them. But Pilate had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped Jesus and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. The soldiers put a staff in Jesus’ right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” the soldiers said. They spit on Jesus, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked Jesus, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then the soldiers led Jesus away to crucify him.  . . .

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There the soldiers offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, the soldiers kept watch over Jesus there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. . . .

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” — which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. The dead came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, Joseph asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed the body in his own new tomb that Joseph had cut out of the rock. Joseph rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. . . .

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.

“Sir,” they said, “we remember that while Jesus was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that Jesus has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.


After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. The angel’s appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. The women came to Jesus, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” . . .

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When the disciples saw Jesus, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

What does Jesus dying on the cross mean to you?


What does Jesus’ resurrection mean to you?

October 31 Sermon: Jesus’ Life: Teacher, Healer, Servant


Jesus the Teacher — Matthew 5:1-12

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and Jesus began to teach them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,       

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.”

Where do you need to be blessed?


Where should you be a blessing to others?

The woman touching Jesus' cloak

Jesus the Healer — Matthew 9:18-26 

A ruler came and knelt before Jesus and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with the ruler, and so did Jesus’ disciples.

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch Jesus’ cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that moment.

When Jesus entered the ruler’s house and saw the flute players and the noisy crowd, Jesus said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at Jesus. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up.

News of this healing spread through all that region.

Where have you felt the healing touch of Jesus?


Who around you needs Jesus’ healing touch?


Jesus the Servant — John 13:1-15

It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus now showed them the full extent of his love.

The evening meal was being served . . . Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so Jeus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, Jesus poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

Jesus came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” . . .

When Jesus had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked the disciples. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Have you ever been served by God?

 Who has washed your feet?

 Where have you washed the feet of someone else?

This fall, Pastor Susannah and I have been reminding us of key stories that lie at the heart of Scripture, and shape our own lives as Christians.  While we have taken a break with the Houston Preaching Mission with Donald Davis (Oct. 17), and our Youth Sunday (Oct. 24), we return to these stories on October 31 (All Saints Day) as I preach about the life of Jesus Christ. 

 To remind you of where we have been:

 From Genesis 1, the story of Creation, I said that discovering the image of God in ourselves, in other people, and in Jesus Christ has profound implications about how we ought to live in these incendiary times.  Because all people have been created in the image of God, words should never be used to demonize, and dehumanize, and hurt.  You and I and all people are God’s children, and we ought to treat one another as loving brothers and sisters.

From Genesis 12, the Call of Abraham and Sarah, I reminded us that being called by God and responding to God is a gift that is available to all.  God did not just call Abraham and Sarah, or me, but all of us.  The Call is a gift.  We do not deserve the gift of being called.  We have not earned the right to be called.  But what God offered to Abraham and Sarah, and through Jesus, and to me, and to all of us is a life in which we are never alone and that may well become a blessing to others.  I do not know when, where, or how God has called you, but I do know that God has called you.  God’s Call, however, always requires a response.  How will you accept, embrace, and obey God’s call?

From Exodus 3, the Call of Moses, I said that many of us, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and people around the world, need to hear this story of call and liberation.  Many among us are slaves to many different Pharaohs and need to be set free.  Some of us are slaves to our work.  Some of us are slaves to addictions.  Some of us are slaves to our families.  Some of us are slaves to our own passions and desires.  Some of us are slaves to our possessions. Some persons in our world are slaves to dehumanizing ideologies or poverty or a host of other slave masters.   All of us are slaves to sin and death.  Yet, God continues to call each one of us, like Moses and Jesus, to tell God’s Good News.  God can set all people free, if we will simply tell this story.

Pastor Susannah reminded us that the Ten Commandments are a gift to us from God that enables us to live as children of God.

 Finally, two weeks, ago, as I preached about the Promised Land, We all face major obstacles in our lives.  We do not face raging rivers or giants or massive walls.  Instead we face fear, loss of jobs, the absence of safety nets, foreclosures of homes, a dysfunctional government, war, disease, and death.  We sometimes forget the promise of a Promised Land.  We sometimes imagine an incomplete Promised Land.  But God never forgets what God promised.  For all of us, there is a Promised Land and a New Jerusalem.  In these strange, dark days filled with obstacles, I reminded you, that “I am bound for the Promised Land” and I invited you to “come and join with me, for we’re bound for the Promised Land.”

 Do join us again on All Saints Day on October 31 as we continue to journey with God through the Bible.

The Promised Land

October 10 Sermon: The Promised Land — Joshua 6:1-24

Now the city of Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in.

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.”

So Joshua son of Nun called the priests and said to them, “Take up the ark of the covenant of the LORD and have seven priests carry trumpets in front of it.” And Joshua ordered the people, “Advance! March around the city, with the armed guard going ahead of the ark of the LORD.”

When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the LORD went forward, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the LORD’s covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark. All this time the trumpets were sounding.

But Joshua had commanded the people, “Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!” So Joshua had the ark of the LORD carried around the city, circling it once. Then the people returned to camp and spent the night there.

Joshua got up early the next morning and the priests took up the ark of the LORD. The seven priests carrying the seven trumpets went forward, marching before the ark of the LORD and blowing the trumpets. The armed men went ahead of them and the rear guard followed the ark of the LORD, while the trumpets kept sounding. So on the second day they marched around the city once and returned to the camp. They did this for six days.

On the seventh day, the people of Israel got up at daybreak and marched around the city seven times in the same manner, except that on that day they circled the city seven times. The seventh time around, when the priests sounded the trumpet blast, Joshua commanded the people, “Shout! For the LORD has given you the city! The city and all that is in it are to be devoted to the LORD. . . .  All the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron are sacred to the LORD and must go into God’s treasury.”

When the trumpets sounded, the people shouted, and at the sound of the trumpet, when the people gave a loud shout, the wall collapsed; so every man charged straight in, and they took the city. They devoted the city to the LORD and destroyed with the sword every living thing in it — men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys. . . . Then they burned the whole city and everything in it, but they put the silver and gold and the articles of bronze and iron into the treasury of the LORD’s house.

What aspects of this story are most memorable?  Most surprising?  Most unbelievable?


What does this story reveal about God, and us?

October 3 Sermon: The Ten Commandments — Exodus 20:1-17

And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

You shall have no other gods before me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses God’s name.

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but God rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

You shall not murder.

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann writes: “The Ten Commandments constitute the bottom line and reference point for all Old Testament thinking about ethics.”  Are these commandments your bottom line?

 Which commandment do you observe the most?  Which commandment do you observe the least?

The Exodus and Liberation

September 26 Sermon: The Exodus — Exodus 3:1-15

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and Moses led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

There the angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire the bush did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up.”

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to Moses from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

Then God said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey– the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers– the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob– has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.

When and where have you stood on holy ground?


From what do you need to be set free?


The Path of the Exodus