1 Corinthians 13:1-13
A young lad walked into the lingerie section of a department store and asked to buy something for his mother’s birthday the following day. But when it came to what size to buy, he was at a complete loss.
“Well, what’s your mother like?” asked the assistant. “Is she thin or fat, tall or short?”
“Oh, she’s just perfect,” said the lad. So the shop assistant sold him a size 14. The next day a lovely lady came in and swapped it for a size 24. Well, that was how he saw her.
There’s the story of a father who was standing by his little boy’s open bedroom door. The little lad said his prayers as he was taught, but added “Dear God, make me a great big good man like Daddy.” That’s how he saw his father. The father went into his bedroom and prayed, “Lord make me a great big good man like my boy thinks I am.”
I’m sure parents and grandparents, when they catch the children looking at them, wonder what they’re thinking. Just how do they see us?
So consider Alfie. As he grows up, he’ll be watching us with hawk eyes, marking everything, making mental notes of us, and copying us as much as he can. You’ll be watching him, as parents and relatives, pretty closely, but believe me, he’ll be watching you with even more care. So it’s a worthwhile and sobering question to ask ourselves this morning: what will he see? How will he see us as he grows up?
I’ve a few suggestions to make. They apply to Naomi and Rich, Izzy and Alfie, and to their family and friends, but they also apply to all of us, as we build up one another in Christian faith and in our shared humanity. There are three qualities which are implicit in the Christian faith, that I would want children to see in us, that I think we’d all want children to see in us, and which we’d also benefit from looking for in each other.
Most of us, at some periods of our lives, have inner conflicts which threaten to tear us apart. Sometimes it’s the conflict between what we know we ought to do and what we feel we want to do. Sometimes it’s between what our bod¬ies want and what our minds decide.
It’s at times like that when we realize what a blessing it would be to have an inner poise and harmony, to have that balance, and be at peace with oneself. That’s what the Bible means by holy, whole, whole¬some, complete, in harmony within ourselves, with our neighbours and with God. Being holy isn’t about being religious, but about facing up to the totality of life.
You don’t have to read the Gospels for long before you see that Jesus was typically Jewish in his view of humanity. He didn’t divide us into soul and body, but regarded us as whole people. And, as Christians, we take this view of human beings. A good and healthy balance between spiri¬tual, mental and physical is important for us, and for those around us. It’s this, or the absence of it, that children will see as they grow up. It’s this wholeness that they’ll try to imitate, they’ll see it as an ideal which they’ll want to aim for themselves. If we can achieve it, it’ll remain in their minds’ eyes for the rest of their days. I pray that with God’s help, we’ll all succeed in that.
New parents all know that when a baby is born a new person steps into their belief-system, whatever that system is. The standards we have, they will absorb quite automatically. They may reject them for a while in their rebellious teenage years, but they’ll always have them there in the back of their minds.
So we must stand for what we believe in, for their sake as well as ours. After all, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. And it’s this central core of what we are that is the crunch point, isn’t it? Each of us knows whether we have integrity or not and what we would do.
That’s what we want children to see: us as we really are, integrity or not, honest or not. Make no mistake about that. We can’t pull the wool over their eyes.
And it’s not only what we don’t do that is our integrity, but what really gets us going. It has been said that you can mea¬sure a person’s integrity and greatness of character by what makes them angry, and what makes them laugh.
Compare the anger of someone who gets upset with trifling things, with the anger of the likes of William Booth of the Salvation Army who shouted, “While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; while little children go hungry as they do now, I’ll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, I’ll fight; while there is a poor lost girl upon the street, I’ll fight; while there yet remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end”.
That’s the anger of integrity. Would that there was more of it today! What we stand for, what we laugh at, what we are angry at, what moves us, what disappoints us, what we’re willing to sacrifice for, all this will rub off on these children today. We must make it a noble stand worth imitating, we must hand on to them values that will not let them down as they test these values for themselves.
3. The strength of our love
There’s a great argument these days about renew¬able energy resources. Many folk are getting uppity about windmills dotted over their hills, while others are enjoying selling electricity from their solar panels back to the grid at an enormous feed-in tariff. But there is one renewable resource which would warm our hearts rather than our feet: it’s love.
That great Catholic theologian Teilhard De Chardin wrote:
Some day, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love,
And then for the second time in the history of the world, mankind will discover fire.
Obviously he means, and I mean, Christian love, not the romantic love of Mills & Boon, or the Hollywood musicals. Real, robust, practical, Christian love:
The love which has the hands to help other people,
The love which has the feet to go about doing good,
The love which has the eyes to see misery and need,
The love which has the ears to hear the cry of the starving and the refugee,
That’s what Christian love looks like. If you want a fuller ver¬sion, read the story of Jesus in the Gospels.
That sort of quality, worked out in the joys and sadness¬es of family life, in its challenges and its opportunities, its changes and development, that’s what will rub off on others. They’ll see quality life as it should be lived, and they’ll measure their future relationships by it. May we show them by how we live what real unselfish, sacrificial family love is like.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that great German theologian executed by the Nazis, once said:
“The family is a Kingdom of its own within the world, a haven of refuge amidst the turmoil of our age. It’s not founded on the shifting sands of private and public life, but has a peace in God. It is an ordinance God has estab¬lished in the world, the place where peace, quietness, joy, love, respect, tradition, and, to crown them all, hap¬piness may dwell”.
And I would add, where Wholeness, Integrity and Love may be seen and imitated, for these are what we are all called to, so that they may be seen in each of us as the next generation learns from us.